Experts: War on terrorism could spawn new enemies
Splinter groups may rise from crackdown on al Qaeda, they warn
From Kelli Arena
CNN Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- It is possible the U.S.-led war on terror has created new enemies of Western governments and societies by splintering al Qaeda, according to counterterrorism experts.
Some U.S. government officials go so far as to say that even if Islamic fundamentalists are eventually found responsible for the train bombings in Spain last week, the effort to identify one particular group may be futile.
"This is not like the Gambino crime family, a Mafia family, where if you just arrest the leaders it goes out of business," said Peter Bergen, a CNN terrorism expert and author of "Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden."
"This is more like a mass movement, and you can arrest as many people as you want. But it's very hard to arrest the movement of ideas."
One U.S. counterterrorism official said an al Qaeda connection to the Madrid bombings has been established. It was reported Monday that one of the five men arrested may have ties to an al Qaeda-linked bombing in Morocco last year.
"We do know that there is a connection to al Qaeda. We have verified that," said Asa Hutchinson, U.S. undersecretary for homeland security. "The extent of responsibility and whether any other terrorist organization is involved has yet to be determined." (Full story)
But experts such as MJ Gohel, a terrorism specialist at the Asia-Pacific Foundation, a London-based think tank, suggest the term al Qaeda is just shorthand for a complex global terror network.
"What we are dealing here with is an ideology," Gohel said. "It is a global jihad movement composed of al Qaeda and many affiliated terrorist groups. All of these groups are autonomous."
Terrorism experts have long said al Qaeda was made up of loosely affiliated groups. But most attacks, including those of September 11, 2001, could eventually be traced back to Osama bin Laden or other terrorist leaders.
As President Bush put it this month: "Some two-thirds of al Qaeda's key leaders have been captured or killed. The rest of them hear us breathing down their neck."
Now, counterterrorism officials say one of their biggest concerns is how U.S. actions such as the war in Iraq are motivating new recruits bound by a common goal: to destroy Western secular society.
Both government and private experts are bracing for what they say will be a war that could last for generations.