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Terrorists try charm
Media General News Service


April 27, 2006

WASHINGTON - It seems to be public relations week for the world's most hunted terrorists.

First came Osama bin Laden with an audiotaped call to arms to al Qaeda, his world jihadist movement. Then his Jordanian "Little Sir Echo," Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, made his video debut, seated in a room somewhere in Iraq dressed all in black, interspersed with scenes of him leading masked "sons of mujahadeen" in training.

Both of them seemed to be reading from competing campaign scripts, full of catchy phrases about how the Muslims were repelling the crusaders, in al-Zarqawi's case how he has held the Americans off for three years in Iraq and, in bin Laden's case, how he is the master of everything in the world.

Some analysts think this may be a struggle between these two terrorists - the old man and the young upstart - for international leadership.

Also intriguing is that Hamas, the new governing power of the Palestinian people that is currently a bit desperate for cash, is suddenly interested in image-building. For once, it decided not to celebrate the sound of explosions, breaking glass and the wail of grief-stricken mothers.

Instead, Hamas "strongly condemned" the terrorist bombings that killed at least 24 at the resort town of Dahab on the Egyptian coast as "against Arab policies and religious beliefs."

That was quite a contrast to that organization's cold approval of the Tel Aviv bombing that killed nine people last week, an act for which the terrorist group, Islamic Jihad, has claimed responsibility. Hamas justified the killings on grounds that Palestinians have no other means to fight back against Israeli aggression.

Hamas, partly because of this blunder, has no money to pay Palestinian public servants their salaries. It has discovered that it is too mean to merit friends.

Who committed the Dahab seaside atrocity remains murky.

For the time being, Egyptian security officials prefer to put the finger of blame on the global jihad network, meaning al Qaeda. Since bin Laden's tape was released just 24 hours beforehand, he seems to be responsible.

Bin Laden's tape this week, denouncing "crusader wars on Islam," made it convenient for national leaders to see his hand behind every act of terrorism inside their borders. President Bush was among the first world leaders to condemn the bombings, mashing his grammar and pronunciation in his haste to condemn unseen terrorists.

The list of anti-Western, anti-Jewish and even anti-Russian causes that bin Laden is now claiming to command seems to be growing by the day. If he does manage all of them - from Chechnya to the Darfur region of western Sudan - his resources will be spread very thin. A better guess, according to some experts, is that bin Laden has been in hiding so long that he could be getting a bit desperate, perhaps concerned about losing his grip on the movement to some hotshot like al-Zarqawi.

Terrorist cells that had been linked to al Qaeda in the past have taken a separate path from bin Laden.

The one led by al-Zarqawi in Iraq, now part of a larger umbrella group, is an example. Another is in Palestine. While bin Laden was blasting the Crusader-Zionist war against "our kinfolk Palestine," Palestinian fundamentalist organizations, like Hamas, have been trying to put as much distance between themselves and bin Laden as they can get.

Hamas' condemnation of the Dahab bombings indicates the new Palestinian leaders may not want much to do with terrorists across their borders.

One possibility is that the Dahab bombings, like others in the last two years along Egypt's popular Sinai Peninsula, were the work of the local Bedouin community. The Bedouins may have been drafted and paid by Islamic Jihad or al Qaeda or other international terrorist movements that are active in the area.

It is clear that Egypt has not yet finished the job of cleaning out the terrorist cells lodged in the peninsula.

The Muslim Brotherhood may be potentially the largest and most violent of the Egyptian fundamentalist Muslim organizations in Egypt. President Hosni Mubarak from time to time outlawed the group, but it is now an official party with seats in parliament.


John Hall is the senior Washington correspondent of Media General News Service.
E-mail jhall(at)
Distributed to subscribers for publication by Scripps Howard News Service.

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