A new generation of jihad chieftains known as the "baby Bin Ladens" are helping al-Qa'ida to acquire unprecedented capabilities to stage attacks against the West, intelligence officials are warning.
As the established al-Qa'ida leadership has been degraded by targeted attacks in Afghanistan, a new generation of leaders has helped the jihadist threat grow from Pakistan's north-west to Timbuktu -- raising fears that the war against Islamist terrorism could drag on for decades.
Intelligence experts are warning that figures, such as Pakistan-based Muhammad Illyas Kashmiri, Yemen's Anwar al-Awlaki, and Somalia's Ahmed Abdi Godane, have drawn thousands of fighters to their al-Qa'ida-affiliated groups -- far more than Osama bin Laden ever commanded. Bin Laden is estimated to command fewer than 500 operatives.
"Bin Laden has become the new Che Guevara," said Christine Fair at Georgetown University. "He's become an icon for the rage of all kinds of people with all sorts of causes."
Pakistani security expert Ayesha Siddiqa said the new groups "are like franchises for al-Qa'ida".
Mokhtar Belmokhtar, another "baby Bin Laden" who commands al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb, has kidnapped several Western nationals in the Sahara and carried out murderous attacks on troops in Mali and Mauritania. Hassan Abbas, a terrorism expert at Columbia University, New York, said: "Even though al-Qa'ida is in ruins, new groups have adopted goals that it alone was pursuing earlier."
Much of the efforts of the new generation have been focused on recruiting in the West. The US Congress's research service reported that these new al-Qa'ida "cells and associates are located in over 70 countries". (© Daily Telegraph, London)