Ethnic Rifts Tearing at al Qaeda

Al Qaeda’s ethnic factions, especially the Arab and non-Arab camps, are having trouble working together, according to an AP report.

Ethnic Rifts Tearing at al-Qaida (AP)

American and Pakistani intelligence agents are exploiting a growing rift between Arab members of al-Qaida and their Central Asian allies, a fissure that’s tearing at the network of Islamic extremists as militants compete for scarce hideouts, weapons and financial resources, counterterrorism officials say.

The rivalry may have contributed to the arrest last week of one of Osama bin Laden’s top lieutenants, a Libyan described as al-Qaida’s No. 3 and known to have had differences with Uzbeks. Captured Uzbek, Chechen and Tajik suspects have been giving up information about the movements of Arab al-Qaida militants in recent months, four Pakistani intelligence agents told The Associated Press, leading to a series of successful raids and arrests.

“When push comes to shove, the Uzbeks are going to stick together, and the Arabs are going to stick together,” said Kenneth Katzman, a terrorism expert with the Congressional Research Service in Washington. “I think the Uzbek guerrillas have had no home. Some of this could be a battle for survival.”


U.S. officials declined to comment on the schism. One, however, noted that al-Qaida and its allies do not always function as a cohesive unit. And another cautioned, “There may be a division, but you haven’t won anyone over to your side.” The official spoke on condition his name not be used because of the sensitive topic.

Quite interesting. Al Qaeda has always been a rather loose coalition of groups with rather different goal. Osama bin Laden persuaded groups that were mostly aimed at internal matters within their homelands that they needed to band together against a common enemy, the United States. To the extent the coalition is withering, I’d guess it has more to do with OBL’s having spent the last several years hiding from American forces moreso than the capture of al-Libbi.

As a side note, it’s odd that the Times of London story about al-Libbi indeed not being al Qaeda’s number three has gone away. I’ve not seen any other mention of it since the report came out and the mini-blog swarm that ensued.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Anderson says:

    This has always been a problem, going back to the Arabs fighting in Afghanistan & treating the locals like 2d-rate Muslims.

    And on a related topic, I’d imagine that you can’t get that many people together who think they know the Qur’an backwards & forwards without some doctrinal disputes coming up, amongst people for whom theology is a killing matter.

  2. mamadzadeh says:

    I have seen the Times of London nonsense repeated in that pro-Laden and anti-American new fascist site This is a very strange site. Take a look at it. Look at Henry Liu “Professional America Basher and Historical Revisionist”. At Pepe Escobar Stalinist Anti-American commie. Supposedly this is a “reputable site”, and it has millions of dollars behind it.