31 January 2011

Bekkay Harrach Confirmed Dead in Afghanistan

As you can see by the lack of posts recently on the site, work has kept the entire Al Sahwa crew very busy over the last few months (we have to find some way to pay the ridiculously high rent here in DC!). However, I'm hoping to pick back up the pace of our posts during 2011. I'm excited to dive into Georgetown's Security Studies Program starting this semester, which will demand much of my time, but also hopefully re-energize the analytical and critical thinking parts of my brain. I'll be concentrating primarily on Terrorism and Substate Violence, which fits quite nicely with the original focus of the site. In our attempts to increase the frequency of posts, you might notice a slight decrease in the length of our articles, but hopefully not in the quality.

To start things off, I wanted to link to an excellent article/profile written by Chris Anzalone over at Foreign Policy (Chris also blogs at Views from the Occident, one of my daily reads). He profiles the recently deceased Bekkay Harrach, who was a key face for Al Qaeda in its European/German operations. Bekkay aka Abu Talha al Almani was reportedly killed in May 2010 leading a complex suicide attack on Bagram Airfield in eastern Afghanistan.

This is significant for many reasons, most of which Anzalone highlights expertly in his article, including:

• The rising levels of German citizens traveling to the AfPak region to participate in attacks; and the related implications of the ability for these individuals to acquire safe haven in Waziristan and NW Pakistan.

• The increasing ties between Al Qaeda Central, the Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan (TTP), and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) - who all reportedly collaborated for the attack that Harrach died in.

• The pattern of using "local" spokespersons on many As Sahab media productions (such as Adam Gadahn in many of the English-language videos), indicating the increasing Western-focused media campaign by AQ. This clearly has direct recruiting/operational implications as well.

However, this report also prompted me to ask another question: why would AQ Central approve/allow such an important strategic figure to participate in what was essentially a tactical level operation? By many reports, Bekkay was one of the key inspirational and operational leaders of a group of German citizens who had traveled to the AfPak region and were serving as a forward hub for many European AQ members who wanted to participate in the jihad in Afghanistan. The only logical reason for Bekkay Harrach to lead the attack would be to gain additional followers and recruits after martyring himself. Essentially, he made the calculus that his death was more valuable to the organization than the work he was doing while still alive. Despite this possibility, I still have a hard time seeing the leadership of AQ Central being willing to lose such an important media/propaganda figure in such an attack. Anyone have other competing theories that might explain this anomaly?