Al Qaeda is expected to launch attacks every three months in 2004, with growing threats from a number of smaller terrorist organizations, an international terrorist expert warned Wednesday.
“As the memory of 9/11 recedes, the West is likely to witness another mass casualty attack on Western soil,” Rohan Gunaratna told a Southeast Asian outlook forum in Singapore.
Before Sept. 11, the network launched an attack every two years, but since then, there has been one al Qaeda-linked attack every three months, he said.
Singapore-based Gunaratna, the author of “Inside al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror,” said that the bulk of the attacks will come from groups trained and financed by Osama bin Laden and not the network itself.
“The threat of terrorism and its associated groups will persist throughout 2004,” he said in his paper.
Gunaratna said that maritime targets were vulnerable to attack but added that “almost all the attacks will be suicide vehicle bombings, an al Qaeda hallmark.”
If left unchecked, Gunaratna said Iran, part of President Bush’s axis of evil, could emerge as a training ground for al Qaeda terrorists.
He said groups that remained a threat include Al Ansar Al Islami in Iraq, Jemaah Islamiyah in Southeast Asia, Al Ansar Mujahidin in Chechnya, the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Salafi Group for Call and Combat in Algeria.
“Small, disparate organizations mounting operations are in many ways Osama bin Laden’s greatest achievement,” said Gunaratna.
In Southeast Asia, Gunaratna claims a fresh batch of Jemaah Islamiyah terrorists, an al Qaeda funded regional group, will graduate Jan. 15, 2004 from a camp in the southern Philippines.
The camp he said, is run by the secessionist Moro Islamic Liberation Front, or MILF, which is fighting for an independent Muslim homeland in Mindanao.
He did not elaborate on the number of “graduates” or where he gleaned his information from.
Sidney Jones, the Indonesian project director for the International Crisis Group — a Brussels-based international think tank — supported Gunaratna’s assessment on the Philippines being a Jemaah Islamiyah training ground.
“There are several MILFs, all using the same name,” Jones said, adding that these factions were not the same as the group now in peace negotiations with Manila.
Despite the arrest of Jemaah Islamiyah’s alleged operations chief Hambali in Thailand last year, she said there were a number of key group operatives still at large, including Azahari Husin and Nordin Mohamed Top.
The two men are accused of planning the October 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people.