KARACHI, Pakistan – Riding a wave of anti-American sentiment, outlawed Islamic extremist organizations that were routed by the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan in 2001 are making a comeback.
Recruitment in Pakistan of potential terrorists appears to be on the rise. Militant leaders freed from house arrest have returned to the mosques to rally the faithful against the United States.
Muslim radicals are feeding on anger over the war in Iraq to regroup and revitalize, raising the threat of more anti-U.S. terrorism around the world.
"They are defiant. They are angry. More and more people are angry," said Abu Mujahed, a militant whose name is a nom de guerre.
He said new recruits are being found by way of Internet chat rooms that deal with the war on Iraq and "American aggression."
Analysts say the Iraq war is emboldening militants, who believe the United States is distracted by the fighting.
"Militants know that the United States is fully engaged in Iraq and that has diluted their focus on the war on terror," said Riffat Hussein, a political analyst.
"The militants feel the government will not maintain as close a watch on them because the American pressure to keep down or stop all together the activities of militants is off."
The war also is squeezing Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, a key U.S. ally in the war in Afghanistan against Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network and the former Taliban regime.
Musharraf's support for Washington must be balanced against two powerful forces at home. One is the army, dominated by religious conservatives who were reluctant about the U.S. war in Afghanistan and who now staunchly oppose the war in Iraq. The second are elements within the Pakistan intelligence agency still closely allied to militants.
Old militant groups, outlawed as terrorist groups, have re-emerged under new guises and operate openly as "political" groups. Jaish-e-Mohammed is now Khudam-ul Islam, Harakat-ul Mujahedeen's new name is Jamiat-ul Ansar, and Lashkar-e-Tayyaba is now called Jamaat-e-Dawa.
Other Islamic countries face a similar surge of support for violent movements: Egypt, Jordan, Yemen and Saudi Arabia, to name those most friendly toward the United States.
In Egypt, the banned Muslim Brotherhood, which wants to transform the country into an Islamic state, is gaining exposure at anti-U.S. protests on a scale rarely seen in Cairo.
Dia'a Rashwan, an expert on radical Islamic groups at Egypt's Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said he has noticed a trend as he navigated Web sites and chat rooms in recent days.
"Now we have many calls to jihad, and those calls aren't only coming from what we usually call radicals or extremists," he said. More moderate clerics are using such language, as are Islamic thinkers who usually confine themselves to political analysis, not calls to arms, he said.
In Afghanistan, where U.S. troops are still pursuing Taliban and Al Qaeda holdouts, the Taliban's supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar is circulating posters of his fresh decree calling for a holy war against the United States. The signatures of 600 Muslim clerics are attached.
Mullah Omar's old regime has shored up its alliances with remnants of Al Qaeda and fighters loyal to rebel commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Already, an increase is noticeable in attacks on U.S. forces, international peacekeepers and nongovernment organizations.
There are only two camps left in the world today, says the decree from the one-eyed mullah who dominated Afghanistan for seven years: "One is Islam, which is a religion of peace and the other symbol is Bush, who is a symbol of terror and hatred."