Heads up, Al Qaeda (search) watchers: Amir Taheri, who seems to be one of the best connected writers on the subject of Al Qaeda, is floating a new theory based on recent information. I think he's probably right, so it's probably worth you knowing.
Writing in Tuesday's New York Post, Taheri says there is a schism in Al Qaeda leadership.
Usama bin Laden (search) can't get enough of attacking America and wants to do more of it. But his No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri (search) — according to Tahieri's sources — wants to focus on retaking a Muslim country so Al Qaeda will regain the base they lost in Afghanistan.
Taheri lays it out like this:
Al Qaeda can't move on Pakistan, even though it has tried to kill President Pervez Musharraf at least twice, because the Pakistani military and secret service are so strong. Al Qaeda isn't making the progress it would like in Iraq because the Iraqis are getting better at protecting themselves and 140,000 American troops are actively backing up the fledgling Iraqi forces.
What Zawahiri wants now is Saudi Arabia.
The Saudis have been fighting Al Qaeda in a do-or-die running battle for months now. And Al Qaeda is starting to think it can set up a no-go zone inside Saudi Arabia from which it can run terror operations against the Saudi security forces to try to demoralize them.
Taheri reports a clash last week involving Saudi forces trying to uproot entrenched Al Qaeda forces in a compound and a territory they are trying to hold. They have already been using these areas Al Qaeda controls to funnel fighters and money and arms into Iraq.
So, part of the story here is that evidently Usama's influence is one the wane in Al Qaeda and Zawahiri's seems to be growing, because it is Zawahiri's target of opportunity — Saudi Arabia — that Al Qaeda seems to be going after, not Usama's target — the United States.
Can we feel good about this? Not until the Saudis wipe them out. Otherwise they'll come after us again — eventually.
That's My Word.
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