IISS Report: Al Qaida has 18,000 'jihadists' in 100 nations

U.S. did not foresee Saddam's troops merging with Al Qaida

Thursday, October 16, 2003

LONDON The International Institute for Strategic Studies said in its annual report that Al Qaida has formed an alliance with the deposed regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to strike U.S. interests throughout Iraq.

The London-based institute said in a report that the U.S.-led coalition was unprepared for Saddam's strategy of withdrawing his regular forces and converting them into insurgents aligned with Al Qaida.

Al Qaida, the report said, appears unable to stage a repeat of the Sept. 11, 2001 suicide attacks on New York and Washington. But the group, with an estimated 18,000 trained insurgents spread over 100 countries, remains powerful and could adopt the strategy of Hizbullah when it killed nearly 300 Americans in suicide attacks in Lebanon in the early 1980s.

"Al Qaida may lack the capacity to stage a mass-casualty attack on U.S. soil comparable to 9/11, but it is worth recalling that the operational cycle for large and complex Al Qaida operations can exceed the 25 months that have passed since 9/11," the institute's "Military Balance 2003-2004," said.

"In any case, jihadists could regard a spectacular attack on U.S. personnel in Iraq like Hizbullah's 1983 suicide-bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon, which killed 241 as a feasible substitute until it is ready to attempt another mass-casualty attack on American soil."

The report said Al Qaida was not affected by the U.S. military withdrawal from Saudi Arabia in September. Instead, the group has enhanced recruitment and intends to develop weapons of mass destruction, including toxins such as ricin as well as procure man-portable air-defence systems available in Iraq.

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