Terror analyst paints grim picture

Published May 16, 2007

LONDON - Iraq is becoming a "Disneyland" for al-Qaida terror cells and the new focus of its "holy war" against the West, one of the world's foremost experts on terror said Tuesday.

If the U.S.-led coalition forces pulled out of Iraq now, attacks in Europe would increase and troops would have to go back in two to three years, said Rohan Gunaratna, the head of the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

"The epicenter has shifted from Afghanistan to Iraq, " he told a conference of business leaders on how to prepare for terror threats.

Gunaratna said most al-Qaida cells, including North African cells, had people in Iraq. They present a real risk because they see the West as a threat to their way of life, he said.

Abu Ayyub al-Masri, who replaced Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in the al-Qaida chain of command, has been building a support base in Europe, Gunaratna said. Masri, an Egyptian militant, was endorsed by Osama bin Laden after Zarqawi was killed in June by a U.S. airstrike.

Richard Dearlove, former head of Britain's intelligence agency, said al-Qaida is changing its tactics and new strategies are needed to combat it.

"We need to think rather carefully about where we go now - from where we are now - in confronting the consequences of 9/11, " Dearlove told the conference.

"Our strategy - strategic position - in sum is weak, " he added. "A strategic rethink is probably the point that we have now reached."

Saudi attack aimed at U.S.: Four alleged members of an al-Qaida terror cell arrested after the February 2006 attack on the Saudi Arabian Abqaiq oil complex appeared Monday night on two Saudi television stations, saying their attack was endorsed by bin Laden. Abdullah al-Muqrin, one of the four, said the attack was meant to embarrass the kingdom, destabilize oil prices in the United States and ultimately draw in U.S. troops to protect oil facilities so that al-Qaida militants could fight them on Saudi soil.