Sunday 20 October 2002

West overestimates al-Qaida's reach

"They seek him here, they seek him there. Those Frenchies seek him everywhere. Is he in heaven, or is he in hell? That damned elusive Pimpernel."

Osama bin Laden has become the modern version, the evil twin, of the Scarlet Pimpernel, Baroness Orczy's rescuer of French aristocrats from the guillotine. Lately, not a bomb explodes without it being blamed on bin Laden's al-Qaida organization. In recent weeks, Washington has accused al-Qaida of an attack on a French tanker, the killing of a U.S. Marine in Kuwait and the frightful bombing of a Bali discotheque.

Given these alarms, one would imagine al-Qaida to be a vast, octopoid organization whose tentacles span five continents. But this view, heavily promoted by the Bush administration and the U.S. media, is as wrong as George Bush's claim that terrorists are "on the run."

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