In Aleppo, Mahmoud Qul Aghassi, otherwise known as Abu al Qaqaa, was killed. He was one of the most important figures that instigated and recruited Syrian and Arab youth to take part in the war in Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere. His discovery and death last week raised a number of questions regarding the reality of the Al Qaeda network. Is Al Qaeda indeed a spontaneous movement of a zealous and armed group that is ready to sacrifice itself for the sake of its causes? Or is it run from behind the scenes by governments that do not believe in the same ideologies but exploit it for their own purposes?
It is most likely that those who met Abu al Qaqaa did not know that the Sheikh with the thick beard was just an intelligence officer who was sent to them, delivered sermons, pushed them towards jihad, and presented them to other departments responsible for training and sending them to war. Anyone who saw him give his sermons in the mosque thought that he was a real Islamist and believed that a network called Ghuraba al Sham is a jihadist movement. Thousands of young Arabs were deceived, who passed through Aleppo and elsewhere and were finally killed or arrested in Iraq and Lebanon. Everyone believed that Ghuraba al Sham and Abu al Qaqaa are associated with Al Qaeda, fighting in the name of Islam, whilst the recruits were unaware that they were mere soldiers of intelligence brigades.
In practice, this proves that Al Qaeda is merely a toy in the hands of regimes, perhaps even without the knowledge or acceptance of its leaders. This means that the infrastructure of the network, including recruitment centers, training, propaganda, and the internet, may belong to the same departments.
It is not unusual for intelligence agencies to use opposing cells to trap opponents. In the past, US Intelligence had established communist organizations in Latin America in order to identify and monitor communist activists. In our region, there is a lot going that raises suspicion such as extremist electronic forums, some of which prove that there are traps in place in search of extremists.
Al Qaeda has become just another name. We do not know what is left of it and whether it was established originally by the individual work of Osama Bin Laden and his followers in Afghanistan. At present, Al Qaeda exists in odd countries such as Iran, which shelters a number of senior leaders, including Osama Bin Laden’s eldest son, Saad, and Saif al Adel, who live in its territories with the knowledge of the Iranian authorities. However, they are prevented from leaving the country. Iran had previously acknowledged their presence, but confirmed that they are under arrest. It is a matter that raises suspicion because Al Qaeda members, who have been present in Iran since 2001, have not been tried and were involved in plotting operations abroad. In addition, a number of Iranian weapons have been seized from Al Qaeda fighters in Iraq.
Abu al Qaqaa’s character and his killing are only the beginning of a complicated and ambiguous story.