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Shifting lines in the battle against terrorism

January 28, 2006|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

Politics, it is said, makes strange bedfellows. So too does the fight against Al Qaeda.

The first part of a top-notch two-hour documentary, "The New Al Qaeda -- Frontline Pakistan and," set for Saturday on the Discovery Times Channel, examines the marriage of convenience between Pakistan and the U.S. and Britain.

Before Sept. 11, Pakistan was devoutly pro-Taliban as a way to keep peace along its 1,200-mile border with Afghanistan. Even after Pakistan switched sides, its army and intelligence service remained rife with the ultra-orthodox Taliban sympathizers, which may have hampered the early search for Osama bin Laden.

The U.S. would like Pakistani military strongman Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in 1999, to try a bit of democracy. Musharraf is pressuring the U.S. to soften its support for Israel.

"Frontline Pakistan" captures the sometimes tense, always complicated relationship between Washington and Islamabad.

To back the U.S., Musharraf has put his life in danger; he has escaped at least two assassination attempts.

"Pakistan is turning Islamist," says a former CIA agent. "Musharraf may have done all he can."

BBC reporter Peter Taylor has gotten access to Pakistani intelligence agents and military brass to explain their hunt for Al Qaeda operatives involved in strikes against Western targets, including U.S. embassies in Africa. In retaliation for Pakistan's cooperation with the West, Al Qaeda attacked the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad.

"Ordinary Pakistanis are now paying the price for Musharraf's support for the so-called war on terror," Taylor says.

If the first hour of the documentary is unsettling, the second, "" is the stuff of nightmares. The "new" Al Qaeda is regrouping via the Internet, spreading word and pictures of its attacks on U.S. and British forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

An executive of a Philadelphia firm that monitors the Internet calls it "an unbelievable recruiting tool" for Al Qaeda. Recruits are often middle-class, Internet-accessible young men in the West, not the stereotype of Al Qaeda "martyrs" as embittered, delusional souls from impoverished villages.

Pictures of beheadings and bombs blowing up Humvees are posted almost immediately through a kind of insurgent cyber-cafe network.

Taylor tracks down Mohammed al Massar, a Saudi dissident and supporter of Bin Laden, who runs a website based in Britain that specializes in pictures of ambush attacks. Armed only with a laptop, he hopes to help kill Americans.

Hatred is an ancient curse, but its delivery systems are continually being modernized, "" reports. Al Qaeda, through its use of the Internet, has become a "global brand."

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