The coming weekend, on which falls Remembrance Day, will be spent by many Americans at home. The streets of New York and lawns of Washington will be surprisingly deserted. America is having jitters again.
The American administration just now changed national readiness for terrorist attacks from "yellow" to "orange". This is the last but one point on a five-colour scale it introduced a year ago in the country. The White House is not explaining why it decided to switch lights of national vigilance. And, as a matter of fact, that is unnecessary.
The reasons announced themselves in a series of terrorist bombings in Saudi Arabia, Chechnya and Morocco, which were surprisingly well coordinated. Suicide bombers and truckloads of explosives are an easily recognisable pattern of Al-Qaeda's behaviour.
Understandably, the American authorities feel anxious: what if Islamic terrorism, after flexing its muscles, will strike again in the United States?
In the past the Bush administration has announced "orange" alert thrice, usually scaling it down to "yellow" a couple of weeks later. The last time this manipulation was made was during the Iraq war. In the intervening period, thank God, nothing tragic occurred. With time the American man in the street has even learned to grumble that he is being deliberately scared, and vociferously counted up federal money he believed was thrown to the winds.
This time, however, in the wake of Riyadh, Znamenskoye and Casablanca, everything looks much more serious. The National Guards have taken over the New York subway and bridges. In Washington special police forces patrol the streets round the clock. Covering fighters are on patrol over the US tallest building in Chicago and the famed Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco. The US embassy in Riyadh and its consulates in Jidda and Dahran are closed to the public for an indefinite period, as indeed diplomatic missions of Britain, the main American ally in the Iraqi campaign. The latter suggests a heretic thought.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, launched in the name of struggle against global terrorism, seem to have been crowned with undivided triumph, but terrorism, bombed out and crushed by tanks, theoretically frightened stiff by American-British might, looks like gaining in strength. Why?
Indeed, George W. Bush could have regretted today that in his May 1 speech he announced too hastily that the high tide in international terrorism gave way to a low tide. The Al-Qaeda backbone is not so well broken as experts from the recently established US Department of Homeland Security joyously reassured the president.
Of course, it goes without saying that Al-Qaeda is no longer what it used to be. After losing its base in Afghanistan, its leaders could shed a scanty tear - new training camps cannot be wished into existence at the snap of a finger. Several hundred would-be Al-Qaeda militants found themselves in prison. Several million dollars in suspicious accounts have been immobilised. Although Osama bin Laden is most likely alive, at least one-third of his closest associates are either captured or dead. But like a hydra, with one head chopped off, the global terrorist network seems to be growing new ones. Now mainly at a regional level.
Al-Qaeda is becoming a sort of trademark for Islamic radicals of a new breed - perhaps less centralised and less controlled from one centre, but more fanatically-minded instead. Their uniform is the shahid's belt. In the view of anti-terror experts, regional Al-Qaeda commanders have always enjoyed a certain autonomy from bin Laden's entourage. But today they view themselves not so much vehicles of terrorist acts as their masterminds. The new generation of Islamic militants acknowledge: sensational targets in the West, an attack on which could be compared with or even exceed the effect of the September 11 events, are not within easy reach as yet. So trucks stuffed with explosives blow up mainly in Moslem countries where security is not so tight, and like-minded supporters are in larger numbers. As a result, the holy jihad against the Western devil is increasingly looking like a slaughter house for all, including Muslim faithfuls.
But provincial Al-Qaeda cells seem to be little concerned. From their point of view, an involuntary shahid is no worse than a convinced one. In short, Islamic terrorism is staging a comeback in a more regional but equally bloody form. At the same time its goals get narrower and more focused. Wholesale negation of all western civilisation is being transformed into hatred targeted mainly on the US and its allies trying to govern the world from Washington.
It is hard not to see, for example, a direct link between the bombing of a Spanish restaurant in Casablanca and the support Madrid gave the American administration in the Iraq war. All this makes one wonder: aren't we witnessing the collapse of the American strategy of fighting international terrorism? Perhaps, the conceit of force used by the US to impose its political interests on the international community, and the blunt striving of the strongest power to make recent history a chronicle of the "American century" are what breeds fanatics with shahid's belts?
If we pause to think of this assumption, then the orange colour of the terrorist threat begins to get reddish.
Vladimir Simonov, RIAN