Having read through the the nice research paper that Armed Liberal was kind enough to point us all to, I figured I might offer some commentary on the document. I think they place a little too much emphasis on Jason Burke, whose view of al-Qaeda is quite different from my own (or Richard Clarke's or Mike Scheuer's, for that matter) and that they're a little too dismissive of Rohan Gunaratna's view of the GIA and the GSPC, but that is a small price to pay for all of the information contained in the document.
In addition to going through the Norwegian document and adding some commentary on specific sections, I'm also going to address some events of note that have occurred in Southeast Asia since the tsunami and end on a shameless plug for those of you who want to meet up with me when I go to DC next week.
To begin with, we get a look at the intended targets and the weaponry used to attack them:
This study suggest that the large and most populated central European countries, Germany, France, United Kingdom and Italy have been the most exposed as arena for planned Islamist terrorist operations. The selected targets were either strategic or symbolic (e.g. military bases, embassies, parliament buildings, churches, synagogues, landmarks), or suitable to cause mass casualties randomly amongst civilians (e.g. marketplaces, subways, restaurants). The United States’ government or military facilities (and NATO bases) were frequently selected targets, but citizens, interests and symbols of Israel, Russia, and European countries have also been potential targets of Islamist terrorism in Europe. Most often the terrorists intended to use impovised weapons such as homemade fertilizer bombs. In a few cases, Islamist terrorists appearantly planned to employ unconventional weapons such as ricin and cyanide, or conventional weapons such as like machine guns, rifles, hand grenades or surface to air missiles.
Fertilizer bombs are, of course, relatively easy to make and generally give you a pretty big bang for your buck, which is one of the reasons why they're so preferred in terms of terrorist attacks. Similarly, the use of conventional weaponry has been part of modern terrorism for as long as it's been around as an organized phenomenon. What is far more troubling, however, is the growing number of plots that seem to have more of an unconventional bent to them - I have a distinct feeling that such things are going to be the wave of the future.
And here is a run-down of the intended perpetrators:
The conspirators were almost exclusively men, who had been residing in Europe. They were, with the notable exceptions of a few European converts and a group of Pakistanis, of Middle Eastern or North African origin. Algerians, Tunisians, Jordanians and Moroccans were strongly represented. Some of them were political refugees, some were second-generation immigrants with European citizenship, and some were illegal immigrants. Their occupations varied between regular jobs and studies, to criminal activities. Several of the disrupted terrorist-cells were multi-national, i.e. members belonged to different nationalities. All of the key operatives in the disrupted terrorist cells analyzed below are believed to have spent time in training facilities run by al-Qaida or like-minded groups in Afghanistan. During the planning and preparation of attacks, the Islamist militants traveled extensively both inside Europe and in other regions. One of the terrorist conspiracies analyzed below was probably planned in Afghanistan and the U.K., further preparations were made in Germany, whereas the attack was to be launched in France.
It is the second and third-generation European immigrants, as I've noted before, who are far more likely to hold extremely romanticized notions about the nature of Islamist violence in large part because they've never experienced it up close and personal in the Middle East and thus form a relatively fertile recruiting pool for the real organizers of these attacks, the guys who underwent terrorist training in Afghanistan and their superiors abroad, whether in Afghanistan on in neighboring European states. The UK in particular seems to be rather notorious in terms of letting such figures in-country, but they are by no means the only offender in this regard.
Investigations and trials of the terrorist cases revealed that the majority of the Islamist militants belonged to the so-called “Salafi-Jihadi” movements originating from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and their front organizations or support networks in Europe. The movements involved in the cases analyzed below are: the Jordanian-Palestinian al-Tawhid movement, the Algerian movement GSPC, the above-mentioned al-Takfir-wa’l-Hijra, and a terrorist cell labeled “The Chechen Network”.
This is part of the problem of assimilation that European governments are going to have to deal with eventually, and I'll be quite frank in saying the sooner the better. If the Muslim immigrant populations are not properly intregated into European societies, all that is going to occur is that these immigrant communities are going to end up bringing the political culture of the Middle East with them into Europe, terrorism and all.
The terrorism research group at FFI has previously argued that Islamist militants during the 1980s and early 1990s mainly perceived Europe as a sanctuary and a base of support activities for local Islamist insurgencies. Europe was suitable as a sanctuary because of the region’s asylum legislations, relatively open internal borders, possibilities to raise funds, and relative operational freedom with regard to propaganda efforts and recruitment, etc.9 Radical Islamists in Europe have raised funds and recruited fighters for local Islamist insurgencies in the MENA region and/or the jihads in, for example, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kashmir, and Chechnya, etc.
Yes, but that was only so long as the Europeans didn't pay any attention to what these folks were doing inside their borders or, in the case of Bosnia or Chechnya, were on the "correct" sides of the conflicts. Moreover, there is a marked difference between the terrorist groups of the 1980s and the 1990s and those of today, as the paper footnotes:
Kepel’s interpretation is that Islamists perceived Europe as “the domain of contractual peace” (Dar al-Ahd) until the diaspora communities were politicized during the 1980s. Since then Europe has been increasingly perceived as Dar al-Harb, a zone in which Muslims have to defend themselves and wage jihad against the infidels, see Kepel (2003), p 185 ff.
Most of initial Middle Eastern immigrants came to Europe in the 1970s and 1980s for pretty much the same reasons that large numbers of people immigrate anywhere and during that period tended to define Europe as being part of Dar al-Ahd, a term that refers to a region where Muslims have peaceful diplomatic relations with non-Muslim governments, such as those that existed between the Ottoman Empire and the other Central Powers in World War 1. What Middle Eastern terrorism that did occur in Europe during this period (Munich, for example) was carried out primarily by groups that were revolutionary™ and anti-imperialist® rather than Islamic in their ideology. If you sat down and asked Abu Nidal why he had his goons shooting up airports, he wouldn't start ranting about Dar al-Islam and Dar al-Harb but would instead start parroting Soviet propaganda about fighting Western imperialism. Needless to say, that ain't the case anymore.
So, why did Islamic violence start spilling into Europe?
Analysts perceived the Islamist terrorism in Europe in the 1980s and 1990s as being motivated mainly by political developments and events in the MENA region. It was seen as a continuation or spillover from the region’s Islamist movements’ “local jihads” against their authorities, which they perceive as corrupt, repressive, incompetent, treacherous and hypocritical.10 The GIA’s terrorist campaign in France and Belgium from 1994 to 1996 was designed to punish France for supporting the Algerian military regime after it cancelled the 1992 elections in Algeria, in which the Islamist party FIS was posed to win an overwhelming won the majority of votes. It was also designed to deter France and other Western powers from further involvement in the conflict between the Islamists and the secular government. The GIA attacked French and Algerian targets in Europe. They also threatened to attack Belgian targets in order to deter Belgian authorities from extraditing GIA members arrested in Belgium to France.
The GIA is about the only example of a bonafide jihadi group that I'm familiar with attacking Europe during this period, and I think that the paper should give them a little more credit in this regard. Here's the full scope of the GIA's European infrastructure throughout the 1990s, from a different source:
Taking advantage of the robust Algerian immigrant population in Western Europe, the GIA established a well-entrenched terrorist infrastructure that enabled the group to survive multiple disruptions by host governments, most notably in France. The GIA's external wing, however, extends far beyond Europe to the Algerian immigrant communities of Canada and the United States. While the vast majority of Algerian immigrants do not support the GIA or the brutal tactics employed to advance its cause, there are nevertheless a number of GIA members who have fled abroad since the onset of the Algerian civil war, bringing their radical ideology with them to the West and establishing support or operations cells to facilitate the operations of their fellow travelers at home. With the rise of the GSPC, most of the external GIA network is believed to have been co-opted by Hassan Hattab for his own purposes.
Because of its large Algerian immigrant population, France has served as an integral part of the GIA external infrastructure, both in terms of procurement and operational planning for carrying out terrorist attacks. Like al Qaeda, FIS, and other Islamist movements, the GIA regards France as the principle enemy of Islam in North Africa due to French support for the Algerian government in general and the Algerian military in particular.(167) FIS propaganda, for example, has accused "Crusader France" of supplying the Algerian military with chemical weapons for use against Islamist opposition fighters.(168) This belligerent attitude towards France has enabled al Qaeda to infiltrate and assume control of the FIS, GIA, and later GSPC external networks, using them to target France at the parent network's behest.(169) While the exact role of al Qaeda in GIA attacks in France during the mid-1990s has yet to be determined, it is known that the network has been training and financing GIA members who have subsequently plotted or carried out terrorist attacks inside France, beginning with a November 1994 plot to attack Jewish targets inside France that was uncovered by French authorities monitoring the group's European and North American external networks.(170)
The most dramatic GIA operation was the December 24, 1994 hijacking of Air France Airbus A-300 Flight 8969 by a 4-man GIA cell led by 25-year-old Abdul Abdallah Yahia (Abou), who had planned crash the fully-fueled plane into the heart of Paris or destroy it in mid-air over the French capital using explosives the hijackers had brought aboard the plane.(171) Of the plane's 227 passengers, 3 were killed by the hijackers while others, mostly women and children, were allowed to leave the aircraft unharmed.(172) After being deceived by the authorities into believing that the plane did not have sufficient fuel to reach Paris, Yahia diverted the flight to Marseilles and demanded 27 tons of fuel and an end to French support of the Algerian government or he would destroy the plane.(173) In response, French elite anti-terrorism forces stormed the plane, killing the hijackers and rescuing 161 passengers as well as the flight crew.(174)
While French authorities had initially hoped that thwarting the GIA's plan to carry out a mass casualty attack in France had deterred the group's European ambitions for the time being, this does not appear to be the case. In July 1995, suspected GIA members murdered exiled FIS co-founder Abdelbaki Sahraoui, who had previously been placed on a "death list" for his more conciliatory views towards the Algerian government.(175)
Their plan to force France to end its support for Algeria through a mass casualty terrorist attack in Paris having been thwarted, the French GIA cells resorted to a bombing campaign in France from July-October 1995 in which train stations, markets, and other public places were targeted in order to maximize civilian casualties.(176) Ultimately, 10 people were killed and over 200 were injured in the bombings.(177) French police finally achieved a breakthrough in the case after a failed bombing near Lyon that was ultimately traced to French Algerian Khaled Kelkal, who was killed in a shoot-out in October 1995.(178) Forensic information from the failed Lyon bomb enabled French authorities to arrest of other suspected members of Kelkal's GIA cell.(179) While the disruption of Kelkal's cell and subsequent efforts by French law enforcement appear to have temporarily disrupted the GIA infrastructure inside France, the group is believed to have been responsible for the December 1996 bombing of a Paris commuter train that killed 4 and injured 80.(180) The failed car bomb attempt in Lille on the eve of the 1996 G7 summit also assisted French authorities in uncovering the true nature of the Groupe Roubaix, which had previously been dismissed as nothing more than a criminal organization.(181)
In an aggressive effort to uproot the GIA infrastructure in Western Europe prior to 1998 World Cup in Paris for fear of an attack, French counter-terrorism authorities helped to coordinate the May 1998 security efforts in France, Germany, Belgium, and Switzerland that resulted in the simultaneous arrest of 100 suspected GIA members in what anti-terrorism judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere described as a "preventive" measure to ensure that the World Cup occurred without incident.(182) In addition, French prosecutors charged over 138 alleged GIA members with involvement in the 1995-1996 bombings in September 1998 following the al Qaeda attacks on US embassies in East Africa.(183) Faced with the very real possibility of large-scale disruption of its French network, the GIA is believed to have attempted to relocate its mobile cells to Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland in a bid to escape the French dragnet.(184)
Following the initial disruption of its French network following the 1995-1996 bombings, a number of mobile GIA cells are known have relocated to Belgium as part of a bid to flee beyond the reach of French authorities.(185) One such cell, made up Kamel Saddeddine, Yousef El Majda, and Ah El Madja, perpetrated a grenade attack against two Belgian police officers in Bastogne in December 1995.(186, 187) Saddeddine, who participated in the Paris bombings in 1995, subsequently fled to the Netherlands but was later extradicted back to Belgium for trial.(188)
10 GIA leaders were arrested in March 1998 in Brussels by Belgian authorities as part of the European effort to neutralize the GIA prior to the 1998 World Cup.(189, 190) False documents, detonators, and small arms were recovered during the arrests, which led to a follow-up raid by Belgian authorities on a GIA supporter's home in which explosives were discovered.(191) These arrests in particular appear to have been of concern to the GIA leadership, which issued a July 1999 communique on behalf of its imprisoned members in which it stated: "The GIA gives Belgium 20 days to reverse its actions against the mujahideen. It must stop its torture, free those in jail or under house arrest and secure the return of those extradited abroad."(192) Belgium, however, refused to comply and no terrorist attacks followed the deadline's expiration.
The Dutch GIA and later GSPC cells are used extensively by al Qaeda to coordinate logistical and terrorist activities in other European states, particularly France.(193) Unfortunately, Dutch refusal to cooperate bilaterally with the French on security, intelligence, and judicial issues pre-9/11 made the Netherlands the ideal base for the GIA and like-minded Islamist groups, though this has naturally changed a great deal since the 9/11 attacks.(194, 195) This permissive environment enabled the GIA and other Islamist groups to set up recruiting and financing (legal or otherwise) operations inside the country prior to 9/11.(196)
Because of its proximity to North Africa, Italy has longed been viewed by Islamist organizations as the ideal point from which to infiltrate into Europe and the GIA is no exception to this rule, having been forced to increasingly rely on entry into Europe via Italy following the disruption of its French network. In a multi-city police operation in November 1996, Italian authorities arrested more than two dozen suspected GIA members who were charged with weapons trafficking, counterfeiting documents, and helping to facilitate the entry of other GIA members into Italy.(197) Further arrests of 14 suspected GIA members were made in Bologna the following year, though 9 were later released due to lack of evidence.(198)
In November 1998, Italian authorities arrested Milan-based GIA facilitator Rahid Fetter, who had provided shelter, funding, and false identification papers to GIA members passing through Italy en route to other parts of Europe.(199) Fetter's arrest, combined with the heavy defections of European cells to the newly-formed GSPC, appears to have heavily diminished the GIA's ability to use Italy as a transit point.
As with the case of Italy, Spain's proximity to North Africa and large Muslim immigrant population made it the hub of choice for a number of Islamist organizations, including al Qaeda and the GIA.(200) The Spanish arrest of GIA member Farid Rezgui in June 1996 was the first sign that Algerian extremists had plans to use Spain as a base - at the time of his arrest, Rezgui was in possession of more than 30 Italian, French, Spanish, and Algerian identification documents, suggesting that the GIA was seeking to infiltrate into other parts of Europe via Spain.(201) Also seized from Rezgui's residence were copies of al-Ansar and audiotaped speeches by Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman.(202)
In addition to a transit point, the GIA also used Spain as a choice location from which to ship weapons purchased in Italy, Poland, the Czech Republic, Germany, and the UK before arranging from them to be smuggled back to their comrades in Algeria.(203) One such cell was disrupted by Spanish authorities in April 1997 consisted of members and supporters of the group based in Valencia.(204)
After the disruption of al Qaeda's Turkish bureau, the network shifted its principle European base to Spain under the control of Imad Yarkas (Abu Dahdah), a former member of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.(205) There are some indications that the establishment of al Qaeda's European bureau in Spain may have helped to ease tensions between rival associate groups. For example, GIA member Ahmed Ressam met with members of the rival GSPC who had established themselves among the Algerian immigrant populations of Alicante and Castellon before traveling to North America.(206)
Following the break-up of Yugoslavia and the subsequent Serbian aggression in the Balkans, a number of Algerian mujahideen traveled to Bosnia to fight in the Kateebat al-Mujahideen, part of the seventh battalion of the Bosnian Third Army.(207) In addition to Algerians, however, a number of French Caucasian converts to Islam also fought in Bosnia, among them individuals like former French soldier Lionel Dumont and other future members of the Groupe Roubaix.(208, 209) After returning to France following the Dayton Peace Agreement, these former mujahideen fighters came under the influence of Fateh Kamel, the leader of a larger network of Islamist militants of which the Groupe Roubaix was part who had been trained in Afghanistan and was in contact with bin Laden.(210)
The end of the fighting in Bosnia, however, was far from the end of GIA activities in the country. While most of the mujahideen left the Balkans following the Dayton Peace Agreement, a few hundred who had married local woman and found employment remained.(211) Shortly after 9/11, Abu Zubaydah contact Bensayah Belkacem and 5 GIA members led by Sabir Lahmar were arrested on allegations of planning to carry out terrorist attacks against the US Embassy and SFOR troops stationed in Bosnia.(212, 213) After being tried and acquitted by the Bosnian supreme court in January 2002, the six men were detained by US forces, who had monitored Belkacem's communications with Zubaydah.(214)
It is also worth noting that Algerian journalist Mohamed Sifaoui, who successfully infiltrated the GIA/GSPC/al Qaeda infrastructure in the French Algerian immigrant community for several months, claims to have been told by a GSPC member that there were secret terrorist training camps for Islamist militants in Albania.(215) As the GSPC member who told Sifaoui this information appeared to be on good terms with GIA members, it is not inconceiveable that these camps could be used to replenish the GIA's dwindling ranks.
As you can see, the GIA has quite a history with regards to Continental Europe, which is one of the reasons why the French government has done such a good job in keeping tabs on them, thus preparing their security and intelligence services far better for the challenge of fighting al-Qaeda than were several others I could name, our own included.
The “new” Islamist terrorism in Europe differs from that in the past in several respects. First, it involves multiple Salafi-Jihadi movements originating from several Arab-Islamic countries. Secondly, it is aimed almost exclusively at Western targets. Thirdly, the majority of the militants have received paramilitary and/or terrorist training in camps run by al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan. Because of this, analysts perceive the recent patterns of Islamist terrorism in Europe as a new front in Usama Bin Ladin’s and al-Qaida’s “global jihad” mainly directed against the U.S., Israel and their closest allies.12
The Islamist radicals conspiring to attack targets in Europe originated from the MENA region, resided in Europe prior to initiating the plans, and almost all of them had received training in Afghanistan, which was the base of the promoters of “global jihad” until spring 2002. In this study they are referred to as “global mujahidin”.13 Methodologically, three contexts or “levels of analysis” must therefore be considered relevant when searching for potential explanations concerning the terrorists’ motivations. One is the local MENA context, the other is the European diaspora context, and a third might be defined as a “context beyond borders” or the “global context”. Since most of the terrorists have lived in Europe for some period of time we must pay special attention to the diaspora context when searching for explanations concerning their motivations for attacking targets within Europe.
I would say the fact that most Europeans appear to regard the Arab immigrant populations as little more than beasts of burden would in of itself be a significant factor in explaining the reason why many a member of the Middle Eastern diaspora seems fairly supportive of those heading out to go kill kufr. Explaining, please understand, not excusing it. But that's just me ...
Well if nothing else, they manage to quite successfully dodge one of the common analytical follies, namely establishing an exclusionary dichotomy between those interested in attacking "the near enemy" in addition to those interested in attacking "the far enemy." Indeed, the paper recognizes that the two worldviews are two sides of the same coin:
That is, is the recent Islamist terrorism in Europe mainly the continuation of Usama Bin Ladin’s and al-Qaida’s “global jihad” on European soil, or does it rather constitute a spill over of terrorism into Europe from the local Islamist insurgencies in the Middle East North Africa (the “local jihad”)? Or, do we see the emergence of a “European diaspora jihadism”, mainly motivated by grievances generated in Europe? Put more simply, we ask whether the militants conspiring to attack targets in Europe were mainly driven by “local motivation”, “diaspora motivation” or “global motivation”.
The main hypothesis of the study is that the motivations for Sunni Islamist terrorism inside post-millennium Europe are “complex” in the sense that they involve both social and religio-political grievances generated from multiple “levels of analysis”. Europe-based Islamist radicals draw their motivations from the local MENA context, the European diaspora context, and the “global context” simultaneously. The relative importance of the three contexts might vary from one case to another, and grievances generated in the different contexts seem to be mutually dependent on each other. Based on source collection and analyses, together with day to day monitoring of press sources on Islamist terrorist activity in Europe for more than one year at the Norwegian Defence Research Institute (FFI), I argue that “global motivation”, sometimes in combination with “diaspora motivation”, is increasingly important compared to “local motivation”. The source material of this study suggests that a common pattern is that grievances generated in the diaspora have been fuelled by ideas of a “global jihad”, manifesting in Sunni Islamist terrorism inside Europe.
The purpose of this study is to test this hypothesis by exploring and measuring the relative importance of the terrorists’ grievances at the various political contexts we assume they perceive relevant. The hypothesis above is built on the assumption that an “either-or” perception of “local jihad” and “global jihad” is futile. Islamist movements never forgot the local battles, and al-Qaida always incorporated them in its ideology. The insurgencies against secular and semi-secular regimes in the Middle East, North Africa, and South East Asia have probably become more integrated parts of the “global jihad”.16
As I noted above, recognizing this represents a significant step away from some of the more (in my view) wrong-headed analysis of past years. It's a good thing, and should allow intelligence types to draw more connections between both individuals and organizations that might have previously been overlooked.
Also interesting was a reflection of how intelligence can be relayed to the public solely through the worldview of the government that possesses it:
The tensions between U.S. and European perspectives are useful for analytical purposes ... U.S. newspapers did for example emphasize the links between the Jordanian-Palestinian movement al-Tawhid and al-Qaida, whereas German newspapers emphasized information suggesting that the movement was independent of al-Qaida.
As most readers know, I fall into the former camp, but I would like to say that I think that we would have had a far better discussion and debate on Zarqawi were such information not being filtered to both the intelligence types and the general publics of both nations.
We also get a fairly accurate summation of how to regard open-source intelligence from Mike Scheuer:
According to a former U.S. intelligence analyst and historian who has written an outstanding historical account of Usama Bin Ladin and al-Qaida almost entirely based on press sources, European and U.S. media are of “modest value” when it comes to understanding and reporting on the background, the intentions and beliefs of Bin Ladin and his radical allies. He argues the Arab-Islamic press is the superior source in this field, but that Western press is accurate when reporting on terrorist events, providing facts such as “names of suspects, dates, places, quotes by Western government officials and documents...”.
That's because the Western press, for a variety of understandable reasons, tends not to fully comprehend the methods or ideology of al-Qaeda and its satellite groups, which is one of the reasons I tend to regard them as being susceptible to manipulation by people within the intelligence world who have an agenda to push.
Court documents have been considered one of the most reliable sources of knowledge about the motivations and modus operandi of al-Qaida and affiliated groups.32 Access to such documents from the trials in Europe is needed to increase the reliability of the data presented and analyzed below. The terrorist conspiracies studied here have resulted in three trials to date. Final verdicts have only been reached in the trial of the “Strasbourg plotters”. 33 The terrorist cases have resulted in 6 verdicts at the time of writing. The procurement of court documents from these trials has turned out to be a relatively time-consuming process, and as such we have not been able to obtain this valuable source for this report.
Court documents are pretty good, though I'd be as interested in reading through the documents of the show trials in Egypt or the Middle East as I would be of any of those in Europe. The 1998 embassy bombing trials are still a great source of background information about al-Qaeda from the time that we (the general public) first learned about them.
The paper, likely out of prudence, is more hesitant than I am in drawing conclusions:
We study the terrorist motivations of Islamists belonging to Europe-based clandestine militant movements. These movements originated in the MENA region and they are believed to have various degrees of ideological and/or organizational ties to the al-Qaida movement. It is probably too early to conclude that the recent patterns of Islamist terrorism in Europe is an al-Qaida led offensive against the U.S. and Israel’s European allies. However, as we shall see, the analysis of the terrorist cases below does strengthen the hypothesis that perceptions of a “global jihad” are increasingly important as motivation for Islamist terrorism in Europe.
I myself am not nearly as hesitant to connect the dots on those points of inference, which is one of the reasons I am sometimes criticized, most recently with respect to Chechnya, for connecting local Islamist movements with that of al-Qaeda. Then again, I'm not a respected and renowned researcher who is listened to by the political class, so nobody's living or dying on the basis of what I do or do not say.
Islamism is in general an under theorized field of study. The bulk of earlier research on Islamist movements has theoretically, methodologically and empirically failed to acknowledge fully the importance of its transnational character. Authoritative studies such as those by Kepel (1985), Ayoubi (1998), and Esposito (1999) explained the motivations and behaviors of Islamist movements mainly with reference to domestic politics in the MENA region. For example, John Esposito’s 1999 account of the Egyptian and Algerian groups only briefly touched on the issue of these movements’ international presence and activities. Post-millennium, and especially post-September 11, 2001, researchers of Islamism have increasingly focused on the local-global nexus in the study of Islamism.
In other words, the bulk of the pre-9/11 Western research and analysis on Islamism has, more or less, shown to be erroneous or extremely incomplete with regard to its transnational aspects. This is particularly true of the Egyptian groups, given the importance of individuals like Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman and Ayman al-Zawahiri to al-Qaeda and its global jihad.
Since September 11, 2001 political analysts have provided models for conceptualizing the most important movement of transnational radical Islamism, al-Qaida.37 “The new school” of al-Qaida analysts usually compares al-Qaida with other and more familiar research entities. In this way, al-Qaida has been compared with a military alliance (NATO), business enterprise (al-Qaida incorporated), an educational institution or a university of radical Islam, and terrorism, etc. 38 One problem concerning such analogies is that al-Qaida seems to be constantly and rapidly changing and adapting to the realities and challenges it faces. The institutions and enterprises used for comparison are more static because they are more institutionalized and most often have to change in accordance with democratic laws and regulations. Al-Qaida exists beyond such systems and it is thus very flexible. Static models might capture aspects of al-Qaida’s motives and modus operandi in certain situations at certain times, but they do not cope with rapid changes. In addition al-Qaida has become a truly ideological movement, an aspect that is not captured by the analogies.
For what it's worth, I think Rohan Gunaratna's definition of al-Qaeda is the best in the business, but the authors of the paper seem to think that Burke's is superior. I more than agree that al-Qaeda is as much an ideological movement as it is an organization, but I think in many cases that the ideology aspect of the group should not be overstretched to exclude the very real and far-reaching command and control as well as financial leverage exercised by the actual organization. But I'm getting ahead of myself ...
Another problem with the aforementioned al-Qaida models is that whereas universities, enterprises and military institutions are identifiable entities, it is not obvious that al-Qaida is an entity at all. In my view, Jason Burke provides the most flexible and thus the most useful model of al-Qaida so far. To him, al-Qaida is both an entity and an idea, existing on three different levels. One level is the “al-Qaida hardcore”, the closest companions of Bin Ladin, those who followed him for a long time (e.g. Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abu Zubaydah, Ramzi Binalshibh, Khalid Shaykh Muhammad, etc). The other level is “the network of networks” various affiliated groups and cells worldwide (e.g. GIA/GSPC, al-Jihad, al-Salafiyya al-Jihadiyya, al-Jemaah al-Islamiyya in Indonesia etc). The third level is the “idea of al-Qaida” that lives on through “the network of networks” probably relatively independently of the “hard core”. Burke argues that the closest al-Qaida ever came to being an entity was between 1996 and November 2001, during Taliban rule in Afghanistan.
And those last points are where I tend to part ways with Burke. In my mind, and those of a great many individuals including Richard Clarke, Mike Scheuer, and the 9/11 Commission members, al-Qaeda is indeed a very real and very deadly entity which Gunaratna defines as follows:
Al Qaeda's organizational and operational infrastructure differs markedly from other guerrilla or terrorist groups ... Al Qaeda is also characterized by a broad-based ideology, a novel structure, a robust capacity for regeneration and a very diverse membership that cuts across ethnic, class and national boundaries. It is neither a single group nor a coalition of groups: it comprised a core base or bases in Afghanistan, satellite terrorist cells worldwide, a conglomerate of Islamist political parties, and other largely independent terrorist groups that it draws on for offensive actions and other responsibilities. Leaders of all the above are co-opted as and when necessary to serve as an integral part of Al Qaeda's high command, which is run via a vertical leadership structure that provides strategic direction and tactical support to its horizontal network of compartmentalized cells and associate organizations ...
... Al Qaeda's structure enables it to wield direct and indirect control over a potent, far-flung force. By issuing periodic pronouncements, speeches and writings, Osama indoctrinates, trains and controls a core inner group as well as inspiring and supporting peripheral cadres. In addition to exploiting Al Qaeda's relations with Islamist groups, parties and regimes, Osama also seeks to influence their thinking and behavior.
The constituent groups of Al Qaeda operate as a loose coalition, each with its own command, control and communication structures. The coalition has one unique characteristic to enhance its resilience and allows force to be multiplied in pursuit of a particular objective: whenever necessary, these groups interact or merge, cooperating ideologically, financially and technically.
To further advance the Islamist project, in 1998 Al Qaeda was reorganized into four distinct but interlinking entities. The first was a pyramidal structure to facilitate strategic and tactical direction; the second was a global terrorist network; the third was a base force for guerrilla warfare inside Afghanistan; and the fourth was a loose coalition of transnational terrorist and guerrilla groups.
Scheuer, for example, compares al-Qaeda to the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in Imperial Hubris, while Clarke sees it through the context of a worldwide political conspiracy. In any event, the paper recognizes that it's more than just an ideology that's driving the recent attacks in Europe:
The Islamist terrorism in post-millennium Europe is attributed to Islamist radical movements, which would fall under Burke’s category “the network of networks”: various local Islamist groups, which subscribe to the Salafi-Jihadi ideology, promoted by “al-Qaida hardcore”. In order to understand and further theorize the dynamics of transnational radical Islamism in Europe, we do however need to study more closely these movements’ origins, how they organized beyond state borders, how they cooperated across organizational boundaries, and what kind of grievances motivated them to launch attacks in Europe under the Salafi-Jihadi banner. This study is a contribution to that end.
And a fairly good one, I'd like to say. My only quibble is that they don't address whether these various movements and organizations are being directed by al-Qaeda in an active command and control capacity, a fact that the authors readily acknowledge at the beginning of this section.
4.2: The ideological impetus for transnational radical Islamism