This month, Al Qaeda officially disenfranchised one of its affiliates, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). In fact, ISIS is now in open warfare with al Nusra Front, another Al Qaeda affiliate in Syria. These events reveal an Al Qaeda more Balkanized than unified. They also undermine the generally accepted view of a global Al Qaeda network expanding its reach. As opposed to a single organization bound by a common ideology, we should view the Al Qaeda network for what it is: a loose coalition of separate terrorist groups with their own individual causes. Our current strategy to defeat the Al Qaeda network by countering its ideology will likely fail. These other groups will continue on, perhaps under different names, long after Al Qaeda is militarily defeated.
The Obama administration’s 2011 National Strategy for Counterterrorism distanced itself from Bush’s “Global War on Terrorism” by accurately describing terrorism as a tactic, not an enemy. The enemy is now defined as Al Qaeda core (the organization established by Osama Bin Laden now largely located in Pakistan), its affiliates (other groups aligned with Al Qaeda) and its adherents. “Adherents” includes individuals who are inspired to take action based on the ideology of Al Qaeda. Adherents includes any terrorist or group who claims to share Al Qaeda’s ideology, leading to the conclusion the only way to defeat such a networked organization is to destroy this one common link—the ideology. While terrorist organizations can be destroyed and individuals can be imprisoned or killed, it is unlikely that we will ever achieve victory defined as stamping out an objectionable creed.
Terrorist groups are paramilitary organizations and behave as rational actors. Their strategies are directed specific political end states, or “causes.” While a group’s end state and ideology are related, they are not synonymous. For example, Al Qaeda and the Palestinian group Hamas share similar Islamist ideologies, but their end states are completely different. Likewise, the causes of most of the Al Qaeda’s affiliates are regional, differing from Al Qaeda core’s focus on the West. When these groups assume the Al Qaeda moniker, they anticipate a predictable counterterrorism response from the United States; however they do so to attract funds, recruits and media attention. Continue reading →
In late August, a series of drone strikes in Northern Waziristan were reported to have killed a number of jihadist leaders. Most media attention focused on the possible demise of Badruddin Haqqani, son of the fabled mujahedeen leader, with conflicting reports about whether he had died or not. Almost as an afterthought, some of the stories highlighted that the strikes were believed to have also killed Emeti Yakuf, the current leader of the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) (Dawn, August 24). This overshadowed death reflected the generally low profile that TIP is often given amongst jihadist groups, and highlighted once again the difficulties in obtaining information about the mysterious China-focused terrorist organization.
Emeti Yakuf first achieved prominence in the wake of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, when the Chinese Ministry of Public Security (MPS) published a list of eight individuals it identified as members of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM).  Considered by the government as a “key member” of the organization, he was reported to also use the aliases Aibu Adubureheman and Saifula. According to Chinese MPS information, he was born on March 14, 1965, and was reported to have fled Xinjiang for “a South Asian country” (believed to be Pakistan) in November 1996. Once there, he is believed to have risen rapidly in the ranks of the organization and by 1998 was a leader in the group. By 2001, he was directing operations, recruiting individuals and generally serving the organization in a leadership role (Xinhua, October 21, 2008).
Mohamed Merah, the 23-year-old Islamist gunman who hunted down three Jewish children and a rabbi after murdering three French paratroopers in Toulouse last month, didn’t act alone. In his journey from the slums of Toulouse, to the local mosques, to the terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan that he described to French police, to filming his murder of the terrified children in order to post video clips on the web, Mr. Merah was following a path marked out years earlier by the coldblooded jihadist theoretician Abu Musab al-Suri.
Abu Musab al-Suri, in an undated photo released by the U.S. government’s Rewards for Justice program around 2004. He’s been called ‘the most dangerous terrorist you’ve never heard of.
What is perhaps more disturbing, Mr. al-Suri was recently set free from prison in Damascus, Syria, and his current whereabouts are unknown. Turned over to Syria after his capture by the CIA in late 2005, Mr. al-Suri was released sometime in December (according to intelligence sources and jihadist websites) by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad—a move apparently intended to warn the West of the consequences for opposing his rule.
Barely noticed in the midst of Mr. Assad’s own brutal assaults on civilians, Mr. al-Suri’s release may well contribute to the emergence of more attackers like Mr. Merah in the West. “His videos are already being reuploaded. His audios, reposted,” wrote Jarret Brachman, a former CIA analyst and the former director of West Point’s Center for Combating Terrorism, in a blog post after the news of Mr. al-Suri’s release first appeared on jihadist sites.
Amine El Khalifi is charged with plotting to bomb the U.S. Capitol.
Amine El Khalifi is charged with attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction
He is alleged to have worked with others he believed to be al Qaeda operatives
Terrorism cases where individuals act alone are on the rise, experts say
In many ways, such cases are the worst nightmare of counterterrorism officials
(CNN) — The arrest of a 29-year-old Moroccan living illegally in the United States has focused attention again on the danger posed by “lone-wolf” terrorists.
Amine El Khalifi has been charged with plotting to carry out a bombing on the U.S. Capitol and attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction against federal property.
He is alleged to have worked with others he believed to be al Qaeda operatives, who provided him with a suicide vest and conducted a demonstration of explosives in a quarry in West Virginia, according to a Department of Justice affidavit.
For more than a year, undercover agents were in contact with El Khalifi after his intentions became known during an ongoing criminal investigation, according to one source.
According to the affidavit, an FBI informant brought El Khalifi, who was arrested Friday, to the attention of law enforcement in January 2011 after he told others at an Arlington residence that “the group needed to be ready for war.”
Are Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) still the prime destination for jihad-minded foreign fighters from the West? The short answer is that we really don’t know because empirical data is hard to find. Anecdotal evidence referenced by Western security officials, researchers, and even jihadists does suggest, however, that the FATA just might have lost its magnetic appeal. If so, we need to ensure that this positive development is not a fleeting one. And to determine the best way forward, we need to look at how and why it came to be.
But first, let’s remember why this phenomenon matters. Foreign fighters, especially those emanating from the West, bolster terrorist and insurgent factions within conflict zones. Foreign fighters, as well as the bridge figures who recruit them, inspire, radicalize, and motivate individuals to the jihadi cause. Foreign fighters serve key operational and propaganda functions — in essence, they provide both effect and affect. Their role makes them a threat to Western policy objectives. Together, their ability to return home, their Western passports, and their familiarity with potential targets they may select to attack make them a direct threat to Western security.
The threat of al-Qa’eda-linked terror attacks is now too great for British tourists to visit Timbuktu, the Foreign Office has warned.
By Mike Pflanz, West Africa Correspondent
Published: 10:42PM GMT 23 Nov 2009
The new travel advisory raised the threat in and around Mali‘s oft-quoted oasis town to “high” Photo: REUTERS
The new travel advisory raised the threat in and around Mali’s oft-quoted oasis town to “high” after a surge in kidnappings of Westerners by al-Qa’eda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqim), a growing terror cell inspired by Osama bin Laden which is widening its reach across the unpoliced Sahara desert. Continue reading →