Friday, July 06, 2007

New Model of Islamist Terror Emerging

This morning's Wall Street Journal reports that global Islamist terrorists are adopting quick-hit strike tactics, a style developed extensively by al-Qaeda in Iraq under Abu Musab al-Zarqawi:

U.S. security officials worry their fears may be coming true: That attempts by a diverse group of jihadis to attack nightclubs and airports in Britain signal a new model of Islamist terrorism has arrived, less ambitious than the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but potentially deadly nonetheless -- and even more difficult to detect.

The possible tactical shift -- involving seemingly untrained operatives using simple weapons and hasty planning -- raises difficult questions for security services, especially regarding resource allocation. Should they prepare to detect and disrupt only major catastrophic attacks? Or shadow every possible extremist in the hope of pre-empting more likely attacks on, for example, shopping malls using a homemade gasoline bomb or legally purchased firearms?
Here's a key point from the article:
In the face of global counterterrorism efforts to toughen airline security and increase surveillance of suspect groups, al Qaeda has adopted a two-pronged parallel strategy, federal counterterrorism officials believe. One is to encourage local Muslims to join their jihad and kill however they can. At the same time, their chief planners continue to plan and work for "the big one."
Read the whole thing. Actually, the type of attacks seen in last week's London plot has been anticipated by terrorism and security analysts.

Audrey Kurth Cronin has argued that al-Qaeda is unique among terror organizations. Its structure is much more fluid than past terror groups -- in reality al-Qaeda is a loose network of affiliated groups forming under a common banner of global jihad. The organization's diffusion is marked loose recruitment methods in which followers jump on al-Qaeda's terrorist bandwagon, rather than joining-up under pressure from the top al-Qaeda leadership. As a volunteerist movement, Islamist jihad attracts a wide variety of follow-on groups, most noteworthy in Western Europe, where the openness of democratic regimes promotes deep and easy connections between mosques, bomb-makers, and fanatical supporters.

Funding for the various cells is generated for the most part through al-Qaeda seed money, which is supplemented by the petty crime and fraud activities of various operatives. Al-Qaeda is seen more as a franchise operation with a "marketable brand." Other sources of funding can be found in al-Qaeda front-businesses worldwide, as well as international underground banking channels and charities which funnel money to al-Qaeda. The various elements of the al-Qaeda movement use online communications -- mobile phones, text messaging, e-mail, and especially websites -- to communicate globally. Thus, far-reaching communications activities make it more likely that the Islamists will remain disjointed and less organized than modern hierarchical military organizations -- a point missed in contemporary debates positing an all-encompassing terrorist command structure headquartered in a permanent state-based jihahi compound.

Neverthess, the new al-Qaeda can be defeated, though the war will take more than military power. The United States and its allies must focus on breaking up and separating the global network of cells. Such efforts will take good intelligence and law enforcement techniques. Internal inconsistencies of al-Qaeda can be expoited. Western policy might seek through to drive a wedge between the movement, local followers, and recent adherents (different groups have different aims and agendas, which might facilitate the use of non-military counterterrorist tools).

Success in this effort won't take place over night. Much will depend on
how democratic electorates percieve the Islamist challenge before them, not to mention how well candidates frame the terror issue as a matter of national priority.

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