Understanding Golbal Jihad in 2011

With the death of Osama bin Laden, where is Al Qaeda and its Global Jihad going? This is the first of a series of postings aimed at analysing jihadist ideology. Firstly, we have to ask – is Al Qeada headless? If not, then who is in control? Is there an internal power struggle going on inside Al Qaeda? What is the shape of Al Qaeda now? Is the centre of Al Qaeda operations shifting? These are some of the questions we will aim to address. In this and subsequent posts.

Jihadist Core Aims

Al Qaeda’s ideology of global jihad remains at the core of its operations, and the core Al Qaeda leadership remains, for now at least, in Pakistan. The first question is what is Al Qaeda’s central aim? It has all along been to remove foreign influence from the Islamic world (the Dar al Islam). Connected to this is the aim of creating a worldwide Caliphate or Muslim Empire with world domination. This harks back to the glories of the long gone Ottoman Empire. These aims require Al Qaeda leaders to articulate a further argument, namely that the Muslim World is under attack from the West and that the West, under American leadership, is the source of many the problems of the Muslim World. This makes violent jihad a sacred duty for all good Muslims. Unlike terror groups like the IRA or ETA, Islamism is not a nationalist movement. It rejects the modern state, and nationhood, and secular law. Instead it speaks of a ‘brotherhood’ and reaches out to all ‘true’ Muslims everywhere and incites them to Jihad against the infidel. 

In order to sustain this position, the Al Qaeda leadership has had to foment and provoke endless conflicts and tension bewteen Muslims and non-Muslims. Under Osama bin Laden, the preferred method of achieving this has been to stage spectacular high casualty attcks on Western targets like the 9/11 attacks on the USA, the 7/7 bombings in London, and the train bombings in Madrid. These attacks usually have little military or economic impact, but they do highten tensions and they are intended to provoke hostile responses from the ‘West’. This serves the aim of keeping the pot boiling and fuelling a sense of resentment among Muslims.

Core Al Qaeda and Pakistan

It is becoming clear that Al Qaeda’s capacity to perpetrate these major attacks is becoming degraded. Where do they go from here? A number of key core AQ leaders have been killed by US missile strikes in the last two years; most notably Mustapha Abu al-Yazid (head of finance) and Saleh al-Somali (Head of External Operations). Many of core AQ’s attacks on Western targets are masterminded from Pakistan. The need for regular travel from Pakistan to other countries makes them very vulnerable as the borders are watched very closely by intelligence agencies. On the other hand remote regions of Pakistan, like South Waziristan, provide a formidable hideout, especially as the Pakistani authorities are selective about which terrorists they attack. Bomb plots, like the 2009 attempt against the New York subway, have been thwarted due to the surveilance of suspicious travel patters.  Indeed the death of Osama bin Laden was achieved through careful surveillance of travel patters of core AQ couriers.

Given these difficulties core Al Qaeda is increasingly reliant upon its worldwide network of affilliates to fulfil its global plan. More on this in the next post


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