||The Changing Face of Terror
by Laura Mansfield [author, analyst] 12/18/06
If you look back at the recent terror-related arrests, you'll notice a disturbing trend emerging.
You'll see that today's alleged terrorists have little in common with Al Qaeda terrorists list Mohamed Atta, and the terror plots of 2006 are radically different from those of 2001.
The 19 hijackers of the 9/11 attacks on the US, like the attackers of the US Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar al Salam, Tanzania, and the attackers of the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, were all "Al Qaeda elite". They were the "best of the best", and were trained in Al Qaeda camps in Sudan and Afghanistan.
Laura Mansfield is a writer and commentator on issues regarding the Middle
East, Islam, and Radical Islamic Terrorism.
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Nation Under Allah
Although certainly some Al Qaeda terrorists, like Abu Mus'ab al Zarqawi, had little formal education at or beyond the secondary school level, many were college educated or possessed specialized skills, training, or aptitude that made them stand out from the crowd. Mohamed Atta, leader of the 9/11 attacks, held an undergraduate degree in Engineering, and went to graduate school.
In contrast, many of those recently arrested for involvement in terror plots are not rocket scientist types. Many are high school-educated, self-trained, and by examining the government affidavits certainly don't appear to be smarter than the average bear.
The training has changed too.
Although the leaders of the London bombing attacks had received some training in Pakistan, this was largely a local operation in London, with encouragement and morale support from the Al Qaeda leadership. In fact, a key piece of evidence tying them to Al Qaeda was the tape released by Al Qaeda second-in-command Dr. Ayman al Zawahiri after the attacks.
This summer's thwarted London airline attack plans showed a similar pattern: a handful of those accused of involvement in this plot, primarly those accused of being in leadership roles, had received training in Al Qaeda training camps. The "foot soldiers", so to speak, were for the most part "local hires", individuals recruited in country for the operation within the Islamist infrastructure that has been set up for this purpose.
But planned attacks have not been limited to the UK. Canadian and US authorities have made terror-related arrests this year as well, disrupting potential attacks.
In these arrests, again, only a handful of the individuals arrested are alleged to have received minimal training in Pakistan. Most of the members of these "cells" were self-taught. The Canadian group is reported to have trained for jihad using paintball and camping trips.
The key to the radicalization and recruitment of these individuals seems to be a combination of a local "leader", resident at a mosque, and the internet.
The so-called Miami 7, the seven black men arrested in a plot to attack the SearsTower and various government buildings, was also self-taught. Authorities have said there are no discernable links to Al Qaeda per se.
The arrest last week of Derrick Shareef in Chicago on charges that his holiday plans included a grenade attack on a Chicago area mall is another case in point. Again, authorities say he has no ties to any known terror groups; yet his professed goal was "violent jihad".
Is the era of the organized Al Qaeda terrorist like Mohamed Atta over? Has he been replaced by rogue individuals or groups, inspired and trained over the internet, with few or no ties to Al Qaeda other than posted on a message board?
Probably not. The Mohamed Attas of the world are almost certainly still out there, plotting grand-scale attacks under the direction of Al Qaeda leadership.
But now Al Qaeda has some help.
That help is coming from a new species of terrorist that is emerging. This new species is impatient and tired of waiting for a major Al Qaeda plot to hatch. Instead of waiting years for all the elements of a major attack to fall into place, these groups go out and practice "do it yourself" terrorism.
It's easy enough. Self-paced training guides are on the internet. Detailed instructional videos, complete with shopping lists, on how to create explosives are on the internet as well. There's certainly no shortage of inspirational material desired to stoke the fires of hatred against "kuffars", or unbelievers, in general, and Americans specifically.
The disaffected, disenfranchised, and depressed are cannon fodder for the jihad.
It is becoming more and more difficult to determine what attacks, close calls, or thwarted attacks are "terrorism" and what are simply criminal.
Was Joel Hinrichs, the young man who detonated an explosives vest, blowing himself up outside a crowded OklahomaUniversity football game last fall an Al Qaeda terrorist, a rogue jihadi, or simply a disturbed young man?
It's going to be more and more difficult to discern.
Do postings of sympathy for Al Qaeda on a jihadist message board by an individual who carried out a terror attack make that individual an Al Qaeda terrorist?
Now bear in mind that none of this bothers Al Qaeda in the least. They don't really care whether these small scale attacks succeed or not because in many ways just the publicity about the attacks is enough. Each set of arrests seems to be followed by an upsurge in converts to Islam. Each arrest raises the public awareness of Al Qaeda, and makes people just a little more uneasy, and a little more afraid of a potential terror attack.
Remember that the Arabic word "Al Qaeda" translates into English as "the base". Al Qaeda's goal is to become the base, the central hub, the "mother ship" of the jihad movement. Its role is to pump out the propaganda, keep the faithful inspired, and steer potential recruits into the jihad in hopes of spawning off "eruptions", much in the way that the sun generates solar flares.
Al Qaeda is so supportive of this that they have gone so far as to publicize the prototype Al Qaeda soldier of the twenty-first century, code-named "Rakan Bin Williams".
Al Qaeda is counting on these soldiers, who are often converts to Islam, but who are largely disaffected and misfits, who are finding a welcoming and nurturing haven in radical Islam.
In the summer of 2001, the consensus among terrorism specialists was that Al Qaeda was preparing to strike American interests overseas. Instead we got sucker-punched at home, in New York and Washington.
In fact, on the morning of September 11, 2001, only a very small percentage of Americans knew who Osama Bin Laden was, even though in the previous years his group had attacked a US navy ship (the USS Cole) in port in Aden, Yemen, and had blown up two US embassies in Africa.
Al Qaeda is now a household world, and that suits them just fine. But we are still at risk for another sucker-punch.
While we have been busy for the last five years keeping an eye on the Rottweiler growling at us, a whole bunch of yipping little Chihuahuas have taken up residence. But as any veterinarian will tell you, you can get rabies from a small pup just as easily as you can from a larger and fiercer animal. Rabid cats, squirrels, skunks, bats, and other mammals pose similar risk.
In the same manner, the threat to America from the Global Jihad has morphed. In 2001, the threat came from young men from the Middle East. Today the threat may come from the Middle East, or it may come from someone born and raised in America. We can't depend upon national or racial lines, or even sex to evaluate the risk. The perpetrator of the next attack on America could be the blonde hair, blue-eyed or African American as easily as it could be someone with a more classic Middle Eastern appearance.
It's easy to say that the commonality is "radical Islam" but what about the terrorist who hides or minimizes his religious affiliation? What about the copycat, the disaffected, the depressed, or the mentally ill terrorist who latches on to the periphery of radical Islam? How do you detect them before an attack, without infringing upon the civil liberties of law abiding citizens?
Let's hope we find a way of discerning those who pose the threat. before we get sucker punched again. CRO
2006 Laura Mansfield