A new definition for al-Qaeda

 

Image Credit: AEI's Critical Threat's Project

Image Credit: AEI’s Critical Threat’s Project

above image source: http://www.aei-ideas.org/2013/09/the-al-qaeda-network-today/

 

 

Washington Post, By Katherine Zimmerman, Jan. 31:

What exactly is al-Qaeda? And who cares? Confusion about how to define the terrorist group is rife. Was al-Qaeda involved in the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks in Benghazi, Libya, that left four Americans dead? The Obama administration says no. Are the groups proliferating around Africa and the Middle East really part of the al-Qaeda that toppled the World Trade Center and hit the Pentagon?

There is no simple answer. Al-Qaeda is a global terrorist organization that relies on secrecy to survive. Even al-Qaeda members are confused about each other’s status: The leader of the group in Yemen had to ask his Algerian counterpart for clarification about Ansar al-Din’s relationship to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. The covert nature of the network intentionally obscures many relationships.

Here’s the problem: According to recently declassified testimony of Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, before the House Armed Services Committee in October, the U.S. military regards itself as legally barred from going after the perpetrators of the Benghazi attacks (and, presumably, others who attack Americans) unless they are affiliated with al-Qaeda. The Obama administration’s parsing of words to deny al-Qaeda’s direct involvement effectively precludes a military response in these situations.

But the United States can neither disrupt nor defend itself from an enemy it cannot define. Nor are we safer because of arbitrary definitions. The question demands an answer: What is al-Qaeda?

Al-Qaeda’s leadership regulates the use of its name and resources; it has formally and publicly recognized affiliates in Yemen, Iraq, Somalia, Syria and West Africa. In each of these cases, the regional leadership pledged loyalty to the al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who accepted their oaths. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki may have been right when she said last month that “they don’t give out T-shirts or membership cards,” but any sensible definition of group membership must surely recognize the explicit and public exchanges of oaths of loyalty and command between Osama bin Laden and Zawahiri, on the one hand, and the leaders of overt franchises on the other.

Many experts disagree about the extent to which locally oriented militants are officially part of al-Qaeda. The White House has focused on terrorists currently targeting the United States, which form a small subset of the overall al-Qaeda movement. In the course of the debate over Benghazi, that focus has narrowed further to the question of whether “al-Qaeda core” ordered a specific attack.

There is even disagreement over the definition of “core” al-Qaeda. Most administration officials suggest that it is the small group keeping company with Zawahiri in Pakistan. Others define it as veteran members of the al-Qaeda network, active before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But this core has long been dispersed, with only a small part still in Pakistan. Some members now lead regional franchises: Nasir al-Wuhayshi, bin Laden’s former secretary, is both emir of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and al-Qaeda’s general manager.

In reality, al-Qaeda’s goals are furthered by the so-called core, affiliates and local groups that enjoy no formal relationships with the Zawahiri contingent. The Jamal Network in Egypt, al-Mulathamun in the Sahel and the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have a direct but informal relationship with al-Qaeda. The TTP poses a particular definitional problem because it has neither sought nor received formal membership in al-Qaeda, yet it conducted the attempted Times Square bombing in May 2010.

The greatest al-Qaeda threat to the United States is AQAP, which has attempted to attack the U.S. homeland three times since 2009 and whose leader is clearly a member of al-Qaeda core, despite his location in Yemen. Still, most of AQAP’s efforts in recent years have gone into seizing control of parts of Yemen, making it “locally focused.” And what to make of al-Shabab, the formally recognized affiliate in Somalia that does not use the al-Qaeda name? It has been fixated on Somalia but has conducted attacks throughout the region and recruits directly, and in English, from the American Somali community.

Al-Qaeda today is the realization of bin Laden’s broader vision. He did not limit himself only to the founding and running of al-Qaeda but imagined a network uniting like-minded groups extending far beyond state borders. The al-Qaeda operatives around bin Laden’s successor in Pakistan are — at least for the time being — hemmed in by U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and they are under siege from Afghanistan-based U.S. drone attacks. But the al-Qaeda network — a defined set of groups running from West Africa to Southeast Asia — carries on bin Laden’s legacy and remains a danger.

An excessively narrow definition of al-Qaeda is just as dangerous as one that includes every Sunni Muslim extremist group. Clearly not all parts of the broader al-Qaeda network are equally dangerous. Nor does dealing with each automatically require the use of military force. Decisions to use force against al-Qaeda must be shaped by strategy and prioritization, like any other national security decision. But excluding large portions of the al-Qaeda network from consideration and hiding behind semantics guarantees strategic failure. Defining the enemy down is not the answer.

Katherine Zimmerman is a senior analyst at the American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project and authored the report “The al-Qaeda Network: A New Framework for Defining the Enemy.”

Also see:

Zawahiri’s Latest Message: Please Listen To Me Jihadis, Stop Bickering

Ayman al-Zawahiri

Ayman al-Zawahiri

Posted by Clint Watts:

While it’s not uncommon to see Ayman al-Zawahiri wagging his finger in a quarterly or semi-annual propaganda video spewing the usual anti-American rhetoric, it is unusual to see al Qaeda leaders issuing guidance and directives to subordinates in publicly available guidelines.  As-Sahab Media, an al Qaeda media outlet, recently released Zawahiri’s “General Guidelines for Jihad” in both Arabic and English. Zawahiri has issued public edicts to followers before, but this latest installment feels quite different and its delivery and content suggests several changes and tensions that may be afoot inside al Qaeda global organization.

First, let’s explore why Zawahiri would issue public rather than private guidance to the global jihadi community. Normally, al Qaeda might broadcast strategic vision publicly, but reserve directives and corrective guidance via secure communications.  The most famous intercept of these private communications comes from Zawahiri’s 2006 scolding of abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi for counterproductive violence against Shia in Iraq.  In addition, the Harmony documents provide countless other examples of al Qaeda’s internal directives and squabbles.  More recently some private communications to jihadi groups in Syria have allegedly surfaced showing dissatisfaction between Zawahiri and al Qaeda in Iraq’s emir abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.  Al Qaeda, like most any terrorist organization, normally delivers these messages in private for several reasons:

  1. Airing internal squabbles publicly hurts the organization’s popular support and certain leader’s authority,
  2. Public messaging can reveal strategy and orders to adversaries (counterterrorists) enabling their efforts to defeat the terrorist organization, and
  3. Such messaging can, at times, severely reduce the security and success of al Qaeda affiliates.

In short, this message went public because Zawahiri’s guidance isn’t being followed. Al Qaeda Central messages and directives either can’t get to affiliates or they are being ignored.  Both scenarios are problematic for the terror group.

Second, the content of Zawahiri’s guidelines goes beyond grand vision instructing individual jihadis on what exactly to avoid.  Previous messages, whether from Bin Laden, Zawahiri or even Anwar al-Awlaki, have given rather broad suggestions to jihadis such as go to “Jihad in country fill in the blank” or “Do-Jihad-At-Home”. But Zawahiri’s latest guidelines suggest something more specific.  Today, he doesn’t seem to be speaking to the global jihadi movement as a whole but instead communicating directly to jihadis enmeshed in affiliates engaged in battles across North Africa and the Middle East.  Zawahiri writes,

We call upon the heads of all groups and organizations that work under Qaidatul Jihad Organization (al Qaida) and all our supporters and sympathizers to spread these guidelines amongst their followers, whether in positions of responsibility or ordinary individuals; for this document contains no hidden secrets, rather it is a general policy guideline.

I can’t recall one paragraph in any al Qaeda document that reveals as much as this one.

Read more at FPRI

Ayman Zawahiri and Egypt: A Trip Through Time

 

Ayman al-Zawahiri

Ayman al-Zawahiri

by Raymond Ibrahim

Around 1985, current al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri fled his homeland of Egypt, presumably never to return. From his early beginnings as a teenage leader of a small jihadi cell devoted to overthrowing Egyptian regimes (first Nasser’s then Sadat’s) until he merged forces with Osama bin Laden, expanding his objectives to include targeting the United States of America, Zawahiri never forgot his original objective: transforming Egypt into an Islamist state that upholds and enforces the totality of Sharia law, and that works towards the resurrection of a global caliphate.

This vision is on its way to being fulfilled. With Islamist political victories, culminating with a Muslim Brotherhood president, Muhammad Morsi, Egypt is taking the first major steps to becoming the sort of state Zawahiri wished to see. Zawahiri regularly congratulates Egypt’s Islamists—most recently the attacks on the U.S. embassy in Cairo—urging them to continue Islamizing the Middle East’s most strategic nation.

He sent a lengthy communiqué during the Egyptian revolution in February 2011, for example, titled “Messages of Hope and Glad Tidings to our People in Egypt.” In it, he reiterated themes widely popularized by al-Qaeda, including: secular regimes are the enemies of Islam; democracy is a sham; Sharia must be instituted; the U.S. and the “Zionist enemy” are the true source behind all of the Islamic world’s ills.

Zawahiri continues to push these themes. Late last month, he sent messages criticizing Morsi, especially for not helping “the jihad to liberate Palestine;” called for the kidnapping of Westerners, especially Americans—which the U.S. embassy in Cairo took seriously enough to issue a warning to Americans; and further incited Egypt’s Muslims to wage jihad against America because of the YouTube Muhammad movie.

In short, a symbiotic relationship exists between the country of Egypt and the Egyptian Zawahiri: the country helped shape the man, and the man is fixated on influencing the country, his homeland. Accordingly, an examination of Zawahiri’s early years and experiences in Egypt—a case study of sorts—provides context for understanding Zawahiri, the undisputed leader of the world’s most notorious Islamic terrorist organization and helps explain how Egypt got where it is today. The two phenomena go hand-in-hand.

In this report, we will explore several questions, including: What happened in Egypt to turn this once “shy” and “studious” schoolboy who abhorred physical sports as “inhumane” towards jihad? What happened to turn many Egyptians to jihad, or at least radical Islam? What is Zawahiri’s relationship to the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis—Egypt’s two dominant Islamist political players? Did the 9/11 strikes on America, orchestrated by Zawahiri and al-Qaeda, help or hinder the Islamists of Egypt?

Read more at IPT

Raymond Ibrahim, an expert on al-Qaeda and author of The Al Qaeda Reader, is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

See also: Discover the Networks profile of Ayman al-Zawahiri