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[infowar.de] Al Qaeda's web: The upgraded networks of global terrorism
Nicht so viel Tech-Bezug, aber dennoch netztheoretisch interessant.
Besonders das Loblied auf die ollen Kamellen von Ronfeldt aus den 90ern.
Al Qaeda's web: The upgraded networks of global terrorism
Scott Atran NYT
International Herald Tribune, March 17, 2004
ANN ARBOR, Michigan The coordinated train bombings in Madrid have
Europe's political structure, shaken global financial markets and
the American-led coalition in Iraq. Although we still do not know for
who committed the atrocity, the only groups to have claimed
so far say they represent Al Qaeda.
In any event, the attacks are clearly consistent with jihadist doctrine
aims. Osama bin Laden, specifically mentioning the loss of southern
Christianity in 1492, has made it clear that any land once in Muslim
was fair game for global jihad.
For the last year the Israeli historian Reuven Paz has monitored
writings about Spain, which focused on the Spanish government's
participation in Iraq. "In order to force the Spanish government to
from Iraq," one online tract read, "it is a must to exploit the coming
general elections in Spain." It added that two to three attacks would
"the victory of the Socialist Party and the withdrawal of Spanish
the first domino in the collapse of the American-led coalition.
No matter who is responsible for the Madrid attacks, they are a reminder
that in its fight against terrorism the United States faces a task
reminiscent of Hercules's fight against the Hydra, the monster that
new heads for each one severed. From the bombings in Morocco, Indonesia
Turkey last year, to the more recent suicide attacks in Iraq and
the Shiite holy day of Ashura, it is clear that since the Sept. 11
we have misunderstood the nature of global jihad.
While most Westerners have imagined a tightly coordinated transnational
terrorist network headed by Al Qaeda, it seems more likely we face a set
largely autonomous groups and cells pursuing their own regional aims.
some groups - from Ansar al-Islam in Iraq to Jemaah Islamiyah in
to Pakistan's Jaish-e-Muhammad - seem to be coordinating strategy and
perhaps tactical operations among themselves. But for the most part the
factions are swarming on their own initiative - homing in from scattered
locations on various targets and then dispersing, only to form new
While these groups share the motivations and methods of Al Qaeda, it is
likely they have had only distant relations with Osama bin Laden and the
Sunni salafists around him.
In fact, bin Laden and the Qaeda hard core should perhaps be viewed as
were in the 1990s, as just one hub of a loosely knit global network of
mujahadeen leaders left over from the Soviet-Afghan war. It was only
the FBI began investigating the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Africa
U.S. prosecutors - and the rest of the world - began referring to Al
as a global terrorist organization. We may be overestimating bin Laden's
The suicide bombings in November in Istanbul are a case in point.
officials immediately attributed the bombings to Al Qaeda, although it
quickly became clear that the explosives were probably made and
Turkish groups claiming to represent Al Qaeda's aims. In fact, bin
greatest threat may be that simply by claiming to act in his name,
groups are better able to recruit and coordinate operations.
U.S. special forces have recently stepped up their pursuit of bin Laden
the no man's land between Pakistan and Afghanistan. While it would of
be a triumph to capture or kill him, his demise is unlikely to prove
decisive. The war in Iraq has energized so many disparate groups that
terrorism is better prepared than ever to carry on without bin Laden.
with many top Qaeda leaders now dead or in custody, the International
Institute of Strategic Studies in London is reporting that global
recruitment for anti-American jihad is rising and that many small,
decentralized groups have sprung up that are harder for governments to
identify and neutralize than was the case before the invasion.
Last year, there were 98 suicide attacks around the world, more than any
year in contemporary history. Suicide terrorism plagues Iraq for the
time since the 13th-century assassins. A distinct pattern in this litany
atrocities has been pointed out by Robert Axelrod, a political scientist
the University of Michigan.
Charting terrorist attacks by organization and lethality, he has noted
increasing interest in well-planned attacks intended to produce high
of civilian casualties - a pattern into which the Madrid bombings, on
commuter train stations at the morning rush, fit neatly.
This trend also seems to point to an eventual suicide attack using
or nuclear weapons.
So what can the United States do? Traditional top-heavy approaches -
strategic bombardment, invasion and other large-scale forms of coercion
will not be any use against border-hopping jihadist swarms, and they
only add to their popular support.
Surprisingly, however, pinpoint responses may not be the answer either.
Kathleen Carley, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University in
has used intelligence data and computer modeling to monitor changes in
jihadist networks, including the cell responsible for the suicide
the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania.
She found that eliminating the "central actors" - that is, cell members
have the most ties to other cell members and to other groups - has
spurred terrorists to adapt more quickly, and has been less effective in
long run than eliminating foot soldiers. Thus assassinations of leaders
favorite Israeli tactic - may be counterproductive, in addition to
Rather, destroying terrorist networks requires what David Ronfeldt, a
analyst, calls "netwar." This is, in effect, mimicking the swarming
of the enemy. It involves long missions by smallish, mobile military
that can quickly descend on terrorist groups.
This approach also requires a sort of global spider web - a set of
international and interfaith alliances bonded by mutual trust and
Such a true coalition of the willing would have the collective
and resourcefulness needed to stop the swarms.
While Spain's incoming prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero,
to pull Spanish troops out of Iraq, he has said he will back efforts in
and elsewhere as part of a United Nations enterprise. So would much of
world. Just as Hercules needed the help of his nephew Iolaus to kill the
Hydra, the United States will not conquer the Islamic terror without the
popular support of its allies. The jihadists are betting America will
go it alone.
Scott Atran is a research scientist at the National Center for
Research in Paris and at the University of Michigan.
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