Thursday, January 18, 2007

An al Qaeda Training Doctrine

Terrorism Monitor has an interesting article on the evolution al Qaeda's training doctrines. Focusing on one particularly influential jihadi strategist, Abu Mus'ab al-Suri, the report describes how his strategic thinking is affecting the shape of the al Qaeda organization today.

Anyone interested in homeland security should be aware of how terrorists are organizing their operations. In a nutshell, the article argues that al Qaeda is abandoning hierarchical organizational structures and is promoting the idea of small-cells-everywhere. The same concept has also been noted by others. Call this another data point that helps clarify the picture:

[T]he practice of "individual terrorism" is a core theme in al-Suri's most recent writings, and it is rooted in his most famous slogan: nizam, la tanzim (System, not Organization). In other words, there should be "an operative system" or template available anywhere for anybody wishing to participate in the global jihad either on one's own or with a small group of trusted associates, and there should not exist any "organization for operations." Hence, the global jihadi movement should discourage any direct organizational bonds between the leadership and the operative units.

The same goal of decentralization is applied in al-Suri's training doctrines; training should be moved to "every house, every quarter and every village of the Muslim countries." ... For al-Suri, the issue is not only that of decentralization, but also of transforming the jihadi cause into a mass phenomenon.
For local homeland security professionals, it is always worth noting that terrorists are most likely to manifest themselves in small groups or individuals.

One key question is whether the jihadist cause could or would ever be picked up by a critical mass of Muslims worldwide. Mass movements tend to peter out, often before they reach this critical mass, especially when an insistence is made that fighters should be true believers in the cause.

And that's just what Al-Suri insists upon. He argues that jihadist fighters should be fully ideologically motivated for the fight. He wants true believers:
The decisive factor for successful jihadi training is the moral motivation and the desire to fight, not knowledge in the use of arms, al-Suri asserts. If the ideological program is not fully digested and the mental preparation is absent, weapons training is of no use.

In an audiotaped interview in the late 1990s, al-Suri recalled how he had second doubts about the training that many Arab volunteers received in Peshawar and in Afghanistan, especially those hailing from the Gulf countries, since they more often than not failed to share his radical ideological platform:

"I am not prepared to train [people] in shooting practices because I think they will fire back at us justifying this by the fatwas of the Muslim Brothers and the Azhar clerics … People come to us with empty heads and leave us with empty heads ... They have done nothing for Islam. This is because they have not received any ideological or doctrinal training"
From the perspective of terrorist vulnerability, it is revealing that al-Suri questions the devotion of even many of those who went to Afghanistan. This tells me that, wherever there is a terrorist group, it's never a sure bet that all of them are going to be fully committed. This is a vulnerability for them.

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