Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Fight the Network, Not the Terrorist

Douglas Farah's post, "Why the Suicide Bomb Network Must be Dismantled," made me think more about a few recent incidents in which potential terrorist bombings have been prevented at more-or-less the last minute (e.g., London/Glasgow, Austria).

While it's comforting that no innocent lives were lost in these incidents, this is no way to fight a terrorist network. Farah also takes this view:

It is true that it is virtually impossible to halt the actual suicide bomber on his mission. But there are vulnerabilities in the network that create these human weapons. These areas can be far more easily attacked than the final product.

As Bob Baer, formerly of the CIA, recently wrote ... "this is an ideological battle that will be won, or lost, at the local mosque, at the family dinner table or between friends across the Islamic world."
Baer makes an important point here. Outsiders will not be able to "win" an ideological war between jihadists and nonviolent Muslims. But Jihadists are vulnerable in this ideological war, as the U.S. Military Academy's "Militant Ideology Atlas" pointed out:
The Jihadis lose credibility among mainstream Muslims when they attack women, children, and the elderly; damage the sources of a nation's wealth (such as tourism and oil); kill other Muslims; and declare other Muslims apostates.
(Also see my post on the Atlas.)

Evan Kohlmann also made a similar argument at the Counterterrorism Blog yesterday, pointing out that Algerian jihadists in the 1990s overreached and suffered backlash from the non-extremist population:
These men adopted a new philosophy that was, in short, "you are either with us or against us." According to Abu Hamza, "They classed the [faithful] Mujaahidin doing proper Islam as apostates. This was because they did not label every single person as a kaafir [infidel]… Anyone who differs with them, they call him a kaafir [infidel]."

In reflection, Abu Hamza al-Masri was deeply critical of these actions, referring to them as the equivalent of "shooting ourselves in the head": "This gave the enemies of jihaad a gun that they had never dreamed of having, ready pointed at us and loaded... This had far reaching consequences that sent an earthquake of instability among the adherents [of the mujahideen] and [their] aims. This worked beautifully for the enemies of Islam who were searching for a doorway or any angle to help them...in hopes that many people will leave the jihaad principles and the path of jihaad, only to seek reform through other means that are un-Islamic, like Democracy, Socialism, etc."
So there is an avenue for undermining the ideological legitimacy of the jihadists.

On the policing side, Farah goes on to argue, as I've also noted before, that some of the most vulnerable elements of a terrorist network are found in the recruiting and fundraising functions.
Imams that drum up volunteers-a key element. One that is often undertaken by mosques associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, particularly in Europe, and most noticeably in Great Britain.

Forgers almost always operate in networks, with different types of expertise working together. Another choke point.

Any of these chokepoints, from radicalization in mosques to radicalization in prison to cutting off the criminal enterprises that convey the suicide bombers to Iraq, are more efficient that hoping to stop the young person once they are one their way with a vest packed with explosives.
That's absolutely right.

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