Terrorism Threat Analysis of Al Qaeda Terrorist group
Terrorism is identified as the act of forcing or using violence against an individual or group of individuals in order to promote fear. The act is done in order to intimidate the society and the government so as to attain goals that are centered towards ideological, political and religious empowerment that the terrorist group believes in (United States of Defense, 2008 cited in International Terrorism and Security Research, 2008). Terrorism could be carried out in ways that threaten the lives of individuals. The act could be done through assassination, hijackings, kidnappings, bombing, and bomb scares as well as the use of weapons that may be chemical, nuclear, radiological, and biological in form. Most of the time, terrorist groups choose victims that would serve as a symbolism for something that they contradict. In this sense, instead of focusing their attention on the main targets, they carry out the violence among non-combatant individuals in order to gain the greatest publicity for the purpose of putting into action their main causes (International Terrorism and Security Research, 2008).
Apparently, terrorism is one of the major issues that threaten governments and its people. Likewise, myriads of terrorist group have emerged in order to create conflicts that caused deaths among civilians, forcing governments to put forward various laws that would establish the needed national defense. However, in most cases, terrorist organizations are secretive in nature thus it is hard for the governments to track them down (International terrorism and Security Research, 2008). Right after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack, it was noted that Al Qaeda has surpassed the other terrorist activities carried out by Hamas, Hezbollah and IRA. As such the said organization is now considered as the most infamous among all terrorist groups that is globally known and feared (Hayes, Brunner, & Rowen, 2008).
Al Qaeda Terrorist Group: Motivation and Stated Goals
The word Al Qaeda is an Arabic term which means “the base.” The meaning of the term “the base” is said to be a camp where a global Islamic Revolution would take place (Hoffman, 2008). The organization is a network of international terrorist headed by Osama Bin Laden and is considered as an Islamic fundamentalist organization dedicated in overthrowing Muslim countries that are deemed to have been influenced by the West. The organization seeks to establish a government that is Fundamentalist Islamic in order to restore pan-Islamic state in accordance to the views of the Sunni Muslim (Bajoria, 2008).
Al Qaeda began as a service office known as Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK) responsible for recruiting international Muslim squad opposing the occupation of the Soviets in Afghanistan. MAK was established through Osama Bin Laden and Sheik Abdullah Azzam in 1984. Prior to the establishment of MAK, there are already thousands of volunteer Mujahideens (Islamic warriors fighting for other Muslims) from Middle East who came to Afghanistan in order to support the war against the Soviets. The said volunteers became a crucial aspect in defeating the forces of the Soviets (Hoffman, 2008).
During the course of the war, MAK is believed to have trained, financed and equipped the Mijahideens who came from more than 50 nations. It was recorded that half of the recruits of MAK came from Saudi and others even came from the United States and Europe. Much of the recruits came from Bin Laden’s home country because of his reputation and influence. Aside from this the strict interpretation of Islam in Saudi Arabia became a motivating factor for young men to join the war and fight against the “infidel influences” (Hoffman, 2008).
By the time the war against the Soviets was about to end, Bin-Laden and Azam had a dispute over the focus of MAK. Azzam wanted to focus in Afghanistan while Bin-Laden pursues a global “Jihad” or holy war. Because of the influence of theologians like Sayyid Qutb who is known as a radical Islamic theologian and the head of Egypt’s Muslim brotherhood, and Maulana Sayed Abdul A’la Maudoodi, an Indian journalist and intellectual, the stand of Bin-Laden was recognized. Bin-Laden believed in the thoughts of Siyyad and Maudoodi that jihad is a responsibility of every Muslims. It requires every Muslim individual to carry out the establishment of a country based on the Islamic even if it would involve violence. The concept of secularism and democracy which were commonly practiced by Westerners were deemed to be wrong, thus the United States and other Western countries were seen as the opponents of Islam (Hoffman, 2008).
The organization was taking shape during 1978 and 1988; however, it was only in 1989 after the assassination of Azzam that Al Qaeda independently functioned away from MAK. As such the, Al Qaeda became a jihadist movement that followed the rules of the Sunni Muslim views. Right after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, the event catapulted a comprehensive movement of “Jihad” or Holy war. The trained fighters from Afghanistan began returning to regions which include Algeria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Each Mujahedeen who experienced the extensive Jihad wished to continue that war. The success of the Mujahideens significantly impacted Bin Laden. He believed that the defeat of USSR collapsed the whole nation and terminated communism. In this sense, Bin Laden concluded that confronting USA would place similar results as that of the defeat of the USSR (Hoffman, 2008).
After the decade-long war in Afghanistan, Bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia in 1989. In 1991 during the Persian Gulf War, Bin Laden contradicted the deployment of Western forces in Saudi Arabia. Likewise, he criticized the monarchy of Saudi Arabia for allowing the continued presence of US force even after the war has ended. From then on, Bin Laden started shaping Al Qaeda into a network of international terrorist; running operations in almost 45 countries (Hoffman, 2008).
Osama Bin Laden is noted to be the son of the wealthiest man in Saudi Arabia. Because of this, records showed that the process of developing Al Qaeda was funded by Bin Laden’s personal wealth, estimating from tens of millions of dollars. Other than Bin Laden’s personal financial contributions, the funding was also derived from myriads of sources which includes businesses appearing as legitimate which in reality were responsible for sending out revenues for the organization, donations by people who are in support of the jihad, and the illegal withdrawal of money from the funds of legitimate Muslim charities (Hoffman, 2008).
Ideological, Spiritual, Community or Regional Support-International Cooperation/Umbrella or Cover Groups
Since Al Qaeda is an Islamic Fundamentalist group, the movement is reinforced with their common belief that only the laws of Islam could provide comprehensive solutions to all the issues that concern the social, economic and civil aspects of every society. Islam law is viewed as perfect form of governing body that does not require any reforms. Al Qaeda incorporate the Wahhabi interpretation derived from the Hanbali Sunni School of law that has the interpretations of the Koran in a literalist perspective, opposing beliefs that are not rooted from the Islam tradition. The ideology and religious program of Al Qaeda were evident in various documents such as the “Encyclopedia of the Afghan Jihad,” which discusses the tactics and strategies applied during the war in Afghanistan, and the “Declaration of Jihad against the country’s tyrants (military series)” which inculcate the tactics used for terrorism (Anderson, 2008). Because of the ideological and religious belief of Al Qaeda the group managed to gain popularity among other terrorist groups that share the same beliefs.
It was said that Al Qaeda is an independent organization functioning away from other terrorist group. However it was documented that the organization is also working with other terrorist networks that is operating under its support or umbrella (Caruso, 2001). Connections of Al Qaeda include: Al-Jihad, the Islamic group Al-Gamma Al-Islamiyya, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Libyan Islamic fighting group, Yemen’s Islamic Army of Aden, the Jama’at al- Tawhid wal Jihad in Iraq, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Lashkar-e Taiba and Jaish-e Muhammad of Kashmir, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb in Algeria which is formerly known as the Salafist Group for call and Combat, Armed Islamic Group in Algeria, Southeast Asia’s Jemaah Islamiya and the Philippines’ Abu Sayyaf Group. It was also claimed by intelligence officials in the United States and terrorism experts that Al Qaeda is also creating logistic and training ties with Hezbollah Group, a Lebanese militia backed by Iran. Each of the said groups shares the same pursuit with Al Qaeda (Bajoria, 2008). Aside from these, Al Qaeda planted its cells and individuals that would manage the activities of the group in areas such as Tanzania, Kenya, Canada, United Kingdom and United States (Caruso, 2001).
Past terrorist activities, patterns, successes, failures and trends
The subsequent activities committed by Al Qaeda won its notoriety through the advocacy of violence. The organization mobilized its first attack on December 29, 1992. The group claimed responsibility for the hotel bombing in Aden, Yemen killing American military personnel who were about to head in Somalia. A year after, Al Qaeda was also involved in the battle that took place in Mogadishu, Somalia that took the lives of 18 US military men and numerous Somalis which was later known as the “Black Hawk incident” (Hoffman, 2008).
Prior to the Black Hawk incident, Jordanian authorities found out the Al Qaeda plotted the assassination of the country’s crowned prince, Abdullah which was not put into action. On February 26, 1993, Ramzi Yousef, an operative of Al Qaeda executed the World Trade Center Bombing which killed six people and wounded one thousand civilians. Two years after the said incident, on February 1995 Ramzi Yousef was captured in one of Osama Bin Laden’s safe houses situated in Pakistan. By the 24th of June 1993 several members of Al Qaeda were arrested due to bomb plotting in New York City’s Lincoln and Holland tunnels. Later on, the Egyptian cleric and a member of the Islamic Egyptian group affiliated with Al Qaeda, Omar Abdur-Rahman was nabbed and convicted in taking part of the bomb plotting (Anderson, 2008).
On December 11, 1994, a trial Philippine airline bombing was perpetrated by the operatives of Al Qaeda. The incident killed a Japanese passenger and had forced the aircraft to land in Okinawa, Japan’s Naha airport. As a follow up for the successful trial bombing, it was found out during the January 6, 1995 raid of Ramzi Yousef’s apartment in Manila, Philippines that Al Qaeda was planning to assassinate US President Bill Clinton, Philippine President Fidel Ramos as well as Pope John Paul II during his visit in the Philippines. The Plan known as “Plan Bojinka” was supposed to be put into action by plotting bombs in 11 US aircrafts. Meanwhile during the state visit of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Ethiopia in June 26, 1995, Al Qaeda attempted to assassinate the official. However, the President survived the attack (Anderson, 2008).
An office of the Saudi Arabian National Guard in Riyadh was car-bombed on November 13, 1995. The incident left seven foreign employees lifeless and 42 other civilians injured. A year after, the Khobar Towers, a US military housing, located in Dharan, Saudi Arabia, was truck-bombed. 19 American’s were killed and 500 persons were wounded. By November of 1997, an Islamic group affiliated with Al Qaeda went into a killing spree at the Temple of Queen Hatsheput in Egypt. 62 people were found dead, 58 of whom were foreign nationals and four were identified as Egyptians (Anderson, 2008). August 1998 witnessed the near simultaneous suicide bombings against the embassies of USA in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. The fatalities in both incidents reached to 300 and had inflicted injury to 5,000 people. In response to the fatal attack, United States launched an extreme missile attacks on the training camps of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and has also targeted a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan which is believed to be a producer of nerve gas for Bin Laden. Right after the US attack, Osama Bin Laden’s movement became the subject of scrutiny for the intelligence agencies of USA. Subsequent responses of US authorities were centered in disrupting the terrorist activities of Al Qaeda. On December 14, 1999 the US customs arrested a terrorist upon his entry in the United States. The terrorist was allegedly planning to bomb Los Angeles International Airport. In addition, related target bombing in a Holiday market in France as well as the plan to kill foreign tourist, specifically Americans and Israelis, during the eve of the millennium celebration in Jordan were thwarted by the authorities (Hoffman, 2008).
Despite the continuous efforts of governments to counter the terrorist activities put forward by Al Qaeda, the organization managed to pull operations that are concentrated in massive bombings. On January 3, 2000 two operatives of Al Qaeda attempted to blow up the “The Sullivans of the USS” which at that time was deployed in Aden, Yemen. The two bombers were riding a boat filled with explosives. However, the operation failed after the overloaded boat carrying the bombers sank. Nine months after the botched operation, Al Qaeda redeemed itself when a suicide attack was perpetrated by two of its members. The bombing damaged the USS Cole, a navy vessel owned by the USA, anchored in Aden, Yemen. The incident killed 17 sailors and injured 39 others (Anderson, 2008). Perhaps the most devastating among the terrorist activities perpetrated by Al Qaeda was the September 11, 2001 attack. It was not clearly stated when the plans for the said attack began. The evidence gathered by authorities following the incident suggests that the plan took shape in the later part of 1999. The period was said to be the time when Mohommad Atta, the leader of the operation, was selected to undergo a briefing for the mission (Hoffman, 2008). The operation commenced when 19 suicide bombers hijacked four American commercial jets on the 11th day of September 2001. Two of the planes crashed directly on the north and south tower of the World Trade Center. The third hijacked jet crashed on the east side of the Pentagon building while the fourth aircraft crashed right after a struggle took place between the flight passengers and the terrorists. About 2,817 individuals died in the World Trade Center attack while 125 fatalities happened in Pentagon. All of the hijackers as well as the passengers of the commercial flights died in the incident (Anderson, 2008).
As a response to the September 11 attacks, the government of the USA declared an all out war against terrorism. Military operations were launched in Afghanistan in order to dismantle Al Qaeda which resulted to the death of some of its leaders and top operatives, and the defeat of the Al Qaeda-backed government, Taliban. From then on the operation of Al Qaeda was rerouted, yet Bin Laden and some of his subordinates managed to escape the attacks. In addition to this, a worldwide campaign against Al Qaeda began after USA gathered allies from various countries (Hoffman, 2008).
Despite the efforts of US and other ally countries in the “war against terror” Al Qaeda remained a worldwide threat; perpetrating major attacks since the September 11 incident. Subsequent terrorist operations of the organization include: April 2002 fuel tanker bombing outside a synagogue in Tunisia, various bombings in Pakistan during the spring in 2002, an attack on a French tanker which was situated in Yemen on October of 2002, a car-bomb attack and a failed attempt of target- bombing with missiles an Israeli jetliner in Mombasa, Kenya during November 2002, the March car bombing in three residential areas in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the March 11, 2004 Madrid railway station bombing which killed an estimated 200 civilians and wounded 1,400 others, July 7, 2005 bombing of three subway stations and another transportation bus in London and the February 2006 attack on Abqaiq Oil facility, the largest oil processing facility in the world located in Saudi Arabia. Al Qaeda is also suspected in reinforcing other sympathetic groups in carrying out terrorist activities such as the December 2007 Algiers suicide and bombing attacks, May 2003 suicide bombing in Casablanca, Morocco and the October 2002 Bali, Indonesia nightclub bombings perpetrated by Jemaah Islamiya. Although Al Qaeda has lost its base in Afghanistan after the campaign against terrorism spearheaded by the USA, several experts claimed that Al Qaeda has become reliant with sympathetic organizations in carrying out their activities (Bajoria, 2008).
Tactics and strategies used, selection of victims and weapons used
Apparently based from the past activities of Al Qaeda, the organization’s method of advancing their stated goal is through: (1) bombing the places owned by enemies such as embassies, vital economic facilities and bridges and tunnels in urban areas; (2) assassination of officials and civilians that they view as people who were influenced by the Western culture, and (3) manipulation of the media, as seen through the videotaped messages addressed to the American people where Bin Laden usually states his continuous efforts to combat USA, and spreading of propaganda through the issuance of “Fatwahs” containing the judicial decrees of Islam. A Fatwa was once faxed in the London based Arabic newspaper, Al Quds Al Arabi, declaring that it is the duty of every Muslim to kill any Americans everywhere in order to free the holy cities of their religion from the presence of Westerners and non-Muslim individuals. Although the Fatwa, as stated by Islam law, could only be issued by a well distinguished Muslim figure, Bin Laden was able to do such act because of his power which in return impacts many Muslims all through out the world, conceiving the idea that United States is to be blamed for all the problems occurring in their nation (Anderson, 2008). Alongside these strategies, Al Qaeda carried out their acts successfully through the use of powerful weapons which were either ready made or assembled by explosive-expert members of the organization. Massive bombs are the most common form of attack by AL Qaeda because it has been proven to be relatively effective, inexpensive and easily employed. From the raided camps of Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, US troops seized chemicals such as potassium iodide pills which are antidotes for radiation poisoning, schematic notes dealing with the creation of chemical weapons and radiation propelled bombs and videotapes showing experimentation of poisonous gases. In a greater sense, what the US troops have found are evidences that Al Qaeda is on their way of making weapons of mass destruction before the anti-terrorism campaign (Anderson, 2008).
Basically the organization is headed by an Emir, which is Osama Bin Laden assisted by Al Zawahiri which is noted as the chief counsel of the organization. The subordinates of the Emir is comprised of 10-15 men making up the consultative assembly known as “Shura Majilis, the four permanent committee which are the military affairs, Islamic committee, financial affairs committee and the committee on Islamic propagation. The membership in the said committees is not governed by any written laws but rather one could be in the position through friendship, family ties, experience and field of expertise. Majority of the members of Al Qaeda is driven by common causes rather than formal organizational procedures (Anderson, 2008).
Estimates of the number of Al Qaeda’s active members vary from several hundreds to several thousands. In a report done by the US State Department in 1997, majority of the senior members of the organization are situated in Pakistan. The group manages to train members and other associates coming from Southeast and Central Asia, Middle East, Europe and Africa (Bajoria, 2008). Although the limits in the attacks perpetrated by Al Qaeda is not actively done today, it is believed that many other leaderless jihad followers are still seeking to become a part of Bin Laden’s organization. Likewise, US officials are still worrying that new generation of jihad believers are making their way to Pakistan seeking the assistance of Al Qaeda (Bergen, 2008).
Al Qaeda has indeed gained its notoriety through the acts of terrorism that it has carried out for the past years. The driving force of Al Qaeda is rooted from its religious belief which is hard to alter. In a larger scale, although there is a continuous was against terrorism, the capabilities of Al Qaeda to perpetrate terrorist activities could not be disregarded because of the fact that Osama Bin Laden is still in hiding which would bid him enough time to gather resources to establish and plan another attack. Despite of the fact that Bin Laden has not been able to launch another attack in the USA after the September 11 incident, the international connections that Al Qaeda was able to develop during its past activities post possible repercussions that could be much damaging compared to their former actions. Such occurrence may not happen in USA but countries that are seen by the organization as an opposition to their belief could be at high risk for attacks. Likewise, the desire of Al Qaeda to create weapons of mass destruction post unpredictability that every nation should not disregard. The absence of Osama Bin Laden in the public eye does not imply the dismissal of his force. In this case, heightened security measures should be put forward in order to combat future threats and finally to quote Peter Bergen (2008): “While he (Osama Bin Laden) remains at large, the jihad will never be leaderless.”
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