What Are Al-Qaeda’s Main Tactics and Techniques?

2 February 2017

The al-Qaeda of today is a vastly different entity from the al-Qaeda formed by Osama bin Laden towards the end of the Afghan war against the Soviets in 1988 (Alexander and Swetnam, 2001: 37). The evolution, or as Burton (2006) has termed it “devolution”, of al-Qaeda, is partially linked to its terrorist acts, and, in particular, the counter-terrorist measures employed by governments to deal with them.

This is most evident in reference to the single most expensive, in terms of life lost and economical impact, terrorist act in modern history, the destruction of the World Trade Centre, and the subsequent declaration of a “war on terror” by George Bush’s United States and its Allies. It is the actions in response to terrorist acts that has propagated these dynamic changes in the tactics and techniques used by al-Qaeda. This adaptation has seen the ideologies of al-Qaeda survive, despite constraints being placed on its operations.

What Are Al-Qaeda’s Main Tactics and Techniques? Essay Example

It has also ensured the continued jihad against the near enemy of apostate Islamic governments in the Middle East, and the far enemy of the United States and its Allies (Hoffman, 2004: 553) to further pursue its goal to establish a Caliphate muslim state governed by the Sharia (Alexander and Swetnam, 2001). There are many variations of the accounts as to how the al-Qaeda network was originally established. The common theme to all of these variations is that al-Qaeda was born out of Soviet-Afghan war, from the training camps set up in Afghanistan and Preshawar, Pakistan, by Osama bin Laden, and others, to combat the Soviet invaders.

The original concept of ‘al-Qaeda’ (‘the base’) was a network used as a means of keeping track of mujahideen fighters passing through these camps and also a means of informing families of the fighters about their loved ones (Smith 2002: 35, Alexander and Swetnam, 2002: 4). At the end of the Soviet-Afghan war, some of the foreign mujahideen left Afghanistan to continue jihad with Islamic militant groups in their respective countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa (Martin, 2003: 232).

The return of the foreign mujahideen fighters to their countries of origin contributed to the establishment of al-Qaeda as a global network, and helped sew the seeds of the pan-Islamic ideology (Gunaratna, 2002: 4). This ideology of pan-Islamic unity in fighting the common enemy of the unbelievers has set al-Qaeda apart from most other guerrilla and terrorist groups because it is not mono-ethnic, nor nationalist in nature (Gunaratna, 2002: 87). The ideologies of al-Qaeda take basis in the need for a united Islamic state that is governed by the strict Islamic laws of the Sharia.

Muslim governments that do not conform to these laws are seen as apostate, corrupted by Western influence and must be overthrown. This includes the government of bin Laden’s home land, Saudi Arabia, which he has condemned for allowing the US to establish a base of operation during the Gulf War (Martin, 2003: 194). However, it is the US that is the major source of hatred for the al-Qaeda network for many reasons which include the suppression of Iraq, and the continued struggle between US backed Israel and Palestine and US links to the undemocratic Arab regimes.

This is evident in the fatwa that he issued in February of 1998 (Simon and Benjamin, 2001: 8): The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies – civilian and military – is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim. Bin Laden has also made statements to justify attacks on American civilians.

In these statements he iterates that American civilians live in a morally corrupt society and that it should pay for the foreign policies of its democratically elected government (Blanchard, 2005: 7). This tactic of claiming that the government has the blood of its civilians on its hands due to its policies is one that has been commonly used by other terrorist organisations, such as the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) in Spain and the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) in Northern Ireland.

Pre-9/11 operation of al-Qaeda followed an informal, loose, horizontal structure, which comprised of many terrorist organisations and cells, as well as a more formal vertical, hierarchical structure with Bin Laden the leader and below him the consultative council of the majlis al shura. The vertical leadership structure provides the direction and tactical support to the horizontal network of compartmentalised cells and terrorist organisations associated with al-Qaeda (Gunaratna 2002: 55). Directly below the majlis al shura are the four operational committees that were dedicated to military, finance, Islamic study, and media.

In this way the al-Qaeda organisation operates in a way that is reflective of how a multinational corporation would be run (Smith, 2002: 34). Hoffman (2002) has further expanded on the notion of al-Qaeda as a multinational corporation, in which he names bin Laden as being the CEO that defines the specific goal and aims of the organisation and issues orders to the different committees and appointing members of the majlis al shura to oversee and ensure their implementation. Hoffman goes on further to break down the operational styles of al-Qaeda into four different levels: 1.

The professional cadre, responsible for the atrocities of 9/11. This is made up of the highly trained, committed and professional members of al-Qaeda that are involved in only the most important, high value attacks, and are highly funded. 2. The amateurs are only modestly funded. Require acquisition of further funding by participants, and are given a broad range of targets. 3. The local walk-ins, comprise of groups of local Islamic groups that come up with a terrorist attack idea and then seek funding from al-Qaeda in order to carry them out. 4.

Like-minded insurgents, guerrillas, and terrorists. This level consists of Islamic groups carrying out their own respective jihads that receive benefits from al-Qaeda, such as funds, training and sometimes central command directly from al-Qaeda. It is the fourth level of Hoffman’s operational styles that the horizontal structure of al-Qaeda with its multi-cellular structure fit into. The advantage of using a multi-cellular structure of loosely tied networks of local militants is that they can operate with the support of al-Qaeda, but cannot be easily traced directly back to it (Engels, 2001).

This allows al-Qaeda to continue to function even when one of its cells is disrupted. Compartmentalised cells are unaware of the plans of other cells and therefore are unable divulge any useful information about them to governments. The financial backing of al-Qaeda had originally come from bin Laden and his enormous wealth. However, fund that are acquired by the network come from a large range of different sources. There is an emphasis on the acquisition of funds by through legitimate means and avoided trade in people smuggling and narcotics (Gunaratna, 2002: 67), a tactic that was adopted by the Taliban.

It has been suggested that at one stage bin Laden controlled upwards of 80 companies, and owned most of the most profitable businesses in Sudan (Hoffman, 2003: 434). Al-Qaeda has also siphoned funds from Islamic charities, and non-government organisations (NGOs) for use in its terrorist networks (Gunaratna, 2002: 62). One technique that is exclusive to al-Qaeda is its use of the informal Islamic banking system of hawala. This provides a means for al-Qaeda to transfer funds around the world without raising much suspicion as most hawala operations are regulated an there are few transaction records kept (Comras, 2005: 8).

The terrorist tactic that al-Qaeda has invested extensive time and effort in is the preparation of its members for martyrdom (Gunaratna, 2002: 91). Suicide attacks are not exclusively isolated to Islamic terrorism, but it is Islamic groups that have been the main perpetrators. Suicide attacks are an effective means of terrorism because they are able to inflict a maximal amount of losses and damage to the enemy, whilst only inflicting minimal, even singular, losses to the instigators. A further benefit is that there is no risk of the attacker being questioned and leaking information after the attack.

The concept of martyrdom has meant that there are rarely any shortages of volunteers for suicide attacks. Martyrdom in the performance of jihad is encouraged, justified and even glorified by the Koran. Martyrs are promised to ascend directly to a glorious heaven, where, amongst other things, the services of 72 virgins will be waiting (Hoffman, 2002: 305). The glorification of martyrdom is reflected by bin Laden himself in a statement made in August of 1998, “I am fighting so I can die a martyr and go to heaven to meet God. Our fight is now against America.

I regret having lived this long. I have nothing to lose. (Hoffman, 2003: 436). A statement of this nature, whilst it is more than likely a true reflection of bin Laden’s thoughts, is also a very smart public relations “stunt” that highlights the conviction and belief in the ideologies of the group by its leader, potentially leading to increase support, sympathisers and recruits to the network of jihadists. The emphasis on tighter security around the “highly valuable” terrorist targets of the West, such as military instillations, economic centres, and airports, has seen a shift in the types of places and buildings being targeted by suicide attacks.

This was none more evident than in the 2003 Bali bombing at a popular nightclub in the Kuta district (Hoffman, 2003: 436). The al-Qaeda that has come to exist in the post 9/11 era is almost unrecognisable to the al-Qaeda pre-9/11. Experts in terrorism and international affairs, such as Peter Bergen, Karen Greenberg, Steven Simon, and Bruce Hoffman (2005), have all discussed al-Qaeda’s transformation from a once centralised entity with trans-national terrorist cells (Gunaratna, 2002), to that of a global movement.

The removal from its base operations in Afghanistan, and the subsequent removal of some of its leadership have reduced the capability of al-Qaeda to physically participate in a campaign of jihad and as a result it has subsequently enhanced its ideological dissemination strategy. This has been referred to by Burton (2006) as the devolution of al-Qaeda, as it has “taken a back seat”, so to speak, in terms of operational activity.

This effectively makes al-Qaeda harder to ablate, as it is harder to target ideologies than it is an organisation and its members (Stratfor, 2007). Central to this strategy of ideology dissemination is the emphasis on propaganda in all its forms and a reliance on modern technologies and the exploitation of globalisation and the media to do this. Al-Qaeda has used a multi-media approach to increase the global audience for its jihad by using the mini-cam, videotape, television and the internet as his weapons of choice (Hoffman, 2002:307).

It has produced a professionally edited two hour training video, which has subsequently been converted to CD-ROM and DVD formats to further aide the spread of the message due to the ease in which it can be copied. The use of the internet has been rife for the spread of propaganda throughout the world (wide web). The al-Qaeda website, Al Neda,that continually resurfaces after being shutdown is another means in which al-Qaeda tries to increase the dissemination of anti-American message and its pan-Islamic ideologies.

Still, the most powerful means in which al-Qaeda furthers its worldwide call for jihad is through the speeches given by bin Laden and al-Zawahiri, that are broadcast, first on the Middle East news network al-Jazeera, and later the mainstream media of the West. The propensity for al-Qaeda to attract new recruits for the continued Jihad against the enemies of Islam is a technique that sets it apart from many other terrorist groups. The call for a pan-Islamic uprising against the un-believers draws on the insecurities and sense of isolation that the dispora of umma feel around the world.

This has already brought results for al-Qaeda with encouragement of independent “grassroots” jihadists to carry out terrorist attacks, such as the groups responsible for the attacks in London and Glasgow in 2007 (Stratfor, 2007), as well as its ability to inspire un-associated groups, such as the Singaporean terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah (Hoffman, 2004: 550). To borrow the popular metaphor of Bruce Hoffman (2002: 313, 2003: 435, 2005: 9*), “al-Qaeda is like the archetypal shark in the water.

It must constantly move forward to survive and indeed succeed. ” This metaphor could be considered to be overused by Hoffman, but it is so because it fits so well with the techniques that al-Qaeda employs in their acts of terrorism. Al-Qaeda changes, adjusts and adapts its tactics and modus operandi so that it can exploit gaps in defences and counter-terrorism measures. Simply put, al-Qaeda is the epitome of a terrorist organisational model of Darwin’s evolutionary concept, “survival of the fittest”.

It has adapted to the changes in the global environment and counter-terrorism measures in order to survive, and increase its influence, and hence strength, throughout Islamic radical groups and the diaspora mulsim communities of the world. It is due to the continued dissemination of its ideologies that has led al-Qaeda to claimed that it is stronger and more capable today than it was on 9/11.

Calipha spiritual leader of Islam, claiming succession from Muhammad CaliphateThe office or jurisdiction of a caliph EmirCommander fatwaan Islamic religious decree issued by the Ulama afizthose who have memorised the Koran hijrathe flight of Muhammad from Mecca to Medina to escape persecution a. d. 622: regarded as the beginning of the Muslim Era ijmathe consensus of all believers on the rightness of a belief or practice jihadthe real meaning of jihad is striving; personal striving to achieve the ideals of Islam as a way of life; striving in the sense of improving the religious situation for the community of believers; striving in the sense of converting non-Muslims and carrying the word of God to the unbelievers.

The definition of jihad being a holy war is the misinterpretation/reinterpretation of bin Laden. jihada holy war undertaken as a sacred duty by Mulsims; any vigorous, emotional crusade for an idea or principle qiyasjudgment of an act or belief by application of established principles governing some analogous act or belief ShariaLaw, as seen as deriving from the Koran UlamaMuslim scholars trained in Islam and Islamic Law UmmaIslamic community.

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