Saturday, 13 April 2013

The evolution of Terrorism in North Africa French Documentary review + McAl Qaeda: Why regional Salafi Terrorist Groups Join Al-Qaeda and its effects on the Group: Classifying Al-Qaeda and its links to regional organizations.

The evolution of Terrorism in North Africa French Documentary review 

An insightful French documentary about the development of terrorism in Algeria, and the evolution of national organizations into global actors.

produced by Barberis / length: 70 minutes /Public Sénat April 2011

The evolution of terrorist organizations in Algeria and abroad are adequately covered by the documentary. Yet, the most interesting Analysis can be found towards the end:

Here are some Interesting points seldom mentioned in bite size news snippets covering the subject: 

  • The rise and  more importantly the 'fall' of Al-Qaida on the global level.
  • The rise of AQIM and it's development into a 'criminal organization'
  • The devolution from a centralized organized entity to more fractured local actors. 
  • The threat to current and potential economic interests in the Sahel posed by these groups. 
  • The use of real/exaggerated terrorist threat by local and powerful states to further their own interest in the region. 
Though the above points being raised are a refreshing take on events. It is clear that the documentary was made in 2011 and fails to take into account the recent developments in the area i.e:  
  • The fall of the Qaddafi regime and its consequences on the region. 
    • Mass proliferation of weapons and fighters from Libya into the Sahel. 
    • The rise of Jihadist ideology in Tunisia and Libya. 
  • Algeria's defensive stance, and it's lack of will to take a leading role in the crisis
    • Algeria's military untested outside of the country. 
    • Risk averse ruling regime is extra sensitive to the 'sea of instability' around it:
      • Libya's unruly situation. 
      • Development of Jihadists in Tunisia. 
      • The current crisis in Mali.

Supplementing the above information, we have posted an excerpt from a research paper undertaken in 2011. The aim was to analyse the evolution of local organizations and the internal and external factors that lead to adopt Al-Qaeda's creed. 

The excerpt contains the theoretical background for paper and the relevant theories used. If the rest of the paper is of interest to anyone, we will publish it when it is requested.   

McAl Qaeda: Why regional Salafi Terrorist Groups Join Al-Qaeda and its effects on the Group:

Classifying Al-Qaeda and its links to regional organizations.

As stated in the previous section, the aim of this chapter is to analyze relevant work that will contribute to the understanding why terrorist choose to join or cooperate with Al-Qaeda. Terrorism has been prevalent phenomenon throughout modern history, but the magnitude of the events of 9/11 highlighted that the threat of Jihadist terrorism is different from Euro-radical left wing groups of the 1970s, or the ethno-nationalist liberation movements of the 1960s. However, the deadliness of today’s terrorist groups is not the only thing that sets them their ancestral counterparts.

Rapoport.D outlined the history and characteristics of modern terrorist groups over the last hundred years and classified them into four distinct waves. From the first wave of Anarchists in the late 1800s to forth ‘religious’ wave of today.1 The fourth wave as its name indicates is largely inspired by religious ideologies. The traditional techniques of terrorists from the previous wave such as assassination, kidnappings, and bombings are still prevalent, but the use of ‘suicide bombing’ became the new tool of the trade.2 Moreover, these attacks are often spectacular and aim to cause a vast amount of casualties. Also, the recruitment pattern of the new wave is transnational as it draws its recruits from all across the Sunni Muslim world and is spearheaded by one organization in particular: Al-Qaeda.

Al-Qaeda3 became a household ‘brand’ following its attack on the USA in 2001. It began part of the ‘service office’ called Mekhab al Khidamat (MAK) with the purpose of recruiting and training foreign Muslim fighters that came to wage ‘Jihad’ (holy struggle) against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Following the withdrawal of the USSR in 1989, it became an informal organizational structure for extremist Arab-Afghans (Arab and foreign fighters that fought in Afghanistan) whose main objective is the restoration of the Islamic Caliphate throughout the Muslim world.4 In order to achieve this goal it seeks the removal of US influence (the ‘far-enemy’) and the overthrow of the national secular governments (the near-enemy) from the Muslim world.5Though its structure has always been less hierarchical than traditional terrorist groups, the central organization6 previously led by Osama Ben Laden has a command and control structure composed of: a Consultation Council, which considers, discusses and approves major policies including major operations; a military committee that considers and oversees military matters7; a religious committee that deliberates fatwahs (religious rulings); and a media and communication committee.8It is this organization that carried out the attacks on 9/11, but as Cronin.K put it: ‘The Al-Qaeda of September 2001 no longer exists.’9 

A general consensus in the literature exists over the fact that Al-Qaeda of today is not the same organization as it was in the 1990s that carried out the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya. Moreover, there is a general agreement that the US led international response after 2001 has curtailed the ability of the organization to act; however, opinions do diverge about the state of the organization today and how to classify it. This is further complicated by the emergence of regional organizations and smalls cells carrying out attacks in the name of Al-Qaeda.

Enders.W & Sanders.T analysed the pattern of terrorism actions after September 2011. According to their findings, logistically complex operations such as kidnappings and assassinations decreased while the number of simpler but deadlier attacks such as bombings rose.10 They uncover a geographical shift in attacks from the Western hemisphere to predominantly Muslim regions (MENA and Southeast Asia).11 They conclude that such patterns are a direct product of the GWOT, which resulted in important losses in Al-Qaeda’s human and financial capital. Furthermore, the ‘transference’ of attacks to Muslim countries is attributed to the hardening of targets in the west making attacks there more difficult.Though the analysis above highlights the overall trends in terrorism today, it does not explicitly state that the vast majority of attacks were carried out by regional groups or cells with affiliation to Al-Qaeda. Sageman.M notes that the last attack that explicitly involved AQC dates back to 2005.12 If such claims are true than how do we classify those organizations that have ties to AQC, but form distinct groups often operating in a specific geographical area?

One approach proposed by Asal.V, Nusbaum.B & Harrington.W highlights the similarities between today’s terrorists and ‘Transnational Advocacy Networks’ (TANs).13 Some of the key shared characteristics include: transnational ccooperation between actors who share the same ideology/cause, sharing of information horizontally across the network of volunteers, actions aimed at international opinion for publicity, and use of the ‘boomerang effect’ i.e. local action by a part of the network aimed at triggering international pressure on the domestic government in another part.14 

For terrorist groups, attacks carried out against foreigners or foreign interests by the local organization can be interpreted as a boomerang effect, especially if the attack is justified with references to the Global Jihad and solidarity with other groups.Such classification utilises a networked approach to describe Al-Qaeda and its regional affiliates. 

One of the biggest proponents of this classification is Sageman.M. He argues that the GWOT response has forced Jihadist groups to adopt a flat and decentralized structure built on personal and informal ties between individuals that share the same Salafi ideology (nodes), essentially turning Al-Qaeda- or the idea of it- into a social movement.15 I such a structure might reduce the ability of terrorists to execute large operations, but it makes the threat more resilient to target assassination of the leadership (decapitation), and facilitates the flow of information between the nodes.16n his recent work, his pushes the argument to its logical limit by claiming that today’s terrorism is virtually leaderless with a bottom-up-approach i.e. attacks are carried out by a small number individuals in the name of Al-Qaeda without explicit assistance or command from AQC.17T

hough Hoffman.B agrees with the idea of a more diffuse terrorist threat due to AQC losing its Afghan safe haven and other GWOT pressures, to say that the Global Jihad is completely decentralized is an oversimplification.18 He classifies the Al-Qaeda movement into four distinct, but not mutually exclusive categories: 1) Al-Qaeda Central/core. This is what is left of the original organization and the most professional members used for major operations with the full backing of the AQC; 2) Affiliate and associates. These are regional/local groups (the focus of the thesis) that received assistance from AQC over the years; 3) Al-Qaeda locals. These are individuals with Jihadist credentials to whom AQC ‘outsources’ non-specific plots but only supplies them ‘start-up’ capital and are left to their own device;4) Al-Qaeda Network. These are closer to Sageman’s classification, they are individuals who share the cause but do not have direct ties or benefit from the assistance of AQC.19 It is the links between the first and second category that this thesis focuses on.

As noted earlier, mainstream media continues to refer such regional groups- the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU),Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’ (AQIM), Abu Sayyaf Group, (ASGJemaah Islamiya (JI), and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) -as ‘franchise’20 organizations of Al-Qaeda.

In business literature, a franchise is defined as:an arrangement whereby a franchisor grants franchisees the right to operate a business that: 1) is identified with the franchisor's trademark; 2) is subject to the franchisor's significant control and/or assistance; and 3) in exchange for which, the franchisee pays a “franchise fee” to the franchisor or its affiliate.”21

When applying this definition to regional groups it is apparent why such a definition might feel appropriate; nonetheless, the 2nd and 3rd characteristics -significant control from the top and the ‘franchise fee respectively- are problematic. Firstly, most of these groups maintain a local agenda. They are also likely to be well established organizations whose actions are dictated by the local leadership. Secondly, there is little evidence to suggest that a premium is paid to use AQC tactics or even name; moreover, funding is likely to flow in the opposite direction (AQC local group). However, assistance to AQC major operations in the region can be interpreted as a fee to pay to use the expertise of AQC’s professional terrorists.22

Farrall.L uses the ‘franchise’ analogy to explain the relationship between AQC and some of its regional subsidiaries. She describes AQIM and AQI as ‘franchises’ since they are both local groups that pledged allegiance to AQC, but seldom carry out attacks outside their respective zones of operations without the approval from AQC.23She also highlights that the acquisition of these entities required a lengthy process of negotiation mainly centred on the autonomy of the said groups.24 this line of reasoning suggests that joining Al-Qaeda as a group is both a bottom up, and top down process, where both parties agree to the terms, rather than the fully bottom up approach proposed by Sageman where approval of the membership is only approved posthumously after a ‘bunch of guys’ carryout a successful attack.

Though AQC gets to approve attacks that carry its brand- international plots directed against the ‘far enemy’- and encourages the use of tactics like suicide bombings25 it does not dictate the domestic agenda of the group. This is a less restrictive relationship than a traditional franchise model entails. Moreover, she states that communication and cooperation between the groups is largely based on networking between their respective communication committees26, this allows the movement to retain the strategic advantages of networking at the global level, while benefitting from the strengths of a hierarchical structure at the local level.

Explaining cooperation and rebranding:

As stated in the previous section, the aim of this chapter is to analyze relevant work that will contribute to the understanding why terrorist choose to join or cooperate with Al-Qaeda

To cover all angles, it is important to begin by defining some of the key concepts used in the research, starting with what is terrorism?The meaning of what terrorism has often depended on whose side of the victims one is. Anyone who has watched the news in the last ten years would be familiar with the term, and know what it is, but asked to define such concept it is likely that the answer will differ from one individual to the next. Those label ‘terrorists’ has changed over time- from 19th century Russian Anarchists to nationalist liberation movements of the 20th ...-which makes the task of defining the term problematic27. However, violent actions categorized as terrorism share a number of attributes characteristics that make defining the illusive concept feasible. Firstly, such actions always have a political underpinning.Secondly, attaining these political aims through violence and threats are considered justifiable or even necessary by the perpetrators. Finally, those who carry out the actions do not have the monopoly of the legitimate use of violence i.e. there are non-state actors composed of members working within an identifiable command structure.28 

 A definition that contains all of the features described above without a partisan connotation is presented by Hoffman.B, he describes terrorism as: “... the deliberate creation and exploitation of fear trough violence or the threat of violence in the pursuit of political change.”29Such definition is in accordance with the actions of the Jihadist terrorist groups of interest and it is particularly important to stress the political motives terrorism.Those who engage in violent action are often be perceived as irrational or mentally imbalanced; however, that idea has been discredited in academia since actions carried out by individual terrorists (particularly when operating within an organization) are conducted in a calculated and strategic manner aimed at achieving a political goal.30 This is a fundamental theoretical assumption of the thesis, since it means that any action- violent or not- undertaken is a strategic choice aimed to achieve a political aim. This also partially explains the resilience of terrorist entities31, as individuals in the group learn from experience and imitation from other organizations.32The political context of terrorism and the rationality of terrorist groups provide us with the core assumptions used throughout the paper.

Another key concept worth defining is the ‘operational environment’ (OPEV). In simple terms, it can be divided into the political and military realm. These are explored in greater detail, but before doing so, it is worth mentioning Schmid.A’s ‘Spectrum of Political Action’. In a theoretical model aimed at providing an explanation to the causes of terrorism Schmid lists the types of actions available to state and non-state actors to pursue their political aims.33 According to the model, violence by non-state actor follows the Clausewitzian view of war being politics by other means34. Thus states and opposing groups can choose from three different paths of political activity: conventional - politics within the rule of law, nonconventional- emergency legislation /civil disobedience, and violent- state terror/terrorism.35 The choice of path taken is assumed to be a result of the interaction between the state and the non-state actors.36Applying the same analogy, we can describe the OPEV as the external factors that determine the type of feasible action available for a terrorist organization to exist and operate.

 As stated earlier, this can be divided into two realms: political and military. The political realm can be thought of as the legitimate/semi-legitimate path of activity where the non-state actor can work towards achieving the political goals without resorting to violence. As for the military realm, it is dependent on tangible factors such as resources (human and material) and territorial control. Asal.V & Rethmeyer.K argue that control of territory increases the deadliness of a terrorist organization as it shelters it from military threats and allows it regroup and plan its operations effectively.37Thus loss of territory is likely to restrain terrorist action. Moreover, other external pressures such as an effective/aggressive governmental counter-terrorism policy produce changes in the OPEV and are likely to result in a decline in the ability of the terrorist organization to operate. It is such difficulties that cause a regional organization to adapt its strategy including seeking assistance or cooperate with another terrorist entity. Asal.V & Rethmeyer.K posit that a more connected organization is likely to make the organization deadlier as it has better access to technical expertise38; moreover, this reinforces its will to act and demonstrate it is a viable ally.

Another distinctive aspect of terrorism which makes it attractive to non-state actors is its ability to capture attention. Terrorism as a form of communication strategy has been prevalent in the literature since an Italian Anarchist by the name of Errico Malatesta described terrorist action as ‘propaganda of the deed’39. Building the idea, Kydd.A & Walter.B developed a theory where terrorism is a form of ‘costly signalling’. They identify five strategic logics of costly signalling behind terrorist actions: 1. Attrition 2.intimidation 3.provocation 4.spoiling. 5. Outbidding. 40 The strategies relevant to the paper are Spoiling and outbidding. In the former, violence is used to discredit moderates and derail a peace settlement, while in the latter involves competition between terrorist groups seeking demonstrate they are the strongest organization therefore worthy of the support of potential recruits.41 

Both scenarios infer an increase in violence. A scenario where there are competing factions is likely to cause a local organization to ally itself with an international organization like Al-Qaeda since this would provide with access to better resources. Furthermore, such actions may help boost the image of the organization in the eyes of potential recruits since being part of Al-Qaeda means being of an organization powerful enough to strike the USA on its own soil.
The idea of competing factions raises another interesting point that can contribute to explain why a group joins Al-Qaeda. Competing groups have often emerged due to a splintering in the original organisation. Palestinian militant organizations that have splintered a number of times are good examples. Groups such as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the 1970s, and Hamas in the 1980s both split from the Muslim Brotherhood due to disagreement over the use of violent political actions. 

Though ideological differences might cause such rifts, there are other factors involved. Mesquita.B developed a model that explains why terrorist organizations might splinter and the effects that would have on the new organization.42In contrast to Kydd.A & Walter.B’s ‘spoiling’ and ‘outbidding’ he finds that the improvement of political representation decreases overall terrorist mobilization.43 Though this is likely to make terrorist actions less frequent, it is also likely to make the terrorist groups act in a more extreme manner. Thus, a change in the OPEV is likely to cause the emergence of a more radical splinter faction, which might chose to cooperate or join Al-Qaeda. Furthermore, Mesquita.B argues that the success of such a splinter faction is highly dependent on the new group’s leadership to provide benefits that are more than ideological.44Literature on the international cooperation between states highlights that cooperation is an iterative process45

The same can be said about cooperation between non-state actors since all relationships tend coalesce gradually rather than appear suddenly. Desouza.C & Hensgen.T suggest that terrorist organizations need to cooperate because their actions are limited by the three ‘Rs’.46 Resources: human, financial and knowledge supplies; Reciprocity: the ability to exchange information and ideas between groups; Reach: group of reliable and likeminded contacts.47Obtaining the three Rs requires terrorist groups to form alliances in order to maximize their effectiveness as an organization or survival. Moreover, the types of links that exist between groups can be divided into two categories: ‘Soft’ and ‘Hard’ links. The former are shared intangible features such as ideology and provide the basis for cooperation, while the latter are more concrete material links that show active cooperation such as financial assistance or training. 48 Desouza & Hensgen also propose that alliances are more successful between mature/established organizations, this benefit both parties as it enhances their ability to obtain the three Rs. From an AQC point of view, this maintains the idea of a Global Jihad and keeps the brand alive, while for a regional group an alliance with a more senior organization boosts its prestige and provides access to previously unobtainable Rs. Thus, the alliance enhances the recruitment of new members making the terrorist groups deadlier.

Certain affiliates of Al-Qaeda have taken an extra step to show their commitment to the cause and the Al-Qaeda movement by changing their names. Perhaps the best example of such rebranding operations is the renaming of the ‘Salafist Group for Combat and Preaching’ (GSPC) to ‘Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’ (AQIM). The help explain what motivated this; we turn to literature that explains this phenomenon in business.

In its simplest form rebranding is simply a renaming operation triggered by under-performance49; however, Muzellec.L & Lambkin.M argue that structural factors such as mergers and acquisitions provide the main drive for rebranding while image improvement ranked lower. Would this not mean that any regional group joining Al-Qaeda would change its name?

Merrilees.B and Miller.D present an in-depth paper that focuses on ‘corporate rebranding’, and develop six principles behind it. Three relevant principles are outlined to achieve a successful implementation of the new brand. (principle.1) upholding of the core ideology of the organization yet adapts it to contemporary conditions (principle.2); the new brand vision has to be assimilated inside the organization (principle.4); extensive promotion is needed to make stakeholders aware of the revised brand.50

This makes rebranding an internal as much as an external process.51Unlike product rebranding, the focus on corporate organizations makes the application to a terrorist one justifiable. In accordance with the first principle, local groups must shift their ideological agenda to a more global perspective yet retain their original aims in order to avoid alienating followers of the old agenda. Secondly, this new ideology must be assimilated with enough critical mass inside the organization in order to avoid schisms. Finally, the target audiences must be made aware of this change. This is likely to take the form statements from the organization informing the world of its new brand vision, but since terrorism is a form of costly signaling, then actions reflecting the new brand are the most effective way to communicate the change. Such actions could include logistically complex attacks such as large scale bombings.

1 David Rapoport, ‘The Four Waves of Rebel Terror and September 11, (2002), available:, accessed: 03-04-2011.
2 Ibid.
3 Meaning the ‘Base’ when translated from Arabic.
4 Alexander.Y &Swetnam.M, ‘Usama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda: Profile of a terrorist Network’, Transnational Publishers, (2001), p.2.
5 Ibid.
6 Referred to as Al-Qaeda core (AQC)
7 Alexander.Y & Swetnam.m, p.3.
8 Ibid.
9 Cronin.K, ‘How Al-Qaeda Ends: the Decline and Demise of Terrorist Groups’, International Security, vol.32, No.1,(2006), pp-7-48, p.31.
10 Enders.W & Sandler.T, ‘The Political Economy of Terrorism’, Cambridge University Press, (2009), p.201.
11 Ibid.
12 Sageman.M, ‘Leaderless Jihad’, University of Pennsylvania Press, (2008), p.127.
13 Asal.V, Nusbaum.B & Harrington.W, ‘Terrorism as Transnational Advocacy: An Organizational and Tactical Examination’, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism,(2007),Vol.30, No.1, pp.15.39.
14 Ibid. p.17.
15 Sageman.M(2004), p.140.
16 Ibid.
17 Sageman.(2008), pp.-31-32.
18 Hoffman.B,(2008),p.283-284.
19 Ibid.pp.285-287.
20 An example of usage available: , accessed: 14-06-2011.
21 International Franchise Association, ‘A Glossary of Franchise Terms’, p.18. available:, accessed: 03-06-2011.
22 Hoffman.B,(2008),p.283.
23 Farrall.L, ‘How Al-Qaeda Works: What the Organization’s Subsidiaries Say About Its Strength’, foreign Affairs, Vol.90, No.2, (2011), p.128.
24 Ibid.
25 Ibid.
26 Ibid.
27 Hoffman.B, ‘Inside Terrorism’, Colombia University Press, (2006), p.3.
28 Ibid. p.40.
29 Ibid.
30 Crenshaw.M, ‘The Causes of Terrorism’, Comparative Politics, Vol.13, No.4, (1981), pp.379-399, p.385.
31 Hoffman.B, pp.180-182.
32 Russell.A , Banker.J, & Miller.B, “Out-Inventing the Terrorist,” in Terrorism: Theory and Practice, edited by Alexander.Y, Carlton.D, &Wilkinson.P, Westview Press, (1979), pp. 3-42.
33 Schmid.A, ‘Root Causes of Terrorism: Some Conceptual Notes, a Set of Indicators, and a Model’, Democracy and Security, Vol.1, (2005), pp127-136, p.131.

34 Ibid.
35 Ibid.
36 Ibid. p.130.
37 Asal.V & Rethmyer.K, ‘The Nature of the Beast: Organizational Structures and the Lethality of Terrorist Attacks’, The Journal of Politics, Vol.70. No.2, (2008), pp-437-449, p.445.
38 Ibid.
39 Sedwich.M, ‘Al-Qaeda and the Nature of Religious Terrorism’, Terrorism and Political Violence, Vol.16, No.4,(2004), pp.795-814, p.801.
40 Kydd.A & Walter.B, ‘The Strategies of Terrorism’, International Security, Vol. 31, No. 1 (2006), pp. 49–80, p.51.
41 Ibid.
42 Mesquita.B, ‘Terrorist Factions’, Quarterly Journal of Political Science, Vol.3, No.1, pp.399-418.
43 Ibid. p.408.
44 Mesquita.B, ‘Terrorist Factions’, Quarterly Journal of Political Science, Vol.3, No.1, pp.399-418,p.410.
45 See Grieco.J, ‘Anarchy and the Limits of Cooperation: A Realist Critique of the Newest Liberal Institutionalism’, International Organization, Vol. 42, No.3, (1988), pp. 485-507

46 Desouza.C & Hensgen.T, ‘Connectivity among Terrorist Groups: A Two Models Business Maturity Approach’, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, (2007), vol.30n No.7, pp-593-613, p. 594.
47 Ibid.
48 Ibid.
49 Kapferer.J Strategic Brand Management: Creating and Sustaining Brand Equity Long
Term, Kogan Page, London,(1997).
50 For a full list of these see: Merrilees.B and Miller.D , ‘Principles of corporate rebranding’, European Journal of Marketing ,Vol. 42, No.5,(2008), pp. 537-552, p546.
51 Ibid, p.439.  

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