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A Metastasizing Al Qaeda: Implications to U.S. Counterterrorism Policy
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A Metastasizing Al Qaeda: Implications to U.S. Counterterrorism Policy


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  • 1. A Metastasizing Al Qaeda: Implications for U.S. Counter-Terrorism Policy Prepared By: Keith Widaman For Representative Paul Cook
  • 2. Al Qaeda Evolution • We Are Not Winning The War On Terrorism • In the last decade, Al Qaeda (AQ) has enjoyed expansive organizational growth – Controls more land – Has more members in its ranks – Better financially resourced • How? – Evolved from a structured targetable organization into a decentralized movement – Is increasingly effective at selling its narrative and attracting new members – Exploited security vacuum created by Arab spring Assessment: If changes in Counterterrorism policy are not made soon, the AQ brand will continue to spread through the Middle East and North African regions. As this ideological brand spreads and its popularity rises among the disenfranchised Islamic youth, it will be increasingly difficult to reverse. Al-Qaeda is “on the path to defeat” and “their remaining operatives spend more time thinking about their own safety than plotting against us”. –Barack Obama, May 2013
  • 3. AQ Goal • Establish Islamic Empire Ruled by Sharia Law (Caliphate) – Re-establish an “Islamic Caliphate” similar to the one established under Muslim Prophet Mohammed • How? – Local: Exploit/ferment insurgencies to overthrow government and establish Islamist governments – Regional: Provide coordination to insurgencies & unite them in ideology and goals – Global: Export radical Islamic Ideology via AQ members and propaganda; recruit more members and support Goals Of Al Qaeda As Stated In Their Constitution: “The victory of the mighty religion of Allah, the establishment of an Islamic Regime, and the restoration of the Islamic Caliphate, God willing”. Currently, most of al-Qaeda’s current affiliates are focused for now on “the near enemy”, not “the far enemy”. Both prevent the re-establishment of the Islamic Caliphate.
  • 4. AQ Goal: Establish Islamic Empire Ruled by Sharia Law (Caliphate) Assessment: Restoration of Caliphate being pursued by marketing AQ narrative and ideology via a concerted and effective propaganda campaign through affiliates and allies. With each affiliate & ally tailoring the AQ brand around a local narrative, it is becoming increasingly popular & accounts for AQ growth AQ Central
  • 5. AQ The Organization • Al Qaeda’s Four Tiers –Seth Jones, RAND Corp. 1. Al Qaeda Central-AQC • Leadership & Coordination 2. Affiliated Groups • Sworn Allegiance and recognized by AQC • Al Shabaab, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Jubhat Al-Nusra (JN) 3. Allied Groups • Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, Ansar Al-Sharia Libya (ASL) 4. Inspired Networks • Tsarnev brothers, Nadal Hassan, etc
  • 6. AQ The Organization
  • 7. AQ The Organization Map by Rand Corporation
  • 8. AQ The Movement • Movement being created around AQ brand – AQ has created effective propaganda campaign – Effectively exploiting grievances from the Arab Spring • AQ media arm increasingly effective at developing and distributing AQ narrative – Social Media – Downloadable magazines – Mobile Devices (Thumb drives, disks, etc) • Propaganda campaigns are – Stimulating recruitment and subsequent organizational growth – Inspiring autonomous cells and individuals to join ranks of AQ – Increasing fundraising support Sen. Joe Lieberman: “AQ and its affiliates remain a ruthless, determined, and above all adaptive adversary”.
  • 9. Al Qaeda in the Middle East “I swear to Allah, we will not experience war in our countries while our enemies are safe in their countries” –Qasim Al Raymi, AQAP Military Commander
  • 10. Syria: JN (Jubhat Al Nusra)
  • 11. Syria: JN (Jubhat Al Nusra) • AQ Franchise: Syria focus • Network is building – Financial Support: Gulf Donor base evolving and expanding – Logistical Networks: Active along Iraqi, Turkish & Lebanese borders – Foreign Fighter base expanding • Approx. 10,000 Foreign Fighters – More than in Iraq and Afghanistan Combined over the last ten years – Expertise (Bomb making, insurgency tactics, etc.), networks and ideology will be exported globally in the coming years – Increase in attacks on the West and allies will likely accompany their return – Returning diaspora of fighters similar to post Soviet/Afghanistan campaign— how and why AQ originally evolved Assessment: Foreign Fighters in Afghanistan returned to their parent nations in 1989 and took with them their violent Salafi ideology. This is how Al Qaeda was born and should we not recognize Al Qaeda two may be incubating and ready for a rebirth. Jubhat Al Nusra Members w/ Christian Prisoners Jubhat Al Nusra Members Executing Prisoners
  • 12. Al Qaeda leader, Sanafi al Nasr relocated from Yemen to Syria where he is living openly and publicly courts followers on twitter Al Qaeda leadership seeking out Syria as a core area of operations
  • 13. Al Qaeda Affiliates’ Territory Growing
  • 14. Iraq: ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria)
  • 15. Iraq: ISIS • Former AQ Affilate: Regional aspirations – AQC recently severed ties but ISIS still carries ideology – Seeks to restore Islamic Caliphate from Baghdad to Lebanon – Controls Fallujah and Western Al Anbar and pockets of Syria • Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) losing control of Sunni areas to ISIS – Iraqi government becoming increasingly violent in Sunni areas – ISF Shelling AQ controlled cities from the outside • ISIS engaging in community outreach in controlled areas – Engaging with Imam’s and local Sunni tribal leaders Assessment: ISIS using Twitter to recruit and attract foreign fighters. Recently praised eight suicide bombers including "three Moroccans, two Tunisians, one Jordanian, one Saudi, and a foreign man who was unidentified”. Suicide Bombers in Iraq in Nov 2012: 3  In Nov 2013: 50 ISIS Using Iraqi Government Equipment Iraqi Police rescuing victim of ISIS suicide bomber
  • 16. Iraq-ISIS • ISIS provocative attacks against Shia community and Shia led government – Stoking sectarian tensions – Increasing attacks through the use of suicide bombers – Attempting to destabilize the country • ISIS setting the stage for a civil war in Iraq – Controls key cities in Al Anbar – Invoking heavy handed response by Shia led Government – ISIS leader has vocalized intentions to take Baghdad Assessment: ISIS attempting to incite violence against Shia communities to invoke a heavy handed response by the Shia led government. So far, the Iraqi Security Forces are responding accordingly.
  • 17. “Places Unified or Controlled” “The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria” Territory Al Qaeda Affiliate ISIS Claims to Control in Iraq
  • 18. Territory Al Qaeda Affiliate ISIS Actually Controls in Iraq
  • 19. Yemen: AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) • AQ Affilate: Yemen Focus/Global Aspirations – Led by Al Qaeda # 2, Naseer Al Wahashi • AQAP is a direct and immediate threat to the United States – Demonstrated capability and intent to attack the United States—Three attempts since 2009 – Threat previously prompted closure of 20 embassies – U.S. Embassy in Yemen indefinitely closed to public (5/07/14) “The Crusader enemy is still shuffling his papers, so we must remember that we are always fighting the biggest enemy, the leaders of disbelief, and we have to overthrow those leaders, we have to remove the Cross, and the carrier of the Cross is America.” Nasseer Al Wuhayshi--March 29, 2014
  • 20. Yemen: AQAP • We’re not winning in Yemen – “If we’re not winning in Yemen, we aren't winning against al Qaeda” • –Katherine Zimmerman, AEI – AQAP very active and recently met in open with over 100 fighters in training camp – Demonstrated ability to recruit and grow despite current CT efforts • Highly active and effective media arm – Home to Inspire Magazine – Inspired Boston Bombers, Nidal Hassan and Underwear bomber • Drone Strike Campaign in 2012 – Attrition through drone strikes has had a limited long term effect – Our counterterrorism partnership in Yemen has been unable to defeat the group and instead it is evolving AQAP Leadership 2009 Al Shihiri (Deceased) Al Raymi (Military) Al Wuhayshi (AQ #2) Al Awafi (Amnesty) Drone Strikes
  • 21. Al Qaeda in Northern Africa “Individuals affiliated with terrorist groups, including AQIM (Al- Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb), Ansar al-Sharia, AQAP (Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula), and the Mohammad Jamal Network, participated in the September 11, 2012, attacks.” –Senate Select Committee Report on Benghazi attacks
  • 22. AQIM-Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb
  • 23. AQIM • AQ Affilate with regional aspirations – Began as insurgency group GSPC (Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat) and merged under AQC in 2007 – AQIM is focused almost entirely on Algeria and neighboring countries – Further attacks by AQIM in this region are very likely • AQIM’s associates are part of single African human network – Should be considered as one common threat in the north and west Africa region – Network is expansive and covers many North African countries AFRICOM's intent is "neutralizing al-Qaeda networks in Africa" with "greater engagements" in Libya, Niger, Tunisia, Algeria, Mauritania, Nigeria, Mali, Cameroon, South Sudan and Kenya. –AFRICOM Commander Gen. David Rodriguez Feb 2013.
  • 24. AQIM Assessment: AQIM is seeking to create an “arc of instability” across the Sahara and the Sahel. Provides help and advice to jihadist organizations from Boko Haram in Nigeria to the Shabbab in Somalia. "I see a greater risk of regional instability if we do not engage aggressively," AFRICOM Commander Gen. David Rodriguez Feb 2013.
  • 25. Somalia: Al Shabaab
  • 26. Somalia: Al Shabaab • Al Qaeda Ally with East Africa Focus – Support AQ ideology of a broader Islamic Caliphate • Presents a significant threat to the region and U.S. interests in the region – Demonstrated ability to attack outside Somalia—conducted attacks in Kenya and Uganda • AMASOM forces have taken eight key towns so far – Without government structure and domestic security, this wont last. – Major aid agencies barely able to leave Mogadishu • Extensive us of real and virtual social networks – Spreads Al Qaeda aligned propaganda to garner support and recruit active members. – Have recruited multiple Americans to fight “Precise partnered and unilateral operations [training conducted by special operations forces] continue to play limited but important roles in weakening al-Shabaab.” AFRICOM Commander General Rodriguez Al Shabaab Public Execution Al Shabaab Fighting Somali Forces
  • 27. Somalia: Al Shabaab Map released by AFRICOM in its 2013 posture statement showing governance in Somalia in 2012 and 2013. Note that the green areas are simply listed as “pro-government,” indicating that much of this territory is likely controlled by warlords and their militias. This type of governance likely impermanent & unstable.
  • 28. Kenya: Al Shebaab • Al Shabaab operating and recruiting in Kenya and Uganda – Westage Mall is most recent of multiple attacks outside of Somalia • Somali diaspora being treated with heavy hand in response to terrorism – Regular police are rounding up Somali refugees and sending them back over the border • Kenyan Muslims are being marginalized in response to Al Shabaab – Kenyan anti-terrorism unit being accused of extrajudicial killings – Response is feeding Kenyan Muslims sense of maltreatment and fueling Al Shabaab narrative Westgate Mall Attack Aftermath Somali Refugee Camp on Kenyan Border Assessment: The Westgate Mall attack demonstrates ability of Al Shabaab to coordinate complex attacks outside of Somalia despite suffering territorial losses. The 2nd and third order effects of the heavy handed Kenyan response are actually enabling Al Shabaab to retain an ideological platform.
  • 29. Libya: ASL (Ansar Al-Shariah)
  • 30. Libya: ASL • AQ Ally with Libya Focus – ASL involved in attack against U.S. Consulate in Bengazi • ASL expanding support via dawa “missionary” activities – Cleaning roads, Anti-Drug and Religious lectures, Competitions for children, Security patrols, Opening medical clinics and religious schools • Connections to global AQ networks – Foreign fighter training and facilitation – Weapons facilitation – Ideologically united Assessment: ASL is promoting AQ brand and spreading AQ brand of Islam through lectures and religious schools. This means a whole generation of Libyan children are being indoctrinated with AQ ideology. ASL “dawa” activities w/ Children ASL police trucks flying AQ flag
  • 31. Libya: ASL ASL formed in Bengazi after fall of Gadhafi regime and is rapidly expanding territory in NE Libya. Flag of Ansar Al Sharia contains Al Qaeda Flag. Al Qaeda Flag ASL Flag
  • 32. Nigeria-Boko Haram
  • 33. Nigeria-Boko Haram • AQ Ally with Nigerian Focus – Ideologically aligned with AQC • Formed in response to the U.S. dislodgement of Afghan Taliban in 2002 – Self styled Taliban defenders of Islam in Nigeria—Renamed region “Kandahar” in Northern Nigeria – Group operates unfettered in area not controlled by central government – Spreading control through a violent campaign against non-Muslims • Systematically killing Christians in Northern Nigeria – Christians being murdered for not converting to Islam – Churches being burned • Terrorist campaign includes – Bombings, kidnappings, beheadings, burning buildings with people inside, assassinations, etc Boko Haram Ideological Roots: ‘Anyone who is not governed by what Allah has revealed is among the transgressors’. Quran Surat Al-Ma'idah (5:48) Boko Haram attack at St Theresa Church Dec 24, 2012
  • 34. Nigeria-Boko Haram • Well documented nexus with global Jihad/AQ movement – 2012- UN Report cites Boko Haram’s established links with AQIM – 2011- ”Members of Boko Haram are being trained by AQIM. –U.S. Ambassador Anthony Holmes • State Department has stated threat is local & Boko Haram is “not religious” – Has downplayed repeated threats by Boko Haram leadership to U.S. and declarations of overthrowing the Nigerian Government – Boko Haram uses heavy religious rhetoric defending their attacks • Boko Haram intent on re- establishing the Sokoto Caliphate – Era when Northern Nigeria was ruled under sharia law. Jihad (holy war) of Sheik Uthman dan Fodio (1754-1817) in early 19th century against ‘apostate’ Hausa ruling elite established sharia-governed Sokoto Caliphate. Boko Haram seeks to restore this Caliphate SOKOTO CALIPHATE
  • 35. Policy Recommendations “Democracy triumphed in the cold war because it was a battle of values between one system that gave preeminence to the state and another that gave preeminence to the individual and freedom.” -Ronald Reagan, An American Life: The Autobiography, 1990
  • 36. Policy Options • AQ will not dissolve with targeted killings alone – Current strategy fermenting AQ organizational growth – Allowing AQ ideology to spread • Comprehensive, clear, and sustainable approach needed – Must address complex, adaptive and rapidly evolving nature of Al Qaeda organization – Must address ideological battle • If shift in CT strategy not taken: – AQ attacks against U.S. and moderate Muslim governments will continue to rise – AQ ranks will continue to swell – AQ will further expand territorial control – AQC will bring cohesion to AQ locally focused allies • Two factors to consider – Tiers – Time
  • 37. Policy Options • Tiers: Four tiered layered approach to counter support to Al Qaeda—Each tier treated with equal importance as each feeds the next – Tier Four- Governmental Support – Tier Three- Societal Support – Tier Two- Passive Support – Tier One- Active Support • Active Support- Targeted Killings, Aggressive Sanctions • Passive Support- Counter Narrative, Strengthen partner law enforcement & legal systems • Societal Support- Counter Narrative, Strengthen partner economically • Governmental Support: Sanctions, military action • Time: Reversal of the spread of AQ ideology is going to take time • Cold War wasn’t won by strategically targeting leaders • Long term nature of Al Qaeda ideological goals must be understood and countered accordingly • Three Layered Approach – Short Term Goals – Mid Term Goals – Long Term goals
  • 38. Short Term Policy Considerations
  • 39. Target Active Cells • Continue targeting active AQ cells – Expand AUMF but use with restraint • Target AQ affiliates or allies who – 1) Are actively plotting against U.S. – 2) Have attempted attack on U.S. – 3) Have executed attack on U.S. • Clear definitions in targeting policy necessary to head off metastasizing AQ threat – Draws the line and discourages recruits from joining – Creates fear for active supporters • Provide unwavering assistance to partners who requests U.S. assistance in countering AQ affiliate or ally in their country
  • 40. Mid Term Policy Considerations
  • 41. Strong Counter-narrative • U.S. Information Agency Disbanded in 1999 – Used effectively to combat Marxist ideology in the Cold War • No U.S. Government Agency has lead role for countering AQ ideology – State Department has small department – AQ increasingly effective at spreading ideology, no U.S. counterpunch • Develop stronger program to engage consumers of AQ rhetoric on same mediums as AQ – Utilize moderate Islamic clerics for counter points – Engage with Global Partners Social Media Being Used to promote Jihad
  • 42. Police/Military Professionalism Programs • Improve and increase engagement with foreign law enforcement • Police professionalization needed to effectively handle growing terrorist threat – MENA security forces rife with corruption – Common overuse of police force and human rights violations—Used in AQ narrative for recruitment – Partners in CT have ineffective equipment to counter the growing Al Qaeda threat • Explore modifying existing DOS training programs – Increase U.S. based training • Office of Antiterrorism Assistance (ATA) leads effort – In FY 2012 64 countries globally received ATA assistance in 2012 from a program budget of appx. $200 million FY 2011 ATA Budget – $125 million designated for the 22 North Africa, Middle East, Central Asia, and South Asia countries. • Underfunded & Mismanaged – The average training course lasted 13 days and was attended by 21 students—approximately $23,000 per student per class, or $1,800 per student per day of training. – ATA doesn't measure program effectiveness Assessment: Common theme in the countries where AQ is flourishing is inefficient, ill equipped and corrupt security forces. Much more attention needs to be given to the local level law enforcement and anti- corruption tactics. These vulnerable areas are allowing AQ recruitment to gain traction and fill their ranks.
  • 43. Police Professionalization Programs • FY 2011 ATA Program for MENA and Central Asian Affairs allocated 125 million for its 22 countries that’s 5.6 million per country to enable them to defeat AQ independently. • From 2012 to 2013 the global ATA budget was reduced from 199.69 to 176.23 million, a 23.46 million dollar reduction.
  • 44. Long Term Policy Considerations
  • 45. Education & Trade • Strengthen moderate educational programs in the Middle East – Promoting moderate voices to preempt religious radicalization – Stimulate a growing number of voices into the public discussion – Can also be elevated through social media campaign • Vehemently support and promote education of women and women's rights – As women are empowered in the Middle East this counters the Salafi model which Al Qaeda draws from • Ease trade with Middle East countries to stimulate long term economic stability • Establish exploratory trade commission – Develop and encourage trade with the Middle Eastern countries to build sustainable economic growth • With increased partner government proven ability to economically develop – Fuels counter narrative of US oppressing Muslims through a broad and tangible policy that will reverse trends that feed AQ ideology
  • 46. Questions? “The Crusader enemy is still shuffling his papers, so we must remember that we are always fighting the biggest enemy, the leaders of disbelief, and we have to overthrow those leaders, we have to remove the Cross, and the carrier of the Cross is America.” –AQAP Commander Nasseer Al Wuhayshi, March 29, 2014