The birth of an international jihadi social movement?

Clint Watts writes: The jihadi movement may have finally become what its original luminaries always wanted it to be – and in Paris of all places. The amorphous connections between the Charlie Hebdo attackers, the Kouachi brothers – who attributed their actions to “al Qaeda in Yemen” – and kosher market attacker Amedy Coulibali – who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in a recently released online video – may reflect exactly what some early jihadi strategists intended: broad based jihad via a loose social movement. Terrorism researchers, obsessed with the writings of their academic adversary in jihad, Abu Musab al Suri, have for years suggested the social movement approach represented the ultimate vision of al Qaeda’s founding leadership.

This vision, however, does not seem to be shared by today’s al Qaeda chief, Ayman al Zawahiri, who for nearly a decade has sought to rein in the group’s disobedient affiliate in Iraq, which now also controls much of Syria in the guise of the Islamic State. Al Zawahiri also questioned the value of goofy self-recruits perpetrating attacks on behalf of al Qaeda without formal membership or direction from the group. Zawahiri’s resistance to freelance members may not be sufficient to quell the zeal witnessed by last week’s Charlie Hebdo attack. The manifestation of al Qaeda social movement theory may finally be realized by three forces: the growing development and global proliferation of social media, an unending call for jihad due to the intractable Syrian civil war, and the West’s failure to adapt to the wicked problem of non-state threats in a networked world.

Today’s jihadi threat, blended between al Qaeda and ISIS, networked by Facebook, and evolving based on conditions in hundreds of locations, produces attacks on three or more continents every day. On the surface this seems to indicate a stronger, unprecedented emerging jihadi threat to the West. Media coverage of the Charlie Hebdo attack and others suggest as much. We analysts and followers of jihadi activity, though, often give terrorists too much credit. Many, if not most, Western jihadis are deeply troubled souls, at times more confused about their intentions and motivations than we are – Omar Hammami, Zachary Chesser, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau are three of many such examples. Counterterrorism pundits, myself included, try to tease out order from chaos. But today’s counterterrorism landscape does not lend itself to such linearity. [Continue reading…]

Print Friendly, PDF & Email