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Contemporary terrorism. James J.F. Forest Director of Terrorism Studies. T he C ombating T errorism C enter . A t w est p oint. NJ Homeland Security Conference, 10 April 2007.

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contemporary terrorism
Contemporary terrorism

James J.F. Forest

Director of Terrorism Studies

The CombatingTerrorismCenter

Atwest point

NJ Homeland Security Conference, 10 April 2007

The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not purport to reflect the position of the United States Military Academy, the Department of the Army, or the Department of Defense.

terrorism key terms
Terrorism: Key Terms
  • Ideology
  • Enabling Environments
  • Radicalization
  • Emotions
  • Moral Disengagement
  • Asymmetric Warfare
  • Facilitators/Causes
  • Learning Organization
  • Counter vs. Anti
  • Hard/Soft Power
  • Definitions (many)
  • Vision
  • Power
  • Strategy
  • Duty
  • Shame
  • Freedom Fighter
  • Self-sacrifice
  • Will to kill (intent)
  • Skill to kill (capability)
  • Insurgency
early historical examples
Early Historical examples
  • Zealots – 1st century BCE, murdered Romans in broad daylight in Jerusalem
  • Thugs – Hindu sect that strangled & robbed victims in ritual sacrifice
  • Assassins – Muslim followers of Hassan (Persian, not Arabic) known for public acts of violence
  • French revolution – use of revolutionary tribunals; rule by fear/terror (Robespierre’s “lists”)
  • “Sons of Liberty” – provoked by Stamp Act, organized mobs to tar and feather colonists still loyal to the king, forcing many to flee the country and settle in Canada
  • Klu Klux Klan – effective in spreading fear; forced federal government to end Reconstruction
intentions a brief history
Intentions: A brief history


  • Anarchists, Nechaev’s Revolutionary Catechism; Bakunin; Kropotkin’s “propaganda by the deed” – words are not enough . . .


  • Anti-colonialism; Freedom for indigenous peoples to decide own system, structure
  • Anti-racism, imperialism; fewer assassinations then previous wave; attacks mainly on police, military, colonial govt. targets


  • Marxism, nationalism, ethnic separatism
  • Civilian targets; Carlos Marighella, Minimanual of the Urban Guerilla; IRA, The Green Book
  • Shiite revolution; state-sponsored terror (Iran, Libya)

1990s – present

  • Afghanistan (1980s) Jihad to oust the Soviets; Iraq (present) Jihad to oust the Americans
  • Fatwas against the West; oust them from holy lands; late 1990s shift from near enemy to far enemy
intentions ideologies
Intentions & ideologies
  • The role of ideology in a revolutionary movement is to clarify, denounce, explain, solve and mobilize
  • Ideology legitimates the struggle—it converts brute power to rightful authority
  • Ideologies fuel both local and global perceptions of injustices and need for action/retribution
  • Ideologies offer a combination of intellectual and emotional appeal
  • Events may be interpreted/twisted in ways that support ideology
ideologies of violence
Ideologies of violence
  • Violence is seen as necessary for achieving change
    • Political change (e.g., Kashmir, Tamil Eelam, overthrow govt., etc.)
    • Social change (e.g., France headscarf ban, anti-abortionists, etc.)
    • Economic change (e.g., stop oil exports; change resource distribution)
    • Religious change (e.g., fundamentalist interpretations of the faith)
  • A Variety of Terrorist Ideologies:
    • Nationalists and Ethnic Separatists (e.g., Anti-colonial groups, Chechens, PLO, Tamil Tigers/LTTE, Basques/ETA, Kurds/PKK)
    • Left-wing (e.g., radical Communists revolutionaries)
    • Right Wing (often target race and ethnicity; Nazi, Aryan nations, etc.)
    • Religious (e.g., Christian militias, Islamic jihadists, Shia revolutionaries, Zionists)
    • Others: Anarchists, Environmentalists, Animal Rights Extremists Apocalyptic cults, etc.
ideologies of violence1
Ideologies of violence

A Spectrum of Ideologies

Threshold of

catastrophic violence



Apocalyptic Terrorism

Groups that want to change the world, but reject the need for violent means

Groups that want to change the world, and see a need for violent means

Groups that want to destroy the world, for various reasons,possibly with WMD

capabilities a brief history
Capabilities: a Brief history


  • Communication and transportation patterns; telegraph; daily newspapers; railroads; technology would shrink time and space
  • Early weapons were mostly guns and knives, but the invention of dynamite helped launch new terrorist capabilities


  • Faster means of communication, transportation, money transfer


  • Global sharing of new timing devices, other trigger switches for explosives; new types of explosives
  • Airplane hijackings; global proliferation of small arms & light weapons

1990s – present

  • Increasing sophistication of IEDs
  • Use of “ultimate smart bomb” (suicide terrorists)
  • Weapons of Mass Disruption & Destruction
  • Globalization enhances capabilities of networked organizations
modern trends
Modern Trends
  • More violent attacks (and increasing lethality); more media coverage
  • Increasing use of suicide bombers(the ultimate smart bomb)
  • Important and useful new technologies
    • Innovations in biotechnology, chemical industries (including binary explosives)
    • Increasing usefulness of the Internet for target surveillance, operational communication and coordination, fundraising/friendraising, etc.
  • Funding Sources
    • Bank robberies, extortion, etc.
    • State sponsorship
    • Diaspora support, particular from immigrants to developed Western countries
    • Transnational criminal organizations, Trafficking in drugs, weapons, banned goods, people
modern trends1
Modern Trends
  • Cellular network organization models developed by the Algerian insurgency groups and the IRA are now common among most terror groups
    • Insulates leadership from intelligence, law enforcement effort
    • Creates challenges for tactical control of violence, transaction integrity, et al.
  • Future projections
    • Who will most likely turn to terrorism? Those who have the most to lose by the global spread of secular, liberal democratic governance . . .
  • Religious terrorist groups are (and will likely remain) most common threat worldwide - even insurgencies and ethnic separatist groups are using religion to justify violence
religious terrorism is unique
Religious Terrorism is unique
  • Long-term view of history and future
  • Sense of crisis, threat of secularization, globalization
  • Members believe they are involved in a struggle of good vs evil
  • Acting along desires of a diety – audience is thus not necessarily human.
  • Belief in their own revealed truth from God; piety and persistence in the faith will give you the strength to overcome anything
  • Doing the bidding of a higher power; demands sacrifice; rewards in this life and the next; unconstrained by laws
  • Complete alienation from existing socio/political order
  • Support may be diffuse
radical islam
Radical Islam

The radical neo-fundamentalists view the action as more important than the result. Thus, individual jihad becomes more important than victory. The goal is to serve God, not to achieve a certain political agenda. The results will come when God wills it. - Magnus Norell

  • Religious ideologies are powerful because they are:
    • theologically supremacist - meaning that all believers assume superiority over non-believers, who are not privy to the truth of the religion
    • exclusivist - believers are a chosen people, or their territory is a holy land
    • absolutist - it is not possible to be a half-hearted believer, and you are either totally within the system, or totally without it
    • polarizing in terms of right and wrong, good and evil, light and dark
salafi jihad ideology
Salafi-jihad ideology

Al Qaida and affiliated groups

salafi jihad ideology1
Salafi-jihad ideology
  • Islam is the one and only way of ruling mankind that is acceptable to God
  • Pluralism, the idea that no one has a monopoly on truth, is a falsehood, and liberal democracy (rule by man’s laws) is against God’s will.
  • Muslims should use force to establish a more just society. (Mawdudi)
  • Jihad is the only source of internal empowerment and reform in the Muslim world. (Qutb, Maqdisi, et al.)
  • Muslims must resist the influences of Western institutions and traditions that have poisoned mankind (Qutb)
  • We have a global conflict between Islam and the West. Islam is under siege and only we (the Jihadis, the “pure” defenders of Islam) can lift it.
salafi jihad ideology2
Salafi-jihad ideology
  • “The world is truly messed up, and only Islam is the answer - therefore we (Jihadis) must do all that is necessary to tear down the existing order and replace it with one built on Islam.”
  • We must mobilize the entire Muslim community to join our global jihad
  • We must overthrow corrupt, incompetent “apostate” regimes in the Middle East and replace them with governments that rule by Sharia law
    • This requires defeating their powerful Western patrons (OBL, Zawahiri)
  • Then we must re-establish the Islamic caliphate to rule over the entire Muslim world
  • The violence we inflict upon our own people, governments, and resources is 1) necessary, 2) religiously sanctioned, and 3) really the fault of the West, Israel, and apostate regimes.
elements of the jihadist threat
Elements of the Jihadist Threat
  • Global in scope and strategic objectives
  • Generational in scope; epic struggle, David vs. Goliath- Bin Laden as Robin Hood
  • “The number of the brothers is large . . . I do not know everyone who is with us in this base or this organization.” – Bin Laden as Pied Piper, with a constant call to jihad as the duty of every good Muslim
  • Educated members as martyrs in AQ; longer planning cycles (9/11 hijackers arriving in U.S. as early as 1994)
  • Evolution into a political social movement, a global insurgency against Western-oriented globalization
  • Afghanistan and Iraq offering new locations for Jihad, indoctrination, tactical training, network formation
elements of the jihadist threat1
Elements of the Jihadist threat
  • Increasing number and lethality of attacks
  • Attacks are carried out not by AQ-trained members or some other centralized group, but by affiliates and wanna-bes
  • Use of children and female suicide bombers by terrorist organizations
  • Info Ops – role of technology
    • From DVDs and web videos to Al Jazeera
    • Availability of info on government security, CT efforts
  • EW – another role of technology
  • Taking instruments from our daily life—the backpack, the car, the shoe, the cell phone—and turning them into weapons. Goal – damage the trust necessary for a successful open society
  • Shifting from small groups to motivated and resourceful individuals (Madrid, London)
Elements of the Jihadist threat
  • Praying Honestly for Martyrdom
  • Supporting the Families of Wounded and Imprisoned Fighters
  • Collecting Donations
  • Healing the Wounded
  • Praising the Mujahidin and Commemorating their Exploits
  • Defending the Mujahidin
  • Exposing the Hypocrites and Defeatists
  • Guiding the Mujahidin
  • Urging People Toward Jihad
  • Distributing books and Brochures
  • Learning the Jurisprudence of Jihad
  • Electronic Jihad
  • Boycotting goods, abandon luxury
  • Raising children to love mujahidin
think global act local
Think global, act local

I and thousands like me are forsaking everything for what we believe. Our driving motivation doesn’t come from tangible commodities that this world has to offer. Our religion is Islam – obedience to the one true God, Allah, and following the footsteps of the final prophet and messenger Muhammad …

Your democratically elected governments continuously perpetuate atrocities against my people all over the world. And your support of them makes you directly responsible, just as I am directly responsible for protecting and avenging my Muslim brothers and sisters. Until we feel security, you will be our targets. And until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people we will not stop this fight. We are at war and I am a soldier.

Mohammad Sidique Khan, participant in the July 7, 2005 suicide bomb attacks in London, in a video message released by the British authorities Sept. 1, 2005.

radicalization 3 categories of academic theory
Radicalization 3 Categories of Academic Theory
  • Aspects of the Self What influences individuals’ decision to join a terrorist group?
  • Social & Group DynamicsWhat social and group dynamics influence individual actions?
  • Conditions and FacilitatorsWhat local circumstances allow terrorist groups to thrive and grow? What facilitates radicalization, and where?Why do violent ideologies resonate?
places of extremism radicalization
Places of Extremism/Radicalization

Places which bring together groups of like-minded individuals whose shared purpose and experiences build lifelong trust and a sense of “us, together against the world” among its members. (cf. Marc Sageman, Understanding Terror Networks)

Places where grievances are converted to compelling ideologies, including those that emphasize the need to kill others

potential places of extremism radicalization
Potential Places of Extremism/Radicalization
  • Examples include:
  • Places of Worship (mosque, church, synagogue); special importance because of interpretation power
  • Places of Political Ideas and Learning (school, madrasa, university); these also have interpretation power
  • Places of Shared Purpose and Bonds (places of work, community centers, soccer leagues, prisons, gyms)
  • Communities, Families, Social Networks
  • The Internet (open access to seekers and publishers of info)
  • Unique Places (training camps, secret facilities, al Manar, etc.)
enablers of ideological resonance
Enablers of ideological resonance





Sense of Crisis




Limited opportunities/power to bring about change without use of violence


  • Local political, economic and social conditions:
    • Chaos/capacity (weak/failing states, zones of competing governance)
    • Socio-demographics (youth bulge, unemployment, lack of integration, etc.)
    • Authoritarian/repressive regimes; desire to address a power imbalance (AQ/Hizb as symbols of “resistance” - empowering the disenfranchised)
    • Ethnic/Socio-cultural fissures (Tamils, Chechens, Kurds, Basques)
    • Pre-existing belief in superiority of race, religion, tribe, etc.
    • “Holy land” geographical issues, historical irredentist claims
  • Global issues:
    • Israeli-Palestinian conflict (incl. as symbol of universal Muslim oppression)
    • Perceptions of U.S. relations/bias/imperialism/double standards
    • Globalization/Westernization of cultural values “threatening our way of life”
constraints of ideological resonance
constraints of ideological resonance

Socio-Political Constraints

  • Lack of acceptance about the need for violence, or “sense of crisis”
  • Failure to build ideology on pre-existing belief structures, cultural values, etc. within a particular community
  • Behavior of group’s leader seen as too extreme (or perhaps not extreme enough) by community members
  • Grievances are not widely shared by community members
  • Popular support vs. potential to disgust potential supporters thru violence

Religious Constraints

  • Fringe/overly radical interpretation of religious texts (e.g., cults like Aum Shinrikyo) deters potential believers/supporters
  • Lack of acceptance of proposed religious justification for violence (for example, al Qaida claims strategic justification, but do they truly have theological permission to kill Muslims?)
  • Violence prevents individual Muslims from conducting their own jihad as Qu’ran requires
radicalization ideologies
Radicalization & Ideologies


  • requires funding
  • requires purpose
  • involves a new or different vision of the future (a future that some believe cannot be achieved w/out violence)
  • is rooted in information, beliefs, perceptions and interpretation (hence the important role of churches, schools, other places of potential radicalization)

Emotions are more powerful than intellectual appeals

Images are often more powerful than words

community radicalization
Community Radicalization
  • Effective radicalization starts with the young
  • So-called "seekers" of any age are prime candidates for becoming radicalized (you know what a seeker is; you know a seeker, looking for something that is not in his or her life; searching for meaning, purpose, etc.)
  • Family radicalization is more effective than focusing on a single individual (bonds of blood)
  • Radicalization of any kind requires local context (but not necessarily local hardships); e.g., London vs. Kashmir
impact on our communities
Impact on our communities
  • Radicalization and community policing . . .
  • Law enforcement professionals are on the frontlines, most able to detect radicalization and to intervene
  • Certain communities are at risk of becoming engines of radicalization
    • You already know where many of these are
  • Law enforcement is increasingly asked to serve a critical intelligence role – that is, gathering information that may not be useful for a criminal prosecution
  • New demands on law enforcement for community engagement, cultural understanding, diplomacy, etc.
how we respond
How we Respond

Focus on places of ideological interpretation

  • We must establish a presence inside the places of radicalization (institutions of worship, learning, shared purpose, etc. as well as the Internet) in order to reach the audiences that are being radicalized from within.
  • Focus on where youth might be exposed to radical ideas(including clubs, youth groups, video games, Internet, etc.)
  • Further, we must have the active assistance of individuals who are already established as credible peers within those institutions . . .
  • Coming at this problem from the outside, where our messages and ideas are already discredited, does very little.
how we respond1
How we Respond

Multiple dimensions required in our CT approach

  • Local law enforcement personnel play an important role as the intelligence “sensors” within communities of concern
    • They know where the hotspots are in their city, and have some sense of the cultural dimensions of certain neighborhoods
  • Identify and target the funding streams
  • Radical charismatic leaders must be identified and dealt with (e.g., discrediting their radical ideas as unsupported by core values)
  • Interagency and multinational cooperation will be critical to our success.
final thoughts
Final thoughts
  • Our ability to combat radicalization process requires the ability to:
    • Identify certain kinds of information (ideas, messages, images)
    • Identify the sources of this information (who is seen as a legitimate source of knowledge/interpretation within a particular group or movement?)
    • Understand (and if possible, avoid) actions which can be interpreted as justification for radical ideology
    • Understand the global spectrum of interpreters and responders, and their role in a radical movement’s trajectory
final thoughts1
Final thoughts

Information Warfare: influencing the “street perception” of an organization is a powerful component of an overall counterterrorism strategy

Need to discredit the perception of competence and operational security of a network

Need to undermine the ideological resonance of a particular group’s message

Need to discredit the messengers . . .

  • Proposed religious justification for violence is false
  • Overly radical interpretation of key religious texts is a betrayal of God
  • Highlight personal agenda of power-hungry leaders
q uestions