Metamorphosis of Jihad Groups after 9/11 and the Emerging Threat to Scandinavia

By Dr. Rohan Gunaratna 


International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research
The international terrorism landscape has changed dramatically during the past three years. First, Al Qaeda has transformed from a group into a movement; second, the epicentre of international terrorism has shifted from Afghanistan to Iraq; third, terrorist target selection include the Allies and the friends of the United States. All these developments have significant implications for the future security of Scandinavia, a region that has been exceptionally soft on terrorism.
The most profound of these three developments is the morphing of Al Qaeda from a group into a movement. With the dispersal of Al Qaeda members and associate members from Afghanistan to lawless zones in the global south, three dozen Asian, African, Middle Eastern and other local jihad groups are increasingly behaving like Al Qaeda. About 20,000 members of these groups trained, armed, financed and ideologized by Al Qaeda in Afghanistan from Soviet withdrawal in February 1989 until US intervention in October 2001 are beginning to share Al Qaeda’s vision and mission of a global jihad. Compared to the local jihad groups that traditionally attacked local targets, Al Qaeda attacked the “distant enemy” – the United States. Post 9-11, Al Qaeda’s constant message to its associated groups was to attack both the “nearby enemy” – local governments as well as the “distant enemy” – the US and its Allies.
The initial evidence of this transformation comes by examining the tactics used and the targets selected by the local groups. For instance, Jemaah Islamiyah, a group aiming to establish an Islamic state in Southeast Asia, never attacked Western targets before 9/11. However, after 9/11, the group conducted coordinated simultaneous suicide attacks against night clubs in Bali (October 2002), the J. W. Marriott Hotel in Jakarta (August 2003) and the Australian Embassy in Indonesia (September 2004) killing over 220 people. Similarly, the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group seeking to create an Islamic State, conducted coordinated simultaneous suicide attacks against five targets including a hotel frequented by Israelis, a Jewish cemetery, a Spanish cultural centre, and a Jewish owned Italian restaurant killing 42 in May 2003. Another associated group of Al Qaeda in Pakistan, Laskar-e-Toiba, that usually operates against Indian targets, mounted an operation to target Australian interests in Sydney in 2004. The operation, disrupted, aimed to destroy high profile multiple targets, a classic Al Qaeda modus operandi.
Unlike Al Qaeda, most of its associated groups have a limited geographic reach. Nonetheless, with the help of their politicized and radicalized segments of their migrant and diaspora communities, these local groups are able and willing to plan, prepare and execute attacks in far away theatres. Although the local groups are not as well resourced as Al Qaeda, Bin Laden’s financial network is providing them with funds. Despite suffering the loss of Al Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan, its dispersed trainers, combat tacticians and explosives experts are imparting the specialist knowledge required by the local groups to conduct attacks like Al Qaeda.
The full implications of the transformation of Al Qaeda from a group into a movement have not been adequately assessed either by the security and intelligence community working on terrorism. While the threat posed by Al Qaeda is known and manageable, the multiple threats posed by its associated groups has not been fully studied and assessed. Even within the US intelligence community, the largest counter terrorism intelligence community in the world, there are very few specialists who know the associated groups of Al Qaeda.
Denmark, like Norway and Sweden remains a safe haven for a dozen terrorist groups from Al Ansar Al Islami to the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the Salafi Group for Call and Combat. Millions of dollars raised in Scandinavia, including Denmark has strengthened multiple jihad and other terrorist groups. Although the terrorist support networks in Denmark disseminated propaganda, recruited members and supporters, raised funds, and procured supplies, they refrained from mounting terrorist attacks inside Denmark. As a result, the Danish authorities did not perceive the groups that operated in Denmark as an immediate threat. Traditionally, the Scandinavian politicians and leaders either failed to understand or preferred to ignore the threat. Today, the security and intelligence agencies of Scandinavia, especially Denmark, is much better prepared to face the threat. What the security and intelligence service and the law enforcement authorities need is the legislative power to better monitor and disrupt the cells. Having hosted terrorist leaders – such Norway hosting Mullah Krekar, the founder leader of Al Ansar Al Islami, one of the deadliest terrorist groups -the time is now right for Scandianian governments to be more responsible and accountable. The politicians must take the lead to review and develop appropriate legislation empowering their security and intelligence services and law enforcement authorities to actively prevent the operation of terrorist support and execution networks on their soil. Otherwise, Scandinania will suffer from terrorism in the coming months and years.
In the future, Al Qaeda, the most hunted terrorist group in our history, will pose a lesser threat compared to its associated groups. Among such groups, Abu Musab Al Zarkawi’s Tawhid Wal Jihad (renamed the Al Qaeda of the Two Rivers), with a fledgling network in the Middle East and the West, already presents a much bigger threat to the US, to its Allies and friends. In place of one Al Qaeda, the core group led by Osama bin Laden, we are now confronted by many Al Qaedas. Al Qaeda’s biggest success has been its ability and willingness to inspire and instigate a global family of jihad groups. Al Qaeda achieved this singular success by attacking America’s Iconic landmarks on 9-11 and by disseminating frequent messages emphasizing the need to wage a global jihad, reinforced by the protracted conflict in Iraq.

Explore posts in the same categories: World

%d bloggers like this: