CNS Research Story

Usama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri
Picture of Usama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri
[Src: cnn.com]


Notable Attacks and Plots by Al-Qa`ida and its Affiliates:

7 August 1998: a truck bomb destroyed the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, killing 201 Kenyans and 12 Americans and injuring 4000 others. Approximately nine minutes later, a truck bomb blew up at the U.S. Embassy in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. 11 Tanzanians died in the attacks; no Americans were killed.[9]

14 December 1999: Ahmed Ressam, a 33-year-old Algerian, was arrested at the U.S.-Canadian border after officers searched his car and found materials and detonators for a homemade bomb. He had planned to detonate the bomb at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and kill as many people as possible during the Millennium celebrations. Ressam had received training, funding, and support from al-Qa`ida, but he attempted the attack by himself.[10]

3 January & 12 October 2000: Two bombings were attempted against U.S. naval vessels by members of al-Qa`ida. The first attempt was made on 3 January 2000 against the U.S.S. The Sullivans, a destroyer docked in Yemen. The attack failed after the terrorists' speedboat was loaded with too many explosives and sank.[11] On the morning of 12 October 2000, two Yemeni men loaded 500 lbs. of explosives into a boat and rammed it into the U.S.S. Cole, a U.S. Navy destroyer refueling in Yemen. Seventeen American sailors were killed and 39 injured.[12]

11 September 2001: Two hijacked airliners crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. Shortly after, another hijacked airliner crashed into the Pentagon. At around the same time, passengers re-took a fourth hijacked airliner over Pennsylvania, and it crashed into a field before reaching its destination. About 3000 people were killed in these attacks. The 19 suicide hijackers had been hand-picked and trained by al-Qa`ida.[13]

12 October 2002: Two bombs exploded in Bali, Indonesia, killing over 200 people in the Kuta tourist district. A third bomb exploded near the U.S. Consulate, but no one was injured. Around a dozen members of the Indonesian Islamist group Jemaa Islamiyaa (JI), an affiliate of al-Qa`ida, were involved in the attacks. Although some senior members of JI had assisted them, the men had no prior experience with terrorism, and carried out the attacks largely on their own.[14] Some suspects testified in court that they had been inspired by Bin Laden's rhetoric.[15]

5 August 2003: A bomb exploded at the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, killing more than 10 people and wounding 150. Indonesian authorities arrested members of JI, and said that the suicide bomber was positively identified as a member of JI.[16] The suspected leader of JI, Riduan Isamuddin (aka Hambali) was arrested in mid-August 2003 by Thai authorities. Hambali has suspected ties to al-Qa`ida, but does not take direct orders from them.[17]

15 November 2003: Suicide bombers attacked two synagogues in Istanbul, Turkey, killing more than 25 people and wounding over 300.[18] The Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigade (AHMB) and the Islamic Great Eastern Raiders Front (IBDA-C) both claimed responsibility for the attacks.[19] Turkish authorities eventually charged 74 people with this attack and a later attack on British interests in Istanbul (see below).[20] According to Turkish officials, the suspects were members of an al-Qa`ida cell operating in Turkey, and at least some of the suspects had trained in Afghanistan or Pakistan.[21] However, the Governor of Istanbul, Muammer Guler, said the group had been destroyed and that it had no affiliation with any other religious group in Turkey.[22]

20 November 2003: Two trucks carrying explosives blew up near the HSBC Bank and the British Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey; 27 people were killed and 450 injured.[23] Turkish authorities charged 74 suspects in the attacks (see above).

11 March 2004: Ten bombs packed in rucksacks exploded on four trains in Madrid, Spain. One hundred ninety-one people were killed, and roughly 1,800 were wounded. The Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades (AHMB) also known as al-Qa`ida in Europe, claimed responsibility in statements sent to an Arabic-language newspaper in London.[25]

7 June 2004: Four suicide bombers attacked three trains in the London Underground train system and a double-decker bus, killing over 50 people and injuring around 700. The AHMB took responsibility for the attacks.[26]

9 September 2004: A car bomb exploded outside the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, killing nine people and wounding over 180. This bombing was similar to those of the Jakarta Marriott and Bali resort. A prime suspect was Jemaa Islamiyya's chief bombmaker, Azahari Husin, who had been involved in the Bali attack and was still at large.[24]

7 October 2004: Three bombs exploded at Taba and Ras al-Shitan, Egypt, killing 34 people (12 Israelis) and wounding over 100.[27] The main explosion took place at Taba, a resort town on Israel's border. Ras al-Shitan is a camping area about 38 miles south of Taba. Both places are popular tourist destinations for Israelis.

23 July 2005: Three bombs exploded in the Old Market and Naama Bay sections of Sharm al-Sheikh, Egypt. Over 80 people were killed and approximately 200 were injured. Three groups - al Tawhid wa al-Jihad, Battalion of the Martyr Abdullah Azzam, and the al-Qa`ida Organization in the Levant - have claimed responsibility. No direct planning or operational links to al-Qa`ida have been found, but at least two of those groups pledge loyalty to Bin Laden.[28]

9 November 2005: Three bombs exploded in the Grand Hyatt, Radisson, and Days Inn hotels in Amman, Jordan, killing around 57 people and injuring 96. Sajida Mubarak Atrous al-Rishawi, an Iraqi woman whose husband blew himself up, failed to detonate her belt, and was arrested by Jordanian police.[29] The next day al-Qa`ida in Iraq claimed responsibility in a statement posted on an Islamist website. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qa`ida in Iraq, also claimed responsibility for failed rocket attacks against U.S. Navy vessels in port at Aqaba, Jordan three months earlier.[30]

10 August 2006: 24 men were arrested in Britain in a plot to bomb as many as ten airplanes traveling from the United Kingdom to the United States. The plotters targeted the U.S. air carriers United Airlines, American Airlines, and Continental Airlines.[31] According to one report, British Airways was also a target.[32] At the time of the arrests, the plot was in its final planning stages: suspects had been researching nonstop flights from the United Kingdom to the United States, but no specific flights had yet been chosen. However, some of the suspects had already booked tickets on a flight as a "test run," to determine how easily they could get their materials on the aircraft.[33] The actual attack was apparently to occur within days of the arrests.[34] The plotters were planning to smuggle certain peroxide-based chemicals on board in separate containers inside their carry-on luggage. At a predetermined time, the separate chemicals were to be combined and an explosion triggered by a common electrical device such as a camera or portable music player.[35] All of the flights were to be scheduled at around the same time, so the attacks were to take place simultaneously on all aircraft, apparently in separate waves of three aircraft each.[36] Reportedly, no specific cities were being researched as targets, but the main transcontinental destinations of the three airlines targeted were New York, Washington, D.C., and California.[37]

24 April 2006: Three bombs exploded at the Egyptian resort of Dahab, killing about 23 people and wounding approximately 62. Israeli tourists were the apparent targets, but most of those killed were Egyptian.[38] The Dahab, Taba, and Ras al-Shitan attacks were apparently carried out by Tawhid wa al-Jihad [not to be confused with the Zarqawi network], which reportedly is a Sinai based Bedouin Islamist group with no direct links to al-Qa`ida.[39]

As of 2006, the most numerous and deadly attacks are occurring in Iraq. In the U.S. State Department's annual Country Reports on Terrorism, the National Counter-Terrorism Center reported that Iraq had the largest share of terrorist attacks (around 3,500 - 30% of all attacks worldwide), which were responsible for 8,300 fatalities (around 55% of the total worldwide), including 47 Americans.[40] There are three broad strains of groups operating in Iraq: nationalist "insurgent" groups fighting against the U.S. occupation, religious/sectarian militias, and terrorist groups either affiliated with al-Qa`ida or inspired by its extremist ideology. Reportedly, the most deadly have been the latter, which have been responsible for the most brutal attacks, like suicide bombings and beheadings. Foreign terrorists are a small part of the overall insurgency, but have had a disproportionate impact in terms of training and support of insurgent activities. U.S. and Iraqi military commanders allege that a large portion of the 500+ suicide attacks in Iraq since 2003 are due to these foreign terrorist cells.[41]

From the Horse's Mouth: Unraveling Al-Qa`ida's Target Selection Calculus

Al-Qa`idas primarily selects economic targets to derail the American economy, to sever American and Muslim alliances, and to remove all Western influence from the Middle East.

By Sammy Salama and David Wheeler

17 April 2007

The topic of al-Qa`ida's choice of targets has been the subject of much conjecture and speculation in open source literature. Some analysts argue that al-Qa`ida's modus operandi is similar to traditional terrorism in that it is a form of "political theater" meant to bring attention to the group and its objectives by attacking targets of high importance. Others have diverged from this view, arguing that unlike traditional terror organizations, the al-Qa`ida network is more interested in the mass killing of Western civilians as revenge for perceived historical injustices against Muslims. In some cases, the debate concerning al-Qa`ida's target selection is based on the assumption that al-Qa`ida targets symbolic facilities within the United States to demonstrate its military prowess and long-reach capability. Others argue that al-Qa`ida attacks soft targets due to the difficulty of attacking military and security facilities in the West. Yet an examination of primary al-Qa`ida operational manuals and published open source literature reveals a much different set of considerations in the group's target selection. Such an analysis of what al-Qa`ida tells the world—and, most importantly, what it instructs its recruits and would-be cell members—indicates that al-Qa`ida's target selection calculus is motivated by a far more ambitious, sophisticated and sinister motive: to destroy the economy of the United States and other Western powers by striking economic targets in the West and in the Muslim world. The network asserts that doing so curtails the American presence and influence in the Middle East and will end Western military and diplomatic support to regimes in the region. This ambition serves the final objective of severing American and Muslim alliances and bringing about the removal of all Western influence from the Middle East, as well as the overthrow of current Muslim regimes.

To best understand al-Qa`ida target selection, it is important to keep in mind al-Qa`ida's foremost strategic objective, which is to "bleed" [exhaust] the United States economically and militarily by forcing the U.S. to spend enormous amounts of money to protect its numerous sectors and facilities. Al-Qa`ida's primary literature and manuals affirm that the United States draws its formidable military power and political influence from its superior economy. Therefore, if the American economy is derailed, the United States will crumble and will not be able to sustain its military hegemony and presence overseas. One al-Qa`ida member stated that hindering Western economies is "the most dangerous and effective arena of Jihad, because we live in a materialistic world."[1] Accordingly, al-Qa`ida cells are encouraged to attack targets that have a high economic value and will cause the United States severe economic losses.

The calculus of primarily attacking western targets of significant economic value is bluntly discussed in al-Qa`ida's political publications which aim to "educate" the Muslim world about al-Qa`ida's objectives and methods. These publications elaborate in sinister detail the network's intention to empower individual cell members with the training and skills required to sustain al-Qa`ida's global Jihad. The following excerpts from Sawt al-Jihad (Voice of Jihad), the official publication of al-Qa`ida in Saudi Arabia, illustrate the rationale behind al-Qa`ida's target selection:

What Else Is There to Say about September 11?

Since September 11th America has been spending billions of dollars to protect its infrastructure and interests around the world... The attacker determines the timing of the strike. He will carry out a concentrated strike one time at a weak point and then sit in ambush again. So the enemy will look for a gap and close it, not necessarily where he was hit but all other similar targets. So striking the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania means protecting every American embassy in the world. Striking the [U.S.S.] Cole at sea means protecting all American assets in the seas. Diversifying targets means protecting all American things in every land that may have terrorists!!

If the enemy has used his economy to rule the world and hire collaborators, then we need to strike this economy with harsh attacks to bring it down on the heads of its owners. If the enemy has built his economy on the basis of open markets and free trade by getting the monies of investors, then we have to prove to these investors that the enemy's land is not safe for them, that his economy is not capable of guarding their monies, so they would abandon him to suffer alone the fall of his economy.

This is about Jihad against the Crusader enemy, so what about the September 11th operation? Hijacking planes is a well known tactic, which was used by various fighters and freedom fighters, so what's new about this operation? People used to hijack planes and consider them a target, but those willing to put in the extra effort turned these planes into a method only, a projectile shot in the heart of the enemy ...The enemy used to protect his external interests and spend enormous sums for this protection, so he was surprised when he was struck inside his borders. The enemy was used to protecting a thousand interests outside his county, now he has to protect a million interests inside his country that need continuing protection!! The attack on the Trade Center forced America since that day to spend billions to protect the huge economic infrastructure that runs the American economy. Using planes in this attack has forced America to spend billions to protect the planes and airports in all possible ways. This protection is not limited to the hundreds of American airports but also to every airport in the world. Anyone related to the aviation field is spending excessive amounts to guard air travel; the matter has reached protecting the skies...This is how America was transformed after one strike, protecting all that can be struck, and they guard all that can be used to strike with! [2]

Another al-Qa`ida text authored in late 2005 clearly articulates the network's emphasis on attacking economic targets. In October 2005, Abu Mus`ab al-Najadi, a Saudi supporter/member of al-Qa`ida, authored a seven page document titled "Al-Qa`ida's Battle is Economic not Military." In late 2005, this document was circulated on numerous Jihadi websites, elaborating on the logic for attacking soft targets of high economic value. As stated by al-Najadi:

The Islamic nation has entered through al-Qa`ida's war with America a new period that is different from all the other periods experienced by Muslims against their enemies. This period is based on economic war due to the peculiar nature of the adversary in this ferocious battle. Usually, wars are based on military strength and victory belongs to those who are militarily superior on the battlefield...But our war with America is fundamentally different, for the first priority is defeating it economically. For that, anything that negatively affects its economy is considered for us a step in the right direction on the path to victory. Military defeats do not greatly effect how we measure total victory, but these defeats indirectly affect the economy which can be demonstrated by the breaching of the confidence of capitalists and investors in this nation's ability to safeguard their various trade and dealings.

In light of this matter, the difficulty and ease of the task becomes apparent. In addition, it becomes apparent why additional al-Qa`ida strikes inside the United States have been delayed. When thinking about military strikes, it is not difficult to carry out an attack that would kill a good number of American civilians, but in my opinion this is a waste of resources without much benefit. However when directing these resources against economic targets, it is more effective and can get us many steps closer toward victory. An attack that kills a large number of Americans can not achieve a tenth of this effectiveness. This reveals the importance of the blessed September 11th attacks, which is not that it killed a large number of infidels, but what is more important, the economic effect that this strike achieved...I will not be exaggerating if I say that striking the Pentagon was purely symbolic and had no noticeable effect on the course of the battle. It is symbolic for it shows the Americans that their foremost military facility can be destroyed by handful of individuals, which is a blow to their morale and a point of pride for the Islamic peoples who have been drowning in defeat for many years.

Any operation targeting an area of infrastructure in a new country that does not have a history of countering these operations is considered as bleeding (exhausting) to the greater enemy America and the targeted nation itself. It is so because these nations will be required to protect all similar potential targets which results in economic exhaustion (bleeding)... For example, if a hotel that caters to western tourists in Indonesia is targeted, the enemy will be required to protect all hotels that cater to western tourists in all countries which may become a target of similar attacks. You can say the same thing about living residences, economic establishments, embassies, etc.[3]

Based on al-Qa`ida's own description of its calculus and explanation of its targeting rationale, one must assume that this network is most likely to target facilities and establishments of high economic value on the U.S. mainland. Such facilities include but are not limited to airports, bus stations, train stations, subways, ports, financial districts, financial buildings, malls, markets, resorts, planes, ships, oil installations, hotels, sports arenas, theaters and embassies. As illustrated previously, al-Qa`ida's stated objective is to cause the greatest possible economic damage as well as force the United States to spend excessive resources on guarding and protecting facilities all over the United States in order to ultimately bring down the U.S. economy, the source of American military power and hegemony.

In addition to statements in al-Qa`ida publications that articulate the networks' strategy, the calculus of attacking western targets of high economic value is also elaborated in al-Qa`ida's operational manuals that teach individuals cell members how to attack and exact severe losses on the West. For example, a detailed online manual entitled Al-Mubtakkar al-Farid: Li Irsaal al-Safah al-Athiri Ila al-Kafir al-`Anid [The Unique Invention: To Deliver the Gaseous Killer to the Stubborn Infidel], teaches the reader how to manufacture a hydrogen cyanide dispersal device. The manual provides would-be terrorists with step-by-step instructions, in explicit detail, on utilizing various precursors and procuring readily available components to assemble the dispersal device. The al-Mubtakar manual primarily guides al-Qa`ida members in using this crude hydrogen cyanide dispersal device to attack mostly civilian targets of high economic value that are abundantly available in Western societies. It specifically highlights the following targets:[4]

  • Brothels
  • Theaters
  • Markets and Shopping Malls
  • Synagogues
  • Dancing Halls
  • Trains
  • Schools
  • Hospitals
  • Bars and Restaurants
  • Banks and Loan Facilities
  • Cinemas
  • Gyms
  • Casinos
  • Churches in Muslim Lands
  • Government Offices (especially security and intelligence related)

Another short document dealing with radiological terrorism posted on a prominent Jihadi operational website also emphasized the network's desire to exact severe economic losses on the United States and its allies. The short posting entitled "Instances of Radiation Pollution from 1945-1987" specifically encouraged the Jihadi community to attack western cities with Radiological Dispersal Devises (RDDs or dirty bombs) in order to cause acute economic losses. It explicitly states the following economic benefits to such attacks:

The important thing is to disperse radioactive material in a large commercial area so the government is forced to shut down this area which will cause this country massive economic disruption due to the following reasons:

  1. The high costs of decontamination of radioactive areas.
  2. The high economic losses in this large commercial area due to closure.
  3. Subsequent unemployment and loss of jobs.
  4. Stoppage of general life in that area.
  5. Large compounded problems are to follow due to these losses.

Suggested cities: Las Vegas (the city of fornication and gambling that does not sleep) -- New York -- London -- Sydney -- Tokyo -- Moscow -- Other large tourist cities -- and commercial capitals of all infidel nations.[5]

In addition to attacking economic targets in the United States and other western nations, another stated objective of the network is to hinder Westerners from conducting commerce and business in the Arab and Muslim world. In al-Qa`ida's world view, Western commerce in Muslim and Arab countries has resulted in Western military support for corrupt and "apostate" regimes in the region (specifically Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco). It has also contributed to the corruption of Muslim societies through imported Western values and the "theft" of Muslim natural resources, including oil. In the past few years, we have seen the al-Qa`ida network repeatedly attack Western interests, facilities and citizens in numerous Muslim and Arab countries including Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, and Indonesia.

Attacking American interests in these countries further serves to "bleed" the United States economically and deny Westerners commercial opportunities in the Arab and Muslim world. Also, of equal importance, it serves to hinder an alliance between the United States and its regional allies. The terrorist tactics aim to isolate the regional governments that al-Qa`ida considers "apostates" and ultimately wishes to overthrow as it seeks to re-establish the global caliphate. As a matter of operational expediency, the al-Qa`ida network intends to carry out attacks against American interests in the Muslim and Arab worlds continuously. This is stated clearly in a widely circulated al-Qa`ida operational manual that trains prospective Jihadis in urban operations in the Arab and Muslim world. "Military Sciences -- Targets Inside the Cities" directly identifies the following targets:

Economic targets:

The objective of attacking these targets: breaching the security and climate of stability that is necessary for economic growth, such as the bombing of oil pipelines in Iraq, which has made it less appealing for foreign corporations.

Additional objectives include:

Removal of foreign capitalists from domestic [Islamic] markets; also [to exact] negative economic consequences on their native lands as occurred very quickly following the blessed strikes in Madrid, which affected the entire European economy. Among these are double strikes that affect the economy of the Crusader or Jewish or apostates regimes.

Among the Examples of such Strikes:

  • Striking Jewish Crusader investments in Muslim lands.
  • Striking international corporations.
  • Striking international economists and business experts.
  • Striking imports from Crusader nations through military means (as occurred in the bombing and burning of certain American restaurants), or through political means like boycotts.
  • Striking raw materials stolen from Muslim lands, such as the strike on the French oil carrier or the strikes on Iraqi oil pipelines. These kinds of economic strikes are determined by the high leadership who wait for the appropriate time and place.
  • Assassination of Jews who work in business and disciplining those who cooperate with them economically following a proper warning. Only those who are proven to be collaborating apostates should be assassinated.[6]

In addition to instructing the Jihadi community and individual al-Qa`ida cell members to concentrate their attacks on economic targets inside the Arab and Muslim world and beyond, this manual also breaks down in vivid detail the nationality, religion and profession of al-Qa`ida's prime "human targets." In this, the operational instructions to cell members are consistent with previous political arguments put forth in al-Qa`ida's open source publications. It tells would-be al-Qa`ida terrorists to concentrate on Western businessmen as they represent the foremost candidates. It states unambiguously:

Human targets:

... The priority in these operations should be given to Jews and Christians with official connections to Muslim lands. It is advisable to start with targeting unprotected, easy targets. Priority is given to the dependants of infidel nations that are directly involved in supporting local apostates. For example, in Saudi Arabia, first target Americans, then the English. In Iraq, the Americans. In Afghanistan, the Americans. In Algeria, the French. In Indonesia, the Australians, etc.

Categorizing Human Targets by Importance:

  • Jews: they are divided into various degrees by importance. First American and Israeli Jews, then British Jews, then French ...etc.
  • Christians: they are categorized by order of importance as follows:
    • Americans
    • British
    • Spanish
    • Australians
    • Canadians
    • Italians
These groups are further divided into:
  • Businessmen. For business has global importance in this age.
  • Diplomats, politicians, intellectuals, analysts, and political emissaries.
  • Scientists and experts.
  • Military commanders and soldiers.
  • Tourists, visiting entertainers, and all who have received a warning from the Mujahideen to abstain from or to evacuate Muslim lands.
  • Apostates: They are categorized by order of importance as follows:
    • The most important targets are those who are close to Jewish and Christian governments, such as Husni Mubarak and the rulers of the Arabian Peninsula and their advisors.
    • Secularists and modernists who criticize believers and ridicule religion.
    • Intelligence professionals and spies, they are the armor and protective fence of the Jews and Christians. They are also the striking arms of the apostates.[7]

These instructions given to prospective Jihadis further demonstrate that the primary targets of the al-Qa`ida network are American entities of high economic value such as businessmen and corporations. It should be noted, in particular, that American military targets and soldiers are relegated to secondary importance as potential targets. However, the network does not usually specify in print which specific Western companies or sectors are to be targeted. It is probable that the leadership of al-Qa`ida is being intentionally vague on this matter to make it possible for individual cell leaders to choose appropriate targets on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the availability of targets in their respective theaters of operations.

Two sectors which are sure to be in the sights of al-Qa`ida operatives are the oil and tourism industries. In the past two years the leaders of al-Qa`ida, including Usama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, have specifically called on their operatives to target oil installations in the Gulf to hinder what they refer to as the ongoing "theft of Muslim resources," and have likewise called for attacks on tourist resorts in the Muslim world.[8] Clearly, the message has been received by al-Qa`ida's rank and file and other terrorists inspired by the network, as can be seen from the recent bombings in Egyptian tourist resorts and the constant attacks on oil facilities in Iraq (as well as attempted attacks in Saudi Arabia). In the future, al-Qa`ida operations outside the U.S. mainland are likely to concentrate on similar facilities, in addition to financial districts, buildings of high economic value and Western embassies.

One more primary objective of the September 11th attacks is important to note: the goal of dragging the United States into a wider war through which al-Qa`ida and its allies hope to scatter, isolate and bleed the United States militarily and economically [this is referred to as Harb Istinzaf—a long term war of attrition, i.e., "dragging" and "bleeding" the enemy]. The U.S. invasion of Iraq has provided al-Qa`ida with a prime opportunity to attack U.S. troops within the Arab world, as was stated explicitly by Usama Bin Laden in his message to his supporters in 2005, "Bleeding the United States, which is currently in Iraq economically, militarily and morally, is a golden opportunity that you should not miss or you will regret it . . . concentrate your operations on it, especially in Iraq and the Gulf. This will be their end."[42] The American presence in the Gulf states, coupled with the American occupation of Iraq, is being exploited by al-Qa`ida to rally its supporters to concentrate their efforts on American and Western targets in Iraq, the Gulf (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE and Oman), Yemen as well as in Jordan.

Nevertheless, al-Qa`ida is still likely to attempt to attack the American homeland. Attacking U.S. territory offers al-Qa`ida many advantages, primarily through its symbolic value as well as its indication of the network's reach and perseverance. More importantly, as discussed previously, such an attack would further the goal of stressing the United States economically. Continuously attacking the American homeland also causes further rifts between the United States and its Arab and Muslim allies, an objective which is among al-Qa`ida's foremost strategic goals. This point was argued by Ayman al-Zawahiri, the network's second in command in 2001:

The masters in Washington and Tel Aviv are using the [Muslim] regimes to protect their interest and to fight the battle against the Muslims on their behalf. If the shrapnel from the battle reaches their homes and their bodies, they will trade accusations with their agents about who is responsible for this. In that case, they will face one of two bitter choices: Either personally wage the battle against the Muslims, which means the battle will turn into clear-cut jihad against infidels, or they reconsider their plans after acknowledging the failure of the brute and violent confrontation against Muslims. Therefore, we must move the battle to the enemy's grounds to burn the hands of those who ignite fire in our countries.[43]

Al-Qa`ida's leadership argues that only when military and economic alliances between the United States and its Arab and Muslim allies are broken will the network be able to weaken and overthrow these "apostate" regimes and impose an Islamic state, which is the eventual goal of al-Qa`ida. This is the main reason why al-Zawahiri and bin Laden decided to embark on an external Jihad against the "Far Enemy," i.e., the United States and the West. They opted to attack the West to severe its military and economic support for Arab and Muslim leaders in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and other states seen to have close ties to the United States. Al-Qa`ida's leadership reasoned that direct attacks on U.S. and European territory will force Western leaders to doubt their alliances with Muslim and Arab leaders and will eventually force the West to abandon their regional allies.

This approach was a clear departure from the traditional Jihadi strategy of the Muslim Brotherhood and its various offshoots in the Middle East, who in previous decades have opted to wage a long term internal Jihad against the "near enemy," Arab and Muslim regimes. Al-Qa`ida also aims to stretch the United States thin, knowing full well that even superpowers have limited financial and military resources. It is the objective of this network to pull the United States into a third quagmire, in addition to Iraq and Afghanistan, in order to drag, exhaust and further "bleed" the U.S. As stated in a communiqué released in July 2004:

Our Goals in the Next Period . . .

  1. Increasing the scope of the conflict by spreading operations all around the world. Dragging America into a third quagmire in addition to Iraq and Afghanistan; let it be Yemen god willing. We have mentioned this in our communiqué of March 11, 2004: "we tell the company of Abu Ali al-Harithi, the leadership has decided that Yemen will be the third quagmire for the hegemon of our era, America. More so, to discipline the collaborating infidel government that is second only to Musharaf."
  2. Shaking the confidence of investors in the American economy.
  3. Exposing the Crusader Jewish project.
  4. Scattering and bleeding [exhausting] the enemy.

Following these steps comes the awaited strike that will break the will of America, who in return will abandon its collaborators and agents, so we can settle our scores with them. Then we launch the caravan to Jerusalem with god's permission.[44]

The Various Phases of al-Qa`ida's Global War and Path to the Caliphate

Ongoing analysis and examination of al-Qa`ida's vast published literature, abundant manuals and endless statements imply the following eight successive phases in the network's plan for a long-term battle against the United States and its allies in the Middle East and Muslim world:

  • Awakening the Masses: In this phase the network aims to increase the consciousness of the global Muslim community by "exposing" the alleged inherent American and western hostility to Islamic peoples. The network argues this will lead to increased hatred of western influences in Muslim lands and swell the ranks of al-Qa`ida and its affiliates with new volunteers and sympathizers. As important, in this phase "apostate" governments will reveal their alleged "collaborative" nature when they are forced to side publicly with their western "masters" in the aftermath of al-Qa`ida attacks. Furthermore, in this phase other political trends in the Middle East (nationalists, leftists, liberals...etc) will be shown as weak and indecisive, thereby enhancing the image of the Salafis as the only entity in the Arab and Muslim world that is willing and capable to fight on behalf of the Muslim masses and take the fight to the west and to the corrupt "apostate" regimes.
  • "Harb Istinzaf -- A long term war of attrition": In this phase the network aims to "bleed the enemy" until it crumbles. In short, their goal is to make the United States "bleed" economically, militarily, and politically until it loses the desire and the means to fight and withdraws militarily, politically and economically from the Middle East and other Muslim lands.
  • Severing Western/Muslim alliances: In this phase, an American withdrawal from the Middle East will lead to the severing of American alliances with secular and moderates regimes (Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, etc). This will entail the end of American military and economic support to Arab and Muslim regimes. Absent American military and economic aid, these regimes will be greatly weakened and will eventually lose their grip on their populations and will lack the ability to resist the global Jihadi movement.
  • "Tasfiyat Hisabat -- Settling Scores": Once Arab and Muslim regimes are weakened, al-Qa`ida and its affiliates aim to overthrow them, and "settle scores" by eliminating the leaders and their security forces.
  • "Idarat al-Tawahush -- Management of Barbarism": Prolific al-Qa`ida thinker Abu Bakr Naji considers this phase the most dangerous. In this phase the network and its sympathizers will aim to administer and manage Arab and Muslim lands in the intermediary period immediately following the collapse of apostate regimes. At this fragile period rampant chaos will ensue in Muslim lands due to lawlessness and lack of authority.[45]
  • Establishing Shari`a Law: In this phase the network aims to establish pious Shari`a governments that will rule individual Arab and Muslim states by Islamic law for a temporary period, while awaiting the return of the Muslim caliphate.
  • Removal of All Western Influences from the Region: This phase entails the full liberation of all Muslim lands including Palestine [i.e. the destruction of Israel] and Kashmir, and the retrieval of lands once ruled by Muslims, including al-Andalus [Andalusia, Spain].
  • Reestablishment of the Caliphate: The final phase will ensue once Shari`a rule has been established in all individual Arab and Muslim states, and following the full liberation and retrieval of all historic Muslim lands. At this juncture the global Jihadi network and its sympathizers intend to reestablish the historic Caliphate which ruled the Muslim community as a single entity for many centuries. The Caliphate is viewed by many Islamists as the golden age of Islamic power.

Currently, we are still in the first three phases of this long and protracted conflict, which the al-Qa`ida network wishes to expand and intensify. In these concurrent initial three phases, the al-Qa`ida network aims to exhaust the United States, sever its alliances with Muslim and Arab governments, and simultaneously escalate anti-Western animosity in the region. The al-Qa`ida network reasons that the best way to achieve the goal of exhausting the United States is through repeated attacks against American and Western targets of high economic value. Some prominent analysts of the global Jihadi movement argue that al-Qa`ida's quest for the reestablishment of the historic Caliphate and the removal of all western influences from the Muslim world is a step toward the networks ultimate goal of establishing" Hakimiyyat Allah -- God's rule over the world", whereby the Caliphate dominates the rest of the world.[46]

In sum, al-Qa`ida's target selection is neither arbitrary nor impulsive. Continuing examination of al-Qa`ida's primary literature and operational manuals reveals that their target selection calculus is governed by a sinister desire to bring down the economy of the United States and other western powers. This targeting strategy is an integral part of the network's overall objective of "bleeding" and exhausting the United States in order to force it to leave the Middle East and abandon its regional allies. To do so, al-Qa`ida will primarily attack facilities of high economic value. The al-Qa`ida network is likely to continue to focus on targets that cause economic disruption within the United States and worldwide, as al-Qa`ida's strategy is to engage the United States and its allies in a long-term war of attrition. As noted in a network communiqué, "The enemy may be patient, but it cannot endure. As for us with our doctrine, belief, and our love for meeting God, we can endure until the enemy crumbles. If this takes decades or centuries, we are charged with fighting them come victory or martyrdom."[47]



Note: This article is drawn in part from the piece entitled "Unraveling al-Qa`ida's Target Selection Calculus," written by Sammy Salama for the Combating Terrorism Center at the United States Military Academy, West Point, in December 2006.


Sources:
[1] Nur al-Din al-Kurdi, "The Arenas of Jihad," Dharwat al-Sunam (Peak of the Camel's Hump), Volume 3, p. 27-28 [translation by author].
[2] Akhu Man Ta`a Allah, "What Else is There to Say About September 11," Sawt al-Jihad (Voice of Jihad Magazine), Volume 26, p. 35-42 [translation by author].
[3] Abu Mus`ab al-Najadi, "al-Qaeda's Battle is Economic not Military," October 3, 2005 [translation by author].
[4] "Al-Mubtakkar al-Farid: Li Irsaal al-Safah al-Athiri Ila al-Kafir al-`Anid -- The Unique Invention: To Deliver the Atheric Killer to the Stubborn Infidel," al-Firdaws Jihadi Website, October 2005 [translation by author].
[5] Abu al-Usood al-Faqir, "Instances of Radiation Pollution from 1945-1987," al-Farouq Jihadi Website, October 2005 [translation by author].
[6] Abi Hajer Abd al-Aziz al-Muqrin, "Military Sciences -- Targets inside the Cities," Mu`askar al-Battar (al-Battar Camp) Magazine, Volume 7, p. 23-27[translation by author].
[7] Ibid.
[8] "The Complete Text of Sheikh Usama Bin Laden's Call Especially to the Muslims of Saudi Arabia and General Muslims Elsewhere," al-Tawhid wal-Jihad Website, December 15, 2005 [translation by author].
[9] Jane Corbin, Al-Qaeda: In Search of the Terror Network That Threatens the World (New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 2003), 81-82; "Verdict Reached in U.S. Embassy Bombings Trials," CNN, May 29, 2001.
[10] Ibid., p. 199.
[11] Jason Burke, Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam (New York: IB Taurus, 2004), 199.
[12] Jane Corbin, Al-Qaeda: In Search of the Terror Network That Threatens the World, p.95
[13] Peter L. Bergen, Holy War, Inc: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden (New York: Free Press, 2001), 27-28.
[14] Jason Burke, Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam, p. 265.
[15] "Bin Laden 'inspired Bali attacks,'" BBC, July 10, 2003.
[16] "Al Qaida Trained JI Hotel Bombers," Sunday Mail (SA), August 10, 2003; Simon Elegant, "A New Wave of Terror?" Time, August 10, 2003.
[17] "Hambali caught in Thailand," New Straits Times (Malaysia), August 16, 2003.
[18] Toby Harnden and Amberin Zaman, "Synagogue bombs were ours, says al-Qa`eda group," The Daily Telegraph (London), November 17, 2003; "Istanbul rocked by double bombing," BBC, November 20, 2003.
[19] Damien McElroy and Philip Sherwell, "Bomb attacks were planned in internet cafe," The Sunday Telegraph (London), November 23, 2003.
[20] "Turkey: Charges in Istanbul Bombing," New York Times, February 26, 2004; Sebnem Arsu, "Turkish court sentences militants for 2003 bombings," International Herald Tribune, February 16, 2007.
[21] Hugh MacLeod, "Syria Hands Over Suspects who Fled After Quadruple Suicide Bombings in Turkey," The Independent (London), December 1, 2003; James C. Helicke, "Turkish synagogue bombers 'met bin Laden,'" Jerusalem Post, September 14, 2004.
[22] "Turkish bomb gang defused," The Weekend Australian, December 27, 2003.
[23] "Truck bombs rock Istanbul," Jerusalem Post, November 21, 2003.
[24] Marianne Kearney and Sebastien Berger, "Car bomb explodes outside Australian Embassy in Jakarta," Ottawa Citizen, September 10, 2004.
[25] "Full text: 'Al-Qaeda' Madrid claim," BBC, March 14, 2004; Al Goodman, "Madrid bombings trial: Key defendant denies involvement," CNN, February 15, 2007.
[26] Michael Scheuer, "The London Bombings: For al-Qaeda, Steady as She Goes," Terrorism Focus, Volume 2, Issue 14 (July 22, 2005) p. 5-8.
[27] "Explosion rocks Red Sea resorts," BBC, October 8, 2004.
[28] Roger Hardy, "Tracking down Egypt's bombers," BBC, July 26, 2005; Diaa Rashwan, "Was it Al-Qaeda?," Al-Ahram Weekly, 28 July-3 August 2005.
[29] "'Bomber confession' shocks Jordan," CNN, November 14, 2005; "Bomber's wife arrested in Jordan," BBC, November 13, 2005.
[30] Sharmila Devi and William Wallis, "Al-Qaeda says it unleashed Amman bombers," Financial Times, November 11, 2005.
[31] "Aircraft bomb plot thwarted," Telegraph, October 8, 2006; "'Airlines terror plot' disrupted," BBC, August 10, 2006.
[32] John Ward Anderson and Karen DeYoung, "Plot to Bomb U.S.-Bound Jets Is Foiled," Washington Post, August 11, 2006.
[33] "Details emerge on alleged plot to bomb airliners," MSNBC, August 10, 2006.
[34] David Batty and Mark Oliver, "'Mass murder terror plot' uncovered," Guardian, August 10, 2006.
[35] Op. cit.; John Ward Anderson and Karen DeYoung, "Plot to Bomb U.S.-Bound Jets Is Foiled," Washington Post, August 11, 2006.
[36] "'Airlines terror plot' disrupted," BBC, August 10, 2006.
[37] John Ward Anderson and Karen DeYoung, "Plot to Bomb U.S.-Bound Jets Is Foiled," Washington Post, August 11, 2006.
[38] "Triple blasts rock Egypt resort," BBC, April 25, 2004.
[39] "Egypt bomb suspects 'surrender'," BBC, May 13, 2006.
[40] "Country Reports on Terrorism 2005 - Statistical Annex," United States Department of State, April 7, 2006,<http://www.state.gov/documents/ organization/65489.pdf>.
[41] Ibid.
[42] "The Complete Text of Sheikh Usama Bin Laden's Call Especially to the Muslims of Saudi Arabia and General Muslims Elsewhere," al-Tawhid wal-Jihad Website, December 15, 2005 [translation by author].
[43] Marc Sageman, Understanding Terror Networks. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), p. 22.
[44] Abu Hafez al-Masri Brigades [al-Qaeda in Europe], "A Communiqué." July 1, 2004 [translation by author].
[45] Abu Bakr Naji, "Idarat al-Tawahush: The Most Dangerous Phase That The Islamic Nation Will Go Through," The Center for Islamic Studies and Research, as viewed on al-Firdaws Website, October 2005; Stephen Ulph, "New Online Book Lays Out al-Qaeda's Military Strategy," Jamestown, March 18, 2005; an excellent English translation of the book "Idarat al-Tawahush" by William McCants is available from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, at: http://www.ctc.usma.edu/ Management_of_Savagery.pdf.
[46] Dr. Bassam Tibi, discussion with author, Monterey, Spring 2005; Bassam Tibi, "Jihadism's roots in political Islam," International Herald Tribune, August 30, 2005.
[47] Abu Hafez al-Masri Brigades [al-Qaeda in Europe], "A Communiqué." July 1, 2004 [translation by author].


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Author(s): Sammy Salama, David Wheeler
Related Resources: Terrorism, Middle East, Research Story
Date Created: April 17, 2007
Date Updated: February 4, 2008
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