CNS Research Story
Picture of Usama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri
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
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.
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. 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
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
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. Some suspects testified in
court that they had been inspired by Bin Laden's
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.
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
15 November 2003: Suicide bombers attacked two synagogues in
Istanbul, Turkey, killing more than 25 people and wounding over
300. The Abu Hafs al-Masri
Brigade (AHMB) and the Islamic Great Eastern Raiders Front (IBDA-C) both claimed
responsibility for the attacks.
Turkish authorities eventually charged 74 people with this attack and a later
attack on British interests in Istanbul (see
below). 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. 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
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. 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.
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
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
7 October 2004: Three bombs exploded at Taba and Ras al-Shitan,
Egypt, killing 34 people (12 Israelis) and wounding over
100. 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
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
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. 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.
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.
According to one report, British Airways was also a
target. 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. The actual attack was
apparently to occur within days of the
arrests. 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. 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. 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
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. 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
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. 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
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.
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
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.
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
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! 
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
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.
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:
- Markets and Shopping Malls
- Dancing Halls
- Bars and Restaurants
- Banks and Loan Facilities
- Churches in Muslim Lands
- Government Offices (especially security and intelligence
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
- The high costs of decontamination of radioactive areas.
- The high economic losses in this large commercial area due to closure.
- Subsequent unemployment and loss of jobs.
- Stoppage of general life in that area.
- 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.
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.
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:
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
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
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:
... 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:
These groups are further divided into:
- Businessmen. For business has global importance in this age.
- Diplomats, politicians, intellectuals, analysts, and political
- 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
- 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
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. 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.
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." 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.
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
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 . . .
- 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."
- Shaking the confidence of investors in the American economy.
- Exposing the Crusader Jewish project.
- 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.
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
- "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
- 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
- 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.
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
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
at the United States Military Academy, West Point, in December 2006.
 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
 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
 Abu Mus`ab al-Najadi,
"al-Qaeda's Battle is Economic not Military," October 3, 2005
[translation by author].
"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].
al-Usood al-Faqir, "Instances of Radiation Pollution from
1945-1987," al-Farouq Jihadi Website, October 2005
[translation by author].
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].
 "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].
 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.
 Ibid., p. 199.
 Jason Burke,
Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam (New York: IB Taurus, 2004), 199.
 Jane Corbin,
Al-Qaeda: In Search of the Terror Network That Threatens the World, p.95
 Peter L. Bergen,
Holy War, Inc: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden (New York: Free
Press, 2001), 27-28.
Burke, Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam, p. 265.
 "Bin Laden
'inspired Bali attacks,'" BBC, July 10, 2003.
 "Al Qaida Trained JI
Hotel Bombers," Sunday Mail (SA), August 10, 2003;
Simon Elegant, "A New Wave of Terror?" Time, August 10, 2003.
 "Hambali caught in
Thailand," New Straits Times (Malaysia), August 16, 2003.
 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.
 Damien McElroy and Philip
Sherwell, "Bomb attacks were planned in internet cafe," The Sunday Telegraph
(London), November 23, 2003.
 "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.
 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,
 "Turkish bomb gang
defused," The Weekend Australian, December 27,
 "Truck bombs rock
Istanbul," Jerusalem Post, November 21,
 Marianne Kearney and
Sebastien Berger, "Car bomb explodes outside Australian Embassy in Jakarta,"
Ottawa Citizen, September 10,
 "Full text:
'Al-Qaeda' Madrid claim," BBC, March 14, 2004; Al Goodman,
"Madrid bombings trial: Key defendant denies involvement," CNN,
February 15, 2007.
Scheuer, "The London Bombings: For al-Qaeda, Steady as She Goes," Terrorism
Focus, Volume 2, Issue 14 (July 22, 2005) p. 5-8.
 "Explosion rocks Red Sea
resorts," BBC, October 8,
 Roger Hardy, "Tracking
down Egypt's bombers," BBC, July 26, 2005; Diaa Rashwan, "Was it
Al-Qaeda?," Al-Ahram Weekly, 28 July-3 August
"'Bomber confession' shocks Jordan," CNN, November 14,
2005; "Bomber's wife arrested in Jordan," BBC, November 13,
 Sharmila Devi and
William Wallis, "Al-Qaeda says it unleashed Amman
bombers," Financial Times, November 11,
bomb plot thwarted," Telegraph, October 8, 2006;
"'Airlines terror plot' disrupted," BBC, August 10,
 John Ward Anderson and
Karen DeYoung, "Plot to Bomb U.S.-Bound Jets Is Foiled,"
Washington Post, August 11,
 "Details emerge
on alleged plot to bomb airliners," MSNBC, August 10,
 David Batty and Mark
Oliver, "'Mass murder terror plot' uncovered,"
Guardian, August 10,
 Op. cit.; John Ward
Anderson and Karen DeYoung, "Plot to Bomb U.S.-Bound Jets Is
Foiled," Washington Post, August 11,
terror plot' disrupted," BBC, August 10,
 John Ward Anderson and
Karen DeYoung, "Plot to Bomb U.S.-Bound Jets Is Foiled,"
Washington Post, August 11,
 "Triple blasts rock
Egypt resort," BBC, April 25,
 "Egypt bomb suspects
'surrender'," BBC, May 13,
 "Country Reports on
Terrorism 2005 - Statistical Annex," United States Department of State, April 7,
"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].
 Marc Sageman,
Understanding Terror Networks. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania
Press, 2004), p. 22.
Hafez al-Masri Brigades [al-Qaeda in Europe], "A Communiqué."
July 1, 2004 [translation by
 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.
 Dr. Bassam Tibi, discussion
with author, Monterey, Spring 2005; Bassam Tibi, "Jihadism's roots
in political Islam," International Herald Tribune, August 30,
 Abu Hafez al-Masri
Brigades [al-Qaeda in Europe], "A Communiqué." July 1, 2004
[translation by author].
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