Next Stage in Counter-Terrorism: Jihadi Radicalization…

Monday, October 23, 2006

Event Summary

As the Global War on Terror continues to challenge today’s policymakers, Jamestown Foundation Senior Fellow Stephen Ulph recently spoke about an important and growing trend in the world of radical Islam: the spread of jihadi ideology on the web. Speaking to a diverse audience of more than 90 people at The Jamestown Foundation’s auditorium, Stephen Ulph presented The Next Stage in Counter-Terrorism: Analyzing Jihadi Radicalization on the Web on Monday, October 23. Fluent in both Arabic and Farsi, Stephen Ulph is one of the preeminent analysts of the Islamic world. His most recent work includes a special appointment to the Combating Terrorism Center of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he is helping to design a methodology to isolate areas of propaganda and ideological weakness in the jihadi movement.

After a brief introduction by Jamestown Foundation President Glen Howard, Mr. Ulph began the lecture by succinctly summarizing how the web has become a virtual Online University for radicalizing Muslims into Salafi-Jihadi ideology by offering what amounts to an in-depth "jihadi curriculum." He identified the methodical structure that jihadi websites present to sympathizers. These websites post up entire libraries of books and electronic pamphlets aimed at indoctrinating jihadi sympathizers and reassuring already indoctrinated jihadists of the legitimacy of their mission. Through this literature, an "armchair enthusiast" would begin his "cultural re-education" on the web with a discrediting of both the current Western and Islamic cultural orders. After realizing the fallacy of democracy and the illegitimacy of the present Islamic regimes, the new recruit is pointed in the direction of true Islam and called forth to perform the duty of jihad. The websites promote what they term the "Sixth Pillar" of Islam-the act of jihad-calling it the "forgotten obligation" and making it an obligation incumbent upon an individual. Documents online from radical thinkers and scholars redraw the map of Islamic history and claim that the concept of militant jihad, the "Pinnacle of Islam" as described in one of the e-pamphlets that Mr. Ulph cited, has roots in early Islamic history.

Mr. Ulph followed this by pointing out the possible weaknesses in the jihadists’ propaganda. With the majority of online literature focusing on the justification of the use of violence, the websites offer "Q&A" sections to answer the insecurities and doubts that new recruits may have. For example, if a recruit was worrying over the religious legality of accidentally killing fellow Muslims during an attack or the use of human shields, jihadi online literature offers historical examples and religious justifications to qualify and support such actions. One of the most influential thinkers is Abu Musab al-Suri, the prolific al-Qaeda ideologue who was rumored to have played a part in both the Madrid and London attacks. According to Mr. Ulph, al-Suri’s works, such as "What I witnessed in the Jihad in Algeria" and "Observations on the Jihadi Experience in Syria," constitute jihadi self-analyses and provide crucial insight into the potential fractures of jihadi methodology.

With continued study of the re-education literature available on the web, Mr. Ulph argued that a counter-terrorism strategy capable of deterring potential recruits could be formed. By studying the points of tension, jihadi polemics and self-analyses, we can discover the weaknesses of "jihadi prestige" and identify potential competing ideologies. The jihadists’ strategic and efficient use of the web to indoctrinate new members has gone unopposed in Islamic societies and will continue to unless moderate Islamic scholars, media networks and leaders can create a viable counter-propaganda campaign to discredit the jihadists. The creation of "media response groups" is one potential program for countering this unopposed radical ideology. As part of this program, an "electronic pamphlet war would be initiated where moderate Muslim response groups target the radicals’" websites with an onslaught of counter-propaganda.

Mr. Ulph’s presentation was the first in a series of upcoming talks that will take place at The Jamestown Foundation. He is in the process of publishing a new book, Jihad on the Internet: The Virtual Battlefield, which is scheduled to be published in 2007 and will be available on the Jamestown website. For copies of Mr. Ulph’s slide presentation, please visit:


The Jamestown Foundation 1111 16th St. NW 7th Floor Conference Room Washington, DC 20036