Al-Qaeda’s ‘Bowing-Out’ Strategy

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 2 Issue: 17

Has the al-Qaeda organization fulfilled its purpose?

The recent release of a tape featuring the address by an American al-Qaeda member ‘Azam’ (thought to be Adam Gadahn, who earlier broadcast a message prior to the 2004 US elections threatening large scale terror attacks) has been evaluated by some analysts as demonstrating a sense of frustration in the movement. In particular the frustration is over the lack of debate in the West about the long-term political aims of al-Qaeda and the jihad.

The mujahideen are equally busy analyzing the latest statements from the al-Qaeda leadership. While the theme of Western incomprehension is present, predictably, the analyses are more positive and optimistic in tone, consistent with the perception of the immutable logic of the jihadi cause. The idea that the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington backfired on al-Qaeda, in that they subsequently lost their base in Afghanistan without exciting a mass pan-Islamic movement against the West, finds no resonance. But with an admixture of fantasy that compensates for a lack of facts, the image of a waning al-Qaeda is given a new twist.

An interesting example is a recent posting on the jihadi forum Risalat al-Umma by the user Sayf Allah. Under the provocative title: “Al-Qaeda organization is now finished,” the jihadi analyst speaks of a new phase “which the infidels are unaware of, or do not wish to believe.” He claims that al-Qaeda has, and has always had, a specific aim: to galvanize the sleeping corpse of the Islamic Nation and remove the corrosive body of Western influence. To that end, the 9/11 attacks were designed “to force the Western snake to bite the sleeping body, and wake it up;” a strategy which he evaluates as having turned out highly successful. The “end of al-Qaeda” is, therefore, the end of this galvanizing role. Infidels, the analyst explains, “are still fixated on fighting individuals, oblivious to the fact that they are actually fighting an idea, one that has spread across the globe like fire and which is embraced even by those whose faith is a mustard seed.” His conclusion is that Western strategies to fight al-Qaeda are therefore illusory (or are a deliberate self-deception) in that al-Qaeda is no longer operative as a strategic body, but rather “the Islamic Nation’s men, women and children are all now ‘al-Qaeda.'” []

This theme of the ‘end’ was also developed by Sayf Allah Usama and published by the Global Islamic Media Front. Taking as his cue the statement made to the Arabic satellite channel al-Jazeera on the July 7 attacks on London by al-Qaeda’s number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the author defends al-Zawahiri and al-Qaeda from criticism of ideological bankruptcy resulting from the loss of their base. Instead, he suggests that al-Zawahiri was explaining al-Qaeda’s strategic program and purpose. The reason for this, he explains, is that he became particularly intrigued by al-Zawahiri’s focus on historical matters and his account of al-Qaeda’s struggle—”an unusual thing for one who speaks constantly of the present and of the future.” There can be, he states, only one reason for this: “the [al-Qaeda] organization is about to exit the portal of history, to re-enter in another form, but with different forces, in a grander struggle with the infidel.”

Under this interpretation, al-Zawahiri has “signed the exit visa of al-Qaeda, so that it now is to become a page in the history of Muslims—the beginning of a new era.” This ‘signing off’ is part of the original plan; to “revive the [Islamic] Nation and prepare it for a comprehensive confrontation with the Kuffar” on a scale larger than what has been waged up to now against apostate elements in individual countries. The confrontation is the final scene, “to be played by al-Qaeda against world Unbelief—the smashing of the great idol [the United States of America].” The author then lists some of the aims and achievements of al-Qaeda:

· The joining of efforts against the head of Unbelief, America;

· Instilling freedom from defeatism among the Muslim youth, through the attacks on New York and Washington;

· Drawing the American enemy outside its borders and casting it into the Islamic swamp, so as to expose the truth about the artificial ‘truce’ between Muslims and the Unbelievers;

· Whetting the appetite of the youth to go to Iraq to form a new front, in order to make the U.S. military taste what the Soviets tasted in Afghanistan;

· Detaching America from its Crusader roots in Europe and Australia, by punishing rebel states who participated alongside America in its attack on Iraq; thus inducing terror of al-Qaeda and the gradual disassociation from her great enemy [the USA] and withdrawal of their support for it;

· Getting Muslim masses used to the idea that al-Qaeda can reach anyone who harms them; ending the assumption that Western victory is assured; and bringing the battle to its climax.

The grand conflict with the great idol, according to the jihadi analyst, is in two stages, each bearing symbolic similarities to the other as a struggle of a weaker party against a stronger. If the first stage of the struggle was one fought in mountains and caves and hideouts, the second and final stage of the struggle is one conducted “with the full economic, military and political force of the Islamic nations.”

According to this analysis, al-Zawahiri’s speech comes at a pivotal moment in the great conflict of the Islamic Nation against “the primary forces in the world defending the Cross.” It is the “final, legal, call to the arrogant Americans to avoid the dreadful destruction which will befall them, after which al-Qaeda cannot be blamed for its actions against those who do not leave the Islamic Nation alone.” For the nations allied to the United States, they too should know that their time is coming, and that they will be picked off one by one, after the stoutest fortress of the Cross is destroyed.

But al-Zawahiri’s address also marks the end of the ‘al-Qaeda’ phase of this great conflict. After it has passed, the analyst concludes, having served its galvanizing purpose, it will metaphorically re-enter the portal of history, but ‘in a more resplendent, stronger form, in the guise of the liberated Muslim masses taking vengeance on their servitude to the West and on America, the scourge of their countries.’

Far from frustration at the failure of the al-Qaeda program to galvanize the Nation, Sayf Allah Usama is confident that this has already been achieved. For the jihadist contemplating al-Qaeda’s ebb, it should be regarded as “the exit of heroes, and the re-entry of their souls into a new phase of the struggle waged by revived Muslims, rising proud after their humiliation, assured of their victory against the great enemy and the fool of the era, America.” []