war on terrorMarc Sageman, ex-CIA officer and Senior Fellow at the Center on Terrorism, Counter-Terrorism, and Homeland Security at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, surveyed the origin of global neo-Jihadi terror plots in the last five years and found that in 78 per cent of cases there is no link to a command from the Afghan/Pakistani border region.

Future Concerns

Marc Sageman presented his comprehensive survey covering 60 global neo-Jihadi plots since 1988 in his testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in October 2009. The criteria included both failed and successful plots by Al Qaeda core, affiliated and inspired groups. Sageman’s results showed only 20 per cent of the sample could be attributed to the AQ core command. Sageman also found evidence of a decline in AQ core instigated attacks since 2001 and an upsurge of AQ-inspired autonomous plots since the Iraq invasion in 2003.

Sageman said in his testimony that inside the cluster of Al Qaeda influenced independent sectors can be a distressing “pattern of lone wolves”, specifically associated online to overseas Al Qaeda partner terrorist establishments. Despite the fact that most of these young men are likely to compromise themselves for these affiliate terrorist organizations, they have not met each other personally. This will likely develop into a direction that may escalate in the future.

Sageman said that Al Qaeda’s threat to Western security has become a “leader-less Jihad” and therefore much more unpredictable and wide-ranging.

“Global neo-jihadi terrorism is evolving to the structure of anarchist terrorism that prevailed over a century ago, when no such global coordinating committee was ever found despite contemporaneous belief in its existence.” said Sageman in testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Oct. 7, 2009.

Jihadi Tourism

There have been mixed messages coming from both politicians and the media. In a keynote speech at the Royal College of Defense Studies on Nov. 6, 2009, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown maintained that British troops are still needed in Afghanistan as “our first line of defense” against homeland terror attacks. The week before, former Foreign Office minister Kim Howells publicly called for a halt to the mission in Afghanistan in favor of focusing attention on security at home.

Brown denied homeland security has been compromised by the commitment in Afghanistan and said of Al Qaeda, “We know that they continue to train and plot attacks on Britain from the region … this mission must not fail.”

A Washington Post article Oct.19, 2009 by Craig Whitlock says there has been an increase in terrorist recruits from Europe and North America traveling to the Afghan/Pakistani border for training. Whitlock’s sources in Germany prefer to remain anonymous but alleged that at least 30 individuals have been known to leave Germany for the region in the last year, although it is unsure if any have returned.

According to Whitlock, officials in Britain are claiming they have “successfully cracked down” on the number of neo-Jihadi tourists attending camps and this strategy is considered effective against Al Qaeda, but its focus does not fully address the risk of un-connected home grown plots.

Sageman’s testimony also revealed that only 16 of the 46 terrorist networks had at least one member who had visited a training camp and 20 of the groups had no training at all. The presumption by intelligence services and the media that attendance at a training camp is the same as being under Al Qaeda command is the reason the focus is directed at what happens in Afghanistan.

According to Sageman’s research, in the case of the London Bomb plots only one member had attended a training camp. This raises the question of whether fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan will stop terror attacks in the West. Unlike other AQ core plots no evidence of meaningful communication between AQ core command and the groups was ever found. The perpetrators themselves declared in “martyr” videos their “Jihad” was vengeance for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Also the time line of their conversion to radical Wahhabi views coincided with the military invasion in Iraq.

The Real Threat to Homeland Security

If Wahhabism is to be tackled successfully by the Muslim community it must also be recognized that the West’s military efforts have had a radicalizing effect on religious views back home. The mainstream Muslim community in Britain continues to discredit Wahhabi extremist views with a myriad of positive outreach programs such as the Footsteps mentoring project in schools and the Young Muslim Beacons award. The Islamic Society of Britain rejects preachers of hate and accuses radicals like Omar Bakri of hijacking and misrepresenting Islam. A “March for Shariah” organized by Islam4UK formerly ‘Hizb-ut-Tahrir’ on Halloween 2009 was cancelled following widespread condemnation and security threats. But recruitment is unabated; in a CNN report following the demonstrations Islam4UK’s leader British citizen Anjem Choudary openly expressed support for Osama Bin Laden and the neo-jihad cause.

Marc Sageman concluded in his testimony, “counter-insurgency in Afghanistan has little to do with global neo-Jihadi terrorism and protecting the homeland.” He further stated counter-terrorist strategies are working and should continue regardless of withdrawal from Afghanistan, but doubted continuing counter-insurgency tactics will bring success; to the contrary he told the committee this option is more likely to worsen the situation.