It is an exaggeration, but not entirely so, that the United States could have done worse in dealing with Al Qaeda by simply attacking, for example, Belgium, Germany, and Italy -- attacking Al Qaeda's strongholds among those who live in the shadows of a world they do not share. (p. 592).
As the nations of Europe continue to hammer out their respective differences in their inexorable march to becoming the United States of Europe (Inc.) in the early 21st century, the support for al Qaeda will likely continue to expand throughout the region as Europeans nations seek accommodation rather than confrontation. After all, in business, "blood is a big expense" ("The Godfather," 1972). As Anderson emphasize, "European military forces, likewise although effectively useless in battle, can be helpful in long-term peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan. Europe can also assist in tracking down and seizing the financial assets of terrorists. These are important advantages, but one must still understand the fundamentally self-centered nature of European support, given its underlying desire to constrain American power in pursuit of its own counter-hegemonic aspirations" (p. 592).
Motivations, ideology and purpose.
Although the stated goal of al-Qaeda is to rid Muslim countries of what it regards as "the profane influence of the West and replace their governments with fundamentalist Islamic regimes" (What is al-Qaeda?, p. 2), the group has become more of an ideological movement than an organization since is founding. As Burke (2004) points out, "No. It is less an organization than an ideology. The Arabic word qaeda can be translated as a 'base of operation' or 'foundation,' or alternatively as a 'precept' or 'method.' Islamic militants always understood the term in the latter sense" (p. 18). The group's ideology has been termed "al-Qaedaism" by some authorities, and has established self-generating terrorist cells around the world in furtherance of its purpose (What is al-Qaeda).
According to Burke, "Today, the structure that was built in Afghanistan has been destroyed, and bin Laden and his associates have scattered or been arrested or killed. There is no longer a central hub for islamic militancy. But the al Qaeda worldview, or 'al Qaedaism,' is growing stronger every day" (p. 19). In this regard, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) reports, "U.S. authorities say the most recent example is the 'Miami Seven,' a group of men arrested June 22 for conspiring to attack Chicago's Sears Tower, among other targets. FBI officials characterized the threat the group posed as 'more aspirational than operational.' Another variant may have emerged in Canada, where officials in June 2007 arrested seventeen men in an alleged plot to bomb several buildings in southern Ontario" (What is al-Qaeda?, p. 3).
Many observers in the West are left wondering what all of the hatred is about, and why they are being targeted by foreigners with whom they have no personal connections or interests. Supporters of al Qaeda and their like-minded ilk maintain that simply being taxpayers in the United States is reason enough to be targeted because of the U.S. support for Israel and its continuing blasphemous presence of the sacred soils of Saudi Arabia et al. The inflammatory rhetoric that continues to spew from the mouth-organs of the group in various media and religious schools around the world adds further fuel to the Islamic flame, and al Qaeda continues to grow in influence if not actual physical presence. For instance, Burke advises that, "Bin Laden is a propagandist, directing his efforts at attracting those Muslims who have hitherto shunned his extremist message. He knows that only through mass participation in his project will he have any chance of success. His worldview is receiving immeasurably more support around the globe than it was two years ago, let alone 15 years ago when he began serious campaigning" (p. 19).
To accomplish its fundamental mission of spreading terrorism in support of its erstwhile ideology, al Qaeda frequently resorts to inflammatory rhetoric through its online resources or through various Arabic news outlets such as glowering countenance of al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri provided by al-Jazeera as shown in Figure 1 below.
Figure 1. Ayman al-Zawahiri's videos often air on Arabic news outlets.
Source: AP/al-Jazeera in CFR at http://www.cfr.org/publication/11035/inspiring_terror.html.
The primary adversary of al Qaeda is Israel, followed closely by the United States, the United Kingdom and its coalition of the increasingly unwilling in the Middle East (Aydin). People of any different faiths from Islam, though, have also been targets of attacks by al Qaeda in the past (Cass, 2003).
Location of attacks and tactics employed.
A timeline of al Qaeda attacks and the tactics used on various Western targets is provided in Table 1 below.
Timeline: Al-Qaida attacks on Western targets.
Location/Description of Tactics
February 26, 1993 massive bomb explodes in a garage below the World Trade Center in New York City. Six people are killed and more than 1,000 injured in the blast. Analysts cite some links to al-Qaeda in the attack, though Osama bin Laden disavowed any connection.
June 25, 1996 powerful truck bomb explodes outside a U.S. military housing complex near Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing 19 American servicemen and wounding several hundred people.
August 7, 1998
Two bombs explode within minutes of each other near the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The blasts kill 264 people.
Seventeen American sailors are killed and 39 wounded by a bomb aboard a small boat that targets the U.S.S. Cole, a U.S. Navy destroyer refueling in Aden, Yemen.
Hijackers commandeer four commercial jetliners, crashing two of them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and another into the Pentagon outside Washington. The fourth airliner crashes in a field in Pennsylvania. Some 3,000 people die in the attacks.
A truck carrying natural gas explodes outside a Tunisian synagogue, killing 19 people.
A bomb explodes in a resort area on the Indonesian island of Bali, setting off fires and explosions that destroyed two nightclubs. More than 200 people are killed, most of them foreign tourists
Terrorists stage coordinated attacks on Israeli tourists in Mombasa, Kenya. Three suicide bombers crash an explosives-laden sport utility vehicle into an Israeli-owned hotel, killing themselves as well as 10 Kenyans and three Israeli tourists, and wounding dozens of others.
Thirty-three people are killed and about 100 others injured in five nearly simultaneous suicide bombing attacks in Casablanca. Twelve of the 14 bombers, all of whom were Moroccan, also die in the attacks.
November 15 & 20, 2003
Car bombs explode within minutes of each other at two Jewish synagogues in Istanbul Nov. 15. A second pair of bombings five days later strike the British consulate and the offices of the London-based HSBC bank in Istanbul. The four bombings kill 58 people and wound about 750.
Ten bombs explode within minutes of each other on four crowded commuter trains in the center of Madrid, killing 190 people and wounding more than 1,400 (see graphic in Figure 2 below).
Source: Glendinning, 2005.
Figure ____. Victims sit on the tracks just outside Madrid's Atocha station as they are tended by rescue workers following one of a series of deadly explosions, March 11, 2004.
Source: National Public Radio, 2008 at http://media.npr.org/news/images/2005/july/07/corbis/madrid200.jpg.
Besides the physical attacks, there are also indications that al Qaeda is increasingly turning to cyberspace to facilitate its terrorist activities. According to Thomas (2003), "We can say with some certainty, al Qaeda loves the Internet. Evidence strongly suggests that terrorists used the Internet to plan their operations for 9/11. Computers seized in Afghanistan reportedly revealed that al Qaeda was collecting intelligence on targets and sending encrypted messages via the Internet" (p. 112). In fact, as recently as 16 September 2002, al Qaeda "sleeper cells" maintained in the United States were reportedly using Internet-based phone services to communicate with their counterparts cells abroad (Thomas). While some analysts suggest that the loss of its operations base in Afghanistan makes al-Qaeda less dangerous than it was in 2002, others argue that its ability to inspire terror is clear evidence of the group's continuing influence (What is al-Qaeda).
Countermeasures or anti-terrorist options/strategies that have been successful against this group and similar groups in the past.
While the group manages to fade into the background when the situation calls for it, when al Qaeda terrorists do emerge they can be fought in various ways: "Through its military presence in Uzbekistan, its diplomatic intervention in the confrontation between Pakistan and India over Kashmir, and its direct military assistance to the Philippines and Georgia, the United States has limited al Qaeda's ability to exploit other conflicts and develop new bases" (Thomas, p. 1). When a sufficient number of al Qaeda terrorists appear in a coordinated fashion, military countermeasures have proven effective. According to Burke, "The military component of the war on terrorism has had some significant…