Saturday, 8 January 2011

Inside Al-Qaeda: History, Ideology and Structure

Inside Al-Qaeda: History, Ideology and Structure

By Will Spens.
The Frontline Club’s first First Wednesday of 2011 was a stimulating discussion focused on Al-Qaeda and the complexities and mystery surrounding its history and structure. Chaired by Paddy O’Connell of BBC Radio 4’s Broadcasting House, the audience was invited to engage with the expert panel, resulting in fascinating insights and at times complex arguments.  You can watch the video here:

As to the origins of Al-Qaeda, historian and journalist Deepak Tripathi said that ‘the scope of Al-Qaeda is an invention of the West and is in fact a number of local insurgencies’ with its history linked to the Muslim Brotherhood of the 1920s and anti West sentiment. It was ‘a legacy of the neo colonialist era’ rooted in local causes and conditions.
Dr Maha Azzam, an Associate Fellow at Chatham House, said ‘Al-Qaeda was a reaction to military occupation of Muslim lands’ and that its formation was born of the ‘previous failure of Islamist groups, creating a situation where there was no ceiling on militancy’. While acknowledging that poverty was a factor in radicalization, Dr Azzam remarked that a large number of recruits were not often poor themselves.
In regards to the modern structure and hierarchy of the organization, journalist Camille Tawil said that ‘Al-Qaeda became franchised all over the middle east and the world’ after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The nature of such affiliations was contentious however, along with reliable estimates for their number.
When asked whether Al-Qaeda could be defeated, Noman Benotman, a former leader of the jihadist Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), said that countering Al-Qaeda propaganda, along with ‘more freedom and democracy in the Middle East’ is essential. An understanding of the Al-Qaeda view that time, not land, is its most important asset was fundamental.
On the topic of whether Al-Qaeda would be be willing to use weapons of mass destruction if available, the panel was in agreement that this was almost certainly true.
In his closing remarks Camille Tawil touched on the revelation that there is now infact debate going on within Al-Qaeda itself and within jihadist groups. Challenging the core ideologies of Al-Qaeda in using violence against Islamic governments in the middle east.


Kévin said...

Dear Mr. Tawil,

I'm a 20 years old French student who is currently studying History at Nanterre University.

First,I'd like to thank you for your writings, I really enjoy reading them.

I have not read "Brothers in arms" yet, but sure thing I will order it soon!

Now, I'd like to make some comments on what Numan bin Uthamn claims in "The other face of al Qaeda". Although this series really impressed me in terms of both infos and analysis, part of what bin Uthman said has made me pretty skeptical.

Indeed, bin Uthman says that al Qa'ida didn't expect the US invasion of Afghanistan and rather thought that the US administration would respond to 9/11 attacks with only few hundreds cruise missiles.

But that differs completely from all things I've read about 9/11 aims from al Qa'ida itself.

For instance, Abu'l Walid al Misri writings explain very well that there was a wide-spread feeling among the Arab Afghan community that the war was coming well before 9/11. The jihadi milieu in Afghanistan expected this conflict.

I'm sure you already know the episode where Abu'l Walid clashes with both Usama bin Ladin and Ayman al Zawahiri about the decision to carry out large-scale operations against the US.

In this episode, the two al Qa'ida leaders argue that a war is inevitable with the US so there is no reason to stop the coming operations. They consider them as kind of "pre-emptive" attacks.

There are many more writings on this issue like Sayf al Adil's explanation of the 9/11 aims or As-Sahab release « Knowledge is for acting upon » where bin Ladin says: « We are about to move, with Allah's permission, to a number of places. And the nature of the conditions after the strike will require of you things easy for those for whom Allah makes it easy ». This statement was made before 9/11 attacks and it's clear that bin Ladin was fully aware that Afghanistan will be invaded.

I could keep going because there are many other evidence that completely contradict what Numan bin Uthman claims. And by evidence I mean first-hand account like his, not inaccurate reports from ill-informed journalists.

All of these point to the fact al Qa'ida knew the war was going to happen. They prepared for such a big retaliation. In fact, they even hoped for it since they considered US troops as cowards.

So what is your stance towards this bin Uthman's claim? It's not like he doesn't know what he's talking about since he was in contact and lived with these jihadis and hence, was a key witness of this period.

On the other hand, he is the only figure of that calibre to claim such a thing. Besides, he is now an opponent of al Qa'ida ideology so maybe he added some false facts to his story in order to weaken al Qa'ida credibility.
Or maybe that at the time of the meeting, al Qa'ida wasn't expecting a massive retaliation from the US. But that just doesn't fit with 9/11 aims.

It would be very nice of you if I could have your take on my comments and maybe even bin Uthman's.

Here is my e mail:



Kévin said...

Oh and sorry for the multiple comments, if you could keep only one it would be nice of you :)