Latest update: December 30th, 2013
We live in a world profoundly confused about how, when and whether to assign blame when terrorists hurt innocent people.
Did the Tsarnaev brothers maim and murder innocent Americans because Islam instructs them to do so? That goes further than almost anyone is willing to go.
Did the Tsarnaev brothers detonate bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15th because they were indirectly but clearly instructed to do that by a powerful jihadi strategist, and did that man issue those instructions because he, and many others, believe they were told to do it because Islam insists on it? That may be the case, whether or not U.S. officials want the connection known.
A man who was involved at the very start of the global jihad movement, who was a colleague as well as strategic rival to Osama bin Laden, whose efforts have been linked to the 7/7 bombings in London, the ’04 train bombings in Madrid, possibly to a Paris metro bombing way back in 1995 and even perhaps to the 09/11 bombings, is certainly someone we all should know about. And while learning about him, it will be useful to consider whether his legacy connects to the Tsarnaev Boston Terror Bombings. Because by all knowledgeable estimates, this is the man who conceived of, trained others for, and wrote the manual on the modern global Islamic jihadi war against the West. And the most recent battlefield in that war was the finish line in Boston.
WHO IS THE GRAND STRATEGIST OF MODERN GLOBAL JIHAD?
His name is Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, although he’s also known as abu Musab al Suri (the Syrian). Perhaps his most significant contributions to the cause of global jihad was his insistence that the old-style al Qaeda, with its rigid hierarchical structure, was a disaster for the movement and had to be jettisoned in favor of a different strategy. In his 1600 page manifesto, al Suri stressed the need for the global jihadi movement to create a new fighting style focused on “individual terrorism.”
This innovation, also known as “leaderless jihad,” is a strategy designed to escape detection. Al Suri advised followers not to have cells or “brigades” larger than ten members, and ideally the cells would be in the single digits. He also advocated that jihadists use the Internet and other methods to gather their information to conduct attacks. Those unwilling to embrace his strategy before and in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, have now largely become believers, whether by necessity or by revelation.
But perhaps al Suri’s greatest significance to those of us still reeling from the horrors of the Boston Marathon bombings, is advice he offered in this magnum opus, written while on the run between 2001 and 2005, “The Call for Global Islamic Resistance.” It is available online.
In CGIR al Suri urged his followers to select places for terrorist attacks which could produce maximum carnage for minimum cost. For example, he wrote, “sports competitions attract thousands of spectators and television cameras.” He also suggested local sleeper cells focus on oil fields and transportation systems – think of recent events in Algeria and Canada. The CGIR is considered “the textbook of home-grown terrorism”; it has also been referred to as the “Jihadi Mein Kampf.”
The section of CGIR which proposes sports events as a logical, simple, efficient way to pursue jihad against the infidels and bring attention to the cause was reprinted in the Winter 2012 edition of Inspire magazine – a major (and now online) jihadi source for staying current and in touch with the global jihad movement.
On this topic, al Suri’s advice is offered as a discrete article in Issue 9 of Inspire, “The Jihadi Experiences: The Most Important Enemy Targets Aimed at by the Individual Jihad.” He advises that the best way to turn a Western population against their own leaders and towards support for the jihadi cause is through hysteria caused by mass slaughter, amplified by television cameras and other media.
The type of attack, which repels states and topples governments, is mass slaughter of the population. This is done by targeting human crowds in order to inflict maximum human losses. This is very easy since there are numerous such targets such as crowded sports arenas, annual social events, large international exhibitions, crowded marketplaces, sky-scrapers, crowded buildings….
Dr. James Lacey, director of the War Policy and Strategy Program and an instructor at the Marine Corps War College in Quantico, is a former infantry officer and was an embedded journalist. Lacey’s translation of al Suri’s work, Terrorist’s Call to Global Jihad, was sponsored by the U.S. Joint Forces Command.
Lacey’s book was written in order to allow “joint warfighters to get inside the terrorists’ decision cycle,” by understanding the “mind of the jihadi movement.” It is in this book that Lacey compared al Suri’s work to that of Adolf Hitler’s.
The Jewish Press spoke with Lacey about al Suri, and asked Lacey’s thoughts about whether the Boston Marathon Bombings, or other recent acts of what some call “lone wolf” acts of terrorism, might have been influenced by al Suri.
Lacey explained that the first generation of al Qaeda was decimated, but that the followers learned from the earlier mistakes. They learned, Lacey said, to operate in the way that al Suri had been advocating for a very long time, “self-radicalization” and small cells. “Still, Lacey said, “the small cells would need someone to encourage them, to support them.” Lacey expects that “some connection to the jihadi community will be found, perhaps in Dagestan, where Tamerlan Tsarnaev plugged himself into the community.”
“We [the American military and political authorities] would love for the jihadi network to form another network, like what they had under Osama bin Laden.” Such a slow-moving, centralized and hierarchical target is the easiest to neutralize.
But the global jihadi masterminds learned from the mistakes of the past, and the new style of operation, particularly for those whose stage is the non-Muslim world, is going to be small cells, few connections, low cost munitions and high density, high profile crowds.
“It’s the al Suri Strategy come home to roost,” said Lacey.
AL SURI HAS THE PERFECT SET OF EXPERIENCE, INTELLECT, FOCUS AND FEROCITY
Mustafa Setmariam Nasar was born in Alleppo, Syria in 1958, and was trained as a mechanical engineer. He joined the Syrian version of the Muslim Brotherhood in the early 1980s, where he specialized in explosives engineering, urban guerrilla warfare and “special operations.” During his time with the Syrian opposition, he received training in Iraq, Egypt and Jordan.
After Hafez al-Assad brutally suppressed those opposed to his rule in the Hama massacre of 1982, al Suri fled to Europe. He then split with the Muslim Brotherhood because of its ties to secular parties such as the Iraqi Ba’ath and the Syrian Communist Party. Al Suri is a hardline Sunni who despises the Shia Muslims as well as secular-oriented Muslims, such as the Palestinian Authority.
Over the next 23 years al Suri lived in France, Spain, Afghanistan, England and Pakisatan. He met and became colleagues with and trainers of most of the leading figures in the global jihad, including Osama bin Laden, Abdullah Azzam, Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Anwar al-Awlaki.
Al Suri trained future generations of jihadis at terror training camps in Afghanistan, including one of his own, where he specialized in experimenting with chemical weapons and poisons. A particular interest of al Suri’s was the development of dirty bombs, which he strongly encouraged be a part of the global jihadi arsenal. He was particularly pleased with a slogan he came up with: “dirty bombs for dirty countries.”
Al Suri sat on the Shura Council of al Qaeda and is a disciple of the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.
While in Afghanistan, al Suri fought with the embryonic al Qaeda force against the Russians. This fact may be of particular interest to disaffected American Muslims who identify with Chechen rebels. Tamerlan Tsarnaev also shared al Suri’s disgust at Shia Muslims. He attacked a former friend who converted from Sunni to Shia Islam as having “betrayed yourself.”
With his red hair and fair complexion, al Suri does not fit the Muslim jihadi profile, and his many years in Western countries enabled him to understand their weaknesses and predilections, the better to exploit them.
In addition to studying and training others in chemical warfare and other methods of destruction, al Suri also became a prolific writer and editor. While living in England he helped edit a jihadi magazine, Al Ansar, which promoted the insurgency in Algeria. That uprising resulted in more than a hundred thousand deaths. Al Suri also created what was perhaps the first jihadi thinktank, the Islamic Conflict Studies Bureau.
In addition to his other endeavors, al Suri served as a “media facilitator.” In the late 1990s he ferried British journalists Peter Bergen, Peter Arnett and Robert Fisk to meet bin Laden.
Paul Cruickshank, who has written one of the most thorough and useful analyses of al Suri in Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, interviewed Bergen in 2006. Bergen was impressed with al Suri’s intellect and seriousness, but said, “Of course, when I was dealing with [al Suri] in 1997 he gave no hint of his radical, militant views.” In fact, when Bergen met al Suri he had already spent the past 15 years fighting and training as a global jihadist, and was known as a hardline extremist who castigated al Qaeda associates for laziness.
In the late 1990’s al Suri began to assert a level of independence from al Qaeda, and even expressed displeasure with some of bin Laden’s actions. In a July, 1999 letter to Ayman al Zawahari discovered by Wall Street Journal reporters on an al Qaeda computer, Al Suri wrote, “I think our brother [bin Laden] has caught the disease of screens, flashes, fans and applause.”
Al Suri wrote that “al Qaeda is not an organization, it is not a group, it is a call, a reference, a methodology.” He wrote that “the goal is to bring about the largest number of human and material casualties possible for America and its allies.” Al Suri specifically targeted Jews and Westerners, but his list expanded to include almost anyone who is not a devout Muslim intensely committed to global jihad.
According to Cruickshank, al Suri was, at least quietly, deeply unhappy about the 9/11 attacks, primarily for two reasons: first, the Western military response obliterated the fledgling Islamic Caliphate in Afghanistan, including the all-important training camps, and second, as he posted on a jihadist website, “I feel sorry because there were no weapons of mass destruction in the planes that attacked New York and Washington on 9/11. We might have been relieved of the biggest number of voters who elected Bush for a second term!”
Cruickshank explains that beginning in about 2000, al Suri began actively honing his new strategy for global jihad, through “individual terrorism.” He developed a prototype which was to be like “the Palestinian intifada but on a broader basis which includes the Islamic world, with its arm reaching the home of the American invaders and their infidel allies from every race and place.”
Al Suri also understood the power of mass production: his training camp lectures were taped, and the videotapes then widely distributed. He claims to have recorded hundreds of audiotapes and videotapes.
Cruickshank relates al Suri’s vision to assist individuals in inciting Muslims to become jihadists.
This should be done by highlighting Jewish-Crusader oppression of Muslims, and by dwelling on the degeneracy of the Western world, – its sins, its gays and lesbians – is a good way to incite Muslims. Attacks should take place in the country of residence of jihadis. The criteri for targets, Setmariam says, are: (1) where it hurts the enemy and costs him the most” and (2) where it awakens Muslims and revives the spirit of Jihad and resistance. The aim he says “is to spread a Jihadist cancer to face the bad cancer of the world order.
Eventually al Suri became a “person of interest” to the United States and on November 18, 2004, the U.S. put a $5 million bounty on his head through the “Rewards for Justice” program. On October 31, 2005, al Suri was arrested in Quetta, southern Pakistan.
AFTER ARREST IN PAKISTAN, TO THE U.S., THEN SYRIA
Al Suri was turned over by the Pakistanis to the U.S. sometime in March, 2006. It is rumored that al Suri was held at Guantanamo Bay or became a “ghost prisoner” or one of “the disappeared” at what have been called “black sites” or prisons, such as the British Island of Diego Rivera. The American Civil Liberties Union urged a special United Nations section to work on behalf of al Suri, claiming that the U.S., England, Spain, Syria and Pakistan had caused his “enforced disappearance.”
Almost everyone agreed that at some point the U.S. handed al Suri over to the Syrians as part of the “extraordinary renditions” program. He is after all, a Syrian national. And the Syrian prisons are notorious for breaking prisoners. In this regard, the U.S. and Syria were united in a strong antipathy towards al Suri.
But last year rumors began appearing on jihadi websites that al Suri had been released by Syrian President Bashar al Assad.
IS AL SURI STILL IMPRISONED IN SYRIA, OR WAS HE RELEASED?
For those who pay attention to this kind of thing, there is a decided split of opinion on whether or not the Assad regime released al Suri in early 2012. For the most part, those who do not focus on terrorism generally and the theoretical underpinnings of global jihad specifically, write that al Suri was released in early 2012 although no details are provided other than speculation that it was done to punish the U.S. for backing the Syrian rebels. This position has been asserted in the Wall Street Journal, the Telegraph, al Arabiya, the New York Post and even by MEMRI.
But terrorism experts, particularly ones who have studied al Suri in depth, are unwilling to assume the global jihad strategist was released.
Paul Cruickshank, whose exceptionally informative and useful study, “Abu Musab Al Suri: Architect of the New Al Qaeda,” published in an academic journal in 2006, told The Jewish Press that al Suri’s release “has not been confirmed to my satisfaction.” Cruickshank said the assumptions were all based on anonymously sourced reports on anti-Assad websites internet chatter found on organized jihadist groups, and that “it was not backed up by hard evidence.”
Cruickshank agreed that whether or not al Suri is still in prison, his value is undeniable as “a strategic visionary” who “trained this generation’s jihadi leadership.” al Suri was one of the leading visionaries of the “global jihadist intifada” whose “enduring influence” on the movement, whether directly or indirectly, is likely to have inspired people like the Tsarnaev brothers.
“It simply is too early to say for sure whether there was any direct connection between al Suri’s writing and the Tsarnaevs’ actions,” Cruickshank said “but the small cell and local terrorist acts in support of the global jihad ideology is certainly right out of the playbook popularized by Inspire.”
Dr. Lacey of the Marine Corps War College, tends to agree with Cruickshank. Without hard evidence, Lacey was not prepared to state whether al Suri was released by Syria.
“No one knows whether he was released,” Lacey told The Jewish Press, but if he was, the most likely reason would be to poke a finger in our eye.” On the other hand, it would be “self-defeating for the Syrians to release al Suri,” as he most certainly would be a huge boost to the Syrian opposition.”
A third terrorism analyst, Bill Roggio of Long War Journal, agreed that it is impossible to say with confidence whether al Suri had been released. But Roggio of Long War Journal told The Jewish Press that he could imagine a scenario in which Assad would have released al Suri and not just to slam America for backing his opponents.
“We know several jihadists have been released from Syrian prisons,” Roggio told The Jewish Press, “as a deal to get the opposition to reduce violence, and the deal would be that the released prisoner would have to stay out of the rebellion.”
Roggio’s February, 2012 post in The Long War Journal discussed the jihadi website chatter, claiming that al Suri had been released, but wrote there and told The Jewish Press this week that other than those kinds of posts, he hasn’t seen anything to lead him to confirm that al Suri was free.
An additional point Roggio shared, however, seemed worth thinking about. He noted that despite his close monitoring of jihadi websites and other kinds of communication about global jihad and terrorism, he has not seen any instances in which a ransom or a demand has been made for the release of al Suri. “The Blind Sheikh, Aafia Siddiqi, yes, but no one is asking for al Suri’s release. That is odd, considering how important al Suri is to the strategic planning and ruthless execution of the global jihadi effort.
Roggio is the one who broke the story that the Times Square bomber was a member of the Taliban. Speaking with The Jewish Press, Roggio cautioned against the government and mainstream media’s quick draw efforts to create a public conception of the Boston Marathon bombings, the Ft. Hood murders and other recent acts of terrorism as “lone wolf” operations, unconnected to global jihad.
Vice President Joe Biden’s reference to the Tsarnaevs as “knock-off jihadis,” during the memorial service for Sean Collier, the slain MIT police officer last week, was of a piece with this effort to pretend there is no global connection between the individual cells operating in Western countries and the global jihadist movement. Roggio called the term and the effort at distraction “offensive.”
These efforts to adamantly refuse to look behind the curtain, just like the ones to divert attention from the real animating source for the murders of Amb. Chris Stevens and three other American citizens in Benghazi on September 11, 2012, are not only offensive, they are dangerous.
Al Suri gives voice to a malevolent antipathy towards the West, in particular America, but also Israel as well as all countries that participated in efforts to defeat the Taliban’s burgeoning Caliphate in Afghanistan, or those Muslim countries which allow in the infidels on holy ground – such as Saudi Arabia. We ignore the threat at our peril.
A better understanding of al Suri’s vision – because whether or not the local jihadi cells know his name, they know his methods and his instructions – is essential in the West’s war against those who seek our destruction.Lori Lowenthal Marcus
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the U.S. correspondent for The Jewish Press. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools. You can reach her by email: Lori@JewishPressOnline.com
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