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.