Terrorism poses considerable threat to the modern world. There are an increasing number of terrorist groups, which operate in Africa, Asia, and Europe and have the capability to reach any country in the world. After the Arab Spring, new terrorist groups have emerged that strive to achieve goals relating to the particular territory. In fact, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has an ambitious vision of the territorial expansion. To fulfill its aims, the organization applies violence and brutality combined with the innovative usage of the media. However, old terrorist groups such as HAMAS, Hezbollah, and Al Qaeda still represent a threat to the international community. According to the position of Al Qaeda, the group urges the terrorists “to strike America in its own home and beyond”. Thus, in order to analyze the threat Al Qaeda imposes on the West, it is necessary to examine the origins of the group, its basic motives, mechanisms of operation, as well as the US responses to the activities of the organization.
Brief Description of the Group and Its Origins
Al Qaeda is an international terrorist organization that orchestrates the activities of Islamic militants worldwide. It is considered one of the biggest threats to the world peace and security. The activities of Al Qaeda significantly exceed other terrorist groups, including Irish Republican IRA, Hamas, and Hezbollah. Al Qaeda founded camps in the Muslim countries to train militants and terrorists involved in organizing and conducting terrorist attacks. Moreover, the organization developed effective public strategy and found sources of financial and non-financial support.
The organization originated in the period of the uprising against the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. Thousands of Muslims came to Afghanistan as mujahideen to fight against intruders and defend the Muslim population. The organization was established at the end of the 1980s by the Saudi militant Osama bin Laden. After the withdrawal of the Soviet Union troops from Afghanistan, the organization was redistributed but continued to fight against the corrupt Islamic regimes established in the Middle East and presence of the foreign nations in the region. At the beginning of the 1990s, the organization was based in Sudan, where bin Laden established the links with the militants all over the Middle East and launched numerous terrorist attacks. Apparently, the first actions against the United States were the attacks on the U.S. service members in Somalia. In 1996, bin Laden introduced the “Declaration of War” against the United States.
In 1998, Al Qaeda returned to Afghanistan under the protection of the Taliban militia. While being based in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden used a diverse international network to provide a connection between Muslim extremists in other countries of the world. As a result, bin Laden succeeded in establishing the alliance between terrorist organizations, namely “International Islamic Front for Jihad against the Jews and Crusaders”. Among the aims of the alliance, there was the blockade of the US assistance to Israel. Furthermore, the killings of Americans and Jews were given religious authorization.
After the organization had declared the responsibility for 9/11 Attacks, it moved to Pakistan and planned the subsequent attacks there. In 2002, the organization was responsible for bombings in Bali. In 2003, Al Qaeda began a series of attacks against Saudi Arabia, including bombings in Riyadh. In 2004, Al Qaeda launched the attack in Madrid. Moreover, the terrorist group of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, which was responsible for numerous attacks during the Iraq War, pledged its allegiance to Al Qaeda and established Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). In 2005, Al Qaeda organized terroristic attacks in London. In 2006, Al Qaeda established a union with the Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), responsible for a number of deadly attacks in Algeria. During 2010, Osama bin Laden passed a memorandum to oblige regional affiliates of Al Qaeda to consult with the central organization before launching any kind of attacks. Hereby, the memorandum proved that the core organization lost control over the activities of its allies.
In 2012, Al Qaeda united with Somali militant group al-Shabab. At the same time, the leaders of Al Qaeda decided to use the unrest in Syria to promote the laws of Sharia. It is worth noting that Al Qaeda in Iraq changed its name to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. In 2013, ISIS divided from Al Qaeda stating that the organization had chosen to promote the rule of God instead of complying with the principles of the core organization. In 2013, Al Qaeda conducted a number of attacks aimed at closing the US embassies in the Muslim countries. As a result, the organization proved that it conducts activities not only in Afghanistan and Pakistan but also all over the Muslim world. In 2014, ISIS established its control in Iraq. In general, Al Qaeda and its allies control more territories in the region than at any other point in history.
The Group’s Major Motivations and Its Justification for Engaging in Terrorism
Al Qaeda’s ideology is mainly grounded on the extreme Salafi ideology and works of Sayyid Qutb. According to the propaganda of Al Qaeda, the world is divided in two camps. Therefore, one camp is represented by the Muslim nations, while the other includes the rest of the world. Among the main principles is the idea that Muslims should treat each other with loyalty. At the same time, the rest of the nations should be distant from Muslims. Moreover, Osama bin Laden justifies the adherence to the offensive jihad. While the majority of Muslims decline the principles of the offensive jihad, Al Qaeda’s leader provides the examples from the Qur'an in order to explain the necessity to apply the concept.
According to scholars, there are various motivations for Al Qaeda attacks. For instance, the motives for attempts to destroy the World Trade Center in 1993 were the desire for notoriety rather than religious drivers. What is more, the leader of the 9/11 Attacks indicated that they did not have any other option but to begin a holy war against the West and fulfill the religious duty of Muslims. The group that organized the bombings in 2002 in Bali mentioned that it was disgusted by the behavior of the Whites. Moreover, some of the representatives of Al Qaeda state the attacks were aimed at securing the withdrawal of the Western troops from Iraq. The terrorists also underline the vulnerability of the United States and its allies as well as demonstrate the faith of members of Al Qaeda. However, there are universal principles that determine the activities of the organization. Hereby, Al Qaeda promotes the establishment of Islamic states and elimination of the influence of the West in the region. According to members of Al Qaeda, the United States has committed the cultural assault against the Muslim world. As a result, members of the organization fight for the survival of their society and preservation of cultural and religious ways of life. According to the organization, bombing is considered to be an effective way to restore the Muslim power worldwide and weaken Western countries.
Thus, the combination of religious factors with the specific cultural conditions contributed to the development of Islamic terrorism. According to scholars, “religion provided the only acceptable justifications for terror”. As a result, the activities of Al Qaeda follow global jihad grounded on the extreme ideology of Islam. In addition, during the holy war against the intruders, Muslims can use any means to achieve their goals. According to the official position of Al Qaeda, the motives of the organization include the liberation of Muslim countries from the Western rule, introducing the law of Sharia in the region, creating a caliphate, and making the God’s will the highest. At the same time, there is no identification that the United States and its allies should be attacked. Thus, the attack is considered the way of achieving the organization’s goals.
The Group’s Major Sources of Both Financial and Non-financial Support
Since the establishment of the organization, Al Qaeda used various methods in order to obtain funding. According to the reports of the Central Intelligence Agency, until 2001, Al Qaeda needed around 30 million dollars to operate annually. Therefore, the money was spent on organizing and conducting the attacks, training of the recruitments, and supporting the quasi-military structures and associated terrorist groups.
The initial financial and non-financial support was provided by Taliban regime. In fact, most of the individuals who contributed to the support of the newly established organization were the fundraisers from the Gulf Countries. With regard to modern revenues of Al Qaeda, they are generated through the network of “charities, nongovernmental organizations, websites, fundraisers, intermediaries, facilitators, and banks, and other financial institutions”. For example, one of the charity organizations that support Al Qaeda is the International Islamic Relief Organization. Moreover, individuals provide a significant financial and non-financial support for Al Qaeda. What is more, the other source of income is criminal activity, including kidnapping, drug and human trafficking, robbery, and theft. Indeed, every terrorist organization uses low-level crime to provide finance assistance. Furthermore, the organization also received financial and other support from the sympathetic groups such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba and local branches of Al Qaeda.
At the same time, some of the ways of obtaining financial support such as fundraising and laundering can represent a threat to the organization as intelligence services can easily recognize the jihadists. In addition, the international community is capable of closing traditional sources of financial support and freezing bank accounts.
The Importance of the Group’s Use of Media to Aid in Its Terrorist Activities
Human carriers were the preferable way of communication in the organization. It is determined by the fact that the US Central Intelligence Agency can easily detect cell phones. However, it has become difficult for the organization to be exceptionally dependent on human carriers taking into account that the leaders of Al Qaeda were pursued. As a result, Al Qaeda has developed a sophisticated public relations network and media campaign since its establishment. According to scholars, the usage of media is designed to elicit psychological reactions and send communicative complex political messages to a global audience and particular groups of population in the Muslim world. As a result, the preferable ways of communication include all kinds of media, including publishing of the essays and books and demonstrating of the videos about the activities of the organization on the television. Apparently, some analysts consider that the messages are used to inform and instruct individuals to prepare for conduct of new attacks. Osama bin Laden defined the public use of media as a primary source for individuals to understand the principles of activities of the organization, its ideology and goals.
The public activity of Al Qaeda is aimed at insuring that both its allies and enemies hear the messages of the organization. The messages sent to enemies are prolific and clear. For instance, “Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places” and “World Islamic Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders” include the detailed objectives of the organization. Moreover, Al Qaeda published a number of books and essays with the aim to reach the audience in the Muslim world, including Join the Caravan of Martyrs, Knights under the Prophet’s Banner, Loyalty and Enmity, Moderate Islam is a Prostration to the West, Sharia and Democracy, and The Call to Global Islamic Resistance. In general, in the media Al Qaeda is portrayed as a powerful organization capable of the representing a direct threat to the Western invasion in the region. Thus, the Muslim population has an image of the organization as a group responsible for defending their interests. In addition, Al Qaeda is one of the few organizations that can establish the Muslim caliphate in the Middle East.
It is worth noting that Al Qaeda actively uses the Internet to deliver its messages to both enemies and allies. In 2000, Al Qaeda founded the first web site of the organization. The contest of the web page included the statements of the group’s leaders, news, and theological support for the use of suicide missions. Nowadays, all types of social media, from Facebook to Twitter, are used by Al Qaeda to reach the broadest audience possible.
Thus, the main purpose of the media usage by Al Qaeda is to spread the messages of the group’s activities. With the introduction of the global counterterrorism operations after the 9/11 Attacks, the abilities of Al Qaeda to provide command and control through the media has been limited. However, the leaders of the organization continued to release statements about the current and future activities of the group.
The Legitimacy of the Group’s Complaints and Demands
Al Qaeda’s leaders use religion to provide legitimate support for its activities. The organization is dependent on the religious rulings and decrees and often use separate parts of Quran to justify its motives. In fact, the leaders of the terrorist group indicate that the Muslim world is under threat and the only way to liberate the population from the Western influence is the adherence to violent jihad. Thus, from the perspective of the Muslim population, Al Qaeda’s demands and complaints are legal. Due to the fact that the United States and its allies try to establish its influence in the Middle East, their presence represents a threat to the countries of the region. In particular, the West increases its cultural impact as well as obtains an access to the natural resources reserves. At the same time, the means of achieving the organization’s goals cannot be justified. The activities of Al Qaeda lead to mass killings and destructions of property. Furthermore, the attacks also contribute to the spread of global terrorism and undermine international peace and stability.
The Importance of Al Qaeda to the United States
Since its establishment at the end of the 1980s, Al Qaeda represents a direct threat to the United States and the elimination of the organization has an outmost importance for the country. First, the threat imposed by the organization is even bigger than the activities of the ISIS. The problem is that the organization of the global reach is capable of having the technical base to conduct terrorist activities. Second, Al Qaeda has a wide branch of the allies, which conduct lone-wolf style attacks against the United States. For example, Al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula is considered one of the most dangerous affiliates of the organization. Third, Al Qaeda has already conducted a number of terrorist attacks in the United States, including the 9/11 Attacks. Moreover, the organization conducts attacks all over the world. After the Arab Spring and the fall of the Yemeni President Saleh, the organization was responsible for the damage of property and civilian killings. The terrorists also act in Mali, Somalia, Kenya, and Nigeria. In the pursuit of the establishment of the global caliphate, the affiliates of Al Qaeda, including Al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula, Al Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb, and Al Shabaab, tend to unite its efforts. As a result, the US allies all over the world experience the threat of the attacks conducted by the organization. Al Qaeda also has an impact on the establishment of the image of the United States as a powerful and indispensible nation. According to the position of the leaders of the organization, the Muslims have suffered aggression and injustices imposed by the United States and its allies. As a result, Muslims could no longer be silent and had to respond to the Western intervention. The main goal of the organization is to overthrow the corrupt and heretical governments in the Muslim nations and replace them with the rule of Sharia. As a result, Al Qaeda is known for its anti-Western policies and is the organization that perceives the United States of America as main enemy. Thus, the USA is considered to be an obstacle to the reforms in the Muslim societies.
The capabilities of Al Qaeda were significantly weakened after the killing of the top leader Osama bin Laden in May 2011. However, the organization continues its activities. According to the report of the US Director of Intelligence, “core Al Qaeda will be of largely symbolic importance to the global jihadist movement”. At the same time, regional divisions of Al Qaeda will continue the conduct of the jihadist agenda.
The US Response to the Activities of Al Qaeda and its Effectiveness
As a result of Al Qaeda activities, the United States of America has launched the War on Terror. It is the international military campaign introduced after the 9/11 Attacks and is aimed at eliminating the threat of terrorists. The War on Terror is also aimed at beginning the military, legal, and political opposition to terrorist organizations and regimes of the Middle East that support terrorists. One of the main tasks of the campaign was to destruct the Al Qaeda camps. In fact, the United States succeeded in decreasing the threat of terrorism, while during the campaign against Al Qaeda, the leaders of the organization, including Osama bin Laden, were killed. The United States also destroyed Al Qaeda sanctuary in Afghanistan and prevented the countries of the region from assisting the organization. Besides War in Terror, which resulted in killings of the organization leaders and destroying of the facilities of the terrorist group, the United States conducts public campaigns. These campaigns are aimed at tracing and changing of the Al Qaeda signals. In 2013, Barack Obama changed the strategy of the country, and instead of the global tactic, he addressed specific targets related to the terrorist activities.
In general, the US efforts were effective. However, Al Qaeda and its affiliates still operate, and the United States has to adopt a new strategy to combat the organization.
The Major Changes to Increasing the Efficiency of the U.S.’s Response to Al Qaeda
Thus, since Al Qaeda activities are of paramount importance to the United States, the country has adopted an effective response strategy. First, the United States has to take into consideration the fact that the regimes established in Muslim countries support the activities of Al Qaeda. As a result, the United States can support democratic transformations in the countries of the region. Second, the country needs to introduce and support regional efforts aimed at eliminating terrorists’ activities. For example, in order to fight against Al Shabaab, the United States can establish cooperation with the AU, Somali Transitional Federal Government, or Kenyan Defense forces. What is more, there is a necessity to weaken the regional support of the terrorist organization and reduce the number of its followers. At the same time, the United States has to be aware of the fact that the increase in the support of local regimes will contribute to the influence of the country in the region. As a result, the opposition to the United States may grow. Third, the United States should insure that the affiliates of Al Qaeda do not cooperate with each other. Fourth, the country has to address public activities of the organization. The efforts will have an impact on the recruitment process of new members. Finally, if the country makes global counterterrorism efforts, it can facilitate the terrorist activities.
Al Qaeda has succeeded in developing an effective mechanism of the military and technical support. It has a diverse network of terrorist groups capable of conducting attacks in any country of the world. The organization receives support within the Muslim population as its primary aim is to restore the power of Islam and reduce the influence of the West in the region. In order to recruit new members, provide details of the organization’s activities and goals, Al Qaeda uses various methods such as video messages, books and essays publishing, the Internet propaganda, and communication through the social media. In addition, Al Qaeda includes a number of smaller terrorist groups that increase its activities. As a result, the organization and its affiliates remain a threat to international peace and security.