An Overview Al-Qaeda’s Strengths and Weaknesses-III
December 16, 2011
Al-Qaeda's, another, key strength is its global outreach. Hardly any terrorist group of today is truly multinational with branches all over the world. Most violent extremist groups are diehard nationalist extremists who would never accept foreigners in their ranks. Al-Qaeda is an exception. From its very commencement, Al-Qaeda has been a multinational and multiethnic enterprise, even if Arabs, especially Saudis and Egyptians, have always dominated the upper echelons of the organisation. The fact that membership in Al-Qaeda is open to virtually everyone, irrespective of ethnicity and nationality, is a key selling point for Al-Qaeda, because it strengthens the credibility of its pan-Islamic rhetoric. It greatly expands the recruitment base for the organisation. As long as one is willing to accept its extremist ideology, anyone can, in principle, become an Al-Qaeda member. Hence, Al-Qaeda has succeeded in recruiting followers from a large number of countries.
In recent years Al-Qaeda has also worked consistently to establish cooperative networks with other groups of Muslim extremists in many parts of the world, from South-East Asia to Northern Africa. It has succeeded in finding local partners by offering training facilities, military expertise, and financial support. The organisation has also offered media services, and – increasingly – also its brand name, to local groups willing to work with Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda's ability to sustain cooperative relationships with local partners and insert itself as a relevant actor in local and regional contexts is key to its survival.
In Sudan, Bin Laden established an 'Islamic Army Shura' that was to serve as the coordinating body for the consortium of terrorist groups with which he was forging alliances. It was composed of his own Al-Qaeda Shura together with leaders or representatives of terrorist organizations that were still independent. In building this Islamic army, he enlisted groups from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Oman, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Somalia, and Eritrea. Al-Qaeda also established cooperative but less formal relationships with other extremist groups.
Some of the groups that gravitated towards Bin Laden's organisation during the 1990s, later merged with Al-Qaeda, such as the Islamic Jihad Group in Egypt. Others renamed their organisations in order to become "Al-Qaeda's branches" such as Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's Tawhid wa'l-Jihadi Group in Iraq, the Algerian Salafi Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG). Yet others have maintained close long-term collaborative relationships, such as the Taliban movement in Afghanistan and the Pakistani tribal areas. This vast array of cooperative relationships underscores how important such alliances are to Al-Qaeda. It is precisely this ability to find reliable local partners that adds to Al-Qaeda’s strength.
Though Al-Qaeda lacks the sophisticated military hardware the United States possesses, it still has at its disposal significant capabilities with which it still remains a force to reckon with. Some of these capabilities involve using the internet and related information technologies to facilitate achievement of their objectives. Also, Al-Qaeda central keeps in contact with franchises and affiliates through an interlocking network of media production and distribution entities. Al-Qaeda central, its regional franchises, and affiliated movements all place a high premium on media and release a constant stream of media products, from political statements to films. Three key entities connect Al-Qaeda and affiliated movements to the outside world through the internet. These three media entities — Fajr, the Global Islamic Media Front, and Sahab — receive materials from more than one armed group and post those materials to the internet.
Undoubtedly, Al-Qaeda's appeal owes a great deal to its shrewd media strategies and exploitation of the internet. The importance of "the jihadi web" for Al-Qaeda's widespread appeal cannot be overstated. The organisation has demonstrated an ability to exploit the potential of the internet for a wide variety of purposes. Al-Qaeda and its numerous online sympathisers are producing enormous amounts of material on the internet. The scope of this material is far too extensive and variegated to be discussed in this article. Suffice to say that Al-Qaeda's internet resources include thousands of audiovisual products, tens of thousands of audio-files, and probably millions of written documents. They span a wide range of genres, all designed to cater for the needs of jihadi sympathisers, recruits, operatives, and not the least, the recruiters.
Though video is an important component of jihadist media, text products comprise the bulk of the daily media flow. Within text products, periodicals focused on specific “fronts” of the jihad are an important genre that deserves more attention from researchers. Al-Qaeda has also used internet chat rooms and e-mails to plan and coordinate operations. Many chat rooms are available for anonymous login, and can be accessed from cyber cafes, libraries or other Internet connections not traceable to a suspected terrorist group or member. Free e-mail hosting is also popular and available from a variety of sources.
(To be continued….)