Al Qaeda: The Case of A More Diffuse and Autonomous Organisation
Speculation on the successor to OBL has been rife within the news-o-sphere and I too have waded in and made my case for who I think will be next. I have however, come to some more conclusions since I wrote my post on succession post Osama. My current thinking is still aligned with my post from before, that Al-Awlaki will be the prominent figure in the AQ presence world wide. Where I would like to refine the statement is that I believe while Al-Awlaki will be the public face of AQ/AQAP/Jihad he may not be the operational leader. At least, not as one might think.
I think that AQ (The Base) has become such a disparate organisation, that there really are leaders plural with a figurehead (aka OBL before his demise) It seems from the intelligence drips and drabs coming out in the news, that OBL was in fact part of the plotting at least aspiration-ally, of projects up until he got the face full of lead. This is not to say that any of the plans that he laid out actually made it to operational cells out in the world. Nor had OBL been on the media very much in the last years to give anyone ideas. So, who is coming up with the plans that are being tried out? Who is actuating plots? AQAP has.
The reason that AQAP has been more active is that they are in the country of Yemen where they have a base of support and a fledgling government that poses no real threat. Since AQAP has a bit of a free hand there and a younger crew of jihadi’s headed by several Americans, they seem to me, to be the new jihadi zeitgeist. These are some of the reasons that I feel Al-Awlaki, who is charismatic and liked, would be a more logical choice to be the inspirational head of the global jihad, which happens to be primarily aimed at America. Who better to use as the face of this fight than a former citizen refuting the way of life in America and the West? Who better to reach out to those lone wolves in the states and radicalise them to the point of action?
The problem though on trying to lead AQ now is that the GWOT has indeed made it harder for there to be structured networks. As evidenced by the killing of OBL, the jihadists have learned and have been learning over the years of strikes, that to have a ‘network’ that has clear channels of command and control leads to their being picked off one at a time with Hellfire missiles shot from reapers. It was the physical act of meeting with as well as making calls to OBL by his couriers, that lead to his demise. It is this fact that I think AQ will take to heart and collectively try to leverage not only the internet even more, but also create a more splintered organisational structure on purpose. The franchise model +1 will be the modus operandi of the day because they now fear to communicate a little bit more since we took out Osama.
It is this franchise idea with small autonomous cells that are to be inspired to action, even to the point of ‘Lone Wolf” single cell actors, that will be the new GWOT’s target. Thus, going back to the idea of whoever would ‘lead’ AQ, would have to be like OBL in the area of charisma, affability, piety, and leading by example… And that would not be Ayman Zawahiri, nor I think some of the other operators mentioned in the news and in papers I have seen come across my screen on the subject. I think it would make more sense that the operators stay in the shadows to lead and create operations. Ayman is not liked, pedantic, and generally not someone that would be universally followed by the jihadi masses.
This too I think, is why the IS has been immediately attempting to step up attacks on Yemen and Anwar because they too feel that he is a likely choice for taking up where OBL left off. If not officially, at least by proxy of AQAP being the new force in Jihad, the one group who has acted on grander plans like the old AQ did. Anwar I think, is about to replace OBL on the FBI’s wanted list slot…
Unless they actually hit him with one of those missiles.
Since the GWOT started and now the JSOC and the Kill/Capture program, AQ has been learning that to fight the battle they need to pivot the attacks. Just as hackers learned that it was best to use internal attacks by tricking people into clicking links in emails (phising) so too have the jiahdis in this battle space. Thus we have the idea of lone wolves and small cells of one to three members within them. The smaller the cell, and the more autonomous, the higher likelihood that they will be able to carry off a mission.
By leveraging the Internet, the propaganda machine that GIMF started, has been replaced by Al-Malahem and AQAP’s Inspire magazine. This trend is somewhat scary in many ways as the lone wolves out there may have some communications with AQ central (AQAP) but they likely will not be many. Instead, as data has shown us, the lone wolves out there so far (Nidal Hassan, Emerson Begolly, and others) radicalised by watching Youtube videos, chatting online with Paltalk, and reading jihadist writings on internet php boards. Rarely have these people had direct contact with the main players in AQ, though, Hassan did in fact email with Al-Awlaki.
Over all, I think that the decentralising of AQ will continue from the GWOT thus causing more splinter groups to pop up, see the model that AQAP has put together, and will emulate it. They will be harder to stamp out and they will be more of a percieved threat because they could be just about anyone. Irhabi 007 was a single prolific propagandist who worked out of his parents house in the UK. All he needed was the internet and some hacking skills and he was able to create a new paradigm of online jihad. Imagine now all of the next gen kids who are just as computer literate and just as moved to radical thought.
Jihad GEN 3:
Which brings me to the next generation of Jihad. Or should I say the next few generations of it? In watching the trending I have seen more and more younger recruits online and in jihadist videos. It has always been known that the Jihad starts at the Madrassa, but, it seems now that not only are the boys being trained from a young age, but so too the muslima. With the advent of the Chechen “Black Widows” and some of the rules being created by shura counsels, the girls too are now being trained from a young age to become shahid.
In the West though, the rationalisation process is more led by what media the jihadi/takfiri/kuffr has been able to align with. Perhaps they are going to mosque and getting some of the content in some cases, but mostly, it comes from the net. Just how many of these people are muslims from raising is unclear. Just as is how many come to Islam and then radicalise at some point as well. The one constant though in my mind is that they are likely mentally unbalanced or seeking attention in some way that is core to their being.
What form the next generation will take is still unclear. Perhaps the pivot toward trying to get Western recruits to become shahid will ultimately fail on the large scale. Though, I do expect there to be more unbalanced individuals attempting to carry out small attacks as mandated by AQ/AQAP for the cause. NO matter how small the explosion or the number of people killed, they will have fulfilled the mandate of a thousand cuts set out by OBL.
Currently, the chatter on the internet has started to amp up since the death of OBL. After AQ put out its announcement that he was martyred, the boards began to fill with prayers and threats. None of the threats have been credible but, we have seen a potential spike in action with at least one person attempting to get into the cockpit of a plane in flight last week. All of this chatter online and the reverberations from it, are likely to set in motion GEN3 and GEN2 actors within the AQ universe. It is time to keep our eyes open on the operations in play.
Talk of WMD’s and other key words have been seen on the boards and I fully expect that this will spin up even further as time goes by within the next few months toward September.
Time will tell.