News media reports describe this morning’s terrorist suspects, who planned an attack on Ft. Dix, NJ, as homegrown with no ties to al Qaeda or any other international terrorist organization.
This isn’t surprising in the least.
It is very likely that this cell, like numerous others that have been uncovered in the past year, falls into the category of “Individual or Small Group Terrorism”, as espoused by the Al Qaeda ideologue Abu Mus’ab al Suri in his book “Call to Global Islamic Resistance”.
The doctrine of “Individual or Small Group Terrorism” is a major concept in al Suri’s 1604-page manifesto, published on the internet in December 2004.
Al Suri, who is believed to be currently in US custody, describes three primary phases of Jihad in the book:
▪ Open Fronts
▪ Individual/Small Groups
He explains in depth each of these phases, and makes a strong case that the wave of the future is individual and small group terrorists.
He believes that the days of the larger groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, are close to ending, citing the increased effectiveness of security forces in breaking up the groups, as well as the security risks posed in top-down, chain of command structures. A primary concern of Al Suri was that an arrest of anyone in the chain could compromise all those involved.
Likewise, he believes that the days of the “Open Front” for jihad are over, citing overwhelming force of the US as a factor limiting the viability of “open fronts”. One key element found in “Open Fronts”, such as Afghanistan and Chechnya is the opportunity for organized group trainings – the training camps of Afghanistan, for example.
Instead, he believes the future of jihad is for individuals and small groups, with no chains connecting them to Al Qaeda leadership. He points out the geographical and financial limitations, claiming that individual and small group jihad in one’s own country is the only realistic opportunity most have to participate in jihad. He believes that few will actually make the trip to an open front to participate.
The concept of individual and small group terror cells is one that Al Suri finds particularly intriguing, and he seems to find in this doctrine solutions for the problems and risks posed by the other two stages of jihad.
Training, which was formerly conducted in remote terror training camps, could be provided both in book form, and even more importantly, on the internet. He describes a sort of “training template” that can be followed those aspiring to embark on jihad, ensuring a level of training for all who follow the template closely.
There’s certainly no shortage of training materials for would-be jihadists on the internet – from instructional videos detailing the brewing of explosives, the construction of a suicide bomb vest, and multiple kinds of improvised explosives devices, to detailed recipes for creating chemical and biological weapons. Detailed training manuals provide the trainee with a roadmap to physical fitness. Online publications, the most famous being Moaskar al Battar, detail how to maintain and use firearms from pistols to automatic weapons, as well as operational plans such as how to plan an ambush, a kidnapping, and an assassination
Security is easier, he believes, because the individuals and groups don’t have to take marching orders from the Al Qaeda leadership. Instead, they can act on their own, inspired by events in their own countries. The glue bonding them to the organization is a shared ideology and theology, and a commitment to jihad.
Al Suri covers the recruitment angle as well. Individuals and small cells are to be set up by a “cell organizer”, a regional manager of sorts, who goes from place to place providing seed money, and helping the groups get established and become self-sustaining. The key requirement for the regional manager is that he must leave the area before operations commerce (or else he must participate in a martyrdom mission) because he is the only element that ties these small groups to a larger terror group.
The individual cells then plan their own missions, drawing inspiration from the wide range of jihadist propaganda on the web. It is likely that providing this inspiration is a key reason for the continued proliferation of videos showing attacks. In fact, the video speeches from Al Qaeda leadership in effect become the only means of communicating with these small groups, and that communication is one way; the small groups and individuals have no way to respond except by carrying out an attack.
Financing is something else that Al Suri touches upon. Once the seed money has been provided to set up the cells, the cells are required to become self-sustaining. We’ve seen alleged terror cells use many different sources of funding. In fact, almost anything that doesn’t leave much of a paper trail is ideal for funding a terror cells, including criminal activity such as drug sales, drug and cigarette smuggling, food stamp fraud, and credit card fraud Some enterprising cells set up more formal businesses, such a restaurants, grocery stores, ice cream stands and trucks, flower sales, and so on.
The key is that there is no money trail to follow back to a central organization. In future terror attacks, there won’t be a Mohamed Atta wiring unused funds back to his handlers. Instead, for all intents and purposes, the cells will appear to be free-standing, inspired by internet propaganda, but with no discernable ties to an organized terror group.
“No discernable ties to an organized terror group.” I suspect we’ll be hearing that phrase quite a bit in the coming days.