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Terrorism: al-Baghdadi may be dead, but jihadism is alive and well

Al-Baghdadi’s death doesn’t mean that Jihadism has been defeated. Quite the contrary

The much-hailed killing of Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim Ali al Badri al Samarrai – alias Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, caliph of the so-called Islamic State (ISIS-Daesh) – on October 26, 2019, does not mean that jihadism has been defeated or curbed. Quite the contrary. In fact, immediately after al-Baghdadi’s death, his successor was appointed and took over as a caliph: Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, who could obviously only come from Mohammed’s tribe. Al-Qurashi and Al-Hashimi embody, respectively, clear references to the tribe of the Mecca of the Banu Quraysh (the sons of Quraysh) and to the clan of Mecca merchants of the Banu Hashim, that is, the Hashemites, descendants of Hashim ibn Abd Manaf, great-grandfather of Muhammad.

Al-Baghdadi was protected by HTS, a sign that, symbolically, Isis and al-Qaeda represent two sides of the same coin: the reconstitution of the caliphate through jihadist terrorism

The CIA reportedly identified al-Baghdadi’s hideout in the Idlib region, where he was being helped while on the run by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the “Organization for the Liberation of the Levant” or “Committee for the Liberation of the Levant”, a Salafist jihadist formation active in the Syrian civil war and established on January 28, 2017, through the merger of other groups, including in particular Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (the former al-Nusra Front, a filiation of al-Qaeda in Syria). This clearly shows how ISIS and Al Qaeda express in a symbolic form two sides of the same coin: the reconstitution of the caliphate through jihadist terrorism.

Jihadist terrorism has raised the level of the confrontation on a geopolitical and strategic level by resorting to Islamic religious beliefs where the political and legislative precepts that all Muslims are expected to observe are found

As already pointed out in other previous articles, the only purpose of terrorism is the affirmation of a political guide other than the one expressed both at state level and in the global context. Such a strategy is subordinate to the ideological guidance as well as to the financial stimulus of refined and sophisticated minds. Unfortunately, however, the current terrorist threat doesn’t have the same traits of the past, when it used to exploit the political contradictions of the modern State through the so-called “propaganda of facts” both to spread its secular and atheistic ideology and to make proselytes. Conversely, Jihadist terrorism has raised the level of the confrontation on a geopolitical and strategic scale by resorting to Islamic religious beliefs, where the political and legislative precepts that all Muslims should observe are entwined.

The paths of jihadist terrorism

Jihadist terrorism proceeds on a path defined by:

1)      an exoteric (manifest, widely known) – religious aspect, which involves all the faithful Muslims scattered throughout the world who are willing to share the precepts and customs of the Quran;

2)      esoteric (hidden from most) – Masonic congregations, which gather and/or welcome in militant and clandestine structures all those who, driven to satisfy certain imperative needs of the “Maslow’s Pyramid”, “embrace” Salafite and Wahabite brotherhoods, taking up arms against an enemy, be it real or potential, considered the architect of their own social marginalization.

The “confessional congregations” and the exotericism – as we came to realize – find it hard to counteract the lobbies and the esotericism because they remain steeped in disquisitions about the knowledge of the “Platonesque” Hyperuranion. The political leadership is neglecting the reality of a drifting world in the hands of uneducated, abusive, arrogant, greedy wheeler-dealers and, very often, criminals.

Terrorism is on the rise also because of the laxity of the political leadership

What the political leadership is forgetting is that politics requires pragmatic decisions for the common good in the interest of the State or, if one prefers, of the Country System. This system is engaged in an international competition with similar realities and it must try not to end up being swallowed up by them. Against politics increasingly subjecting citizens to power centers devoid of autonomous processing capacity (and now facilitated in that by the spasmodic development of Artificial Intelligence), good ideas and the magniloquent words of the political slogans sung by “enchanting sirens” are not enough. Solid facts are needed. Ultimately, moments showing the administration of the res publica adopting clear and considered programs based on actual needs and available resources. We are now facing unforeseeable and catastrophic threats – not only of natural origin but also man-made – which cannot be contained by endless talk shows, but through wise and proportionate measures of contrast and/or containment.

The terrorist threat is not only a matter of individual leaders, but of a well-articulated and reliable organizational structure

This is also true for the terrorist threat, which – far from having been exorcised by the killing of al-Baghdadi – is not just made up of individual leaders, but of a well-articulated and reliable organizational structure. Furthermore, jihadism cannot be defined as a formless galaxy torn apart by internal conflicts, but rather as a binary system articulated along two lines, of which:

1)      the first, which pursues the crowning of the caliphate here and now, beginning with the establishment of ISIS, which in turn has metaphorically bestowed the “garments” of a state reality upon a vast territory and thousands of people;

2)      the second, which pursues the same goal – the caliphate -, but in the medium and long term through less violent and more sophisticated methods, focusing on social infiltration, religious conversion, operational indoctrination (also individually through the web) to expand its “metastases” on a global level.

For the immediate implementation of the Caliphate, Isis has trained its affiliates also in the construction, modification and use of drones: technology as an additional weapon for terrorists

For the immediate implementation of the Caliphate, the militiamen of the aforementioned state structure created by ISIS have trained their affiliates not only in the techniques of conventional combat and guerrilla warfare, as well as in the brutal execution of prisoners, but also in the construction, modification and use of drones, through which they can carry out military and/or terrorist missions. Up to now, these devices have been used mainly on the battleground of the so-called “hybrid war”, but ISIS had also set up a facility to train militiamen in the use of commercial drones for terrorist purposes. To this end, it also distributed a large number of tutorials and manuals for arming and modifying commercial APRs, making them reliable tools for remote terrorist attacks. With the advent of 5G technology, these can be used beyond their current range limitations, as the radio signal strength doesn’t drop. Therefore, in addition to commercial, agricultural, tertiary and administrative activities, they may also be used – with simple modifications – for illicit, criminal and terrorist activities. Among these, we can include the use of explosive devices – whether handmade or not – on the crowds or on other potential targets, or of chemical and / or bacteriological weapons.

The current threat is very complex due to the concealment techniques associated with new electronic devices and improvised and non-improvised explosives that make it considerably asymmetrical in a way that actually alters the standard concept of defense

Due to the concealment techniques devised by terrorists, the current threat is deeply complex. These techniques, combined with new electronic devices and improvised and non-improvised explosives, make this threat considerably asymmetrical, in a way that alters the standard concept of defense. The menace seems even more credible, as the return of foreign fighters and the migration of Isis veterans to various geographical areas, including Europe, is contaminating vast areas and, in particular, the very social fabric of the West. A global contamination carried out by subjects who not only belong to a different and intolerant culture, but also possess a high level of technological and military expertise developed during the years of heavy activity of the so-called Iraqi caliphate.

Despite the death of Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda too is being reformed

Al-Qaeda is no exception because its history did not end in Abbottabad. Before being killed, Osama bin Laden had already outlined a new strategy for his organization, adopting a low profile, changing its “skin” and operative methods. According to the documents the Americans found in his hideout, this new strategic choice dates back to the end of the last century. Before he was killed, bin Laden was concerned that al-Qaeda’s political objectives and ideological matrix would be overshadowed by a sheer use of violence. In order to relaunch al-Qaeda’s brand, it was essential to modify its concept of action. According to bin Laden’s convictions and those of his right-hand man, the Egyptian doctor Ayman al-Zawahiri, the new course had to pass through the legitimacy of a local consensus and not only through the imposition of sectarian violence. Without the support of the masses the jihad would have been useless, and without the support of the Muslims the Caliphate would have been built on sand: “Political longevity comes from persuasion, not from violence”.

The social jihad is born

Some of the more attentive observers have defined this new strategy as the “social jihad”, because it relies in particular on the conciliation of ethnic and tribal conflicts (while also providing assistance to solve housing, work and healthcare-related issues), and not on attacks and massacres or on the violent imposition of Quranic rules. “We do not force anyone to recognize our authority, we do not threaten beheadings, we do not excommunicate those who fight us”. This is how, in one of his latest audio messages, al-Zawahiri announced the newly adopted strategy. And this is how al-Zawahiri lays claim to a decades-old method, which is currently being applied and which he has learned when he was 15 years old from the revolutionary texts of the radical ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sayyd Qutb.

Al-Qaeda’s operational areas

The operational areas where al-Qaeda’s new strategy is currently being developed go from the Indian subcontinent (AQIS – “al-Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent”) through Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, up to Myanmar and Indonesia. An area where a vast network has patiently been established over several years of militancy, armed struggle, propaganda and terrorist attacks. There is also the Sahel region, where the group has built up a massive network by integrating into local communities, especially through cooptation, interpretation and resolution of local disputes. al Qaeda has also provided military resources and capabilities to local rebel groups, appointing their leaders in prestigious positions and establishing agreements with the Tuaregs and other similar ethnic groups, while extending its influence from Senegal and Mauritania to Lake Chad.

The future of al-Qaeda and Isis

It was al-Zawahiri who formulated al-Qaeda’s new method in 2013. In his “General Guidelines for Jihad”, he exhorts to act quietly, aiming to take root in local contexts to weave and strengthen social ties, giving the jihad a more pragmatic perspective in order to reduce military exposure, introduce the sharia law in a gradual way and, at the same time, re-launch al-Qaeda’s brand. This is why jihadism has not been defeated; on the contrary, it has undergone a wider and more incisive diffusion, with the possibility of recomposing the split between ISIS and al Qaeda under a new organization. The latter – featuring both reliance on soft propaganda and social support and the exploitation of Daesh defectors with the technological expertise to carry out attacks of greater resonance – will contribute, together with the activity of “lone wolves” or of “self-radicalized” individual or groups, to the diffusion of jihadist “metastases” at a global level, aimed at achieving the constitution of the Caliphate.

Photo Credits: Behind The News

Translated by Andrea Di Nino

Gli Indomabili

The Authors

Luciano Piacentini – Commander of Operational Detachment and Company in the 9th Paratroopers Assault Regiment “Col Moschin” (SF-Tier 1) of the Italian Army with the rank of Lieutenant and Captain. Assigned to the Army General Staff, he subsequently commanded the “Col Moschin” Regiment. Later he held the position of Chief of Staff of the Paratroopers Brigade “Folgore”. Then he has worked in National Information and Security Bodies with assignments in different areas of the Asian continent. He is graduated in Strategic Sciences and Political Science.

Claudio Masci – Carabinieri Officer coming from the Military Academy of Modena. After having taken over the command of a territorial unit mainly engaged in the fight against organized crime, he passed through National Information and Security Bodies. He graduated in political science. Among his contributions, “Intelligence between conflicts and mediation” (Caucci Editore, Bari 2010), and “The future of intelligence” (April 15, 2012, Longitude, the monthly magazine of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs).

Pino Bianchi – Architect, expert in risk management, organization, process re-engineering and business management systems. For over twenty years he has conducted business, marketing, communication and organization activities in American and European multinational companies. Management consultant in ICT, marketing, communication, business planning and project financing.

ANTIOCHUS – During his extensive professional experience in Italy and abroad, Antiochus has worked for major industrial companies in the fields of management consulting, market development, international cooperation and commercial management. Always very attentive to security issues, he held several important positions in national strategic organizations, specializing in business continuity, strategic security planning, security communication, information research and analysis, and corporate intelligence.

Francesco Bussoletti

Claudio Masci and Luciano Piacentini – Authors of the article “The Future of Intelligence” (Longitude, April 15, 2012), and of the books “Intelligence between conflicts and mediation” (Caucci Editore, Bari 2010), and “Humint… this unknown (Function intelligence evergreen)”. Buy it from Amazon here.

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