Terrorism: Amateurs and Professionals


December 16, 2005: In terrorism, as in conventional warfare, it is still true that "amateurs study tactics, professionals study logistics." The terrorist logistical systems have been under heavy attack since September 11, 2001, and the results can be seen in the miniscule number of attacks outside of Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the last week, French police arrested 28 al Qaeda supporters, and seized weapons, explosives and other equipment. Similar arrests have been made all over Europe. In Iraq, revulsion against al Qaeda bombing attacks that killed Iraqis, especially children, has weakened popular support for the terrorists among the Sunni Arabs. In the last few months, this has resulted in the destruction of most al Qaeda support centers. The number of al Qaeda attacks has fallen by over 50 percent as a result.

In Afghanistan, al Qaeda sees one of its few opportunities, because some of the tribes that formed the core of Taliban support, are still willing to support al Qaeda. This has led to an increase in terror attacks, but the number is small (less than a tenth as many as in Iraq, in a country with the same size population as Iraq.) Moreover, the struggle in Iraq is much more tribal and cultural, than ideological. Because of that, the traditional techniques of negotiating with tribal leaders is working to defuse the pro-terrorist attitudes of the Taliban tribes.

The main things that supply al Qaeda's efforts are volunteers (for carrying out attacks), money (to pay for maintaining the volunteers and buying materials) and information (on how to carry out attacks.) The volunteers and money has been reduced as a result of the al Qaeda attacks on Iraqi civilians. These have been widely publicized by the Moslem media, and al Qaedas ratings have plunged over the past two years. It's no longer fashionable to be an al Qaeda volunteer, and most Islamic charities, and clerics, do not consider al Qaeda a suitable recipient for donations. Evidence of this can be found in interrogations of captured terrorists. There are complaints about lack of money, and the need to spend a lot of time getting cash (usually via criminal scams). The quality of volunteers has greatly declined, making them easier to catch, and interrogate. The supply of information has not diminished, thanks to the Internet.

In a familiar pattern, those farthest away from the Moslem world and the violence, are the most eager to support Islamic terrorism. Thus the large number of arrests in Europe. There are over twenty million Moslems in Europe, and if you compare their experiences with those of the five million Moslems in the United States. The European Moslems experience far more racism and cultural exclusion. The anger over that, plus much higher unemployment, and access to sensationalist news reporting from Arab language satellite news channels, has produced one of the few areas where al Qaeda still has some support. But Europe, which invented the police state, has a plentitude of police and pretty efficient intelligence agencies. The local Islamic terrorists are having a hard time keeping their activities hidden. The number of attacks carried out is miniscule, despite all the volunteers, money and enthusiasm.

But even in Europe, al Qaeda, and Islamic radicalism, is losing its allure. One of the most important, and underreported, developments is the growth of Islamic reform movements. These are occurring at all levels, from national to local. People are fed up with the lack of economic progress in the Moslem world, and have, after many decades of blaming someone else, begun to look inward for causes, and solutions. Islamic radicalism and al Qaeda are seen as signs of failure, everyone is looking at the new democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan for some signs of success.


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