October 07, 2005

Dr. Paz on the Sinai attacks

I just received an occasional papers on the subject the recent bombings in Egypt and the Sinai from Dr. Reuven Paz, probably one of the finest Israeli authorities on the subject of counter-terrorism outside of government. As readers from Winds of Change know, this has long been an interest of mine so I thought it prudent to summarize so everyone could appreciate Dr. Paz's work as much as I do.

Introduction

* On September 25, 2005, an al-Qaeda supporter using the kuniyat Abu Mohammed al-Hilali published an online analysis of recent terrorist attacks in the Sinai combined with instructions for waging jihad in Egypt. The analysis relies on both the Taba and Sharm el-Sheikh bombings and has gained a particular significance in light of Israeli warnings of future possible attacks on tourists in the Sinai during the Jewish holiday season.

* Al-Hilali's analysis is the first known to have been based on the 1,610 page al-Qaeda e-book Dawaa lil Muqawamah al-Islamiyyah al-Alamiyyah (A Call for Global Islamic Resistance) published in January 2005 by al-Qaeda leader Mustafa Abd al-Qadir Mustafa Hussein bin Sheikh Ahmed al-Muzayyek al-Jakiri al-Rifa (Abu Musab al-Suri), who uses the surname Setmariam Nasar after his grandfather. The son of a respected family of Rifa'iyyah Sufis in Halab, Syria who converted to Wahhabism, al-Suri was born in 1958 and is known to have been close to the late Syrian Islamic Jihad leader Marwan Hadid. Al-Hilali not only relies on al-Suri's book and other writings, appearing to be an adherent of the senior al-Qaeda leader and following his methodological analysis.

* If al-Hilali's analysis represents an accurate reflection of al-Suri's views, it might represent a new phase in al-Qaeda's attempts at achieving two objectives: to identify new fronts for jihad in the Arab world (other than Iraq) and to revive the basic principles laid out by bin Laden's mentor Abdullah Azzam. Abu Musab Zarqawi and al-Qaeda in Iraq are accused of neglecting Azzam's principles, namely to create a new generation of jihadis after a long period of indoctrination and to focus the direction of the global jihad against foreign tourists and "apostate" Arab governments and their economic interests rather than against fellow Muslims, Shi'ites, or fighting according to the principles of Takfir wal Hijra.

* Based on al-Suri's writings, al-Hilali emphasizes the need to use terrorist attacks for the purpose of spreading propaganda, incitement, and indoctrination to a new generation of mujahideen rather than to directly threatening the West. Like al-Suri himself, al-Hilali notes that his criticisms are intended as constructive in nature.

* With regard to Egypt, it must be remembered that not only in the Sinai but also in the suicide attacks against Cairo tourists in April 2005 and against a British school in Qatar in March 2005 by Egyptian jihadi Omar Abdallah that attacking tourists have been a top priority for Egyptian al-Qaeda members. Furthermore, the Sinai attacks have triggered a massive security crackdown, mass detentions of hundreds of Bedouin, and violent clashes between the Bedouin residents and Egyptian security forces that resulted in the death of at least 2 senior military officials. These clashes between the authorities and the Bedouin, combined with an increased Egyptian military presence in the northern Sinai, have served to disrupt the smuggling economy that ferries every good imaginable from the Sinai into the Gaza Strip, Israel, and Jordan. Under these circumstances, is it merely coincidence that there has been an upswing on terrorist activities in Egypt over the last year or is this the result of a new generation of al-Qaeda members influenced by the writings of Abu Musab al-Suri?

* Finally, it must asked if the political conflict between the Egyptian government and the Muslim Brotherhood following the recent presidential election has contributed to the rise of Islamist unrest in the country. While the Muslim Brotherhood does not engage in violence, as the largest Islamist opposition bloc in Egypt and throughout the Arab world, it has helped to create an "Islamist atmosphere" through the existence of small but well-educated cadres who have become disaffected through the repeated Egyptian suppression of the Brotherhood. Many establishment Egyptian Muslim elements also tend to side with Hamas in its struggle against Israel and adopt anti-Israel or anti-Semitic rhetoric in general without fear of the government despite the standing peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.

Egypt and Armed Jihad

* Al-Hilali admits that he is unfamiliar with the Egyptian political situation from first-hand experience and is instead relying on media reports to base his analysis. He accuses the Egyptian government of behaving as a colony of the "Zionist-Crusader conspiracy" both in the Middle East and internationally by securing its borders with Israel, training the Iraqi and Palestinian security forces, and servicing interrogations for suspected terrorists at the behest of Western governments. Upon reflecting on this background, al-Hilali argues in favor of 1) a thorough study of the circumstances and responses required in accordance with the sha'riah and Salafist principles, 2) the adoption of a Salafist platform for radical change, and 3) the preparation, training, and implementation of armed struggle, arguing that this is being ignored because of a false societal conception of a division between soldiers and civilians that does not exist in Salafism.

* Al-Hilali argues that the teachings on the promotion of armed struggle are contained in the writings of Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abu Musab al-Suri, Abu Bakr Naji, and Abdullah Azzam. From that, the following priorities should be derived: 1) attacking the United States in order to force its withdrawl from the Middle East so that al-Qaeda can then see to the destruction of the "apostate" realms there (or alternately to target Europe if it attempts to fill the power gap left behind by the US withdrawl) and 2) waging a conventional military campaign against both "apostate" Arab governments and Israel. According to al-Hilali, al-Qaeda is currently in the first stage in this process in which the United States and its Western allies are the primary targets. Attacks on Arab governments should be launched on a strategic basis, as these attacks serve to harm US interests as well.

* Al-Hilali summarizes these arguments by saying that the proper formula of jihad in a particular region should be left to its appropriate strategists from the ranks of the clergy and the al-Qaeda leadership. He then quotes Abu Musab al-Suri as saying that the most important al-Qaeda target in Egypt at this stage are tourists, since they regard Muslim nations as their backyards and bring their moral depravity with them. If viewed from this perspective, the Sinai attacks were a highly successful example of this strategy by both attacking the Egyptian government and terrorizing Westerners.

The Lack of Propaganda

* Al-Hilali then discusses his key criticism that the Sinai jihadis failed to adequately utilize the bombings for propaganda and incitement purposes. Following the attacks, there were only unclear or overly optimistic claims of responsibility that in al-Hilali's mind caused more harm than good. The absence of this propaganda is nothing short of a defiance of Allah, since it is an integral part of jihad and a vital element for recruiting new mujahideen who must see that jihad is the only way to alter their destitute conditions. They need a starting point and al-Hilali cites the April 2005 attack in al-Azhar in Cairo as the worst example of such a failure.

* This propaganda failure allowed the Egyptian authorities to falsify the effect of the attacks and present them as the actions of a small and marginal group. As if the tardiness in issuing statements of responsibility and their contradictory nature weren't bad enough, these failures were compounded by the lack of a strategic religious analysis of the attacks, as evidenced by dispute among jihadi clerics as to the legitimacy of the attacks. Al-Hilali specifically mentions Abu Basir al-Tartousi, who, following the 7/7 London bombings and in a recent fatwa condemning suicide bombings published several declarations against attacking civilians. The attacks in Egypt and the Sinai were not even seen as important enough to warrant the public release of the wills of the suicide bombers, which al-Hilali sees as an important element serving as a role model for potential jihadi recruits.

* Al-Hilali calls upon the Egyptian mujahideen to take up the example of the numerous religious and strategic publications of al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia, who established a large library of jihadi texts in accordance with the divine edict of complementing jihad with the ongoing study of its doctrines. This does not harm operational security and al-Hilali criticizes the Egyptian jihadis for preparing operations for quite some time since 2002-2003 without taking any step towards Dawaa and indoctrination.

* Another problem noted by al-Hilali following the Sinai attacks is the absence of any clear message from the attackers. A statement should have been made for the benefit of both the tourists and the Egyptian government. The tourists should have been informed that their deaths were a reprisal for their governments' participation in the Zionist-Crusader conspiracy and taught to stay away from the Muslim world once and for all. The Egyptian government should have been sent a message that a permanent state of war now existed between them and the mujahideen until only one side survived. The absence of such messages turned an otherwise brilliant terrorist attack into a case of mere harassment for the Egyptian government, who were able to spin away the attacks' significance.

* Another of al-Hilali's criticisms is that attacks devoid of value should not be carried out, such as those against the Sinai peacekeepers in August 2005. The Sinai peacekeepers are not a strategic target at presence and attacks against it should not be launched, just as al-Hilali warns against attacking the Egyptian military except in self-defense. Quoting al-Suri and Zarqawi's mentor Sheikh Abu Mohammed al-Maqdisi, al-Hilali warns that while weapons and explosives are easy to obtain in the Sinai, easy attacks must not be conducted without serious study and a strict cost-risk analysis.

Future Strategies

* Al-Hilali advocates following the strategy laid out by al-Suri, including: targeting tourists or taking them hostage, targeting ships or attacking Egyptian ports in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, targeting oil and gas shipments bound for Israel, and targeting foreign sites inside of Egypt including cultural centers, foreign corporations, and embassies. All of these steps should be taken after a period of focusing on recruiting, training, and indoctrination, with the last element being crucial, as al-Hilali argues that one dead martyr is more effective than dozens of lectures and sermons. This is the first goal of jihad and all terrorist operations must be accompanied by proper Salafist indoctrination.

* Since Egypt, like other Arab nations, is a police state, al-Hilali proposes a plan of recruiting small terrorist cells that can be provided with indoctrination and training without raising the attention of the authorities. The cells should be instructed in the writings of al-Suri and the training should take place in the mountains and caves of Sinai, beyond the reach of the Egyptian authorities.

Conclusion

* The most significant element of al-Hilali's document is the public reference to Abu Musab al-Suri's magnum opus. Over the last year, there has been a substantial rise in the number of references to al-Suri's writings in jihadi and al-Qaeda forums on the internet despite the long time needed for al-Qaeda supporters to read such a lengthy work. There is also a growing effort to post other writings or lectures by al-Suri online for mass consumption. Al-Hilali's document is the first attempt to interpret and follow through on al-Suri's strategy, which differs from both that favored by the older al-Qaeda leaders as well as those employed by the newer generation headed up by Abu Musab Zarqawi in Iraq, the latter of which have been criticized by Zarqawi's mentor, Sheikh Abu Mohammed al-Maqdisi.

* Apart from the significance of Egypt to al-Hilali, another implication of the text is that al-Suri is now enough of an intellectual force among al-Qaeda and other jihadi groups on par with that of Zarqawi in Iraq. As long as these circumstances endure, bin Laden can feel secure in the knowledge that even if he is captured, killed, or voluntarily steps down from his position as al-Qaeda leader that both the organization and the movement that he has created will now almost certainly outlive him and his top deputy al-Zawahiri.

* The two new schools of thought within al-Qaeda, the al-Suri school and the Zarqawi school, are by no means equal. Zarqawi, while seen as charismatic and worthy of loyalty by his followers, favors tactics that include the mass killing of Muslims as his strategy of choice, a move that may ultimately sap his campaign of its much-needed support in the Iraqi Sunni areas. The transformation of Fallujah, Tal Afar, Ramadi, and other Iraqi Sunni towns into miniature Salafist theocracies is not an aspiration shared by the majority of Iraqi Sunnis, while his attacks on Shi'ite civilians cannot continue forever without provoking a massive and bloody reprisal. While Zarqawi is currently the most effective al-Qaeda commander, he is neither a scholar nor a strategist, while al-Suri is both, having diligently written his book over the course of the last 3 years as a masterpiece of insight into al-Qaeda strategy and thought.

* If al-Hilali's document reflects the beginning of an attempt to set up a new base for al-Qaeda in the Arab world outside of Iraq, it seems that Egypt and primarily the Sinai Peninsula might well become the potential new arena for international jihad. The Israeli withdrawl from Gaza, the Egyptian inability or unwillingness to control the smuggling routes between the Sinai and Gaza, the rise of Hamas over the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, and attempts by Hezbollah to establish a presence in the area all reflect the dangerous potential for the region to degenerate into a haven for international terrorism.

* The location of al-Suri since the fall of the Taliban in December 2001 remains unknown. He is believed to have relocated to Iran in the immediate aftermath of the Taliban's fall and remained there until at least November 2004 when the United States declared him an international terrorist. Since then, reports or rumors of his whereabouts have surfaced in Iran, Yemen, or the Horn of Africa, but as of today they remain unconfirmed.

* Al-Suri is easily one of the most talented terrorists still active in al-Qaeda, a lethal combination of a terrorist and scholar. In Afghanistan, he served as senior explosives instructor but also delivered many lectures on jihad, strategy, religion, and indoctrination to recruits. Many of his Afghan lectures are posted on his website as video or audio files and many of these ideas appeal in his book. He seems to retain the patient character of the first generation of al-Qaeda leadership and unlike second or third generation leaders active in Iraq and Saudi Arabia prefers to act according to a deliberate and well-organized plan. In his 9-page open letter to the US State Department in November 2004 as well as in his book and lectures, he has taken on innovative positions and even engaged in constructive criticism towards bin Laden. More pragmatic than others as far as assistance from "infidels" is concerned, he has expressed willingness to ally with Iran and North Korea against the US. He has no anti-Shi'ite sentiments and has apparently made a deliberate decision to refrain from being active in the Iraqi insurgency. His pragmatism may derive from his family's Sufi background, while he prefers terrorism carried out by small cells of elite fighters to an insurgency according to his writings, which may explain in part his absence from Iraq.

* Al-Suri is also dangerous for his European connections, being a Spanish citizen through marriage and has lived in both Spain and the UK during the 1990s. This makes him familiar with both European and Middle Eastern societies, particularly North Africans. It would be wise for intelligence and security officials as well as private analysts to translate the last 400 pages of al-Suri's book and review his lectures in order to better understand the future strategies of al-Qaeda and counter-act them long after the conclusion of the Iraqi insurgency.

Posted by at October 7, 2005 09:13 AM | TrackBack (12)
Comments

this analysis brought to you by the Mossad....

Posted by: p.lukasiak at October 7, 2005 01:00 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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