Monday, June 9, 2008




A big debate is going on presently between Dr.Bruce Hoffman and Dr.Marc Sageman, two well-known terrorism analysts of the US, regarding the phenomenon of angry individual Muslims, not belonging to any organisation, taking to jihadi terrorism. Dr.Sageman, in his latest book, calls them leaderless jihadis. Dr.Hoffman is a reputed academic, formerly of the Rand Corporation and now of the Georgetown University, Washington DC. Dr. Sargeman is a retired officer of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

2. Has the rise of leaderless jihadis reduced the danger from Al Qaeda as an organisation? Can the present counter-terrorism policies and techniques, which were tailor-made to confront organisations such as Al Qaeda, be effective when the danger is no longer from organisations but from individuals? That is the central point of their debate.

3. Both are right and both are wrong. It is true---as pointed out by Sageman--- that more and more individual Muslims, out of anger, are taking to jihadi terrorism without identifying themselves with Al Qaeda. We in India have been seeing this phenomenon since 9/11. The West has been seeing it since the Madrid train blasts of March,2004. Pakistan has been facing this since the commando raid in the Lal Masjid of Islamabad in July last. The 56 suicide terrorists, who committed acts of suicide terrorism in different parts of Pakistan last year, were not members of Al Qaeda, though, personally, they were admirers of bin Laden.

4. At the same time, these individual jihadis---whom I have called citizen jihadis in my articles written after July,2007--- have the capability only for tactical terrorist strikes, but not strikes of a strategic nature such as an act of maritime terrorism, or strikes directed at energy supplies or strikes involving weapons of mass destruction matetrial. These are terrorists born out of the anger of the moment. They give vent to their anger through tactical strikes, but have no strategic objective.

5. Only Al Qaeda and other similar organisations have the capability for terrorist strikes of a strategic nature, which could cause mass casualties, mass economic damage, mass disruption and mass panic. Al Qaeda, which is a flexible organisation, has adapted itself to this phenomenon of individual jihadis by encouraging and helping them to do whatever they want, while retaining to itself the leadership role in respect of strategic strikes.

6. Any meaningful counter-terrorism policy has to cater to the continuing resilience of Al Qaeda while at the same time evolving new techniques of dealing with individual jihadis with no organisational affiliation.

7.Prof.Hoffman is right in warning that the rise of individual jihadis should not be interpreted as meaning that the strategic threat from Al Qaeda is diminishing.

8. I am appending below an extract from my latest book on "Terrorism: Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow", which has some relevance to this debate, (9-6-08)

(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: )


Extract from my latest book

On January 27, 2004--- two months before the Madrid blasts and 18 months before the London blasts---Hossam el-Hamalawy, an Egyptian free-lance journalist, in an article drew attention to the emergence of the phenomenon of free-lance jihadis----that is, individual Muslims not belonging to any organisation, who take to jihad against the US and Israel because of their anger against their policies. His article was titled Crusaders Vs Soldiers of Allah (Jundullah).

He wrote: Quote Observers in Cairo have highlighted the outbreak of the second Palestinian Intifada, September 11 attacks, and the US-led onslaught on Afghanistan and Iraq as triggers to the ongoing radicalization across the Muslim World, a radicalization that is feeding Islamist militancy, especially as Muslims could clearly see that it is largely the Islamists who are now on the forefront of the struggle to end Western hegemony in the region. It has never been that easy for rage to meet ideology. “September 11 was Islamism’s Suez War,” said Diaa Rashwan, an analyst with Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. “Nasser’s defiance of the West in 1956 was the virtual birthmark of pan-Arabism. September 11 attacks and the war on terror served the same purpose for pan-Islamism. They united Muslims around the world by the sense that ‘we are all under attack by the West, and we have to do something.’ ”This is pushing, Rashwan argues, new actors to enter the stage of armed politics: the “freelance jihadis.” Unquote.

Enquiries with well-informed sources in the Islamic world show that Jundullah is not the name of any particular organisation. It is the name of a pan-Islamic, anti-US and anti-Israel suicide terrorism phenomenon which is creeping across the Islamic world and the Muslim diaspora in the Western countries. Everybody, who takes to suicide terrorism against the US or Israel-----whether individually or as a member of a jihadi organisation---looks upon himself or herself as a Jundullah---a soldier of Allah. All pan-Islamic jihadi organisations---whether Al Qaeda or any other organisation--- look upon themselves as Jundullah fighting to establish the sovereignty of Allah over the Islamic world and to "liberate" areas which, according to them, historically belonged to the Ummah.

The Jundullah phenomenon has made its appearance in Pakistan at a time when more and more individual Muslims are taking to jihad and suicide terrorism out of their own volition. They were not made into suicide terrorists, with offers of money, women or a place in heaven by their religious leaders. One has been seeing this not only in Afghanistan, but also in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) and the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan. Traditional pan-Islamic jihadi organisations allied with Al Qaeda in its International Islamic Front (IIF) such as the Pakistan-based Neo Taliban of Afghanistan, the various brands of Taliban of the tribal areas of Pakistan, the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET), the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HUM), the Harkat-ul-Jihad-Al Islami (HUJI), the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM), the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LEJ) and Gulbuddin Heckmatyar's Hizb-e-Islami (HEI) have been claiming credit for the acts of terrorism of these citizen jihadis and trying to give an impression as if all that has been happening in the areas on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border has been orchestrated by them.

It is true that these organisations continue to play an active role in the further radicalisation of the people of these areas and in egging them on to join the on-going jihad. At the same time, an increasing number of incidents being reported from these areas is the result of individual jihadi initiatives by persons unconnected with any of the known organisations. That is why the Pakistani Police has not been able to make much headway in its investigation of the acts of suicide terrorism, which have been taking place at regular intervals in different parts of the NWFP.

New leaders, new cadres, new groups and new mullas are coming up almost every other week and taking to jihadi terrorism. Old fundamentalist leaders of the 1980 Afghan war vintage such as Qazi Hussain Ahmed of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JEI), Maulana Fazlur Rahman of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema Islam (JUI) of Pakistan, Maulana Samiul Haq of another faction of the JUI, Prof.Hafeez Mohammad Sayeed of the LET, Maulana Masood Azhar of the JEM, Fazlur Rahman Khalil of the HUM and Qari Saifullah Akhtar of the HUJI no longer command the kind of influence and obedience which they commanded in the past. Fatwas of the Mullas of the past do not carry much weight with these citizen jihadis. They ignored with contempt a fatwa against suicide terrorism against fellow Muslims issued by a group of old Mullas.

The traditional organisations of Afghan vintage were exploiting factors such as the alleged foreign occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, the perceived occupation of Muslim lands in Palestine, Jammu & Kashmir, Chechnya, Southern Philippines, Southern Thailand, the Arakan area of Myanmar etc by non-Muslims, violation of the human rights of the Muslims etc for motivating their recruits and making them take to suicide terrorism.

The citizen jihadis of Pakistan’s tribal belt, who see no TV, Internet and video players which they regard as evil, have no way of seeing with their own eyes what is happening in other lands and far-away places. They are being influenced more by what they hear on the FM radio stations operating in the tribal areas. Many Mullas have their own FM radio station. These stations have been propagating highly exaggerated accounts of the humiliation allegedly being inflicted on Muslims all over the world and of the evil impact of cultural globalisation on their religion, men, women and children. The news of Ms.Nilofer Bakhtiar, a former Pakistani Minister, letting herself be hugged by her French gliding instructor spread far and wide in the tribal areas through such FM stations. Stories of the evil influence of foreign culture on the Islamic way of life, trivialisation by foreign analysts of what is projected as the glorious instances of martyrdom by suicide terrorists etc are adding to the number of citizen jihadis.

The Internet plays an active role in the spread of pernicious ideas and calls for action in the Western world and in other countries such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Algeria etc, but in the tribal areas of Pakistan, where the literacy rate is very low, it is the word of mouth and the FM broadcasts, which are instigating individual Muslims to acts of terrorism in the name of jihad.

In the non-tribal areas of Pakistan and in the Muslim diaspora in the West, the Internet plays an important role in motivation. A typical example of the spread of the Jundullah phenomenon to the diaspora abroad was the cell consisting of two Indian Muslims and some Arabs, which tried in vain to carry out acts of terrorism in London and Glasgow in June,2007. They were self-motivated Jundullahs not associated with any organization.

Al Qaeda and other structured jihadi organizations are concerned over this phenomenon because if this trend continues, it could affect the flow of volunteers and funds to their organisations. It is said that many angry Muslims in the non-tribal areas and in the diaspora no longer flock to these organisations to volunteer their services for suicide terrorism. Instead, they rush to the nearest Internet Cafe to learn how to be a suicide bomber, gang up with a small number of like-minded persons, pool their savings, buy material which could be converted into explosives and embark on their suicide missions.

For these Made-in-the-Internet suicide bombers, the cyber world has become a virtual Ummah and everyone of them looks upon himself as a bin Laden or as an Amir fighting for the cause of his religion.

Concern over this development has been openly expressed by Maulana Masood Azhar, the Amir of the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JEM) of Pakistan, in an article in "Al Qalam", a publication of the JEM, written before the Pakistani Army raid into the Lal Masjid of Islamabad in July,2007. He said: "Now, there are hundreds of jihadi outfits and hundreds of Amirs. Most of these Amirs are computer operators, who have become jihadis by watching CDs of jihad. They have received jihadi training through websites. They think that via the Internet, they have become Amirs. If they come across a gullible youth, they tie a bomb around his body and send him to jihadi battlefields. Some of the jihadis are in the business of drugs, human smuggling and kidnapping for ransom. Jihad has become everybody's business. Now, it is difficult to control these jihadis."

However, unlike the JEM, Al Qaeda's reaction to this phenomenon has been more nuanced. It does not claim responsibility for these individual attacks, but at the same time, it does not discourage them. It has been trying to give the impression that it is still in total control of the global jihad and that whatever has been happening in the world in the form of jihadi attacks----whether by individuals not belonging to any organisation or by those belonging to Al Qaeda and other organisations---- is in pursuance of its global jihadi strategy. The stepping-up of its propaganda offensive and dire warnings since the beginning of 2007 are part of its strategy of creating an impression that it continues to be in total control of the jihad.