Armed with cardboard cutters, faith and little
August 5, 2004
After the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, much
ink was spilled in the American press on the sophistication of
their execution. Four planes highjacked on the same day, each
by a distinct cell targeting one of the visible symbols of American
power surely required months of detailed planning, an impressive
feat considering it apparently went unnoticed by Western Intelligence
and the arsenal of awesome surveillance technology it employs.
But when the dust settled and the initial hyperbolic punditry
deflated, a clearer picture emerged. That of fanatically determined
young men armed with cardboard cutters, their faith and little
else. All the millions invested in airport security and surveillance
technology didn't make an iota of difference. After all
you can't x-ray a belief in afterlife.
The success of
the 9/11 highjackers, it appeared, was owed to elegant simplicity,
albeit a diabolical one. David's slingshot toppling the
Goliath, paralyzing the awesome technological and economic
system that is North America. For a few days at least in the
September of 2001, apocalypse seemed to be indeed at hand, fearsomely
In the nearly three years that has followed, that initial fear
of the end has to a large degree faded away. I for one always
believed that the September 11 attacks were a spectacular
basic rule of guerilla warfare dictates that the initial attacks
should be followed by immediate after shocks catching the enemy
dazed and confused. And yet nothing followed in the aftermath.
The FBI round up of Moslems that ensued in the US has not netted
much vis-a-vis al Qaeda, re-enforcing this theory. This lack
of follow up to 9/11 attacks speaks to al Qaeda's structure.
It is not an organization in the traditional sense of guerilla
organizations from the IRA to the FLN (the Algerian National
Liberation Front) to the PLO.
Al Qaeda is a movement, a virtual organization
if you will, one resembling the concept of Ijtihad in Islam and
Taghia in Shiia Islam. The traditional guerilla organization
is a pyramid, a wide base of rank and file cells narrowing gradually
to the leadership at the top closely controlling the structure
ideologically and logistically. Everything flows from top to bottom.
Every cell is connected to the one above it and the one below.
The counter insurgency hence has always operated based on the
jigsaw puzzle principle. Capture a piece, preferably alive, use
torture and meticulous evidence gathering, connect the single
piece to the overall picture, move from the bottom and sides to
and the top, and eventually identify and decapitate the leadership.
This method has been put to practice in numerous situations from
Ireland to Brazil to Iran to Palestine but its most famous and
spectacular example took place in the mid-fifties during the Battle
of Algiers where during the course of a short period of time the
FLN terrorized Algiers and seriously challenged the French rule.
Unable to counter FLN's organized attacks flowing from the
protection of dense alleyways of the Kasbah, the French paratroopers
were dispatched to the city. In what ensued General Massau the
Commander of French paratroopers oversaw a gradual bottom-up dismantling
of the FLN structure in Algiers employing extreme violence and
policies of collective punishment against the Arab population.
The elusiveness of al Qaeda in
the past three years is a direct result of its rejection of pyramid
model. When an Imam declares
a fatwa (a call to action), he makes his call to all Moslems, anywhere.
Those responding to this call will have to do it in their own way,
forming cells and procuring the means to carry it out. There is
no organizational connection between a cell in say Northern Europe
and one in Indonesia, hence capturing either cell members will
not endanger the other. Theoretically at least there is no organizational
leadership to decapitate.
Although Bin Laden is no doubt a figure
of emulation and reverence amongst radical Islamists, his capture
or death will not affect the movement in a way that assassination
of Yasser Arafat or the Irish guerilla leader Michael Collins
in 1916 Ireland would their respective organizations. Destruction
of a cell will temporarily diminish al Qaeda's presence until
the next cell springs into existence. So long as the call to
remains and the soil is fertile with men and women willing to
take up the call the jinni will not be put back into the bottle.
The irony of our time is that al Qaeda
has effectively used the internet like a modern day call of
muezzin to recruit potential
martyrs. Hundreds of sympathetic sites have sprung up on the
Net disseminating instructions on forming cells, manufacturing
and suitable targets to attack. A good number of al Qaeda sympathetic
sites are actually hosted on severs in American cities.
distributed, decentralized, anonymous architecture of the
internet has provided
a perfect communication backbone mirroring al Qaeda's own
structure. A perfect melding of modern technology and medieval