Posts Tagged ‘Jihad’

COIN Inside the Wire – Jihadist Rehabilitation in Saudi Arabia

6 July, 2008

Journalist Shiraz Maher has an interesting article in today’s Sunday Times looking at Saudi efforts to rehabilitate captured Al-Qaeda Organisation in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) militants.

Although the Saudi programme’s emphasis on rehabilitating and releasing captured terrorists back into society makes it controversial in some quarters, there is increasing appreciation among COIN practitioners of the importance of ensuring detainee operations are consistent with the wider strategic goal of winning the war of ideas and securing the support of the population – a concept now often referred to as ‘COIN inside the wire’.

As such, the Saudi model – itself inspired by the success of a similar programme run by the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) in Singaporean prisons with Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) detainees – is increasingly being implemented by US detention programmes in Iraq (see The Financial Times article linked to below).


It has been called the Betty Ford clinic for jihadists and within minutes of arriving at the Care Rehabilitation Centre on the outskirts of Riyadh, you can see why. The small complex, where the Saudi Arabian government is exploring a new way of reforming its wayward radicals, feels more like an exclusive boarding school than a Saudi jail.

The Times

Inmates have access to swimming pools, table tennis and PlayStations. In the evenings, guards and prisoners play football. An air-conditioned tent sits adjacent to the sports field, serving as a dining hall and common room where, when I visited, the prisoners were tucking into rice and lamb with fresh fruit for pudding.

In return for this privileged treatment, the prisoners – Islamic extremists, some of whom are convicted murderers – are obliged to attend lessons based around Islamic law and the jurisprudence of jihad. A team of psychologists teaches detainees how they should manage their emotions, particularly when reacting to world events.


The Saudi government insists all this is necessary to promote genuine rehabilitation and foster a meaningful relationship with the jihadists. But in the easy-going atmosphere of the “resort” – nobody calls it a prison – where inmates are referred to as “beneficiaries”, it is easy to forget the seriousness of some of their crimes.

The centre is divided into six areas, four of which hold Saudi nationals who fought (or tried to) in Iraq. The other two hold returnees from Guantanamo Bay.


The government has realised that the use of force alone will not contain Al-Qaeda. It has created an ideological security unit that coordinates the kingdom’s efforts in the war of ideas against its native jihadists. Those arrested in connection with terrorism are routinely subjected to attempts to reform their thinking.

Five jails, each housing 1,200 prisoners, have been built specifically for jihadists with the purpose of promoting ideological reform through dialogue and debate. Religious instruction in these prisons is directed by an advisory committee, which is also closely involved with the care centre.

The new prisons are far from the relaxed environment of the Care Rehabilitation Centre. Housing some of the most senior Al-Qaeda leaders in the kingdom, they are maximum security with sophisticated systems to deter any militants hoping to target them, including the use of buried seismic cables and microwave detection equipment.

CCTV also operates in the prisons, including cells and interrogation rooms. Most prisoners have a cell to themselves or occasionally share, although the rooms have been designed to minimise contact with other prisoners and are largely self-contained. Cells are fitted with their own televisions, encased behind toughened glass, and are centrally controlled by the guards. They are used to transmit religious education lectures prepared by the advisory committee directly into cells where inmates later have an opportunity to debate ideas and ask questions using an intercom.

After serving their sentence in these jails, prisoners are moved to the rehabilitation centre, which opened 18 months ago. It is designed to be a halfway house where ideas first introduced by the advisory committee in prison are consolidated and developed. The men are also given extensive support to help to reintegrate them into society after they leave, the thinking being that so doing makes them less likely to reoffend.

The initiative was largely inspired by circumstance after a senior Al-Qaeda figure surrendered in response to a royal amnesty. Unsure about what to do with him, the government asked a local sheikh, Ahmad Jilani, to live with him and ensure that he did not abscond while it searched for a more permanent solution.

“We discovered that after living with the sheikh, who challenged his ideas, he began telling us everything about how he was recruited, what attracted him [to jihad] and how Al-Qaeda is operating in the kingdom,” said General Mansour al-Turki, a spokesman for the interior ministry.


Families are encouraged to make regular visits to the centre, allowing inmates to socialise with spouses and children. Families have a crucial role to play in reforming the radicals and the centre offers advice on how to help prisoners to readjust after release. The emphasis on preparing both the families and the inmates for reintegration is particularly relevant to those returning from Guantanamo Bay.


How successful the centre is being in challenging jihadist ideas is hard to measure. The majority of men I met there were not Al-Qaeda’s ideologues but its foot soldiers. Most had answered the call to jihad without fully understanding the Islamist world view and, although religiously motivated, were fuelled by events.

Since its inception none of the inmates from the care centre has reoffended, but a visit to the home of Mohammed al-Fawzan, who tried to join the Islamic army in Iraq and was arrested on the Syrian border, reveals a more intriguing reason why some of those released from the care centre might want to sustain their good behaviour. Parked outside his modest one-bedroom apartment in a poor district of Riyadh is Fawzan’s new Toyota Camry, costing just under £15,000. The flat has been renovated and modernised with a fitted kitchen and bedroom furniture installed in preparation for his wedding. Fawzan’s living room hosts a 37in high-definition television with surround sound and a Blu-ray player. All this has been provided by the government, including an additional £15,000 for his wedding. And incentives are not limited to financial aid. The government also ensured that Fawzan was reinstated in his old job.


Further Reading:

In addition to the above article, Shiraz Maher has produced a documentary segment about the care centre that will be broadcast on Wednesday’s Newsnight (BBC2 10.30pm).

Also of interest on the subject:

The Business End
Andrew K. Woods, The Financial Times

Provides a detailed profile of Major General Douglas Stone’s efforts to apply similar principles to the US detention programme in Iraq.

Extremist Reeducation and Rehabilitation in Saudi Arabia
Christopher Boucek, Terrorism Monitor

Rehabilitating the Jihadists

Singapore’s Muslim Community-Based Initiatives against JI
Muhammad Haniff Hassan, Perspectives on Terrorism

Update (18 July 08):

Indonesia’s Approach to Jihadist Deradicalization
Kirsten E. Schulze, CTC Sentinel vol.1 no.8

Also relevant is the following extract from pp. 94-5 of the Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, Operation Iraqi Freedom: Strategies, Approaches, Results, and Issues for Congress [PDF]:

Detainee Operations

The broad “reconciliation” intent extends to an additional subset of the Iraqi population — those who have been detained by coalition forces.

Accountability. By the beginning of 2008, coalition detainee operations had evolved markedly from the days of the formal occupation, when they were characterized by under-staffing, limited facilities, and — due to ongoing aggressive military operations — a large and quickly growing detainee population. In the early days, it was common to find local communities frustrated first by detentions they perceived to be groundless, and then by the difficulty of determining the location and status of those detained.

One important, gradual change since then, according to coalition officials, is much better accountability, based on the introduction of biometrics, better information-sharing throughout the detention system, and simply better cultural familiarity with the multi-part names commonly used in the region.

“COIN Inside the Wire” Detainee Program. A second major change, introduced by the current MNF-I leadership, is a set of “COIN inside the wire” practices, designed to identify and separate the truly “irreconcilables” from the rest of the detainees.

This new approach is based partly on a better understanding of the detainee population, which apparently includes far more opportunists than ring-leaders — for example, under-employed young men who agree to emplace an IED in exchange for a one-time payment. The opportunism seems to be corroborated by the low recidivism rate — about 9 out of 100.

According to coalition officials, in the past, the coalition used its theater internment facilities simply to “warehouse” detainees. Those facilities effectively served as “jihadist universities” where detainees with extremist agendas could recruit and train followers. Today, the coalition cultivates the majority of the detainee population by providing detainees with voluntary literacy and vocational training, and bringing in imams to offer literacy and religious education. A family visitation program allows about 1,600 visits per week. According to a senior coalition official, “Now detainees themselves point out the trouble-makers.” To support this effort, two Theater Internment Reintegration Facilities are under construction, in Taji and Ramadi, to provide further education and skills training.

Detainee Releases. A third initiative is a planned release of detainees, projected to include a majority of the 23,845 current detainees in the coalition detention facilities. During 2007, the detainee population grew from about 14,000 at the start of the year to 25,000, due to surge operations and better incoming information from Iraqi sources. The release initiative is motivated partly by the overall emphasis on reconciliation, and partly by concerns that the forthcoming “security framework agreement” (see above, “Future Security Framework Agreement”) may place new constraints on coalition detainee operations. The targeted release program draws on the results of “COIN inside the wire” in separating the hardcore cases from one-time offenders. The program makes use of a guarantor system, in which tribal sheikhs and other local leaders may vouch for, and accept responsibility for, the future good conduct of detainees released back to their communities.

The release program calls for giving ground commanders the opportunity to comment on proposed releases. Some commanders have expressed concerns about the practical implications of the program, wondering in particular how jobs will be found for the released detainees, and what will restrain them from low-level, opportunistic criminality in the future if full-employment jobs are not found.


Dealing with Bombs in Rural Devon: Global Threat, Local Response

4 June, 2008

This analysis of the recent bomb attack in Exeter was contributed by IRG reader Weichong Ong – a PhD researcher at the Centre for the Study of War State and Society, University of Exeter and a Visiting Research Associate at the Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore.


The bomb attack on 22 May, 2008 in Exeter city centre sent shockwaves throughout the Southwest of England. The first obvious question that sprang to mind was why Exeter, a sleepy cathedral city of 111,000 set in rural Devon. Exeter is by no means a stranger to bomb attacks. During the Second World War, from 1940 to 1942, Exeter was a frequent target of German bombing raids, including the Baedeker Blitz – a series of air raids on picture-postcard picturesque English cities of limited strategic importance. Although severely stretched, the timely response of RAF Fighter Command meant that heavy lossess were inflicted on German bombers for their incursions into British airspace. Indeed, the heavy aircraft lossess suffered by the Luftwaffe in Baedeker raids on the Southwest of England deprived both the North African and Russian fronts of crucial air assests in the critical year of 1942. The recent bomb attack by Nicky Reilly, a radicalized convert to Islam however is an incursion of a different kind.

Threat in the Global Space

The threat confronting the UK now and then in 1939-1945 has a global face and fills the global space. The similarities however depart from there. The bomb attack on 22 May, 2008 came just three days after Sir Richard Dearlove delivered a lecture at Exeter University on National Security for the 21st Century: New Threats, New Approaches. Sir Richard, former head of MI6, highlighted that the diffusion of power has empowered non-state actors to challenge the authority and power of nation states. Indeed, the end of the Cold War has ushered in an era where wars and conflicts are predominantly non-interstate, transnational or within states. However, this does not necessarily mean that we have seen the end of wars between states structured on the Westphalian model.

In his recent book, Another Bloody Century: Future Warfare, the ever perceptive doyen of strategic thought, Colin S Gray warns that ‘irregular warfare in all its forms remains a notably under-regulated field of strategic behaviour’. Indeed, state-on-state wars and conflicts are fought on very different rules from those with non-state actors. Morever, the highly irregular, ill-defined modus operandi and Area of Operations (AOs) of non-state armed actors do not fit into any convenient paradigm that government intelligence agencies can easily pinpoint.

Channel 4 television reported that MI5 was ‘aware of Reilly but he was not the subject of a live investigation’. Regardless of the veracity of the news report, the readily identifiable air armada of German bombers heading for the Southwest of England stood in marked constrast to a nondescript local lad travelling on a public bus from Plymouth to Exeter. Unlike the German Luftwaffe and present day national armed forces, non-state armed actors do not have a readily identifiable Order of Battle (Orbat) that one can pin-up in the centre of the Operations Planning Room. Instead of sprawling bases bristling with highly visible military hardware, non-state armed actors often operate in small independent units in local AOs without a readily identifiable HQ.

More often than not, that HQ exists not in the corporeal form of a conventional military structure but rather in the domain of cyberspace as well as an ethereal avatar of a visionary idea in the global space. Such a structure allows for the formation of cells and recruitment of members without the costly apparatus of centralised recruitment centres, a high level of tactical and operational flexiblity, and most importantly, the ability to sustain and regenerate itself and morph in accordance with the strategic, operational, and tactical terrain.

Response in the local hills

The bomb attack on Exeter might be viewed as a departure from the more familiar attacks on key British metropolitan areas such as London and Glasgow. That view however ignores the fact that in order to stay ahead of their materially more well-endowed opponents, non-state armed actors have to be, and are often, highly flexible in their modus operandi and range of AOs. The diversified tactics of non-state armed actors must be met with an equally holistic and timely response from the authorities. This means the ability to react quickly on the ground and, more importantly, entrusting the local security apparatus and personnel as well as local communities to do the job.

Throughout the first two days of the incident, police statements providing details of the suspect, his travel pattern on the day of the bombing incident and appeals for further information were made in a timely manner to the public. Explosive and Ordinance Disposal (EOD) capacity came in the form of a Royal Navy EOD team from a local Devon naval base. Local Muslim leaders in Plymouth, including the head of the Islamic Centre where Nicky Reilly used to worship, were quick to express their shock and distress at the incident. They also emphasized the moderate nature of the 3,500 large Muslim community in Plymouth while condemning all forms of religious extremism. In short, the immediate response has largely been a local-led affair.

The primacy of local policing and local leadership in counter-terror operations is however nothing new to the British. During the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960), field operations were largely decentralised with local police playing a crucial role in deterring terrorist attacks, gathering human intelligence (Humint) as well as being the initial response to any attacks. As of now, the investigation of the 22 May Exeter bombing is headed by the local Devon and Cornwall Police with the assistance of other government agencies.

Fighting as General Charles Krulak calls it, ‘The Three Block War’, contemporary armed forces will increasingly find themselves in AOs where they have to engage with hostile, friendly and neutral forces within the localised geographical confines of ‘three blocks’. While there is a need for a credible conventional military deterrent and maintenance of competent traditional warfighting capabilities, armed forces must be able to respond to threats of a less conventional nature in the form of military operations other than war (MOOTW).

Local police forces in local AOs are fundamental in counter-terror operations. Local police officers are the ones most familiar with the local neighbourhoods and their communities and a vital tool in the gathering of Humint. Violence motivated by religious radicalism is a global threat that strikes physically in both metropolitan centres of power as well as the periphery. In the event of a terror attack, a timely and adequate immediate response from local ‘boots on the ground’ is crucial to the containment of the situation as well as follow-up investigations.

As well as a whole-of-government approach, a whole-of-society approach is needed to counter the threat of religious violence. Inter-faith dialogue and community integration must reach down to the grass roots and local neighbourhoods rather than remain ensconced in the ivory towers of religious scholars and elites. Military action, policing and other forms of state response can only stem the tide of religious violence, not neutralise it. To truly remove, in the words of Major General Richard Clutterbuck, ‘the man with the knife’ who moves within the village, requires the villagers that constitute the local as well as global village to repudiate the ideology that feeds religious violence. Until such is achieved, we can only hold the tide of religious violence without truly taming it.

Documents of Note #4

18 May, 2008

The following is the latest in a periodic round-up of reports, papers, monographs, etc likely to be of interest to IRG members and the wider COIN/CT community.


The International Crisis Group has released the following new reports:

The Philippines: Counter-insurgency vs. Counter-terrorism in Mindanao

Lebanon: Hizbollah’s Weapons Turn Inward

The Combined Arms Research Library has made the following documents available. Original date of publication is provided if the document is not new.

Violent Islamist Extremism, The Internet, and the Homegrown Terrorist Threat – US Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs

Hamas: How Has a Terrorist Organization Become a Political Power? – Ben-Zion Mehr

Global Jihad: The Role of Europe’s Radical Muslims – James Palumbo and Daniel Vaniman, 2007

Losing the Population: The Impact of Coalition Policy and Tactics on the Population and the Iraqi – Timothy Haugh, 2005

The SWJ Magazine has published interim versions of the following papers:

Third World Experience in Counterinsurgency – Russ Stayanoff

Force Structure for Small Wars – Andrew C. Pavord

Guerrilla Warfare and the Indonesian Strategic Psyche – Emmet McElhatton

Eldis has made the following reports available:

Demilitarising militias in the Kivus (eastern Democratic Republic of Congo) – Institute for Security Studies (ISS)

Humanitarian action in Iraq: putting the pieces together – Overseas Development Institute (ODI)

RAND has published the following research papers:

Breaking the Failed-State Cycle

Afghanistan: State and Society, Great Power Politics, and the Way Ahead


Documents of Note #3 [03 MAY 2008]
Documents of Note #2 [17 APR 2008]
Documents of Note #1 [14 APR 2008]

Islamism in Algeria and the Al-Qaeda Threat in North Africa

4 May, 2008

Presentation at RUSI
9 June 2008

The following upcoming presentation at RUSI looks interesting:

About the Event:
How real is the present Al-Qaeda threat in North Africa?  How much is this a new front which threatens Europe?  How should we respond?  In posing these questions this RUSI Middle East Forum will trace the history and roots of Islamism in Algeria over the last twenty years.  It will ask ‘who’ these people are and ‘what’ inspires their struggle. It will also link Algeria to broader international developments in the Muslim world.

About the Speaker:
Martin Evans is Professor of Contemporary History at the University of Portsmouth.  He is the author of the Memory of Resistance: French Opposition to the Algerian War 1954-62 (Berg, 1997) and the co-author (with John Phillips) of Algeria: Anger of the Dispossessed (Yale, 2007) which is also his latest book.  Prof. Evans is a member of the History Today editorial board.  He is presently a Senior Research Fellow at the British Academy where he is completing a project on political and military decision making during the Algerian War 1954-62.  This research is to be published by Oxford University Press.

For booking information, check the RUSI site here.

Documents of Note #3

3 May, 2008

The following is the latest in a periodic round-up of reports, papers, monographs, etc likely to be of interest to IRG members and the wider COIN/CT community.


RAND has published Volume 5 in its Counterinsurgency Study series of monographs, which is co-authored by IRG founder John Mackinlay and Alison Al-Baddawy.

Rethinking Counterinsurgency

The May-June edition of the US Army Combined Arms Center’s Military Review includes the following piece by Philip Seib:

The Al-Qaeda Media Machine [PDF]

The Strategic Studies Institute of the US Army War College has published the following studies:

Precision in the Global War on Terror: Inciting Muslims through the War of Ideas – Dr. Sherifa D. Zuhur [PDF]

Global Climate Change: National Security Implications (ed. Carolyn Pumphrey) [PDF]

The SWJ Magazine has published interim versions of the following papers:

Social Epidemics and the Human Element of Counterinsurgency – CPT Nils French

Iraqi Non-Lethal Contributions to the Counterinsurgency – CPT Justin Gorkowski

The Counterinsurgency Cliff Notes – CPT Craig Coppock

The US Department of State has released the latest in its annual series of terrorism assessments:

Country Reports on Terrorism 2007

The International Crisis Group has released two new reports on Iraq:

Iraq after the Surge I: The New Sunni Landscape

Iraq after the Surge II: The Need for a New Political Strategy

The Combined Arms Research Library has made the following documents available. Original date of publication is provided if the document is not new.

Pacification in Algeria, 1956-1958 – David Galula, 1963 (2006 Rand edition with foreword by Bruce Hoffman)

War by Other Means: Building Complete and Balanced Capabilities for Counterinsurgency – RAND

55 Trends Now Shaping the Future of Terrorism – Dr. Marvin Cetron and Owen Davies

Defeating Cross Border Insurgencies – Thorsten Joergensen, 2007

Tactical Handbook for Operations Other Than WarUK Ministry of Defence, 1998

Strategic Assessment of the Mau-Mau Rebellion – Robert Eatman, 2007

Chechen Suicide Bombers – Robert W. Kurz and Charles K. Bartles, 2007

The Evolution of Al Qaeda – Sean Wilson, 2007

Globalization and Asymmetrical Warfare – William Hartman, 2002

Piracy and Maritime Terrorism: A Seamless TransitionJohn Hahn, 2004

Asymmetric Warfare: An Historical Perspective – Frankling Miles, 1999

Why Insurgents Fail: Examining Post-World War II Failed Insurgencies Utilizing the Prerequisites of Successful Insurgencies as a Framework – Frank Zimmerman, 2007

Secrecy News
has made available the following reports from the Congressional Research Service:

Operation Iraqi Freedom: Strategies, Approaches, Results, and Issues for Congress [PDF]

Iraq: Regional Perspectives and U.S. Policy [PDF]

High Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse (HEMP) and High Power Microwave (HPM) Devices: Threat Assessments [PDF]

July 7 Bomber’s Goodbye To Daughter

24 April, 2008

The following is the video played to the jury at Kingston Crown Court today of 7/7 ringleader Mohammed Sidique Khan bidding farewell to his daughter prior to his suicide bomb attack on the London Underground in 2005.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The Taliban, Executions & the UN

21 April, 2008

Reuters ran a story yesterday that caught my eye. It seems the Taliban have appealed to the UN, the EU, and just about anyone else who will listen, to place pressure on President Karzai in order to try and prevent him from approving the execution of around 100 (mainly Taliban) prisoners whose death sentences have recently been approved by the Afghan supreme court.

A statement on their web site read:

“We … demand the UN, the European Union, Red Cross and human rights organisations to take quick steps for stopping this barbaric act and stop the killing of innocent prisoners.”

While not personally in favour of the death penalty, my first reaction was a certain wry amusement that the Taliban – who are not exactly known for their liberal sentiments, or for their sense of restraint when it comes to executing criminals or prisoners of war – should take such a moral stance against “this barbaric act”.

However, beyond the apparent hypocrisy, this story is also of interest on another level. Irrespective of the content of the Taliban’s complaint, the actual appeal to the UN itself is highly significant.

A central and non-negotiable tenet of radical Islamist groups, from the Al-Qaeda nexus through to legal entities such as Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT), is a rejection of all ‘man-made’ rules and organisations – particularly democracy, and its globalised embodiment, the UN – which are seen by the Salafists as rivals to the word of God, as dictated in the Qur’an.

This position is set forth by one of the most influential jihadi ideologues, Abu Muhammad ‘Aasim al-Maqdisi, in his treatise Democracy: A Religion! [PDF]. Similarly, Article 186 of the draft HT constitution reads: “The State is forbidden to belong to any organisation that is based on something other than Islam or which applies non-Islamic rules”.

As such, while it may seem a small matter, the Taliban’s appeal to the UN, which in and of itself is a de facto recognition of the UN’s authority, clearly distinguishes it from groups such as Al-Qaeda and HT, who on point of principle would never appeal to the UN under any circumstances. Taken in isolation this might not be regarded as significant, however, as has been detailed in earlier posts on this blog, it is symptomatic of an emerging cleavage between the Taliban – whose goals are essentially local – and Al-Qaeda type groups, whose goals are more disembodied and transnational.

Terrorism in the EU – Trends in 2007

8 April, 2008

Europol have just released a very useful report examining annual trends in terrorism in the European Union. Entitled EU Terrorism Situation & Trend Report 2008, it provides a comprehensive but concise analysis of the situation in the EU in 2007. The analysis is based on quantitative data supplied by EU member countries, making it a useful source of citable information.

This short extract, summarising terrorism-related arrests, was interesting:

A total of 1044 individuals were arrested for terrorism-related offences in 2007. This is an increase of 48 percent compared to 2006. France, Spain and the UK have reported the largest number of arrests per member state.

The number of arrested suspects for separatist terrorism has more than doubled in comparison to 2006. This increase is mainly due to the vast increase in the number of arrests in France and Spain. In 2007, Spain saw a seven-fold increase in arrested suspects: from 28 in 2006 to 196 in 2007. France went from 188 people arrested in 2006 to 315 in 2007, an increase of almost 68 percent.

Concerning Islamist terrorism, the number of arrested individuals decreased compared to 2006. In 2007, 201 persons were arrested for Islamist terrorism, compared to 257 in 2006. This decrease can mainly be attributed to a 35 percent decrease in the number of arrested suspects reported by France.

However, the UK reported a 30 percent increase in arrested suspects. Although no affiliation could be assigned, UK authorities estimate that, out of the 203 persons arrested in 2007, the vast majority were in relation to Islamist terrorism.

Get the report here.
(thanks to the anonymous reader for the tip and the link)


There have been some problems with the Europol link above. To download the report directly from the IRG, click here.

Al-Qaeda’s Rising Ideologue

5 April, 2008

The New York Times has a profile of Abu Yahya al-Libi, one of the most important figures within the core Al-Qaeda organisation. If you’re not already familiar with him, he’s worth finding out about. Once an obscure preacher, following his escape from American custody at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan in July 2005 he has quickly risen to prominence, and is likely to become increasingly influential in the future.

Al-Qaeda Ideologue, Abu Yahya al-Libi (IntelCentre)

Al-Qaeda Ideologue, Abu Yahya al-Libi (IntelCenter)

According to Evan Kohlmann of the NEFA Foundation, Abu Yahya emerged as the de facto leader of the Libyan contingent in the Aghan-Pakistan borderlands following the death of fellow Libyan, Abu Laith al-Libi, in a recent US air strike. However, it is his skill as an orator, and his religious credentials, that have propelled him into his current role as Al-Qaeda’s most prominent ideologue after Bin Laden and Zawahiri.

Libi, a Libyan believed to be in his late 30s, is now considered to be a top strategist for Al Qaeda, as well as one of its most effective promoters of global jihad, appearing in a dozen videos on the Internet in the past year, counterterrorism officials said.

At a time when Al Qaeda seems more inspirational than operational, Libi stands out as a formidable star whose rise to prominence tracks the group’s growing emphasis on information in its war with the West.

“I call him a man for all seasons for AQ,” said Jarret Brachman, a former analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency who is now research director of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point and whose provocative studies on Al Qaeda have drawn praise from U.S. counterterrorism officials. “He’s a warrior. He’s a poet. He’s a scholar. He’s a pundit. He’s a military commander. And he’s a very charismatic, young, brash rising star within A.Q., and I think he has become the heir apparent to Osama bin Laden in terms of taking over the entire global jihadist movement.”

The secrecy that still envelops Al Qaeda’s leadership structure makes such estimates speculative, other analysts noted.

But one Islamist insider said that in addition to youth and charisma, Libi had one skill that Al Qaeda’s top leadership had been lacking: religious scholarship. Perhaps with this in mind, Al Qaeda is featuring Libi in as many of the videos as the group’s two top leaders, bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri.

Read the full article here.


The NYT has a video report entitled ‘The Battle for Hearts and Minds’ which takes a look at Abu Yahya, and at the efforts of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point to outwit him in the war of perceptions. Click here to view.

Hassan Butt & Counter-Radicalisation

5 April, 2008

Reuters has a short interview with Hassan Butt, the reformed former British jihadist who spent 10 years recruiting and organising the training of European militants.

Hassan Butt (BBC)

Former radical, Hassan Butt (BBC)

Butt describes how he turned his back on extremism following the 7/7 bombings in London in 2005, and how he has since devoted himself to convincing others to do the same, despite death threats from his former peers, and the ongoing threat of prosecution for his past activities.

Since he turned his back on extremism, Butt has become a touchstone for young Muslims looking to escape militant groups.

He has met the government’s counter-terrorism minister to discuss “outreach” to hardened British Islamists — estimated to number at least 2,000 — and taken his ideas into prisons and mosques, where much of the radicalization is said to go on.

Butt says he has helped 15 young men in Manchester alone extract themselves from their extremist ideology, potentially thwarting attacks.

“Of the 15, 11 had been sent for terrorist training. I know because I personally sent these guys to camps,” he says.

With more support and funding, he is convinced he could establish outreach countrywide.

“With everything else in Britain — gangs, drugs, domestic violence — there’s an outreach program. But when it comes to Islamic radicalism, there is no credible program because no one has any idea how to run one properly,” he says.

Read the interview here. For a more in-depth interview with Butt, check out this 2005 piece by Aatish Taseer in Prospect magazine.