Mohsen Abdelmoumen: According to you, Daesh is it not operating a tactical retreat in particular in Syria and in Iraq, especially when we see cities as Falloujah falling so easily, what the western media present as a defeat of Daesh?
Tewfik Hamel: It’s still early to speak about the defeat of Daesh. In Syria, in Iraq as in Libya, neither the worst nor the best is inevitable. The situation is very complex. These countries are experiencing what is called in military jargon « war amongst the populations » where traditional concepts of the decisive victory may have less meaning. In this type of conflict, non-state armed groups of all kinds, draw their strength and freedom of action mainly of their capacity to manipulate, intimidate and mobilize populations, and they do this by using a variety of methods ranging from constraint to persuasion.
The political level has to identify the political objectives and corroborate them with the adequate military strategy. Together, the both political and military levels have to cooperate in selecting the most appropriate function of the strength: improvement, constraint, dissuasion or destruction. On the ground, armed forces have to use the strength to reach new objectives: when you fight among populations, you have to win the population, not necessarily occupy or destroy traditional targets. Indeed, « make war on insurgents » is like « eating soup with a knife », something « difficult to fully appreciate until you have done, » said John Nagl, who has experienced it.
In the fight against criminality, the terrorism and the insurgents, the government has an initial advantage in terms of resources, however counterbalanced by the obligation to maintain order and protect people and critical resources. The terrorists and the insurgents succeed by sowing chaos and disorder; the government fails if it does not maintain a satisfactory order. Thus if it restricts to kill or to make prisoners, the State cannot win. Win the wars and win the peace are so two very different missions. Terrorists and criminals can sow disorder everywhere, while the army has to maintain order everywhere. The restoration of order in Syria and Iraq goes through strengthening of the State requiring the pursuit of « salami tactic »: « slice after slice, until nothing remains ». That is to say recover terrorist’s districts area after area, street after street, village after village, region after region, etc.
A study of RAND Corporation of 2008, analyzing the terrorist groups that existed all over the world between 1968 and 2006, revealed that most terrorist groups have ended their activities by reason of local police operations or intelligence operations that permitted removal or arrest of the key members (40%) or because these groups have joined the political process (43%). Military force has rarely been the main reason for the end of these groups. It is also true that « religious terrorist groups take longer to be eliminated than other groups and rarely reach their goals ». None managed to gain a victory, and the probability that Al-Qaeda and even Daesh overthrows a government in the Middle East is null. Despite the support received by the terrorist groups active in Syria and Iraq, they have not managed to overthrow the Syrian regime. The conflict internationalization has darkened the prospects to a fast end and aggravated the suffering of the Syrian population.
Don’t you think Daesh is redeploying in Libya to make it a rear base in the future that will compensate the territories that it lost in Iraq and Syria? Does not the Daesh command center going to move in Libya?
This is an unlikely scenario. First, Daesh, in essence, is an Iraqi organization – the product of a particular context. In the « Islamic State » slogan, there is no State or Islamic than the name. It is more a secular organization (Baathist in its veins) that religious, that understood that « religion becomes a dangerous weapon when we know how to use » (in the words of Frederick the Great in 1747). Religion plays a central role in the self-understanding of many people and has a significant effect on the goals, objectives and structures of society. In some cases, religious self-understanding can play a determining role or regulating of politics, strategy or tactic. But the State institutions – that define the rules of political membership, representation and allocation of resources – play a key role and that is the political identity that dominates the political game.
In Britain, for example, the majority of polls conducted since September 11, 2001 shows – despite an unfavorable general context – that Muslims feel more British than other minorities. Young British Muslims feel more integrated than their European counterparts . The Algerian Islamist movement has experienced several radical changes, usually in answer to external pressures, existential threats and opportunities of expansion. Two interdependent changes took place: the conversion of the SGPC in AQIM; and a process of « Sahelization », that is to say a strategic shift from Algeria as the main operational center towards the Sahel region, an area including the South of Algeria, the North of Mali, Mauritania and Niger. Its move to the south to survive has involved the centering of its operations, in parallel with the erosion of its power in Algeria. Indeed, armed groups are living organisms, not mechanical structures. They change, turning and recombining in endless permutations. Local players do not disappear in the new global networks. Rather, their global networking permits traditional criminal-terrorist entities to survive and prosper, by escaping, at a difficult time, of the control of a given State. Of this, AQIM is a clear example. Even « regionalized » and integrated into the « global jihad », its management is essentially Algerian and its activities aim primarily Algeria. The same for Daesh. Its management is mostly composed of former Saddam officers.
It’s unlikely that an organization like Daesh could emerge in Libya. The contexts are different. Algeria won’t allow it. Only, it has the means to make the organization less destructive and less coherent rather than to overcome it militarily. It will not hesitate to do so if national security is at stake. Daesh in Syria became powerful because it benefit from laxity of the players involved in the conflict who had contradictory objectives. The West, Turkey and the Gulf countries were focused on the overthrow of Syrian regime. It was only later that the fight against Daesh was included as a second objective. The situation in Libya is different. Unlike Syria, the Gaddafi regime is overthrown. The differences relate to the sharing of « booty ». Europe and the United States will never accept it. Despite the divergence of interest, the process of restoring the order is already in progress. And any player threatening this goal will be fought.
 See « British Muslims », The Times, July 3, 2012 ; Ruth Smith, « Britain’s young Muslims more integrated than rest of Europe », Children & Young People Now, August 12, 2009.
What is your analysis of the attack in Istanbul airport and the attack that took place in Dhaka in Bangladesh? And how do you explain that Daesh intensifying its attacks abroad? What is the underlying message?
Terrorism is an increasing transnational threat. It extends from Africa to Europe and Asia, etc. It’s a threat all over the world with variable modes of expression and justification and with various modus operandi tactics. A phenomenon neither recent nor static, terrorism considerably evolved over time, even if it retains some characteristics that historically have characterized it. Although random events can obviously terrorize, terrorism is by its nature an organized and planned event or polical. Terrorism occurs both in the context of violent resistance to the State and to imperialism as well as in the service of the interests of the State. Through these attacks, Daesh probably is trying to loosen the grip that closes around it. Daesh is similar to a hybrid criminal-terrorist mosaic whose the bloody reputation is known by everyone. It’s therefore clear that the impact of a local group will be greater if it declared its allegiance to Daesh. Terrorism is part of world politics since the early 20th century. Its characteristics depend on the evolution of global processes and structures related to: war, imperialism, reinforcement of the State, and the structure of the world economy. Terrorism and the fight against terrorism have also evolved in a global geopolitical practice. So modernization produces an interdependent set of factors that are a major cause of terrorism, as the increased complexity at all levels of society and economy has created opportunities and vulnerabilities. Sophisticated networks of transport and mobility offer the communication and the means of publicity for the terrorists. Furthermore, given a source of discontent (and in modern centralized State with its faceless bureaucracy, the lack of responsiveness to omnipresent requests), terrorism is considered an interesting strategy for small organizations of various ideological tendencies who want to draw attention to their cause, provoke the government, intimidate opponents, impress the public, and promote adherence of the faithful.
The management of Daesh (and Al Qaeda) continued a strategy to mobilize local groups with local grievances to global jihad. There is no monolithic enemy network with a single set of goals and objectives. The nature of the threat is more complicated. The tendency in the world of Islamist movements working through regional « theater of operations » (Western Europe, the Americas, North Africa, the Middle East, East Africa, the Caucasus and Russia, Central Asia and South, Southeast Asia), rather than as a monolithic block. Evidence suggests that Islamist groups within theaters follow general ideological or strategic approaches that comply with the statements of Daesh and share a common tactical style and the operational lexicon. But there is no clear evidence it controls or directs the jihad in every theater directly. With more and more affiliates in Yemen, Somalia and North Africa, Al Qaeda and Daesh are more diffuse in their scope and mission.
The tendency is to the empowerment of local cells that will have more freedom to chart their own path and plan their own campaigns. As perverse effect, the decapitation of al-Qaeda seems to sow the seeds of a new terrorism that Daesh has centralized. But it’s likely that the management of new cells – increasingly decentralized and atomized – leaves this logic. Experts say that the network can not be controlled by a single leader on a daily basis. But because of the empowerment and the diversity of the interests and the stakes, the allegiance declarations of local groups to Daesh and Al Qaeda, for example, are not worth much. Rivalries between Al Qaeda and Daesh are simply the translation – at the macro level of the world jihad – of existing rivalries between affiliated local groups. This is probably a mutually beneficial symbolic link. For local groups, the allocation of the label could strengthen the legitimacy among the radicals and facilitate the recruitment – a classic way of ensuring loyalty to the common cause and to lay the foundations of a blind obedience. For Al Qaeda and Daesh, it gives them the illusion of omnipotence and of a global presence. It is not exaggerated to say that Daesh and Al-Qaeda have become more a commercial marketing logo to foment terrorism.
In your opinion, aren’t the old terrorist networks such as the GIA ( and other groups, In particular in Belgium, Switzerland and in various European capitals, the logistic networks of Daesh? The junction between the old and new jihadist networks did it happen?
Daesh, hybrid criminal-terrorist organization, is composed of heterogeneous elements. The problem is that the wide range of Islamist movements – highly varied in the social constitution, structure and program – has left many observers puzzled. The West does not really know what to think of it. The reasons of the extremist narrative find a fertile ground in so many societies worldwide that are as diverse as the societies themselves. We can distinguish the presence of three distinct Salafist groups that both move across and make up the global jihad organizations (like Daesh and Al Qaeda) and local groups (like the FIS): political, jihadist and da’wa (the purists). Although these distinct groups accept the same religious teachings at a macro level, the application of a purist interpretation of the Qur’an and Sunnah, the local religious leaders interpret these texts according to the local contexts. These distinct communities, however, are not static entities that remained unchanged over time. Each prevailed at some point.
Over the last thirty years, allegiances and local affiliations in political, jihadists and da’wa sects have changed a lot. The changing nature of these Salafi communities, especially the rise of political Salafism in the 1980s and jihadist in the 1990s, is explained by the evolution of the world political context and the displacement of access possibilities to the power on the ground. The international context related to the return of the religious and the impact of the end of the Cold War and globalization are to be considered. The Islamist insurgency is one of the aspects of religious nationalism facing the secular state.
The FIS has provided a vehicle for the spread of radicalism by slipping through society, that was then aggravated by its fracturing after the elections cancellation in 1992. Salafi Jihadists are those who are active in the armed conflicts against the State or the other international players. Many of these groups have operated and continue to operate within the GIA, GSPC, and finally AQIM. Strengthening jihadist tendency was partly facilitated or accelerated by the return of Algerian militants who had fought in Afghanistan and brought a global jihadist ideology in the country. It is these elements that made up the core of the GIA that quickly stood out from other armed groups through its willingness to use extreme forms of violence. Esteemed between 2000 to 3000 to their return in Algeria, « Afghans » Algerians drifted towards extreme wing of the Islamist movement, and later they formed the core of the most ferocious of Algerian terrorist groups. What made the unique brutality of the GIA is their position within the group.
It is they who formed somehow an « avant-garde » of the Islamist insurgency and were able to strengthen support to revolutionary Islam, claiming they had succeeded against the USSR and emphasizing that moderate Islamism failed to achieve power peacefully elsewhere. In general, radical Islamists see in a « vanguard made up of true believers, agents of the revolution that show the way forward ». According to the radicals, Islamist revolution can not be left to the population because its mind has been contaminated by foreign ideas of decadent forces. Moreover, the creation of an avant-garde small unit meets the strategic needs and safety requirements. Daesh is composed of three categories (policies, jihadists, purists) and others groups without link, including criminal gangs. At this time, force is in favor of jihadists elements that must be weakened. The solution lies in a « disaggregation strategy » to dismantle or break « the links in the global jihad ». Algeria has done it nationally in multiple ways (self-defense groups and municipal police, national reconciliation, armed forces, etc.). A strategy of disaggregation « means different things at different times or in different scenes but provides a unifying strategic design for a prolonged global confrontation. However, several practical ideas result from this strategic concept ».
Do you think the Western intelligence services have seriously studied the Algerian case and learned from the expertise of the army and Algerian intelligence services in the fight against terrorism?
The terrorist threat is differently estimated. If Al Qaeda as an organization has become virtual further to total war against terrorism, Daesh is also the product from there. Algeria has experience in the antiterrorist fight, what made tell the Deputy Secretary of State William Burns: « Washington has much to learn from Algeria on ways to fight against terrorism ». Repetitive visits of EU and US top leaders testify of this interest. But it is clear that Algeria has not yet exploited its full potential in this subject. During the Cold War, we boasted the « equalizing power of the atom ». Today, the nature of the enemy and the combat needs expose the « equalizing power of information ». Information is power. Know how to use it is more important than the information itself. As major powers are fascinated by high technology, and given the insidious nature of the enemy and the asymmetrical nature of the struggle, this factor is the best card of small States to maintain a privileged place in the community of major powers and strengthen their influence and their negotiating power. Have say means to be « the man on the rock ». A CIA source said that the agency was unable to prevent the 9/11 attacks because they did not have a spy in place within the circle of al-Qaeda. « If only, » he said, « we had had a man on the rock next to Osama bin Laden, studying his thoughts, studying his plans ».
Some of our European sources related to intelligence told us that officers worked on the GIA and GSPC networks operating in Algeria in the 90s. These agents have warned their governments, why have they not been heard at that time? Are not the Western populations paying for past strategic errors of their governments?
The September 11 attacks occurred despite the CIA repetitive warnings towards policymakers. Richard Immerman, a historian and former senior intelligence officer, argues that the strategic intelligence analysis has never been counted in the decision process of the US national security. This can also be explained by the fact that decision makers seek information in support of their views and agendas, while ignoring or rejecting contradictory information. For example, the major US decision makers were impatient to see the links between the September 11 attacks and the Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi regime. This is generally associated with perception. Perceptions (how individuals interpret and understand the data presented to them) are among the most important influences in decision making. A variety of arguments have been developed to mobilize support for an attack against Iraq while intelligence services warned them that a war against Iraq could increase terrorism.
All professions develop esoteric knowledge. Their hypothesis and logics are not generally shared by the rest of society. They define the problems in their own specific terms. Members of these organizations and professions that are well engaged and socialized into the norms of their field are coming to accept these cognitive, symbolic and emotional frameworks as natural and obvious. The model of civil-military relations favors a division between military and politics. Military officers always require clear objectives, while politicians prefer to avoid clear and definitive statements about anything. This partly explains the gap between the perception of the threat by the intelligence services and the reaction of politicians who must incorporate alerts in considering other priorities and factors, including public opinion, the cost benefit, etc.
And in the West, we don’t really know what to think of the various groups active in the region. In many cases, the « common sense » is privileged at the expense of scientific and field analysis. In war against terrorism, US leaders and their allies privileged moral clarity to strategic clarity. They see in fact the causes of terrorism as a reaction against globalization, coming mainly from anomie, envy, irrationality, failed states, or, indeed, simply evil. Specifically, it has subordinated the strategic clarity to the moral clarity. In Washington DC, for example, the debate is raging between « Confrontationists » and « Accommodationists » in their attempt to interpret political Islam, as shows it Fawaz A. Gerges.
The « Confrontationists » see a « clash of civilizations » and Islam as incompatible with, and threat to, democracy (as Bernard Lewis, Judith Miller, Martin Kramer, Mortimer Zuckerman, Daniel Pipes, Samuel Huntington, Peter Rodman, Walter McDougal, Charles Krauthammer). For them, Islamists are intrinsically undemocratic and profoundly anti-Westerners.The « Accommodationists », on the other hand (as John Esposito, Yvonne Haddad, Graham Fuller and Leon Hadar), tends to minimize the importance of the Islamist extremism and to say that the threat is exaggerated.
Regarding US policy under Clinton, the government relied on the two trends to formulate its positions. Hence a paradox: when we refer to speeches, the government spokesmen have espoused unanimously the « Accommodationists » approach and have shown themselves « culturally sensitive and politically correct ». But when formulating and implementing policies towards countries and specific problems, the « Confrontationists » approach, inspired by « a deep residue of ambivalence, skepticism and distrust », is dominant. Approaches of George W. Bush and Obama are not different except in form.
The rise of Islamist revolutionary in the world is the product of several factors. Beyond internal factors related to each country, some key international events have contributed to alter the balance between the three categories of Salafism we have cited (political, jihadists, purists) and radicalize segments of the Islamist movement:
The Iranian revolution has boosted the Islamist movement by pushing them forward in other countries, who have become more active in political life.The resistance of the mujahedeen against the Soviets in Afghanistan has created the Taliban and has shown that armed struggle (jihad) could successfully create an Islamic State. The Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, seen as a victory for the mujahedeen, gave a new impulse to the re-politicization ofIslam.US policy has exacerbated the problem. A 2010 study by the Center for International Development and Conflict Management at the University of Maryland reveals that the data strongly suggest that terrorism today is largely a byproduct of the war in Iraq and is widely different from the terrorism of the last quarter of the 20th century. The total of terrorists and murderous attacks – that have increased dramatically between 1970 and early 1990 – declined until the early 21st century, then increased again during the last ten years. Increases are significantly higher after 2003 if we include all cases of terrorism in Iraq. Even after excluding cases in Iraq, where no specific group can be identified, the total of the terrorist attacks almost tripled between 2000 and 2006.
NATO intervention had the same destabilizing effect on North Africa and Sahel. Destabilization of Syria has aggravated the problem of international terrorism. These events are key moments in the change of the strategic security environment in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and even Europe. Today, Iraq, Libya and Syria have become « exporters of terror ». At this rate, terrorism may become unmanageable in the near future. Conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria have served and still serve to socialize a young generation of potential recruits, both in Africa and Europe.
Why, according to you, some Western governments have hosted jihadist groups on their soil, including groups that struck in the 90s in Algeria? How do you explain this laxity?
In addition to being an ubiquitous phenomenon that transcends cultural, religious, economic and political contexts, terrorism is a threat to political stability, international security and human well-being. Despite the recurring character of this vaster phenomenon, it’s still badly defined, and opened to erroneous interpretations, confusions, diversions, abuses and moral justifications. Predominant tendency identifies terrorism with radical Islam: the only terrorist attacks to be feared would be perpetrated by Muslims. This is obviously wrong. The renewal of religious radicalization or other shapes and colors don’t spare for several decades, no region of the world, nor any religion. It’s a dangerous shortcut. If today, terrorism and Al-Qaeda/Daesh (and similar groups motivated by the religious fanaticism) became practically synonymous, probably because most of the contemporary terrorism is the fact of its members, It makes possible the preservation of the ambiguity as for the real intentions.
At least until 11 September 2001, most of transnational threats including terrorism clearly have a generally lower profile in global security concerns than are geopolitical rivalries of the major powers, regional wars and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. In addition, part of Western politicians didn’t really understand what was happening in Algeria and the Western countries position was not the same. After all, Algeria was not part of the western camp during the Cold War and Islamist terrorist insurgency served the strategic interests of many Western countries. That has not changed with the global war against terrorism.
The war against terrorism is a reality, but the objectives are multiple and sometimes contradictory and harm the fight against terrorism. This speech – that does not draw from emptiness, but fits into the globalization – has powerful ideological effects, in the sense that the objective declared to fight and to overcome the terrorism can serve to hide other objectives, including the continuation of neoliberal globalization by other means, the preservation and the consolidation of US hegemony, the opening of new markets for American products, the expansion of the military presence, the control of international oil supplies, etc. The GWOT (Global War on Terror) has become the engine of the globalist project. Economic expansion and the free market are justified by the fight against terrorism. This speech has also been real constructive effects as it is operationalized and implemented in systems, institutions and means of action. A general characterization of the GWOT speech in terms of a number of central themes can be detected.
Some don’t rule out more attacks to come to Europe. Do you think the terrorists will choose meaningful targets or will they choose soft targets for lack of reaching strategic targets?
Know the enemy and what is its center of gravity is essential. In this sense, « a terrorist without cause (at least from his point of view) is not a terrorist » (Konrad Kellen) but it is not certain, as claimed by George W. Bush Jr., that « they embrace tyranny and death as a cause and a belief ». Their ideology was called « militant Islam », « Salafism », « Islamism », « Wahhabism », « quotbism » « Jihadism » and even « Islam », while the veil is not the same thing as the explosives belt. The attacks of the last years worldwide highlight the threat posed in particular by Islamist terrorists. However, they reflect and are the expression of a wider and bloodier phenomenon that extends far beyond Islam.
Moreover, although religious motives can be important, modern suicide terrorism is not confined to Islamic fundamentalism. Islamist groups receive the most attention in Western media, but until 2001 at least, the world leader in suicidal terrorism was the group of Tamil Tigers. The use of religion is not peculiar to Islamists. Under the Bush administration, « religion has become an instrument used to provide a moral justification for what is, in fact, an empire strategy, » said Andrew Bacevich and Elizabeth Prodromou. Terrorism goes far beyond Al Qaeda and Daesh that not only is them anterior but will survive them. Given this, if terrorism must be fought more effectively, any agreement on this must go beyond the threat currently posed by these two organizations in particular. Without such an approach, not only terrorism will be intractable, but also it may be uncontrolled.
To answer your question, it seems necessary to have a historical overview. Religiously inspired terrorism (after having been the dominant logic before 19th century) reappears in the 1980s whereas some factors have catalyzed its secularization in the 20th century. The process of re-politicization shapes a wider process where a series of factors are at the same time products, components and catalysts. While yesterday, terrorism was considered a facet of modern secular politics, primarily associated with the rise of nationalism, anarchism and revolutionary socialism, Islamic terrorism is part of the « fourth wave », the one motivated by divine imperatives. It is therefore inseparable from the emergence of « religious nationalisms » that are, in their turn, directly related to the neoliberal globalization and global geopolitics. Religious nationalism is the connection between nationalism and a particular religious belief. This connection can be decomposed into two aspects: the politicization of religion and the mutual influence of religion on politics. Tendencies development in the « fourth wave » has led to a significant change in the threats posed to society.
« Religious nationalists are modern without being modernist ». They are united by a common enemy – the secular nationalism – and a common hope for the religion revival in the public sphere, explain Mark Juergensmeyer. Two categories can be distinguished in the « religious nationalism »: ethnic and ideological. One of the biggest differences between the objectives of religious nationalists is the degree to which religion is an aspect of ethnic identity (this kind of religious nationalism is in Ireland, for example) and the degree to which religion is part of an « ideological criticism » containing an alternative vision of political order. This latter kind of religious nationalism is, for example, in the Islamic revolution of Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran.
Whereas religion seems to be the dominant general tendency of the fourth wave of terrorism, suicide attacks seem to be the driving force of the lethality increase. Terrorism motivated by religious imperatives differs from the purely secular terrorism. In particular, it relies on value systems, on legitimization mechanisms and justification radically different. The morality concepts embraced by terrorists of the « fourth wave » and the millenarian views that often form their thought process and influence their actions, are also different. As such, some failures have profoundly changed the situation in terms of lethality, namely: the generalization of suicide attacks as Bruce Hoffman called « human cruise missiles »; the cult of collective death (kill as many as possible); choosing attacks of easier targets; the decline of groups. In short, the way is to the « privatization of violence« ending the famous expression: « Terrorism, it’s few casualties but many spectators ». It’s suggested that the choice of soft targets is partly caused by the inability to hit hard targets. Within the « fourth wave », there are two types of religious terrorism namely:
The « political religious terrorism » that aims a policy objective and where religion is used as a way to mobilize and attract followers and justify its actions; andThe « millenarian terrorism » that has no such temporal objective and fighting for a sacred purpose more abstract which is impossible to achieve.
This is the « millenarian terrorism » that affects most European societies and that they fear the most. Studies show that groups linked to al Qaeda are far more deadly (36.1 deaths per attack) that religious groups that are not affiliated with Al Qaeda (9.1 deaths by attack). Al-Qaeda and Daesh are of course the best examples of the rise of the millenarian religious terrorism. Only millenarian groups seem to perpetrate attacks in the heart of the West. The conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria have served and still serve to socialize a generation of potential recruits, both in the Middle East, Africa, and the West. A distinction is made between recruits in the Middle East and Africa that are often groups where we see more criminal activity. They are closer to the guerrillas, war leaders and gangs and are less interested in search of martyrdom. As for the recruits of Western origins, for Daesh / Al Qaeda, their utility may derive from their ideological aspirations or martyrdom. Daesh offers them a closed dogmatic system of rituals, ideas, concepts, guidelines and representations defining the differences between the sacred and the profane, and between good and evil. In doing so, it rationalizes the contradictions of the various groups by providing them a common cause.
You are informed of recent terrorist operations that led the Algerian army with very positive results and where intelligence played a key role in the success of these operations. As an expert in the security and defense field, in your opinion, what impact will these operations on the other terrorist groups that proliferate in the MENA region?
A look at the geopolitical map of terrorism reveals a multitude factors causing this phenomenon although, today, this one is crystallized in this set of disorders involving North Africa and the Middle East. If terrorism is not a new phenomenon, the places of terrorist attacks have changed between world regions: Western Europe had the highest rate in the 1970s, Latin America in the 1980s, and the Middle East after 2003. For operational needs, it is better to understand the enemy as a system: rather than terrorist organizations, complex « bodies » that depend on several factors; leadership, populations, resources, infrastructures and defenses. Losing one of these key elements and the enemy is paralyzed. Losing them all and the enemy is eliminated. Generally, terrorist ideologies may be based on ethnicity, nationalism, religion or the world view of a charismatic terrorist leader. And the terrorists act because they think they can achieve their goals, generally in the hope that the State in which they act will be too weak to stop or to prevent such acts in the future. This means: Where are they? What are they? What do they want to be and / or do? What do they fear?
It’s at these levels that Algeria could overcome terrorism. In the long term, the country can not rely eternally on armed force, because the calculated assertions raise a problem of relevance for the quite simple reason that to count the terrorists is a slippery matter. It’s not obvious to be able to make a complete inventory. Estimates vary. These assessments are inaccurate partly because the total number of operating camps is not firmly accepted. Indeed, even if experts know the exact total number of camps, people who have been trained will not become (or not remain) necessarily real members of the organization. Given that these are all estimates, we don’t know what is the terrorists proportion that Algerian forces have captured or killed. In addition, there is a large Islamist potential among Algerian society that could be reactivated, especially that Algerian Islamist movement has not experienced a deradicalization process, but disengagement. The jihadist population itself is dynamic, especially with the regional chaos where crime flirts with terrorism and where terrorist groups are stateless.
Although it has been weakened by anti-terrorist operations of the Algerian army, AQIM continues to operate in certain regions of Sahel. AQIM and other terrorist and criminal organizations are a threat to the Sahel region. The reality is that the countries of the region are facing a new category of terrorists directly related to the global war against terrorism. The Algerian authorities have arrested terrorists just back from Iraq. Their schedule, methods and goals seem all carry the mark of an Al Qaeda type group. Before 2007, suicide attacks are not part of these African countries, and now they infiltrate gradually into the continent. The Islamist insurgency in North Africa has entered its second phase, the one succeeding the failure and collapse of the first wave of Islamic militancy that has thrown the shadow of the threat across this vast region in the 1990s. After suffering defeat in Algeria, Libya and Egypt, a second wave of Islamist attempts to organize itself at the regional level.
Among these fighters, many have absorbed significant experience, tactical and technical lessons learned in urban battlefields in Iraq or in rural Afghanistan campaigns. Few in number these Mujahedeen of the second generation have the potential to threaten political and economic stability of the region especially with the Libyan chaos. These new warriors are less interested by nationalism than by the « global jihad » advocated by Al Qaeda/Daesh with which many of these fighters continue to maintain close links though ambiguous.
In Europe, various commissions and personalities have pointed the lack or absence of coordination between European services and sometimes between services of the same country. What causes these failures and don’t they serve primarily Daesh and Al Qaeda terrorists?
In the fight against terrorists, it is easy to kill them given the asymmetry of the government resources; it’s just very difficult to find them. So you can understand why the emphasis is placed primarily on intelligence. And this is where the human factor becomes important. Instead of a stable front, the security and intelligence services face to « battlefield » evolving. The enemies are varied, fluid, networked, unpredictable, dynamic, constantly changing. Terrorists do not operate as armed units, generally do not attempt to seize or hold territory, deliberately avoid engaging enemy military forces in combat. Indeed, the age of the faceless and agile enemy has upset the « art of war » and in this type of conflict, the realization of the strategic victory is likely to be increasingly difficult to achieve. Emphasis will be placed on surgical strikes targeting tiny terrorist cells and laboratories of weapons suspected. Success will not be measured in number of won territories and captured bodies but networks penetrated, communications intercepted, bank transfers blocked, and secret weapons programs discovered. It’s a war in which intelligence and surveillance, multilateral diplomacy, and increased vigilance on the domestic front are as important as military prowess.
Western intelligence services have thwarted many attacks and zero risk does not exist. In spite of the European integration, there is always an aversion for the centralization and the information sharing. Information is somehow power. Intelligence is a very sensitive field. National egoism still persists, that paralyzes cooperation in antiterrorism matters. Sometimes information sharing is slow because of the bureaucracy and procedures while the « time factor » is central in the fight against terrorism. In many parts of the world, the attacks of September 11 have catalyzed the recruitment and overall support for Islamist terrorist organizations, the spread of the generation of self-radicalized cells and a tendency to the « micro-terrorism ». The context post-9/11 has introduced significant changes among the terrorists, giving rise to organizations with a structure having a lesser degree of centralization, which works now in a logic from the bottom up which makes that the initiative regarding the planning and the execution of attacks is mainly fixed between the members of cells and not necessarily within management structures.
Since the early 1990s, Europol exists, a European police organization specializing in criminal intelligence but also intelligence on terrorism since 2001. Since January 1st, 2016, it is equipped with a European Center of counter-terrorism whose principal weakness is the lack of means, particularly human. The major powers are fascinated by high technology to the detriment of the human factor, central in information gathering. Operations against hybrid cells criminal-terrorists are likely to lead very small actions by smaller forces that do not require highly sophisticated technology, except for Intelligence and surveillance system worldwide. The new generation of leaders is madly passionate about technology, attracted by mechanistic technology solutions to complex problems. The proposed solutions are, for example, the draft files PNR (Passenger Name Record), strengthening of the Frontex Agency, creation of a European CIA, etc.
But why are there more European jihadists than Algerian in Syria? It’s a question that it’s necessary to answer. The European and American countries are exporters of terrorists, as revealed a ranking delivered by the British newspaperThe Economist in September 2014. France has more than 700 national activists in Syria, Britain 400, Germany 270, and Belgium 250. Among the jihadists there are 250 Australians, 70 Americans and nearly 400 Turks. The number of Algerians in these groups is less than 100. Tunisia has over 3000 nationals, followed by Saudi Arabia (2500), Jordan (2000) and Morocco with 1500 jihadists. In other words, this « technological dream » (i.e. the creation of small armed forces, professional and high technology able to achieve decisive military success with minimal costs in terms of lives lost) is a very sensitive issue in the era of « post-heroic war » that includes many gaps. Its defenders neglect most continuities in armed conflict and do not recognize the limits of new technologies and of emerging military capabilities. In particular, the concepts based primarily on the ability to target the enemy with long-range precision ammunitions separate the war of its political, cultural and psychological contexts.
There have been many mistakes in the anti-terrorism strategy, based on a bad sociology and that reflects a simplified reading of irregular violence including Islamist terrorism. Open or disguised interventions in Syria, Libya, Iraq, the rupture of relations with Russia, alignment with the American strategy are as many mistakes. The global war against terrorism is « state-centrist » as shows the strategy of US and Europe in Syria. In fact, the fight against Daesh and terrorist groups is a reality, but it is directly subordinate to the central goal that is the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad. At the beginning, there was even use and manipulation of the terrorism to reach this goal whether it is directly or via the allies of the Gulf or Turkey. It was only after that Daesh has attacked Western interests that the fight against this organization was undertaken in parallel with the aim to overthrow the Syrian regime.
Philip Golub said that « the security structure is not primarily conceived to ensure safety. Its purpose is relatively independent of all of the real or perceived threats, which it is supposed exclude or fight ». A significant number of Western countries activities in Africa and the Middle East have nothing to do with the fight against terrorism, but with other objectives of foreign policy which sometimes harm seriously the efforts of fight against terrorism. In doing so, their security and intelligence services are saturated and dispersed to manage the consequences of contradictory policies. Iraq is an example among so many others. The result of these intervention policies: a regional disorder that risks becoming uncontrolled and insufficient resources to face it, resources that could have been used to strengthen the security of citizens.
Can the western governments fight the jihadist radicalism?
The fight strategy against transnational terrorism puts widely the focus on the manifestation of terrorism in its tactical form, without attacking the domestic underlying causes. A major strategy to defeat terrorism will necessarily involve a re-examination of US and European countries policy, because the Western strategy is based on a bad sociology, supported by a speech largely focused on the values and moral clarity and stipulating that terrorists are nothing other than barbarians attacking the free world and its values. And as Bernard Brodie said in 1973, « a good strategy requires a good anthropology and sociology. Some of the biggest military blunders of all time have resulted from naive assessments in this field ».
It is difficult to find a general explanation in why a person joins terrorism. Terrorism is the product of informed choices resulting from dynamic interactions between individuals, organizations and environmental conditions, influenced by temporal and spatial considerations and by anyone who helps us to interpret the world that surrounds us. The participation in the holy war in its local or overall form is an individual decision, the result of interactions of three levels: the individual, the organization and the environment. But the dominant Western discourse has reductive readings and, in doing so, tries to impose the historical and moral clarity where others might find ambiguity. Far from being a mere ornamental use of language, the use of the metaphor of « evil » is not a superficial stylistic accessory and / or a way to decorate the speech without affecting its meaning.
Describing the enemy as « evil » can be an effective means of legitimizing extreme steps. We can’t negotiate with the « evil », but only trying to eradicate it. It’s useless to try to understand the “evil” or to look for explanations and, consequently, no sociological study of the phenomenon is possible. It’s even dangerous. It speculates that the terrorists are rational, that their grievances are legitimate or even that they have a cause. Focusing on values instead of interests is likely to crystallize the conflict, to deny any legitimacy to their cause and to reject the dialog, barbarism and irrationality characterizing their claims. It is a way of saying that only the military option is possible, only their extermination is possible. So it’s absurd to envisage treating the « nasty » terrorists as rational persons acting on the basis of reason to achieve particular goals. Politics and diplomacy are irrelevant, only violence can respond to violence.
In other words, the only possible response to terrorism is war. Historical analysis is not insightful – no past wrongs or injustices can explain the « evil ». President Obama, for example, describes Daesh as the « brand of evil » and highlights the force as the only alternative. « No God tolerates this terror. No grievance can justify such actions. There can be no reasoning – no negotiation – with this brand of evil. The only language understood by killers like these is the language of force », he says. But finally, Daesh is a direct product of US policy, what US leaders never recognize. In the Oxford Research Group report, the director of Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, Jan Oberg says that « The post-11/9 dominant discourse of security revolves around three myths: that the terrorism has no causes which are worth being discussed, that terrorism is only non-governmental, and that the « war against terrorism » should have priority over all other global challenges ». This report entitled Global Responses to Global Threats « demystifies these myths ».
How do you explain the imbalance that exists between the control and efficiency of jihadists in the use of new technologies and communication, and on the other hand the mass media that are only counting the attacks without analyzing jihadist matrix with its variants and constants?
Beyond motivations, the terrorists of the « fourth wave » now operating in a completely different environment, i.e. saturated with mass media, and where access to increasingly sophisticated weapons is easier. The terrorists and media agendas are different. The first learned how to manipulate the seconds subtly and effectively. In 1974, Brian Jenkins suggested that « Terrorist attacks are often carefully choreographed to get the attention of electronic media and international press » that show themselves, in final analysis, unable to neglect what Bowyer Bell has pertinently described as « an event (…) specially developed to respond to their needs ». The same mechanisms and technological and economic forces serving the diffusion of the globalization have increased the power of individuals and small groups and permitted to terrorism a global reach. The diffusion of technology, of information and finance, provides to the terrorists/criminals a greater mobility and an access to the world. The volume, speed and geographical spread of economic globalization has conferred a certain degree of anonymity to those who participate. Armed groups exploit this anonymity in three distinct ways. First, the size of world economy permits to armed groups to hide their trade in licit and illicit goods, to move people, and to escape detection. Then the ability to communicate and work anonymously over large distances permits to armed groups to create links with others having ideologies, objectives, belonging and structures operational disparate. Finally, the increased connectivity of the globalized world has permitted to armed groups to transmit information, and to recruit internationally while hiding their author capacity and intentions in middle of the noise of the legitimate global interaction.
The information age seems to help non-state actors more than the States. The new technologies permit to the various groups to work in network, to promote their causes and to increase their « organizational efficiency, lethality and ability to operate in a truly global scale ». The rise of Daesh/Qaida has thus benefited from the global explosion of communication technologies: radical groups are always more connected to a kind of global extremist nebula, whether ideologically, virtually and/or physically. However, it is necessary to qualify. The military know-how (communications control, manufacturing of weapons and explosives, military strategy and tactics, etc.) is not mainly due to the internet, as is often repeated. We must ask the question to know where are the former members of Iraqi and Libyan armies, for example. Their know-how and their military and organizational expertise were disseminated on the ground everywhere in the Middle East and in Africa. It’s not exaggerated to say that their role is decisive on the battlefield and in the Daesh strategy. It is the US and NATO intervention that caused the spread of warfare techniques in beheading the Iraqi and Libyan armies – not the internet, among others.
Do not think that to fight terrorism, we need effective intelligence services, and is not a coordination between worldwide various intelligence services vital in this fight?
Indeed, yes. But military history is full of surprises. Historically, the concept of the enemy has been more ubiquitous than the concept of the threat. Faced with terrorism, the militaries are confronted with a problem of identification, because the philosophy of Al Qaeda has no geographical sanctuary. War evokes the battlefield concepts. But with terrorism, everything and anything could be a battlefield. The threat is transnational, characterized by enemies without territory, without borders or fixed bases. Like an angry hornets swarm surrounding an unprotected man, they rush by delivering a scathing attack, and withdrew quickly. Chance and uncertainty are personified by irregular forces supported by a wide ideology, a vast organizational and operational infrastructure, and a multinational membership. As global terrorism doesn’t consist of 50 armored divisions, the focus will be placed on surgical strikes against terrorist cells and tiny weapon laboratories. The Special Forces commando operation against Bin Laden in Somalia and Libya is « a classic example » of how to perfectly execute the high-risk military operations. The success of this type of operation is based on reliable information.
Hence the importance of having an effective intelligence service and institutionalizing cooperation between the various services in the field. But politics is the art of possible. For this to work, it’s first necessary to reach agreement on the definition of terrorism. Currently, each State has its own list of terrorist organizations. So « as long as there is no agreement on « what is terrorism », it’s impossible to attribute responsibility to countries that support terrorism, to formulate measures to face the terrorism at an international level, and to fight effectively against the terrorists, the terrorist organizations and them allied ». The international system remained anarchical. The massive spying of Americans on the world, including their European allies (even those committed alongside them in the war against terrorism), reveals the predominance of national interests and the deep strategic mistrust that exists.
To that international cooperation in this field works and potentially succeeds, the practices of war should not only be accepted, regularized and institutionalized, but also be shown as the only option for peace in the world. Authorities claiming to be in charge of determining the parameters of the anti-terrorism policies have to present themselves as having the authoritative knowledge about the nature of terrorism. But the American discourse on terrorism is fragmentary and approximate. The need for a coherent and consensual definition of terrorism is an essential basis for a better understanding. Designate the concepts clearly and accurately remains an absolute prerequisite for effective policy. Instead of it, and to support the policies leading US national interests especially, the United States and its allies acted in various ways (hard and soft) to globalize the discourse and necessarily the practices of the GWOT.
In your opinion, can we overcome the terrorist phenomenon only in the military field, or is it necessary to act primarily on ideology and on the matrix that provide this terrorism?
It is important to define our terminology, the perception of any intellectual problem being shaped by the understanding of concepts. A specific point of view on the characteristics and causes of terrorism shapes perceptions as to if a State may employ armed forces as part of its efforts to contain and ultimately defeat terrorism, or if the use of military means would be counterproductive. A lot of people doesn’t think to the terrorism as a military problem, nor speak it in terms of « world war against the terrorism « , except maybe as a metaphor. The American response to the attacks of September 11, 2001 has militarized the conflict, both in terms of the rhetoric of the « war » as in terms of real military operations. For the success of any counter-terrorism strategy, it seems crucial to understand that military options are only one tool in the fight against terrorism. As the experience of other countries embroiled in such struggles has shown it, the inability to develop a comprehensive and perfectly coordinated strategy has often undermined and even cancelled their efforts to counter the terrorism.
To be effective, a fight against terrorism strategy must be supported and the objectives be realistic. Clearly, no one should marry the illusion that the developed world can win this conflict in the near future. As is the case with most insurgencies, the victory does not seem decisive or complete. The treatment of political, social and economic evils can help, but in the end will not be decisive. In this war, the direct military force will continue to play a role in long-term effort to counter terrorists and other extremists. But in the long term, « kill or capture » can not be the way to victory. We don’t fight against mosquitoes with a Kalashnikov, but in « cleaning the swamp » that support them. An integrated strategy focusing on the three « D » (Diplomacy, Defense, and Development) is required. The strategy imposes the discrimination of the threats and the harmonization of ends and means, and requires clear objectives, at least an identifiable enemy and probably a specific theater of operations. Everything that is lacking in the war against terrorism: global and against a means (terrorism) rather than against a belligerent group. In doing so it has subordinated the strategic clarity to the moral clarity.
In his speeches, Bin Laden was silent on the freedoms and American values. He doesn’t seem to care much about the beliefs of the « Crusaders ». His emphasis was always focused on the US foreign policy in the Middle East. The examination of 24 declarations he made, between 1994 and 2004, by the political analyst James L. Payne reveals that 72 % of their contents approaches the Western or Israeli attacks against Muslims while only 1 % critical the culture or American lifestyle. In a video from 2004, Bin Laden directly refuted Bush’s assertions about the motivations of Al-Qaeda to attack the United States: « Unlike Bush’s statements claiming that we hate your freedom, if this were true, then, that he explains why we didn’t attack Sweden ». Field studies and opinion polls show that most of criticisms of Muslim concern « what the United States do » and not « who we are ». Even a Pentagon report admitted this reality in 2004. Daesh is another question, but it’s a direct product of US policy.
This is to say that it’s time to do an objective assessment of US policy instead of hiding behind « why do they hate us? » Terrorism has no religion and must be condemned and combated in all its forms and colors, and in all places.There are no good and bad terrorists. We can not fight terrorism in Africa, and support similar groups in Syria. Moreover, Muslims have not waited for the war against terrorism to fight this plague. Algeria is an example, and done it alone. In any case, the vast majority of Muslims in the United States and around the world have rejected the violent ideology of Al-Qaeda and Daesh. This explains why 85 % of the victims of Al-Qaeda worldwide between 2004 and 2008 were Muslims, according to a study of West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center. There is no monolithic enemy network with a single set of goals and objectives. The nature of the threat is more complicated to reduce it to « Islam-fascism ».
Interview realized by Mohsen Abdelmoumen
Who is Tewfik Hamel?
Tewfik Hamel is a researcher in military History and Studies of defense for CRISES (Center of Interdisciplinary researches in Human and social Sciences) in the university Paul Valéry in Montpellier (France), and consultant. Research fellow at the Foundation for Political Innovation (2008-2009), T. Hamel is a member of RICODE (Network of interdisciplinary researches « colonization and decolonization ») and of the reading committee of the reviewGéostratégiques(geopolitical Academy of Paris). He is also editor of the French version of African Journal of Political Science (Algeria).
T Hamel is the author of numerous publications in collective works and in major specialized magazines in France and in Arab world (Global Security, National Defense Review, Geoeconomy, Geostrategic, STRATEGIA, Review of the Common Market and the European Union, Materials for the history of our time, NAQD, Magazine of Political Studies & International Relations, etc.). Author of reports on the Geo-strategic situation in the Middle East and North Africa, its latest study of a hundred pages is entitled « The concept of globalization in the light of new geopolitical changes » (National Institute of Studies of Global strategy, Presidency of the Republic, Algiers, 2015). His article in the Global Security review will be published in the US under the title « The Fight Against Terrorism and Crime: A Paradigm Shift? An Algerian Perspective ».
Published in American Herald Tribune, July 21, 2016: http://ahtribune.com/politics/1082-tewfik-hamel.html
In French in Palestine Solidarité: http://www.palestine-solidarite.org/analyses.mohsen_abdelmoumen.220716.htm
In French in European Security and Defense: http://www.european-security.com/n_index.php?id=7246