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Empirical glimpse: The Global Theatres of Jihad

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Writer: Dr Rupali Jeswal

A federal and democratic society is where freedom and the rule of law ensure the purposeful and successful life of the community. Core of federalism and democracy is in the security of the nation and its people and if personal security and freedom is curtailed and attacked by violence and terrorism, it is the very foundations of democracy, which is at stake. Security is like the air we breathe. Once we realise it is decreasing, it just might be too late to take preventive measures.

Counter terrorism is a broad issue so its operational efficacy relies on a 360 degrees view. History of Muslim empire’s dominance and the minority status of the Muslims today is an important correlate to the eruption of global theaters of Jihad.

21st century’s fast growing western interests in Islamic regions, international conflicts and globalisation have changed the influence of Islam on the world. Many movements and groups have radical Islamic views, although related may harbour different aims, this means that various kinds of threats can emanate from radical Islam, one of which is terrorism. Radical Islam and its many definitions have one focus-a shift from 4GW or asymmetrical warfare to 5GW or unrestricted warfare.

This Unrestricted Warfare utilises the tools of pen and the sword; which must be neutralised in a manner appropriate to the characteristics of these tools.

Empirical glimpse: The Global Theatres of Jihad

Terrorism inflicted areas of today are like an echo originating from the then confident, rich tapestry of Muslim empires. Terrorism is the ultimate consequence of a development starting with radicalization processes. These processes may manifest themselves in various ways and involve also, other than terrorist threats (for example, interethnic tensions).

The Da’wa-oriented forms of radical Islam are not necessarily violent by nature, nevertheless they generate important security risks and also one does not have to be a follower of Islam to become a jihadist.

Various interpretations of jihad

History conveys that the meaning of Jihad is the obligation of each Muslim, within his abilities, to spread Islam in the world. Generally the obligation of Jihad was understood as a peaceful method of setting a personal and social example of moral and caring behaviour so others will join Islam.

But what does Jihad mean?

Jihad has various interpretations, from spiritual jihad to Jihad bil Saif (warfare). Al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, an 11th century Islamic scholar has referenced a statement in his book, The History of Baghdad, by way of Yahya ibn al ‘Ala’ from the hadith in which Prophet Muhammad speaks of greater jihad (al-jihād al-akbar) and lesser jihad (al-jihād al-asghar), but some Islamic scholars dispute the authenticity of this reference and consider themeaning of jihad as a holy war to be of more importance. (The fourteenth century Hanbali scholar Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziya rejected the doctrine of the “greater jihad” and called the hadith on which it is based a “fabrication”.

Then in Ahmadiyya Islam (founded in 1889 by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad), pacifism is a strong current and jihad is one’s personal inner struggle and should not be used violently for political motives. Violence is the last option only to be used to protect religion and one’s own life in extreme situations of persecution.

Jihad primarily meant struggle but this definition has itself undergone transmutation. Shaeed Sayyid Al Qtub was an author, educator, poet and member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, the incompatibility between Islamism of the Brotherhood and of Free Officers Movement headed by Gamal Abdel Nasser, made Qtub verbalised jihad as a primary tool of advancing the revolution as an offensive struggle. His martyrdom became an example through which a human becomes part of the revolutionary movement aimed at changing the world with a new ethical code based on freedom, brotherhood and justice for all. (Excerpt from his book Milestones,Chapter 4: The Jihaad of Islam is to secure complete freedom for every man throughout the world by releasing him from servitude to other human beings so that he may serve his God, Who IS One and Who has no associates. This is in itself a sufficient reason for Jihad.)

Not all the wars where Muslims are fighting non-Muslims are part of the global jihad; contextual risk factors such as poverty, minority, unemployment and stressful life events may exacerbate a sympathiser’s view leading them through stages of radicalization.

Global Jihad has a great influence already–on the global economy, the human rights and democracy. As Paz noted in his article “The Islamic Debate over Democracy”, 2006; Egyptian Islamist Dr Hani al-Siba`i, posted on the Jihadi forum “Al-Hesbah” a list of names of 102 Islamic clerics, who severely opposed any participation in parliamentary elections in the Muslim world. The list was meant to influence the Palestinian Hamas not to take part in the elections.

An Islamic state is an ideological state, ideologies are beliefs and belief system incorporates meanings and emotions. Terrorist minds have showcased their efficient use of pen, through propaganda using media and information technology and the sword through weapons and homicide bombers.

Unrestricted warfare

Success in silencing the global theatres of jihad needs insight on importance of prevention through analysis, information, intelligence and tactics which need to disperse globally via active cooperation and information exchange. Terrorism is not a new phenomenon; over the years it has changed from being primarily a national topic to a global issue. To combat this unrestricted warfare with diffusion of powers, countries need correct interpretations of today’s security scenario keeping in view, aspects of culture, geography, soft and hard targets. We are not only confronting terrorism but effects of their relationship with organised transnational crime rings. Terrorism has had many definitions, for many it no longer describes a tactic but implies moral censure. Terrorism is an activity committed by the people against the people. It is still a tactic whether employed and deployed by a government, a revolutionary group or an individual. Terrorist acts are consciously chosen and carried out for purposes that go beyond violence, these are a mixture of political goals and emotional needs and a need for recognition of these emotional needs.

Maritime and Aviation Threats: The extraterritoriality of the high seas and inconsistent security measures that apply in coastal areas and facilities in many parts of the world can make maritime environment attractive to terrorist (Maritime Terrorism, Risk and Liabilities, Rand Corporation.) In many parts of the world, maritime attacks have the potential to inflict significant harms on persons and property.

Risk of Aviation terrorism has increased with the rise of aviation as a popular mode of transportation. The first registered incident of aviation terrorism goes back to 1930, when Peruvian insurgents seized an airplane to scatter propaganda leaflets.

The starting date of modern aviation terrorism, as we see it now, is 22 July 1968, when three gunmen from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) hijacked passenger airliner of the Israeli airline El Al on a flight from Rome to Tel-Aviv and demanded to exchange hostages for their comrades-in-arms who were imprisoned in Israel. Although this case being the 12th in the civilian aircraft seizure in 1969, this case was different in its aim. This was the first time an aircraft had been hijacked for specific political goal and to use the incident as a propaganda tactic.

Maritime and Aviation categories have some commonalities, such as they are both perceived high in vulnerability, they are the link of the global economy, past historical cases provide patterning. Acts of terrorism using these two categories generate an economic warfare, can be used as deliberate move by terrorist to create situation of crisis, due to the vastness of the area (high seas) vigilance is low, technical sophistication may override the gaps in our system, such attacks have a symbolic value plus high seas and aviation provide a multinational arena.

Suicide terrorism

Osama bin Laden honoured Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the 9/11 mastermind, with the title ‘mukhtar’, meaning ‘the brain’. It may be argued that the most powerful weapon of bio terrorism in the terrorist’s armory is not any microbial agent but the human brain itself. It is known that some terrorists have followed this line of philosophical thought. In the words of one Palestinian: ‘if you want to compare it to the life of Paradise, you will find that all of this life is like a small moment. You know, in mathematics, any number compared with infinity is zero’.

“A long view of history reveals that suicide terrorism existed as early as the 11th century. The Assassins (Ismailis-Nizari), Muslim fighters, adopted suicide terrorism as a strategy to advance the cause of Islam. These perpetrators perceived their deaths as acts of martyrdom for the glory of God.” Example: The Ishtish Hadiyat (January 2002 representing Al-Aqsa).

Suicide bombers are readily available, require little training, leave no trace behind and strike fear into the general population. Element of surprise and accessibility to targeted areas of population are the only two criteria for their success.

Since the 1980s, killing oneself deliberately has become the most popular method of attacking and killing one’s enemies. It was a real-life Shi’i fanatic, a thirteen-year-old boy called Hossein Fahmideh, who set things moving in 1981 when he died with a grenade in his hand, throwing himself under a tank during the Iran-Iraq war. He was followed by thousands of young Iranians carrying “keys to paradise,” who, walked and ran across minefields, ripping their bodies apart for God and the Islamic regime. Ideal type is the fighter who engages in an action called inghimas, throwing himself recklessly at the enemy, even if he should be one man against a thousand. Doing this was seen as legitimate because the mujahid was seeking martyrdom and did not need permission from the leader of his army or unit.

Suicide bombers believe, God sends them on their missions and by the time they’re ready to be strapped with explosives they have reached a hypnotic state (tunnel-vision) to fulfill their role. Concept driven motivation presumably has a certain role here. The figure of the martyr as a holy warrior (mujahid) who dies in battle and goes on to reap a heavenly reward above that of ordinary mortals is of central importance in the earliest period of Islam.

The psychological impact of suicide terrorism is potent and crippling to the society. A state of intense fear creates the definition of terror, when induced in societies; it becomes a weapon in itself for stagnation and demoralisation, creating state of unrest leading to an effective terrorism tactic.

Examples set by the LTTE, who became the world’s foremost suicide bombers and proved the tactic to be so unnerving and effective, that their methods and killing innovations have been studied and copied by most terrorist organisations.

Threats from communication warfare


  • Electronic warfare: Techno Terrorism, which is to disrupt communication (jamming, HERF guns, EMP bombs) and cause damage to vital hardware.
  • Hacker warfare: Cyber Terrorism, which is damage to control system of information (Chipping / Backdoors).
  • Psych warfare: Propaganda / Hactivism (direct broadcast).
  • Information warfare: Attack or threats to disrupt civilian infrastructure.

Cyber attacks like suicide bombers are effective tools employed by terrorists because these cause fear and uncertainty within a given population influencing the government or population for their own political, social or ideological agenda.

Cyber terrorists prefer using the cyber attack methods because of its many advantages: It is relatively cheaper than traditional methods, action is very difficult to be tracked, they can hide their identities and location, there are no physical barriers or checkpoints to cross, the act can be remotely controlled from anywhere in the world, big targets can be aimed at collectively, they can affect a large number of people. Jihad relies on global communication and through Internet they receive the same advantages as common public, which is – speed, security and linkage. They are geographically dispersed groups of non-hierarchical standing; work as a team through a non-visible leadership. Unrestricted warfare has a faceless and stateless enemy systematically spreading and unifying ideas and motives under a virtual caliphate. Non-state actors means, they are free of facing direct retaliation. Global jihad movement places a high value on propaganda and agitation, operating according to low-intensity, long term and transnational strategy based on leaderless jihad, terrorist networks and franchises and cyber-warfare.

The Internet provides many different ways of anonymously meeting with ‘like minded’ individuals in a (comparatively) safe way. Furthermore, a successful cyber terrorism event could require no more prerequisite than knowledge – something that is essentially free to the owner once acquired and an asset that can be used over and over again. Thus, it would be possible that such an environment could facilitate the creation of entirely new terrorist groups – no monies would be required for actions and members could organise themselves quickly and easily in the anonymity of cyberspace.

In Jihad Website Monitoring Group, a periodical review of Institute of Counter-Terrorism, Israel in October 2010 published by Israel’s institute of counter-terrorism, it is mentioned how one of the surfers on the “Shumukh Al-Islam” Jihadi forum provides explanation along with instructional steps and illustration on how to make a car bomb, further on in the forum the surfer provides a very detailed explanation on turning gas tanks into bombs and information on the preparation of a timer. The end of the 20th century may have seen a decline in the number of incidents of ‘traditional’ terrorism such as hijackings and kidnappings but the lethality of the terrorist potential has risen to a frightening degree with the advent of cyber terrorism and its links to computer technology.

The target of Internet terrorism is twofold:
a) Attack / distort the moral values of the masses and
b) Change mental frames of the Muslims around the world through persuasion. Change in mental frames is effective to take the potential recruit through the radicalization phase. Jihad messages appeal to the emotion-significant limbic system establishing long-term memory tags.

Bio-terrorism: Few known cases showcase the menacing nature of bio-terrorism, a major challenge of the 21st century, even though biological warfare is as old as the human race. For example in the Middle Ages, the bodies of plague victims would be thrown over city walls to discourage advancing enemy armies. Statistics show that between 1960 and 1999 more than 200 incidents involving biological agents were reported in different parts of the world. Before 2001, the Aum Shinrikyo sect in Japan experimented with Ebola, Botulinum Toxin and Anthrax and tried to spray in Tokyo. And then in 2001 an editor of a US tabloid died due to inhalation of a white powder hidden in an envelope, which he had opened. Some cases reported after were hoaxes but seeds of fear and panic were sown intimidating the civilian populations. Bio-terrorism is low on probability and potentially high consequence event.

French Sociologist, Émile Durkheim (1858-1917) has argued in his book Division of Labour in Society, that traditional primitive societies, based around a clan, family or a tribe unite members through common consciousness and religion plays an important role in unifying its members. This also reflects the work of the Islamic scholar, Ibn Khaldun (1332-1395 CE), on Asbyiah (group feelings) Ibn Khaldun expects the sense of solidarity to be based originally and normally on kinship. A sense of solidarity can be powerfully supported by religion and conversely no religion can make an impact unless its members have a strong sense of solidarity.

If we keep the above mentioned theories in mind then the modern era of today and intermingling of cultures and ideas through media and Internet may give rise to cultural insecurities in various societies leading to mental and emotional unrest.

Addressing the root cause of modern terrorism is; taking a longer view and facilitating multifaceted strategies and implementations, multilayered dialogue is vital for successful counter-terrorism.

Transformation in counter-terrorism designs should be endless; it is needed to anticipate the next step. This transformation is achieved through swarming – which involves flexibility, synchronisation, communicating, deciphering the unit autonomies and coordinating every available asset to its action-advantage. A centralised body of collection of research is needed, that provides information and analysis to support monitoring, acquisition and neutralising of a threat and is comprised of various levels of intelligence and management packages. Terrorists employ these methods and imitation can be the sincerest form of counter-terrorism.

We need 4 key Pillars to combat terrorism: Analysis, Protection, Response and Resiliency

Standards must be created for Operational Security to thwart or neutralise attacks using human and technological means, which stands on good intelligence plus the synchronicity between manpower, technology and measures.

Success and changes need insight on importance of prevention through analysis, information, intelligence and tactics, which need to disperse globally via active cooperation and information exchange in all channels. (Government, Political leaders, Law Enforcement Agents, Security Experts in Academia and Community)

Very few of us would answer in the affirmative if we were to be asked: Are we more secured today as compared to 20 years ago?

A federal and democratic society is where freedom and the rule of law ensure the purposeful and successful life of the community. Core of federalism and democracy is in the security of the nation and its people and if personal security and freedom is curtailed and attacked by violence and terrorism, it is the very foundations of democracy, which is at stake.

What is the importance of prevention?

Security is like the air we breathe. Once we realise it is decreasing, it just might be too late to take preventive measures.
To enhance and promote growth, of roots of federalism, the installation, effectiveness and long-term credibility of state governments, central government, private and non-profit sectors must be strengthened, as we are all collective contributors, in constructing the multilayered security parameters.

Homeland security should be a collective concern and countering terrorism – a collective approach – “A whole Nation approach”.

Indulgence in co-operative federalism is needed, which means – that the two levels of government are essentially partners.

To assist management what can be proposed as starters?
Inter-government and intra-country bodies collaborate to select the most cost-effective, pro-active and / or reactive options and/or eliminate a target crime(s) and / or terrorist individuals or terrorist groups.

Constant improvement in areas of security systems, professionals, security patterns through technology, upgraded trainings, red teaming, modernisation of weapons and tactics, protective gears, creating open intra-group communication channels and decision-making responsibilities.

Re-evaluation of methods of use of technology to reduce and further eliminate information warfare / cyber terrorism. Vulnerabilities of jihadist online are behavioural and not-technical which can assist in countermeasures through intercepting jihad forums and monitoring the pattern of language of propaganda.

Greater emphasis should be on psychological and information operations, web-based operations and counter propaganda.

Unrestricted warfare displays how terrorists are able to operate as loosely organised, self-financed networks. Religiously oriented, ideologically motivated terrorist organisations have eclipsed the earlier ethno-national terrorists. Cross-pollination of ideas among terrorists via use of technology makes their network widespread more so than among various counter-terrorism agencies. New breed of recruits are highly educated and with advance training in science, engineering and biochemistry, which increases their appetite to obtain WMDs or crude nuclear weapons. Terrorist organisations and counter-terrorism units are competing for the same audience with same levels of skills and knowledge.

Optimal advantage of effective counter-terrorism will be seen when all levels of details are arranged in a way that most effectively executes an action and signals the weakness through re-evaluation of the existing structure. Developing a stronger operational and tactical intelligence structure should be constructed along with partner countries to assist in planning, preparedness and disaster management with control and speed. Construction of a lattice framework of all counter-terrorism analysis centres to share and analyse risk, predict acts of terrorism and their modus operandi for various scenarios. The design phase includes when we start to create assets, advantage and culling methods to counter acts of terrorism.

To prepare target packets, using collaborated effort of knowledge of 3 kinds – specific, non-specific and expert. Thus, setting priorities requires modelling and simulating attack and response and “red teaming” to test the effectiveness of proposed solutions and also incorporating social sciences to reach the core of the ideologies of terrorists.

Further reading on this article:

  • Paz. R, (2006) ‘The Islamic Debate over Democracy: Jihadi-Salafi Responses to Hamas’ Victory in the Palestinian Elections, Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, THE PROJECT FOR THE RESEARCH OF ISLAMIST MOVEMENTS (PRISM) OCCASIONAL PAPERS, Volume 4 (2006).
  • Cartwright, N (1989) Nature’s Capacities and Their Measurement, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Center on Law and Security, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 30:1-14.
  • Ciovacco, C J. (2008) “The Erosion of Noncombatant Immunity within Al-Qaeda”, Small Wars Journal, June issue, Vol. 4 and 5.
  • Council for European Affairs (2007), “Counter-Terrorism A Critical Assessment of European Union Responses.”QCEA, Brussels, Quaker Publications.
  • Crone, P (2005) Medieval Islamic Political Thought, Edinburgh University Press.
  • Cruickshank P (2007) “Abu Musab Al Suri: Architect of the New Al Qaeda”.
  • Cullison, A (2004) “Inside al Qaeda’s Hard Drive,” The Atlantic Monthly, September issue.
  • Hall, R (2005) “Assessment   Guidelines forCounter-Terrorism” (Under FEMA Grant EMW-2004-GR-0112) July 2, 2005 Report #05-017 DRAFT, Available at Hoffman, B (2006) Inside Terrorism, New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Hoffman, B (2010) “Al-Qaeda has a new strategy, Obama needs one too”, Washington Post, “OUTLOOK and OPINION” section, January.
  • Jones, J (2009) Muslim-Jewish Relations in Australia: Challenges and Threats, (No. 45).
  • Levins, R (2006). “Strategies of Abstraction”. Biology and Philosophy 21: 741-755.
  • Mahdi, M (2006) Ibn Khaldun’s Philosophy of History: A Study in the Philosophic Foundation of the Science of Culture. ISBN: 9789839541526
  • Oliver, R (2004) The search for New Ummah.
  • Oliver, A M, Steinberg P. The Road to Martyr’s Square. Oxford University Press, 2005, 214 pp.
  • Howard, T (2010) The Spread of Terrorism in sub-Saharan Africa, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, Volume 33 Issue 11.
  • Streusand, D E (1997) “What Does Jihad Mean?” Middle East Quarterly, Vol 4, no. 3, pp. 9-17.
  • THE 9/11 COMMISSION REPORT official government edition, Internet:
  • Venzke, B N, and Ibrahim, A (2002) Al-Qaeda Tactic / Target Brief Intel Center / Tempest Publishing.

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