Reports and papers

The evolution of Al-Qaedaism: Ideology, terrorists, and appeal

31 Jan 2008 - 10:33

More than six years after the attacks on the United States, Al-Qaeda is still perceived by many as one of the most important threats to the security to the West, most notably to the United States. Fortunately, in the years following these catastrophic events, Al-Qaeda has not managed to repeat a deadly attack that has been anywhere near the scale of '9/11'. This has partly been the result of the 'Global War on Terror', including the fall of the Taliban regime and the hunt for persons belonging to or associated with Al-Qaeda. Despite being deprived of its bases in Afghanistan and losing many of its operational leaders, Al-Qaeda has, however, managed to support or motivate others to attack Western targets, both in the Islamic world and beyond. Evidence of this include (foiled and failed) attacks in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Europe. Often, it remains unclear in what way and to what extent these attacks can be ascribed to the Al-Qaeda network. It is clear, however, that Al-Qaeda often serves as a label that is used by various terrorist groups, and as a source of inspiration of a new generation of jihadi terrorists. In that particular shape, Al-Qaeda constitutes a conviction or creed that can best be described as Al-Qaedaism.

Despite the fact that Al-Qaeda has made headlines for about a decade, it remains unclear what makes it tick. This is not due to a lack of scholarly research. Think of studies by Montasser Al-Zayat, Peter Bergen, Jason Burke, John Gray, Rohan Gunaratna, Marc Sageman, Mohammed Sifaoui, and many others. Heart of the problem is that Al-Qaeda's evolution seems to take place at a pace that is too fast for researchers to follow. Six years later, the Al-Qaeda of '9/11' seems of a totally different nature than the Al-Qaeda we face today. Even the 'Al-Qaeda' associated with the Madrid bombings is very different from the Al-Qaedaist attacks on the London public transport less than one-and-a-halve years later. On top of that, the Al-Qaeda in Iraq seems to change size, shape or tactics almost every season.

Given the extreme fluidity of 'Al-Qaeda', this study will not try to analyse the latest developments or to describe the Al-Qaeda of today. Instead the authors go back to basics and look at the different forms and phases of Al-Qaeda, and investigate the persons and ideas behind it. With regard to the latter, their primary focus is not on the many post-'9/11' studies on Al-Qaeda, but on the documents and statements of Al-Qaeda itself. The basic research questions of this study can be divided into two sets. First it focuses on the following two questions: how did Al-Qaeda develop since the early 1990s?, and; who are the Al-Qaeda terrorists? Next, the study zooms in on Al-Qaeda's ideology: what does Al-Qaeda stand for?; what does Al-Qaeda feed on?, and; why, how and to what extent does Al-Qaeda appeal to various groups of Muslims? The study concludes with a brief exposé on possible future developments and a number of recommendations for policy makers and suggestions for further research.