IS INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM WHAT WE THOUGHT IT WAS? AN EMPIRICAL STUDY OF THE GLOBAL NEOSALAFIST JIHAD IN 2004 (WP)

Current international terrorism is often characterised as a particularly new phenomenon. This is mainly because of the highly lethal and indiscriminate nature of its bombings, the routine involvement of suicide terrorists indoctrinated by Islamic fundamentalism and its tendency to focus on Western targets, especially US citizens and interests. It is true that a certain combination of the features considered typical of international terrorism, and even proclaimed by its instigators and militants, is usual in the most notorious attacks to have taken place in recent years. However, the fact is that this global and religiously-inspired violence, more specifically neosalafist in its ideological orientation, has resulted in a lower-than-expected mortality rate, far more conventional procedures than commonly believed and victimisation patterns that are also different from those hitherto taken for granted. An empirical study of its main actors, scenarios, consequences and targets during the year 2004 indicates that international terrorism is to a greater extent a paradigm of conflicts inside the Islamic world than an expression of a clash between civilisations.

Table 1. Acts of international terrorism in 2004, according to groups and organisations

Groups and organizations

Frequency

Percentage

Taliban

73

35.1

Tawhid wal Jihad

30

14.4

Islamic Army in Iraq

12

5.8

Ansar al Sunna

11

5.3

Al Qaeda

10

4.8

Lashkar e Tayiba

10

4.8

Tanzim Qa’idat al Jihad fi Bilad al Rafidayn

10

4.8

Riyadus Salikhin Battalion of Chechen Martyrs

9

4.3

Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat

6

2.9

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Penninsula

5

2.4

Abu Sayyaf

4

1.9

Jaish e Mohammed

4

1.9

Harakat ul Mudjaheedin

3

1.4

Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan

3

1.4

Lashkar e Jangvi

3

1.4

Abu Hafs al Masri Brigades

2

1.0

Yemaa Islamiya

2

1.0

Al Haramain Brigades

1

0.5

Other groups and organizations

10

4.9

Total

208

(100)

Table 2. Acts of international terrorism in 2004, according to countries and geopolitical regions

Countries

Frequency

Percentage

Afghanistan

75

36.1

Iraq

64

30.7

India

15

7.2

Saudi Arabia

13

6.3

Pakistan

10

4.8

Russia

9

4.3

Algeria

6

2.9

The Philippines

5

2.4

Spain

3

1.4

Uzbekistan

3

1.4

Turkey

2

1.0

Egypt

1

0.5

Indonesia

1

0.5

Syria

1

0.5

Total

208

(100)

Geopolitical regions

Central and Southern Asia

103

49.5

Middle East and Gulf

81

38.9

Eastern Europe

9

4.3

Maghreb

6

2.9

South-East Asia

6

2.9

Western Europe

3

1.5

Total

208

(100)

Current international terrorism is often presented as a particularly novel phenomenon: first of all, due to its high degree of deadliness and the indiscrimination with which attacks are conducted. Secondly, because of the routine involvement of suicide bombers in terrorist attacks. Finally, because of its focus on Western targets, especially US citizens and interests. Actually, the rhetoric of the leaders and followers of this international terrorism based on the global jihadist movement underlines the deadly potential of their threats, appeals for activists to carry out what they consider to be martyrdom operations and insists on an anti-Western discourse that is particularly hostile towards Jews and Christians. However, although a certain combination of these features considered to be typical of international terrorism, and also proclaimed by its instigators, is usual in the most spectacular attacks that have taken place over the last few years, such globalised violence has been evolving, as revealed by the data collected for 2004, with lower mortality rates and far more conventional procedures than expected, also with victimisation patterns that are different from those often taken for granted.

Table 3. Acts of international terrorism in 2004, according to dead and injured

Dead

Frequency

Percentage

None

56

28.6

Between 1 and 10

107

54.6

Between 11 and 40

19

9.7

Between 41 and 99

9

4.6

Between 100 and 199

4

2.0

200 and over

1

0.5

Total

Missing data: 12

196

(100)

Injured

None

76

42.9

Between 1 and 10

64

36.2

Between 11 and 40

20

11.3

Between 41 and 99

5

2.8

Between 100 and 199

7

4.0

200 and over

5

2.8

Total

Missing data: 31

177

(100)

Table 4. Acts of international terrorism in 2004, according to procedures and modalities

Procedure

Frequency

Percentage

Bombs and explosive devices

92

45.5

Terrorist attacks with firearms

48

23.8

Kidnapping and hostage taking

41

20.3

Other procedures

21

10.4

Total

Missing data: 6

202

(100)

Modality

Without suicide terrorists

158

83.6

With suicide terrorists

31

16.4

Total

Missing data: 19

189

(100)

Table 5. Acts of international terrorism in 2004, according to target type and adscription

Type

Frequency

Percentage

Law enforcement and military

43

21.6

Government institutions and personnel

38

19.1

Economic and tourist interests

31

15.6

Private citizens and property

24

12.1

Public transports and services

16

8.0

Diplomatic targets

11

5.5

Religious bodies and figures

6

3.0

Other types of targets

30

15.1

Total

Missing data: 9

199

(100)

Adscription

Non-Western

107

60.8

Western (American)

18

10.2

Western (other nationalities)

26

14.8

Western (mixed)

4

2.3

Western and non-Western

15

8.5

Others (United Nations)

6

3.4

Total

Missing data: 32

176

(100)

Both the high frequency and the variable intensity of the attacks perpetrated during 2004 are a good example of the violent potential retained by the groups and organisations which form part of the current network of international terrorism. It is plausible to assert that al-Qaeda, the foundational nucleus and acting vanguard for the multinational and multiethnic entities involved in such globalised violence, might have been progressively weakened over the last three years, after losing its sanctuary and suffering from the consequences of a world-wide persecution. But it can also be argued that this terrorist structure appears to have adapted more easily than expected to an adverse environment. Moreover, the global neosalafist jihad it promoted has become widely extended. Acts of international terrorism are mainly perpetrated by groups and organisations having a local or regional focus but affiliated with al-Qaeda. As the data for 2004 reflect, the danger is now one of a diffuse and diversified violence executed by al-Qaeda itself, its numerous associated entities and even small self-established cells which operate in line with the former’s goals and methods.

Within Western societies, this diffuse jihadist violence manifested itself last year through deadly attacks against soft targets and there is no reason to believe the trend will change, combined perhaps with individual assassinations, as in the case of a well-known Dutch film-maker in November 2004. International terrorist activities in 2004 were congruent with the strategy designed years ago by the leaders of al-Qaeda and which consists in deploying its violence both in the Islamic world, allegedly against rulers considered by neosalafists to be apostates and tyrants, and beyond. However, despite the anti-Western rhetoric so characteristic of groups and organisations related to the global jihadist movement, the data offered in this study make it clear that international terrorism poses risks and threats to societies pertaining to different civilisations.

This article appeared in Real Instituto Elcano. I have only reproduced some of its content. The rest is here.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “IS INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM WHAT WE THOUGHT IT WAS? AN EMPIRICAL STUDY OF THE GLOBAL NEOSALAFIST JIHAD IN 2004 (WP)

  1. This is fascinating data. When you do something like this, it makes me realize how truly limited I am with just one language.

  2. Well, it’s never too late to begin learning a new language…

    And yes, the data are very important.

  3. Pingback: The Anti-Jihad Pundit » The Social Characterisation of Jihadist terrorism in Spain

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