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Tuesday, September 12, 2006
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Via the AP: Al-Qaida offshoot blamed in Syria attack

The al-Qaida offshoot group, called Jund al-Sham, has been blamed for several attacks in Syria in recent years, the Syrian ambassador, Imad Moustapha, said in comments to CNN.

What this means in practical terms is unclear. Indeed, the very nature of al Qaeda is such that almost any al Qaeda group is an offshoot. To me the operative issue is whether a group is coordinating with a broader al Qaeda network–especially if they are connected in some way to “al Qaeda Central” (i.e., bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, etc.). If they are just sympathetic to The Cause and like to use the name “al Qaeda” that is a different type of threat. This attack does not bear the hallmarks of the well-planned and dramatic actions of al Qaeda Central, it would seem.

Indeed, I continue to wonder as to what degree we can talk about al Qaeda as any kind of cohesive group and whether we create an analytically imprecise category by trying to put all these attacks into the al Qaeda box.

There is some interesting work to be done (which would also have serious policy implications) as to how to categorize and understand these groups (work, I expect is being done). Of course, the answers to the questions of importance are hard to answer: how connected are these groups, if they are connected at all? Of the more dramatic attacks (London, Madrid, the recently foiled airplane plot) which were perpetrated by freelancing fellow travelers and how/to what degree were they al Qaeda Central-linked? Of the plots foiled in the US, were these amateur copy-cats or part of a larger network of terrorists?

My guess at this is that most of these attacks are via freelancers and/or members of loose (at best) networks.

Of course, part of the main threat of terrorism is that it doesn’t take a large, complex organization to create a great deal of trouble. Further, the more decentralized and disconnected they are, the harder they are to combat prior to their attacks.

Update:   Along these lines, Daniel Drezner asks:  How do we classify the embassy attack in Syria?

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Filed under: Global Politics, War on Terror | |

7 Comments

  1. Indeed, I continue to wonder as to what degree we can talk about al Qaeda as any kind of cohesive group and whether we create an analytically imprecise category by trying to put all these attacks into the al Qaeda box.

    What’s wrong with “evildoers”? If you have trouble with such sophisticated categories as thos made up by Bush’s speechwriters, then welcome to the reality based community.

    There is some interesting work to be done (which would also have serious policy implications) as to how to categorize and understand these groups (work, I expect is being done).

    There is no work TO BE done–it’s already done. People with an understanding of the historical dynamics, international political fault lines, and a rudamentary knowledge of the past fifty years of geo-politics have been studying the emergence of these types of groups for decades.

    The main problem in addressing this threat has been the Bush administrations willful disregard for ACTUAL ANALYSIS. In its stead, their entire explanation for their foreign policy has been based on sophomoric essentializing that wouldn’t pass muster with an undergraduate Intro. to Foreign Policy class.

    Comment by Ratoe — Tuesday, September 12, 2006 @ 10:13 am

  2. I wonder AQ central (as you put it) acts almost like a venture capital firm. These local groups draw up a plan which is then viewed by AQ and if agreed too money or support is offered.

    Every time a local group claims to be AQ it strengthens the global brand of AQ central and it’s doctrines and in turn advertise to more local groups to take up the franchise…

    Comment by leon — Tuesday, September 12, 2006 @ 10:24 am

  3. Ratoe,

    First, I am wholly aware of the work that has been done, but that does not preclude a great deal of work that still needs to be done about the specific groups and actors that have emerged in the last several years. If you are as knowledgeable about these things as you claim, you know full well that all the work that could be done on this topic has not BEEN done. Such work is never completely over.

    And second, a question: I understand your ire at the Bush admin, et al. However, why the snark aimed at me? When have I ever done the “evildoers” line or any of that other nonsense?

    It often seems as if you use me as some sort of proxy for the administration, and often regarding posts which could be hardly be construed as pro-administration.

    And I must confess, it is harder to take all this righteous indignation on your part when you post under a pseudonym.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Tuesday, September 12, 2006 @ 10:30 am

  4. Demascus Embassy Attack al Qaeda Related? Assad PsyOp?…

    Reacting to news that this morning’s attack on the American Embassy in Demascus, Syria was apparently carried out by al-Qaeda offshoot group called Jund al-Sham, Steven Taylor wonders whether it’s even important anymore.
    [T]he very nature o…

    Trackback by Outside The Beltway | OTB — Tuesday, September 12, 2006 @ 3:04 pm

  5. It often seems as if you use me as some sort of proxy for the administration, and often regarding posts which could be hardly be construed as pro-administration.

    I am not trying to offend–nor do I see your comment as a proxy for the admin.

    I was just remembering earlier posts where you engaged in similar practice of piling all the “terrorists” together and talking of Al Quaeda and Iraq–and even Abu Nidal!– under the simplistic rhetoric of a “War on Terror.” [http://poliblogger.com/?p=821 ]

    It is precisely this essentializing of disparate groups that critics of the Iraq offensive were warning against in 2002. Had commentators, the press, Congress asked tough questions as far back as 2002 perhaps some of the failures of Bush’s foreign policy could have been prevented.

    Instead, we had people parroting their poll-driven slogans in the absence of critical analysis–or gleefully participating in the government’s disinformation games, such as when “the real deal” WMDs were found in May of 2003 [ http://poliblogger.com/?p=712 ]

    Comment by Ratoe — Tuesday, September 12, 2006 @ 5:37 pm

  6. Fair enough on your lack of desire to offend.

    In regards to the “real deal” post, you will note that I was responding to a news story, and was doing so in a cautious, wait and see fashion.

    In regards to the conflation of various terrorist and terror groups: there is a legitimate discussion to be had about the broad actions of radical Islamic groups, whether they be al Qaeda or not.

    While the administration made too much of the Saddam link to terrorism, I still think that the critics made (and continue to make) too little. That Iraq harbored terrorists and that they encouraged Palestinian suicide bombings as a matter of policy remains true.

    (And, I would note, in the post you cite about my alleged naivete about terrorism, I noted even then that was a fragmented organization).

    There are multiple ways of dealing with and discussing this matter.  The point of my post today (and others I have noted on this subject) point to the fact that it is wholly unclear to me that “al Qaeda” as a label is as applicable to these various groups and incidences as the press, the administration, and others think it is.
    I will state, for the record, that at the time I wrote those posts I had far more confidence in the Bush administration than I do now. Even on the areas with which I was prone to agree a few years back, and in some areas I still do, and others I do not, I find myself wholly skeptical of the whether the administration understands its own pronouncements, or if it has the capacity to be in those ares where it does.

    The generic notion that the way by which one might have to fight against international terrorism is to punish the states which harbor or sponsor such groups has a certain soundness.

    Still, that is a discussion for another day, as this comment is getting overly long as it is.

    I will note that I use the tag line “a rough draft of my thoughts” quite consciously.  It would be foolish to think that three years of almost daily writings would not reflect some evolution in thinking.

    I will say that I appreciate the fact that you have read enough to have even remembered things I wrote three years ago.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Tuesday, September 12, 2006 @ 8:43 pm

  7. […] And the cycle continues. Along the lines of the discussion here earlier in the week, I suppose one could call this an al Qaeda attack, at least if we assume the attackers were attempting to follow Zawahiri’s call for more violence. If so, this would seem to be a lesser franchise, so to speak. Still, that’s conjecture. Filed under: War on Terror | |Send TrackBack […]

    Pingback by PoliBlog: A Rough Draft of my Thoughts » Suicide Attack Againt Oil Facility Foiled in Yemen — Friday, September 15, 2006 @ 6:11 am

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