Criminal Justice Senior Seminar

CJ 495


Total Pages: 35

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Al Qaeda, until its recent consolidation into ISIS, has remained one of the world’s deadliest terrorist group in the world. Al Qaeda is known all over the world for its brutal and inhumane terrorist attacks, most notable of which is the attack on twin towers in New York on 11th September, 2001. Since 9/11, there has been a growing body of research which aims to seek out the most curious of questions about the organization: its origins, motivations, its founding members, its ideological base, its operations base and its capacity to conduct such high level attacks. This research paper seeks to address some of the issues mentioned above. In this fact file, the emphasis will be on identifying key issues central to an inquiry into Al Qaeda, before and after the 9/11. More particularly, the theoretical approach of the paper is informed by the following research questions:

  • What role did the US play in the formation of Al Qaeda?
  • how the events of September 11 affected the perception, internal organization and membership of Al Qaeda?
  • What was the political response of the US government post 9/11?

To answer these questions, it is pertinent to explore the popular view of Al Qaeda as held by the major stakeholders in the debate of counterterrorism (Ilardi, 2009). In this fact file, the above-mentioned questions and related key issues will be explored and analyzed through a critical overview of some of the most prominent literature available on the topic.

Despite such a sophisticated and well-coordinated deadly attack on the twin towers, the popular perception about Al Qaeda was a backward organization, and Al Qaeda terrorists were viewed as irrational individuals, who have a distorted view of the real world (Illardi,2009). Illardi debunks this myth in a subtle and convincing manner.



Two Key Themes: Intelligence and Counterintelligence

In order to understand the real motivations and the sophisticated functioning of this deadly terrorist organization, the article refers to the organization’s capacity for intelligence and counterintelligence (Ilardi, 2009). Illardi (2009) explains how Al Qaeda collated and utilized operational intelligence. This focus on operational intelligence is important to understand how Al Qaeda’s strategy exhibits a rational decision making approach (Ilardi, 2009). Ilardi (2009) analyzes how the Al Qaeda agents planned, coordinated and practiced sophisticated attacks with a high degree of command and certainty. The broad range of intelligence measures used provide us with a picture of a complex organization perhaps as technologically and administratively advanced as some of the world’s most successful state Intelligence agencies (Ilardi, 2009). The author also highlights the effective use of counterintelligence measures taken by Al Qaeda. Illardi (2009) details about how Al Qaeda largely succeeded in shielding its hideous activities from the watchful eyes of the state security agencies for so much time until their successful terrorist attack on the twin towers (Ilardi, 2009). They devote specific attention to the planning and conceptualization of the deadly attacks. Through such careful and extensive analysis of Al Qaeda’s knowledge of potentially all relevant factors and risks involved in the attacks speak about their rational capacity as destructive agents.

The details reveal that these terrorists are guided by logical plan as an accurate sense of reality rather than the strong emotions or unreasonable ideologies. Illardi(2009) argues how the terrorists’ timing for the attack and their efforts to hijack the plan, and avoiding death until a specific moment are suggestive of the terrorists’ intentions which cannot be explained adequately through simple theories about the motivations and logics of these terrorist attacks (Ilardi, 2009). For terrorists, the timing and the perfect planning of the attack with utmost attention to details and risk factors coincide with the symbolic message for the world. This message to the world was that of the struggle between the good and the evil and one which attempted to justify and validate the presence and operations of Al Qaeda.

On the whole, we can analyze how the focus on intelligence and counterintelligence uncovers the multi layered facets of the attack, and give us insights into deeper motivations of the attackers (Ilardi, 2009). The author’s narrative allows us to construct a more coherent and nuanced narrative on the logic of suicide bombings from the terrorist’s perspective. This shift of focus on the terrorists’ perspective gives us insights into how the popular perception of Al Qaeda as irrational and blindly motivated by rage and fanaticism is a simplistic one. The terrorists’ behavior appears to be deliberate, well-informed and one that is calculated, rational and coordinated.

How Al Qaeda used propaganda as tools for recruitment and social support

Since the September 11 terrorist attacks and the global response to it, Al Qaeda had to employ new tactics to make its recruiting process possible. Successful strategies have been used by the international community to black out the Al Qaeda propaganda. One of the main sources of Al Qaeda to reach out to its audience have been Sada al-Malahim (The Echo of Epic Battle), an electronic magazine (Page, Challita, & Harris, 2011). Sada al-Malahim has been used to release many Jihadist propaganda articles, video and audio recordings and statements from the terrorist group leaders since 2008, the year it was founded. The Echo of Epic Battle has been blacked out of the media.

Apart from Sada al-Malahim, Al Qaeda utilizes many more web resources to reach out to young Muslims. They preach an Islamic Jihadist ideology which purports to be the ultimate truth which would lead to success in the afterlife. The prominent ones among these web resources are Mu’assat al-Malahim lil-Intaj al-I‘lami and Markaz al-Fajr lil-I‘lam) which form a nexus with Sada al-Malahim (Page, Challita, & Harris, 2011) in spreading the Jihadist ideology and recruitment. It can be argued here that by shifting their recruitment tactics towards internet, Al Qaeda has made it possible to remain as an active terror group which could otherwise would have been limited to just a few sleeping cells.

Social media has become a lethal tool by the terrorist groups like Al Qaeda in the recent years (Hoffman, 2014). Al Qaeda uses social media networks like Facebook and Twitter to spread their ideology and find followers in many countries including US and EU (Hoffman, 2014).

Al Qaeda’s fall and re-branding to Islamic State (IS)

After the death of Osama Bin Laden on May 2, 2011, it was widely speculated that it would be the end of Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda did not participate in the recent Arab Spring in any form what so ever (Hoffman, 2014). Many countries in the Arab world were affected by the democratic struggle in the form of Arab Spring. Governments were toppled. Many believed that the nonexistence of Al Qaeda in the struggle against dictators in the Arab World had made many to assume that Al Qaeda has vanished for good.

No one anticipated that Islamic State (IS) would emerge as a re-branding of Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda had become irrelevant, but its replacement in the form of IS has captured many parts of Iraq and Syria. IS has the same ideological (Hoffman, 2014) Salafi Islam foundations just like Al Qaeda, but they are more brutal and disastrous. They have undoubtedly become a greater threat to the world peace as they have established an organized form of governmental structure in parts of Syria and Iraq where they can train their terrorists and send them across the world to carry out terrorist attacks (Hoffman, 2014).

Al Qaeda, an international militant group whose mission is to oppose any non-Islamic government with force or violence, was founded by Osama bin Laden sometime between 1979-1989, as a result of an ongoing conflict between Afghanistan and the Soviet Union. The organization was distant from the United States of America, or any western country for that matter, prior to the September 11 attacks. However, they were classified as terrorist groups, together with Hamas and Hezbollah. Bin Laden’s ideology, which is obviously the core principle of Al Qaeda, originates from Shaykh Ibn Taymiyyah, an Islamic scholar whose teachings were defining guidelines for Jihad. Bin Laden’s principles and beliefs, which he demanded to be adhered to by the militant group were based on his own interpretations of the Quran teachings.

Therefore, they were not to be considered as the true teachings, but actually Islamic principles that were twisted to fit Bin Laden’s own ideologies and beliefs. This exclusivity of interpretations was the immediate cause of conflicts of interest and disagreements within the militant group, as more and more members joined Bin Laden. If the Al Qaeda was distant group thousands of miles away from the United States, how did it become one of the greatest adversaries, and formidable one, too, of the world’s most powerful country? If Al-Qaeda was originally established to remove the communist Soviet Union in Afghanistan, how did it turn against the Americans and other global powers?

Al-Qaeda and the US – Beginning of “The Hatred Relationship”

(Steve Coll,2011) highlighted the evolution of Al Qaeda from a militant group which wanted to overthrow the Communist government of Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Coll’s approach is particularly useful to this paper since it unmasks the role played by the US government in the creation of Al Qaeda.  Coll particularly detailed the agreements among the warlords and international powers involved in Afghanistan, including the US, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan, General Intelligence Department of Saudi Arabia, and militant factions in Afghanistan who were anti-Communism. The sole purpose which held these groups together was to evict the Soviet occupation and its established Afghan government from Afghanistan. Coll’s analysis reveals the invisible role played the US government in this battle. He argues that, the US, desiring to be a master puppeteer in this arena while avoiding further conflict with Soviet Union, carried a proxy war through ISI. The US government, Coll argues, helped Afghan Mujahedeen through funneling weapons and arms, money, training and negotiation assistance through ISI. The US, through the ISI, supported freedom fighters to fight the communists. In 1988, the Soviet Union decided to drop Afghanistan like a hot potato, after its decision that the country is just a liability. However, communist forces still remained in the country, and the Soviet still funnelled its support to the groups’ fight against anti-communism freedom fighters. The opposing groups were being played on a string by both the US and Soviet Union as puppeteers, but this condition provided balance to Afghanistan.

In the course of assistance in the forms of money, training and weapons to freedom fighters by both the CIA and ISI, the Afghan factions fighting communists were joined by Islamic fundamentalists – groups that were characterized by stringent beliefs, and unconscientious about the use of terroristic attacks, such as suicide bombings and sacrificing members for the group’s cause, to fulfil their plans. Two (2) strong and powerful freedom fighters, the fundamentalist Hekmatyar and the charismatic military strategist Shah Ahmed Massoud, rose to the ranks and fame at that time, but the US coalition believed more in the abilities of the former. Bin Laden funnelled monetary assistance to Hekmatyar, and even opened a training camp outside Kabul. In the long run, following the fall of communism in the Afghan lands, a radical Islamic ideology rose from Al-Qaeda, and more fundamentalist members joined and trained to serve the group’s plans for its future. Osama bin Laden decided that it’s time to proceed to “external Jihad”, which primarily involved taking out any influence of the West from Afghanistan and neighbouring countries in the Middle East, specifically the US and its military forces, in order to make easier the spread of Islamic beliefs upheld by Al-Qaeda. The main goal of Al Qaeda is to fulfil the “global jihad movement”, which is based on Salafiya-Jihadia, an extremist idea that aims to achieve a total and perfect return to the lifestyle and practices of the ancient Islam for Islamic countries, and implementation of the Sharia law to all the countries the group will dominate.

As Najbullah, a communism supporter, has predicted, fundamentalism that swept over Afghanistan turned it to a melting pot for terrorists (Gunaratna 2010). By the early 90s, Al-Qaeda became a global terrorist organization that was powerful enough to attract the regular monitoring of the US intelligence units. Bin Laden funnelled support to groups with similar ideologies to Al-Qaeda (synonymously, branches of the organization), and the weapon and monetary supplies from the US before served as the groups’ armaments and financial source.  The logistical network and organized framework of Al-Qaeda became stronger, more consistent, and more advanced, even to the point of using digital technology to support its cause and spread it across the world (Gunaratna 2010). New recruits and their safe transfer to the terrorists’ haven, Afghanistan, were made successful by this efficient network. Groups such as the Jama’ah Islamiyah in Southeast Asia region, the Islamic Jihad Union in Uzbekistan, and Abu Sayaff Group in the Philippines, got their training from Al-Qaeda. The said groups were successful in some of their terroristic plans such as bombings of properties and diplomatic agencies, particularly those connected to the US. Another group, which was vastly successful, is the Taliban, who were particularly armed by weapons provided by the CIA back in the reign of communism in Afghanistan. They were adept in strong networks, communication, and carrying out complicated tasks such as conducting trainings to members. This would not be possible without an effective hierarchical system. Illustrated below is the organizational framework of Al-Qaeda groups (Gunaratna 2010). It is important to study Al-Qaeda’s organizational chart since it allows us to see how it is internally very well-organized. The internal structure of the organization lets us perceive how sophisticated and rationally-planned the terrorist organization is. Studying the internal structure of Al-Qaeda allows us to see it a well-coordinated organizational unit with specialized wings which perform highly differentiated functions. Such a reading will allow us to see how Al-Qaeda is not a backward, band of terrorists but a highly complex organization.

Table 1. Al Qaeda’s organizational structure

Source: (Gunaratna 2010)


Months before the eventful 9/11 attacks to the World Trade Centre and the CIA’s Pentagon, Massoud has alarmed the US government that an ambitious terroristic attack was highly likely. A day before the incident, Massoud was assassinated by people believed to be Taliban members, who posed as journalists to enter his territory.


Jihadi Motivation

Al Qaeda has been finding its ideological basis from propagating a Salafi brand of Islam.  Salafi Islam is an extreme interpretation of Islam which calls for an establishment of Islamic empire all over the world. Salafi Islam promotes and condones violence in the pursuit of this aim (Mandaville, 2014). Al Qaeda has portrayed the military actions taken against them in many countries of the world including Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen as an act of Crusade against Muslims by the Non-Believers. Their electronic media outlets have been encouraging Muslims to follow the true path of Islam and Sharia and rise against their so called enemies. Al Qaeda claims to be the savior of Muslims at all fronts and to be the only true voice of Islamic ideology (Page, Challita, & Harris, 2011). They use these emotional tactics to find their audience all over the world and especially among the Muslim youth.

Al Qaeda utilizes the sufferings of the poor and ordinary people at the hands of the rulers of their countries and uses their social and economic deprivation as a tool for their propaganda (Page, Challita, & Harris, 2011). Abu Bassir, an Alqaeda leader in the Arabian Peninsula in his article in the Nasser A-Wahayshi magazine wrote that Salih, the Yemeni President, utilized the oil and gas for his personal interests and the poor of the country get only suffering and derivation (Page, Challita, & Harris, 2011).. In this article Abu Bassir asked the people to support the Mujahedeen (Al Qaeda) against Salih and they will get the power back to the ordinary people (Page, Challita, & Harris, 2011).

Post September 11 Al Qaeda in Yemen

After the Cold War and the withdrawal of Russian troops from Afghanistan, many jihadists wanted to return to their home countries in the Arabic world. They were not encouraged by the majority of Arab countries because they were considered to be potential threat due to the level of their military training for the purpose of Afghanistan conflict. Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Salih was interested in using these militants against the Yemeni Socialist Party (YSM) and enlisted them for a conflict against YMS (Page, Challita, & Harris, 2011). But, the scenario  changed dramatically after the September 11 attacks. The United States announced a worldwide campaign to root out Al Qaeda, as they had accepted the responsibility for the attacks. President Salih became a partner to the US lead war, and it resulted in a conflict between the militants who had come back to Yemen from Afghanistan and had by then become a part of Al Qaeda (Page, Challita, & Harris, 2011). United States carried out aerial strikes against Yemeni Al Qaeda and the Yemeni government also engaged in a fight against the Al Qaeda. This resulted towards the decline of a safe haven for the Al Qaeda in Yemen.


Decentralization of Al Qaeda

In an effort to reorganize itself after the successful campaign against its organizational structure and activities by USA in the post September 11 world, Al Qaeda focused on a more decentralized network. Research suggested that after 2003, AL Qaeda has either emerged or has absorbed with 10 other terrorist groups to reemerge and speedup their activities to save them from extinction (Rudner, 2013). Before September 11, Al Qaeda had a physical presence just a few countries of the world but at present their network is present in 19 countries of the world. Al Qaeda is believed to have acquired immense followers and resources through expansion into other countries.

The decentralization of the Al Qaeda network is largely based on the theological teachings of Mustafa Sethmariam who called on all world Jihadists to focus their capabilities on activating locally grown potential militants instead of spending energy on addressing them in general from a global perspective (Rudner, 2013). These tactics have enabled Al Qaeda to raise funds, recruit, organize and develop terror networks on regional levels with control from a centralized authority.

Al Qaeda 20 Years Strategic Plan

There is enough evidence that Al Qaeda has devised a 20 years’ strategic plan, which is comprised of 7 stages (Rudner, 2013). The plan starts with provoking the US to attack different Muslim countries by infighting terror inside America and around the world against American interests. Al Qaeda believed that they would be then able to make a bad perception of the US in the Muslim world, which would help them gain a Muslim sympathy and recruit militants and gather funds for their terrorist activities. The September 11 terror attack is evidence of this part of the strategic plan. Al Qaeda believed that they would be successful in installing a Global Caliphate, a sharia rule over the world by 2020 (Rudner, 2013).

The details of different stages of the twenty years of strategic plan can be seen in the Table 1.

(Source: Rudner, 2013)

Financial transfers after September 11

The transfer of money used to happen through a variety of ways around the world. Due to the nonexistence of legal and technical frameworks that could limit the finances of terrorism through legal bank transfers, terrorist groups like Al Qaeda used to facilitate itself through bank transfers from its financers from the around the world. In some cases, it was in the form of on the name of charities from Muslims. After assessing this threat, American government and the United Nations have introduced new rules and regulations that are aimed at limiting the financial help of terror groups like Al Qaeda.  Most of the terror funding was done through money laundering and through Hawala. Hawala refers to the transfer of money through brokerage of many agents who through informal means provide money to the recipient without an actual movement of funds from one place to another. (Rudner, 2013).

Al-Qaeda and the US – After the Bitter 9/11 Attacks

After the 9/11 attacks, six (6) sub-models were designed to better understand the success of Al-Qaeda in fulfilling its causes, and arriving to the status it celebrates now, and the efficiency of US’s counteractions to such terroristic activities, as well as the probable performance of both forces in the successive years (2002 – 2010). One model, the Escalation Archetype, describes the possible scenarios when one party acts and the other party perceives it as a threat (Figure 2). These model can further be defined by the interaction of sub-models presented in Figure 3. Figure 4 on the other hand describes what has been done by the US to effectively ward off terrorists and protect its citizens in the process.                                                              

                                          Figure 2 Escalation Archetype (source: Rudner, 2013)
Figure 3. Sub-Model Interactions (source: Rudner, 2013


Figure 4. US Activities to Fight Terrorism and Protect its Subjects

The response of US to the threats of Al-Qaeda can be classified into four (4) categories. These are presented in the table below :

Categories Definition Offensive Focus – USD

(Current US Policy)

Preventive Focus – USD


Allocation to Preventive Measures Prevention of increase in disenfranchised populations 11 Billion 22.0 Billion
Allocation  to  Defensive  Measures Securing of US borders and protection of critical infrastructures through resource provision 26 Billion 21.0 Billion
Allocation to Offensive Measures Elimination of terrorist threats by resource provision 23.6 Billion 17.6 Billion
Allocation to Consequence Management Reduction of terrorists’ detrimental impacts through resource provision 8.1 Billion 8.1 Billion


(Source: Chamberlain, 2007)

Chamberlain (2007) argues that there have been a lot of changes in the US budget and resource allocation since the 9/11 attacks. For instance, before the said attacks, approximately $1.2 billion is allocated to offensive measures annually, of which majority is provided to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Joint Terrorism Task Force. This hiked to $22.8 billion a year after the 9/11 attack, and was projected to increase by $0.8 billion in 2003 and years after that. Likewise, the $13 billion budget for “protection of the border and critical infrastructures” is upped to $23 billion in 2002 (Chamberlain, 2007).

The sub-models were graphed and compared against the actual events and activities of both US and the Al-Qaeda from 1990 to months after the 9/11 attacks. Based on the resulting figures, the model and actual events coincide on many points, as presented in Figure 5. Figure 6 on the other hand, presents the scenario for the same sub-models from 2002 to 2010. The said models indicate that US will successfully capture 9,000 – 13,000 terrorists in the duration of the years specified, and prevent most of terroristic attacks (Chamberlain, 2007). Despite this success, at least three (3)

terrorist attacks that will result to the loss of at least 2,000 lives before 2010.

Figure 5. Projected Sub-Models vs. Actual Events of terrorist attacks by Al-Qaeda (1990 – 2001) (source: Chamberlain, 2007).

Figure 6. Projected Sub-Models vs. Actual Events of terrorist attacks by Al-Qaeda (2002-2010) (source: Chamberlain, 2007).

In order to understand the role, perception and organization of Al Qaeda post 9/11, it is pertinent to have a look at its history and inception. Therefore, in this section of the paper, an article by Peter Bergen’s will be evaluated with the aim of shedding light upon the early years of Al Qaeda. What follows is a critique and summary of Peter Bergen’s article.

Main Themes and Summary

The article, “Revisiting the Early Al-Qaeda: An Updated Account of its Formative Years” seeks to shed light upon the evolution of Al-Qaeda since its inception in August 1988 up until 1996 when bin Laden declared war on the USA (Bergen & Cruickshank, 2012). The article debunks some common misconceptions about the aims, missions, and operational strategies of this terrorist organization. The focus of the article is on the formative years of the organization – some 5 years before 9/11 (Bergen & Cruickshank, 2012). The article argues that since its foundation, Al-Qaeda wasn’t originally intending to hit the US targets, however, over time, the terrorist group’s organization spawned, became more complex, advanced and sophisticated. He argues, it was only when Al Qaeda moved to Sudan that it shifted its ideological bearings and began to conceive of the USA as its enemy.

Five Formative Phase of Al-Qaeda from 1988 till 1996

The article studies this evolution through a categorization of the five distinct phases:

1) The organization’s Inception (August 1988-February 1989)

2) Expansion (February 1989-November 1989)

3) Osama Bin Laden’s return to Saudi Arabia (November 1989- 1991)

4) Osama Bin Laden’s return to Pakistan (1991-1992)

5) Al Qaeda’s shift to Sudan (1992-1996)

Structure of Al-Qaeda 

The article explains how within each phase the operational capacities of Al-Qaeda developed, and critiques the assumptions about these organization capacities present in the previous literature (Bergen & Cruickshank, 2012). The focus in the literature on Al-Qaeda presents it as a monolithic static entity, and the accounts on its earlier phases are rather simplistic and under detailed. The article draws parallels between Al Qaeda’s structure and that of a multinational corporate. The article presents a detailed analysis of the finances, media, military wing, and the list of Al Qaeda’s operational heads, its general planning, conceptualization in the early years, and its general and specific goals (Bergen & Cruickshank, 2012). Through such a detailed analysis, the article explores how Al-Qaeda’s terror network perpetuate itself successfully over the years all the while pointing to gaps and limitations of such parallels (Bergen & Cruickshank, 2012). The article argues, how at times, Al-Qaeda looked like a neatly defined hierarchical body with independent coordinated bodies and functions, at times it appeared as loosely-defined fraternity of Jihadists. Through rich details and a systematic review of Al-Qaeda’s early years we get to have a holistic picture of the organization.

Al Qaeda as much more than its involvement in 9/11

The article makes a convincing argument about the sophistication of Al Qaeda as an organization and reviews how its structural and functional evolution cannot be neatly defined by a single approach. The focus on global political events and other important landmarks in the history of Al-Qaeda serve to mark a move away from simplistic understandings of Al Qaeda as a terrorist organization which was always intending to lead its deadliest attack, the September 11 Attacks (Bergen & Cruickshank, 2012). Although, it is only after the September 11 attacks that Al Qaeda received unprecedented global attention and began to be viewed solely as a terrorist group bent on destroying the United States of America, revisiting the formative years of Al Qaeda present a more nuanced picture (Bergen & Cruickshank, 2012). A study of the formative years makes clear the more varied goals of Al Qaeda and present it as a terror group with wider aims and ideology than the media often portrays, exclusively in relation to the 9/11 attacks.


The Relevance of Qualitative Research to this Project

As discussed above, the purpose of the paper is to understand and analyze the behavior, operations, strategic aims and the motivations of the world’s deadliest terrorist organization. Since the subject of the study deals with analyzing the said group’s actions, qualitative research is more meaningful in the given context. Qualitative research, unlike quantitative research does not aim to statistically evaluate the findings of the research. In the case of Al-Qaeda, an inquiry into the behavior and decisions of terrorists cannot be perceived mainly through quantitative methodologies. Qualitative research is useful here as it allows us to probe deeper into the data and facts which are already available to us. Qualitative data is more descriptive in nature and thus suits the purpose of this paper in providing the relevant context to the history, background and motivations behind the terrorist attacks. Analysis of reports, documentaries and published material can best be approached through qualitative methods which can reveal the questions of why and how pertaining to terrorists’ behavior and the global responses to it. Moreover, qualitative methodologies such as discourse analysis allows us to understand how there can be multiple and contesting narratives on terrorism and its responses. Quantitative data although has its own strengths, cannot provide us with the tools with which we can seek deeper answers, which cannot be neatly categorized or expressed in numerical figures or in yes/no answers. Thus, qualitative data allows us to interpret, evaluate and holistically review the various conflicting narratives on the war on terrorism. Qualitative research methods are of crucial importance to our research because it allows us to address issues of ethics, justice, truth in a broader and more comprehensive way. Such questions are of normative nature, and hence cannot be best addressed through quantitative methods. In the following paragraphs, I will explain specific qualitative methods and approach that I will be using in my essay along with the rationale behind my choice of methods.

This research relies primarily upon secondary sources. Much of the analyses about Al Qaeda are obtained from a critical discourse analysis and evaluation of the findings, research reports, and official documents published by various government agencies, counter-terrorism units and from the policy reports of the experts on security studies. The analyses are for the most part, qualitative in nature and relies upon textual interpretation of the published material. Another important thing to note here is that case-studies are used chiefly to make specific observations about the situation of Al-Qaeda.

Furthermore, since the study on Al Qaeda seeks to answer popular questions, issues and concerns about the terrorist organization, there’s great emphasis on discourse analysis of the various international security experts’ articles. Furthermore, at certain places, quantitative data such as statistical models have been used to contrast actual operations and attacks pf Al Qaeda with the projected/expected operations. Moreover, charts and figures have been used to illustrate in simplest terms the analyses drawn from key facts. Here statistical tools are used minimally and usually in support of the arguments made for clarity and emphasis. Yet, qualitative research that categorizes the types of changes to the American perception towards the Al-Qaeda membership reveal the consequences of the incident on the global conflict that raised issues from terrorism.

One major difficulty in researching on Al Qaeda was the sensitive nature of the topic. Since Al Qaeda has a negative presence, there’s much literature available on the condemnation of its deadly attacks, and comparably less emphasis on its deeper aspects such as its functioning. This attitude about the topic made it difficult for me to find out whether there was any primary data on the topic such as the one acquired from interviews with victims, terrorists, or proceedings of the interrogations. Moreover, due to the high strategic importance of the issue, the researcher’s access to data might have been difficult due to the confidentiality of the literature.

This issue coupled with the highly charged language of the material on Al Qaeda also sometimes made it difficult to find and evaluate the deeper argument of the researchers and their findings. There were also problems in backing up one’s analysis and ascertaining the validity of thesis from external, independent sources on the same issue. It is important to see here that a lot of authors and researchers were operating from various theoretical standpoints.

The differences in theoretical models, and sometimes in the assumptions of the study, the scope of a particular article for instance, its depth of coverage etc.   – made it difficult to cross-compare data and material from a variety of sources. Furthermore, sometimes the same set of data was used by different researchers, policymakers and security studies experts to derive an entirely different conclusion. This led to difficulties in determining which approach and attitude towards /arising from a certain data is more authentic. Such difficulties also lead one to question about the original premise of the researchers and try to find some sort of reconciliation between the opposing viewpoints.

The strengths of the approach were that by focus on case-studies, real-world examples could be employed to make the argument stronger. By using case-studies, one can reflect back on the real life situation and to make one’s conclusion more plausible. Furthermore, case-study allowed the research on the topic to be highly narrowed and focused. This, ironically was also the drawback of this method.

Focusing on certain events in great detail meant skipping a lot of other facts which may have been used to generalize one’s findings. Furthermore, the use of statistics was although clear and served the purpose of effective presentation, it didn’t add much to the analyses. The research could have been improved by using a wider statistical framework to draw wider inferences about Al Qaeda operations in comparison to other similar terrorist organizations.


It wouldn’t be inappropriate to argue that in the West, Muslims and Islam are often associated with ideas of terrorism. Globally, the image of Muslims is being blurred by the Western media, and as a result, there are various actions and programs being undertaken by Muslims to remove the wrong impressions people have of Muslims. The incidents of September 11 has negatively affected the image of Islam.

Muslims are subjected to attacks by the Western world in various forms where media and news are the important mediums. The wrong media image of Muslims has been portrayed to the entire world (Kurzman, 2011). There is a need to redefine the Muslim image and remove this misconception being formed in the minds of the people regarding Muslims. There applies the labeling theory, which is based on the fact that how the behavior of individuals and the self-identity may be influenced by the terms which eventually classify them (Plummer, 2016). This is more based on the stereotyping and holds on the fact that deviance is not something which is inherent to an act and the labeling is based on fact of the standard cultural norms. This is what has been present in case of the 9/11 and Alqaeda’s membership in specific and Islam in general who have been stereotyped and subjected to the terrorism labeling by the Western world.

Another incident could also be seen in the case of the 9/11 attack, where the media targeted Muslims as being terrorists. The object perception of USA on Alqaeda and Islam is being judged on the basis of a few extremists. This is not what Islam teaches Muslims, but instead it teaches them about peace and unity. There are many other examples that could be drawn based on the theory where Muslims are being classified as the wrongdoers, and they are labeled as secondary and conservative social groups that are totally wrong (Bhatt,2007). This is also related to the Emile Durkheim’s theory of deviance, which includes the fact that how deviance is the central part of the society, as the entire society is based on the complex interrelated parts. This is the reason why even the misconception about terrorism has resulted in ruining the complete idea, which resides behind the mislabeling of the Muslims (Wilby, 2014).

Durkheim argues that crime in society is a normal and essential to the functioning of its stability, perpetuation and growth (Hamlin, 2012). Durkheim here employs a functionalist perspective and argues that crime in a society marks a form of deviance, however, this deviance, although in negation to the accepted norms governing the society, is integral to its healthy renewal and regeneration by purging out negative, antisocial tendencies (Hamlin, 2012). Durkheim differs from much of the early theorists on crime, who viewed it most from a moral lens, and characterized it as a pathological behavior.

Unlike other theorists, Durkheim argues how crime is not to be sought in purely psychological causes and motivations. Rather, it is to be seen as connected to how an individual criminal is connected to and influenced by the social system and values he lives in/with. Thus, the presence of crime in a society is normal as it allows the society to exhibit tendencies of change. Durkheim argued that crime is fairly normal and its prevalence is a part of any thriving society. It is because, if there is no crime, it would mean there is no tendency for any social change, and hence progress, reflection or critical advancement of any sort. Since, societies cannot fully enforce its norms on all individuals, crime exists as a way for society to think about itself in a self-critical way.

Thus, the terrorist attacks such as 9/11 sought to build a new sense of collective identity and image of a nation as united – against the common enemy Al-Qaeda. Hence, despite the highly unethical nature of the terrorist attacks claiming lives of individuals, the crime thus marked a fissure in the social fabric of American life, and provided for an opportunity through which the nation could take legal, political and cultural measures to rebuild and express itself as a stronger unit – which has lesser tolerance for such blatant acts against humanity (Jenkins & Godges, 2011).

Yet another way to reflect upon 9/11 is through the perspective of Social Conflict Theory [also often referred to as Marxist Conflict Theory], which is radically different from Durkheim’s in its approach. This theory asserts that conflicts in the society are a product of unequal distribution of wealth, economic opportunities and societal privileges. Marx argues that society is inherently divided up along the economic lines. He argues that such class divisions in society lead up to situations of conflict since everyone in society is trying hi/her best to gain maximum control of economic resources which are finite (Bartos & Wehr, 2002). According to this theory, the unequal distribution of power and resources favor one class of society or one group over the others. At a global level, this would mean that some countries are richer, and more powerful than the others, and it is these rich and powerful countries who dominate the world’s social and economic setup. Marx argues that this unequal pattern of wealth and resource distribution and the sharp class fissures are a product of capitalism (Rummel, 1977). In this context, the attack on 9/11 by Al Qaeda can be seen as a symbolic attempt to respond to the economic and political domination of the United States of America. The 9/11 attack can be seen as a violent response to the American capitalism and imperialism which dominates the political economy of the world. The perpetrators of 9/11 belonged to the Middle East, an area which has experienced heavy American political intervention. Thus, 9/11 may be seen as a political response to undo the United States’ political-economic influence in the Middle East. Marx argues that social conflicts over resources and power often express themselves in noneconomic terms. Thus, Al-Qaeda’s religiously-backed attempt can be seen as embodying the clash of Islamic political and economic thought with the Western Capitalism.

One of the digastric examples of which validate the theory is 9/11. There was a proper training performed earlier for the activist of the events. The intelligence reports have shown the training was performed in mountains of Afghanistan before the event. The activists of the event were though educated individuals, but the environment in which they brought and got their training influenced them to an extent that they were agreed to sacrifice their lives for the criminal cause. Criminal psychology has therefore focused on the ways to reduce these effects. Therefore, underage or low profile criminals are provided with rehabilitation centers in order to change their behaviors and attitudes containing criminal elements (Kawalerowicz & Biggs, 2015).

The major approach seems behind the criminal activity of 9/11 was to damage the American economy and stock exchange. This prime goal was achieved, as it put the whole world economy in to the war and weapon race. United States as being the prime suffered the major damage due to these attacks. Short and long term effects damage the US economy (Kawalerowicz & Biggs, 2015). The post attack effects and involvement of every economy in it brought a major rescission not only in US but also in the other major coalition partners of both sides.


What is the most effective way for communities to collectively formulate shared values?

Issues pertaining to ethics have always been a difficult terrain to navigate.  Part of the difficulty lies in acknowledging the issue of diversity in life expressions and how it manifests itself in social, cultural, religious and political spheres, which often intersect inharmoniously in shaping how we come to distinguish right from the wrong.

In the context of Al Qaeda and the global surge of terrorism, it may be very easy to condemn the terrorists as evil, and to see the destruction they have caused to the human lives, property and to the society as sheer and pure evil. These expressions of hatred towards the terrorists may be justified by the collective nature of the response evoked by the acts of terror. Here, one may remark that most of the time, the shared values are formed by the social and historic experience of the community, and these values over time start to have moral undertones, with strong ethical imperatives.

These imperatives then assume to gain strength over time and start to place demands upon its adherents.  Thus, what one finds here is that the values shared by communities may differ from one community to the other. For instance, the victims’ families will think of terrorists as evil people, whereas in some parts of the world where societies are governed by an extremely conservative and non-modern version of Islam, there may be many sympathizers of the terrorists, who would see the 9/11 as a (justified) response to the American Interventionist foreign policy in the Middle East and more generally the Muslim World. Here, one can see that ethics and morals differ greatly by community. For instance, the British declared the uprisings against its Empires by the native people of the colonies as Mutiny or Uprisings, and thought of the insurgents as rebels and punished them heavily. Whereas, from the native perspectives, the insurgents were freedom fighters, and the conflict with the British was declared as a War of Independence.

Thus, it is very difficult to establish a universal, objective approach towards an understanding of ethics. Ethics and values are not consciously formulated, and this process is informed by hundreds of years of collective experience. However, the ethical and moral values are always reinforced through social institutions, for instance, schools, universities, offices, public places.

Nonetheless, what lies at the heart of all concerns of righteousness and the truth is the issue of the autonomy of the individual. The idea that individuals are both rationally sound, mentally capable and that they enjoy a degree of freedom to choose between a set of actions, makes them deserving of blame or praise based upon their choice. Thus, one may remark here that [if there’s any best way at all] the way to collectively formulate shared values should be through an open deliberation, dialogue and intellectual discussions. As explained above, these exchanges would be best carried at a social and public level, where people from various walks of life can participate and engage to determine an appropriate collective response. Here, it must be mentioned that this dialogue involves an uneasy recognition of the fault lines that divide our society, and to bring to surface the tensions and strains that fragment our collective existence.

For instance, In the context of 9/11, the foreign policy and the general discourse on ethics displayed various contradictory tendencies. These contradictions pertained to an acknowledgement and display of moral dilemmas. On the one hand, the perpetrators of this heinous crime were of a Muslim background whose forceful and violent ways had been justified through the verses of Quran and more generally from the literature on Islamic theology. While, on the other hand, a wide majority of Muslims condemned this attack as a brutally inhumane and shameful act of cowardice. So the question was, was it the fault of Islam as an ideology or was it a personal act of crime done by a handful of criminals. Who was to be blamed, and to what extent still remains an unresolved and ongoing debate. Similarly, the debate also gave voice to certain non-Muslim Americans who were skeptic of the entire episode, and called 9/11 as an inside job which would serve as a pretext for the US invasion of Iraq. Such dissenting views, and conspiracy theories further confirmed the fact that how divided we are as a society, and how our responses to certain historical events are informed by a variety of perspectives and attitudes.

Thus, after having established the difficulties in ascertaining ethical standards, I believe, the best way forward is through a dynamic debate, dialogue and exchange. This approach to formulating shared values would let various ethical problems to not only be highlighted but to be addressed and if possible resolved to some extent. Traditionally, the shared values have been preserved, well-guarded and uncritically defended against the intrusion of foreign or dissident voices from people of different social or cultural backgrounds. However, 9/11 teaches us that if we are to move ahead as a society, we need to shed the conservative stance on ethics, and to break the taboos regarding a discussion of issues which concern all of us a human beings and as fellow citizens. Thus, I emphasize upon the following lines of thought:

  • One’s moral views should be validated, compared or contrasted with somewhat external criterion. For instance, one may consider, what are the consequences of one’s acts? How does it affect humanity as a whole? How do other people think about it? This process involves patience, tolerance and a genuine desire to attempt to understand approaches, attitudes, and worldviews contrasting to our own.
  • The issue of ethics should not take place in the paradigm of a universal set of rights which a group believes it should have over the others. Rather the ethical questions and shared values demonstrate the “shared/collective” nature of the social experience, and hence the focus in ethical debates shall be on addressing the needs of the underprivileged or victims in a harmonious, hatred-free manner.

operations in comparison to other similar terrorist organizations.


The fact file aimed at identifying some of the central questions and issues which are at the heart of inquiry into what was, once arguably, the most notorious terrorist organization of the world. This paper discussed various issues which uncovered how Al Qaeda has been able to succeed at creating terror at an unprecedented scale. Through various critical reviews of some of the most prominent literature on Al Qaeda, one can conclude that Al Qaeda, far from being a backward single-unit terrorist organization, is in fact a highly sophisticated and complex organization. Moreover, Al Qaeda’s origins, though inspired from an extreme interpretation of Salafi Islam, cannot be fully understood without reference to the politics of Middle East and more specifically without reference to the involvement of the US in the Middle East region. This fact file will serve as essential reference point for further research on this topic.


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