International Counter-Terrorism Group Addresses Ever-Changing al-Qaeda Threat

March 15, 2020 Updated: March 18, 2020

News Analysis

The Warsaw Process Counterterrorism and Illicit Finance working group convened in Marrakech, Morocco, on March 4–5, with the goal of working out a solution to counter the potential threat posed by al-Qaeda and its affiliates, in preparations for the ministerial-level meeting to be held in Washington this year.

Al-Qaeda, overshadowed by ISIS over the past several years, took advantage of this situation to strengthen and expand its abilities to operate, adapt to using new technologies, and exploit conflicts and vulnerabilities in different parts of the world, e.g. the wars in Yemen and Syria, according to a statement from the working group.

Despite losing its main leader in 2011, al-Qaeda adapted to the changes in the world’s political situation and exerted its ideological influence. Its affiliates still pose a threat to the entire African continent, and there is a possibility for al-Qaeda to engage in a relationship with ISIS, according to the statement. Al-Qaeda also operates in Asia and the Middle East.

Al-Qaeda’s tactics and methods may also evolve. It could exert more attacks outside of conflict zones, utilize more low-cost technology, and develop “more effective use of the internet” as well as “a sophisticated network of communication tools,” threatening global security and stability, the group stated.

Tactics to Counter al-Qaeda

“Addressing the ever-changing al-Qaeda threat requires a multidimensional comprehensive approach, which addresses the root causes of terrorism,” the group stated.

The working group, led by The United States, Poland, Morocco, and Kenya, composed of 55 participants representing Eastern and Western Europe, North and South America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Australia, the European Union, United Nations, and Arab League, devised a set of tactics to collectively counter al-Qaeda threats, and in the long run “degrade the al-Qaeda network and prevent radicalization and recruitment,” the group stated.

Among the tactics suggested are sanctions on individuals and entities designated by the United Nations and diplomatic efforts to engage third countries, particularly “in and around conflict zones, under governed space, and areas with established al-Qaeda affiliates.” Improvement of aviation security to prevent al-Qaeda from attacking commercial aviation, sealing borders to prevent transfer of “material, funds, and personnel’ by al-Qaeda, and the use of advanced screening technologies to prevent al-Qaeda members from traveling were also recommended measures.

Participants also agreed that individuals who committed terrorism-related offenses and are affiliated with al-Qaeda should be prosecuted and convicted through law enforcement. The dangerous and destructive al-Qaeda propaganda and ideology should be discredited and exposed through forums, the internet, or in-person to discourage vulnerable members of communities from being deceived and recruited by al-Qaeda.

Measures also need to be adopted to cut terrorism financing that often occurs through problematic non-governmental or charitable organizations.

Participants should also engage with third countries through diplomatic efforts to promote all recommended measures in these countries and help them “build capacity of law enforcement, prosecutorial, judicial, intelligence, border security, military, engaged in countering al-Qaeda.”

The Warsaw Process is a joint initiative of countries from around the world under the joint leadership of the United States and Poland, aimed to bring security to the Middle East and promote the region’s development. The participants of the founding meeting held in Warsaw in February 2019 created seven working groups, each focused on a different aspect of issues including countering terrorism, maritime and aviation security, cybersecurity, energy security, refugees, human rights, and missile non-proliferation.

terrorist Suspect Osama bin Laden
Saudi-born Osama bin Laden is seen aiming a weapon in this undated photo from Al-Jazeera TV. (Photo by Al-Jazeera/Getty Images)

Al-Qaeda’s Origins

Al-Qaeda was designated as a terrorist organization by the Department of State in 1999 and became well-known after the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001. However, the close relationship between terrorism and communism is not commonly known.

Al-Qaeda founders Osama bin Laden and Abdullah Azzam were both influenced by the ideology of Sayyid Qutb, also known as Qutbism. The 9/11 Commission Report (pdf) also describes Azzam as a “disciple of Qutb.” Bin Laden adopted and expanded the ideology of Qutbism.

Epoch Times Photo
Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri giving a speech at an undisclosed location. (AFP/Getty Images)

Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was the second in command of al-Qaeda, was influenced by Qutb’s teachings since his youth and was a disciple of Qutb. Zawahiri was bin Laden’s mentor, and since the assassination of bin-Laden in 2011, has been the leader of al-Qaeda.

Qutbism is the pursuit of violence to destroy the rotten old society or “jahiliya,” calling upon jihadis to lay down their lives for an ideology that will supposedly usher in human liberation, wrote Andrew McGregor from The Jamestown Foundation. Qutb regarded all societies governed by secular laws or abiding to secular ethics as “old societies.” Not only Western societies, but even some Muslim societies were considered by Qutb to be “old societies.”

Qutb studied socialism and became a member of the Communist Party in his youth, and his ideas were steeped in the rhetoric of Marxism-Leninism. Qutb was actually a Communist International liaison for the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and the Communist Party of Egypt, according to Robert R. Reilly, a senior fellow at the U.S. Foreign Policy Committee.

Qutb expanded the concept of Islamic jihad to proactive and unrestricted war with the goal to overthrow “old societies.” In Arabic, jihad means “to struggle” or “to fight,” and it is commonly understood as “holy war.” Mainstream Muslims may think of jihad as “internal conflict (self-perfection) or defensive jihad.”

At the core of the communist doctrine is the “liberation of mankind,” not only in an economic sense, but also in the destruction of social norms imposed by traditional morals and culture, such as family.

This so-called liberation is pursued by dividing people in society into “the oppressor” and “the oppressed,” e.g. the rich exploit the poor, capitalists oppress workers, and landowners oppress peasants. By turning the oppressed against the oppressors and instigating struggle between them, and advocating means like violence and killing, communists overthrow the existing social structures and seize power.

Qutb advocated jihad as the means for people to overthrow the “old society” through violent means and liberate themselves from its oppression.

Lenin developed the concept of a communist political party that would organize workers and peasants and lead them to a successful revolution. Qutb replaced the Leninist party with Islamic extremist organizations.

“Although for obvious reasons jihadi ideologues do not cite Lenin as an inspiration, their concepts and logic, especially Sayyid Qutb’s, betray this influence. … Two key concepts from Qutb come straight from Lenin: jama’a (vanguard) and manhaj (program),” said Glenn E. Robinson, associate professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, and research fellow at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, University of California–Berkeley.

The Soviet Union has tried to export socialist revolution around the world since 1919 when Third Communist International was established, with one of its targets the Muslim world in the Middle East. Its first success was the establishment of the Persian Socialist Soviet Republic in Iran’s Gilan Province in 1920 governed by a Soviet regime. The regime tried to dispossess landowners and eradicate the religion there.

These actions were met with strong opposition from aspects of Muslim society that held deep religious faith and the Soviet regime in Gilan was ousted in a few months. Although direct export of socialist revolution failed, communism was able later to influence the creation and development of Islamic extremism.