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Combating Al Qaeda's Splinters: Mishandling Suicide Terrorism

Abstract : The past three years saw more suicide attacks than the last quarter century. Most of these were religiously motivated. While most Westerners have imagined a tightly coordinated transnational terrorist organization headed by Al Qaeda, it seems more likely that nations under attack face a set of largely autonomous groups and cells pursuing their own regional aims. Repeated suicide actions show that massive counterforce alone does not diminish the frequency or intensity of suicide attack. Like pounding mercury with a hammer, this sort of top-heavy counterstrategy only seems to generate more dispersed and insidious forms of suicide terrorism. Even with many top Qaeda leaders now dead or in custody, the transnational Jihadist fraternity is transforming into a hydra-headed network more difficult to fight than before. Poverty and lack of education per se are not root causes of suicide terrorism. And Muslims who have expressed support for martyr actions and trust in Osama Bin Laden or the late Hamas leader Sheikh Yassin do not as a rule hate democratic freedoms or Western culture, although many despise American foreign policy, especially in the Middle East. Rising aspirations followed by dwindling expectations – especially regarding civil liberties – are critical factors in generating support for suicide terrorism. The United States, Israel, Russia and other nations on the frontline in the war on terror need to realize that military and counterinsurgency actions are tactical, not strategic responses to suicide terrorism, the most politically destabilizing and psychologically devastating form of terrorism. When these nations back oppressive and unpopular governments (even those deemed “partners in the war on terror”) this only generates popular resentment and support for terrorism against those governments and their backers. To attract potential recruits away from Jihadist martyrdom – suicide terrorism's most virulent strain - and to dry up its popular support, requires addressing these grievances before a downward spiral sets in where core meaning in life is sought, and found, in religious networks that sanctify vengeance at any cost against stronger powers, even if it kills the avenger.
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Contributor : Scott Atran <>
Submitted on : Friday, April 16, 2004 - 11:56:32 PM
Last modification on : Friday, July 2, 2021 - 9:58:02 AM
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Scott Atran. Combating Al Qaeda's Splinters: Mishandling Suicide Terrorism. The Washington Quarterly, Center for Strategic and Int'l Studies, MIT, 2004, 27 (3), pp.67-90. ⟨ijn_00000490⟩



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