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Dr Brynjar Lia's "The al-Qaida Strategist Abu Mus'ab al-Suri: A Profile"

By Jeffrey Cozzens

I would like to direct the readership's attention to Dr Brynjar Lia's (Norwegian Defence Research Establishment) recent contribution to the body of literature devoted to understanding jihadi strategic thought: "The al-Qaida Strategist Abu Mus'ab al-Suri: A Profile." Lia's masterfully-researched work remains the only known contribution to the terrorism studies field that parses the history and thought of al-Suri, a formidable ideologue by virtue of his pragmatism, rational approach to history and realistic, "egalitarian" view of the future of jihad (al-Suri is now apparently in US custody). Far beyond its utility as an historical analysis, Lia's work is extraodinarily timely as he extracts the finer points of al-Suri's now widely-circulated theories that may have informed the conduct of the London and Madrid attacks.

Here's an excerpt from Lia's paper (p. 17):

Al-Suri’s slogan is: nizam, la tanzim, ‘System, not organisation’. In other words, there should be ‘an operative system’ or template, available anywhere for anybody, wishing to participate in the global jihad either on his own or with a small group of trusted associates, and there should not exist any ‘organisation for operations’. Hence, the global jihadist movement should discourage any direct organisational bonds between the leadership and the operative units. Leadership should only be exercised through ‘general guidance’ and the operative leaders should exist only at the level of small cells. The glue in this highly decentralised movement is nothing else than ‘a common aim, a common doctrinal program and a comprehensive (self-) educational program’.

The same goal of decentralisation is applied to financing and training. All cells should be self-sustained financially, with the possible exception of start-up money from jihadist activists termed ‘cell builders’. The latter category include skilled jihadists whose primary task is to create new independent cells, without connecting them to any organisational structure. The ‘cell builder’ is an Achilles heel in the system, and various precautions are taken to minimize the risk associated with his role. He is supposed to disappear from the scene before any operative activity commences, either by going to another country, going completely underground, or participating in a martyrdom operation.

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