What Are Al-Qaeda's Main Tactics and Techniques? Why Has Al-Qaeda Preferred These Tactics and Techniques?

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The al-Qaeda of today is a vastly different entity from the al-Qaeda formed by Osama bin Laden towards the end of the Afghan war against the Soviets in 1988 (Alexander and Swetnam, 2001: 37). The evolution, or as Burton (2006) has termed it “devolution”, of al-Qaeda, is partially linked to its terrorist acts, and, in particular, the counter-terrorist measures employed by governments to deal with them. This is most evident in reference to the single most expensive, in terms of life lost and economical impact, terrorist act in modern history, the destruction of the World Trade Centre, and the subsequent declaration of a “war on terror” by George Bush’s United States and its Allies. It is the actions in response to terrorist acts that has propagated these dynamic changes in the tactics and techniques used by al-Qaeda. This adaptation has seen the ideologies of al-Qaeda survive, despite constraints being placed on its operations. It has also ensured the continued jihad against the near enemy of apostate Islamic governments in the Middle East, and the far enemy of the United States and its Allies (Hoffman, 2004: 553) to further pursue its goal to establish a Caliphate muslim state governed by the Sharia (Alexander and Swetnam, 2001).

There are many variations of the accounts as to how the al-Qaeda network was originally established. The common theme to all of these variations is that al-Qaeda was born out of Soviet-Afghan war, from the training camps set up in Afghanistan and Preshawar, Pakistan, by Osama bin Laden, and others, to combat the Soviet invaders. The original concept of ‘al-Qaeda’ (‘the base’) was a network used as a means of keeping track of mujahideen fighters passing through these camps and also a means of informing families of the fighters about their loved ones (Smith 2002: 35, Alexander and Swetnam, 2002: 4). At the end of the Soviet-Afghan war, some of the foreign mujahideen left Afghanistan to continue jihad with Islamic militant groups in their respective countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa (Martin, 2003: 232). The return of the foreign mujahideen fighters to their countries of origin contributed to the establishment of al-Qaeda as a global network, and helped sew the seeds of the pan-Islamic ideology (Gunaratna, 2002: 4). This ideology of pan-Islamic unity in fighting the common enemy of the unbelievers has set al-Qaeda apart from most other guerrilla and terrorist groups because it is not mono-ethnic, nor nationalist in nature (Gunaratna, 2002: 87).

The ideologies of al-Qaeda take basis in the need for a united Islamic state that is governed by the strict Islamic laws of the Sharia. Muslim governments that do not conform to these laws are seen as apostate, corrupted by Western influence and must be overthrown. This includes the government of bin Laden’s home land, Saudi Arabia, which he has condemned for allowing the US to establish a base of operation during the Gulf War (Martin, 2003: 194). However, it is the US that is the major source of hatred for the al-Qaeda network for many reasons which include the suppression of Iraq, and the continued struggle between US backed Israel and Palestine and US links to the undemocratic Arab regimes. This is evident in the fatwa that he issued in February of 1998 (Simon and Benjamin, 2001: 8): The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies – civilian and military – is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim.

Bin Laden has also made statements to justify attacks on American civilians. In these statements he iterates that American civilians live in a morally corrupt society and that it should pay for the foreign policies of its democratically elected government (Blanchard, 2005: 7). This...