Does Al-Qaeda actually exist?

New operating system for Al Qaeda

Who is Abu Maysara al-Iraqi? If you believe the "Al-Qaeda organization in Mesopotamia", this mysterious man is its official spokesman. Western terrorism research institutes such as SITE1 and newspapers such as USA Today2 have already begun to take this allegation by the Iraqi al-Qaeda subsidiary at face value. In truth, nobody knows anything about this man. Only one thing is known: every statement and letter of confession by the Iraqi al-Qaida governor Abu Musab az-Zarqawi bears Abu Maysara's electronic signature. Al-Qaeda has asserted several times that only bulletins with his signature are authentic.

But does this mean that Abu Maysara has to be a real person? Definitely not! On the contrary: there is some evidence that it is only a virtual identity - for example the point in time at which Abu Maysara began to play a role. In the first months of his terror campaign, which began immediately after the fall of Baghdad in spring 2003, az-Zarqawi still had his own website - without any reference to Abu Maysara. Here for the first time those videos of hostage beheadings appeared that will be discussed later. Abu Maysara, on the other hand, only appeared when this website was being maintained less and less and fell into disrepair, because the large, Arabic-language Internet discussion forums frequented primarily by Islamists established themselves as more effective platforms for terrorist public relations - such as the forums “al- Qal'a ”(The Fortress) or“ al-Ma'sada ”(The Lions' Den) .3

These forums are similar to bulletin boards. Anyone can post at will. They have significantly more visitors than the terrorists' own homepages. From the terrorists' point of view, however, they have the disadvantage that the authenticity of the postings is more difficult to prove. The fact that Abu Maysara appeared at the point in time when the publication of the bulletins was being relocated to the forums can be explained by a growing need for credibility.

In the end, it doesn't matter whether Abu Maysara is a real or a fictional person; What is decisive in this context, however, is the realization that Al-Qaeda is now using the Internet effectively and professionally, while Western media and secret services are increasingly faced with the problem of assessing the developments associated with it. It seems that of all things the most open, most liberal and to a certain extent western of all media plays into the hands of terrorist networks.

In fact, the way in which al-Qaeda uses the Internet shows the profound change that the terrorist network initiated after September 11, 2001 from its own perspective. Al-Qaeda is no longer a military cadre organization, but on the move to a movement; the network is a learning organization that is able to adapt to changing conditions.

Al-Qaida's opening

The decisive step that Al-Qaeda took after 9/11 is to open up to the diffuse sympathizer scene. With the extensive military smashing of the original organization in mind, the aim of this step is to save Al-Qaeda into a new phase - the network wants to become a movement that any sympathizer anywhere in the world can join. to disseminate accumulated know-how and a unifying ideology as effectively as possible.

How Al-Qaeda implements this strategy can be illustrated particularly clearly by the way the organization handles its own training material. "Please do not remove, property of the guest house", was still in the book covers of the volumes of the "Encyclopedia of Jihad", on the basis of which Al-Qaeda trained its offspring in the training camps in Afghanistan until 2001. This encyclopedia comprises several thousand pages; it contains chapters on recruiting, weapon handling, espionage and counter-espionage, explosives science and much more.

This material, which was formerly kept secret by Al-Qaeda, is today - by Al-Qaeda itself - massively distributed on the Internet. In the summer of 2003, the head of the Saudi Al-Qaeda branch, Abu Hajjir al-Mukrin, enthusiastically welcomed this development. “With the permission of God it is also possible for you to begin implementing this program on your own, in your home, or together with your brothers and sisters in God.” 5 From then on he himself published bi-weekly articles in an online magazine based on the "Encyclopedia of Jihad" and called on the Saudi Arabian sympathizers on the Internet to form cells - not without explaining how to do it.

In the meantime, the textbook collection is constantly being updated and supplemented; Whether from sympathizers or experienced Al-Qaida cadres has long since become impossible to reconstruct. The fact is: today you can find instructions on building bombs with shopping lists for the chemicals you need on the internet. The opening of Al-Qaeda, which at the same time represents an enormous expansion of the pool of potential assassins, has been successful. The Madrid attackers, who killed 191 people in March 2003, used the Internet for instructions on building bombs. 6

The material is disseminated in a variety of ways. However, clear trends have solidified over the past two years. While the various Al-Qaeda branches maintained their own websites almost without exception until mid-2004, this model is now a thing of the past. Only az-Zarqawi and smaller Iraqi terrorist organizations still have their own Internet address, but their pages are rarely updated. The daily up to a dozen bulletins from az-Zarqawi's organization arrive instead either in the aforementioned forums or - sorted and separated from inauthentic material - on a website called "Bayanat" (publications), which specializes in letters of confession from Iraq which can no longer be said whether it is operated by al-Qaeda or by sympathizers with corresponding connections.

Growing importance of the sympathizers

Even the official websites of the Al-Qaeda parent organization no longer exist.7 Until spring 2004, there was a clear indication of the authenticity of a document that it had been published by the Al-Qaeda Public Relations Department, the Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF), has been published. For this purpose, the GIMF primarily used the format of newsgroups from the US provider yahoo.8 In the past few months, the “old” GIMF has been replaced by a “new” GIMF, which is clearly characterized by the involvement of volunteers from the sympathetic scene. Corresponding calls on the Internet to participate in PR for Al-Qaida preceded the relaunch. The new GIMF even boasts various departments, for example for online publications or image material. Their last coup: a "news program" called "The Voice of the Caliphate", which is to appear weekly and shows world events from the perspective of Al-Qaida & Co. Two episodes were released by the beginning of October 2005; a masked speaker, with a Koran and a rifle on his desk, reads messages, which are interrupted by excerpts from az-Zarqawi and short films. However, the programs hardly contain any material that could not have been stolen from the other websites. There is no proof of a reliable connection between the editorial team and the fighting core of Al-Qaeda.

But what is Al-Qaeda today anyway - who is a member and who is only a supporter? This confusion is not least the result of the opening up process initiated by al-Qaeda. To give an even clearer example: When al-Zarqawi in Iraq and al-Muqrin in Saudi Arabia beheaded western hostages in the summer of 2004 and recorded the gruesome acts on video, they triggered an international shock wave. A knife and a camera - that's all they needed for their precise implementation of the “golden rule” of terror, according to which one has to achieve maximum consequences with minimal effort. With little risk and planning effort for the murderer, the beheadings had an effect that is comparable to that of a medium-sized but much more complex attack.

However, this effect would never have occurred if sympathizers had not ensured the dissemination of the images. Because the videos first appeared on the little-known "own" homepages of the Al Qaeda branches. The fact that they were copied to the large forums, where a thousand times higher access and download numbers were guaranteed, helped the terrorist act to achieve a breakthrough. The spread by sympathizers was taken into account, it was an essential part of the act. But if someone copies and links such a video in order to really attract the intended attention - is he still a supporter or already an accomplice?

Information and disinformation

In any case, we can say today that Al-Qaeda is playing virtuoso on the keyboard of the international attention economy - and is benefiting from organization to movement in the process.

On the one hand, Al-Qaeda has succeeded in maintaining a certain degree of credibility in the Western and Arab media through measures that are more or less trust-building, such as the reliable return of Abu Maysara al-Iraqi mentioned at the beginning. This is a key concern for the terrorists because if no one can be sure who carried out the attack, it is a failure. On the other hand, al-Qaeda also uses the Internet to deceive and spread fear and terror. The best example here is the Brigades of Abu Hafs al-Masri, an organization that claims to be the European branch of al-Qaeda. At intervals of a few months they threaten gigantic series of attacks in the west. Although nobody knows anything about them, the brigades' announcements regularly lead to heightened alert levels in Denmark, Italy or countries that the brigades have allegedly targeted. The fact that they repeatedly confessed to attacks that were not on their account did not exactly increase their credibility; it has simply not been proven that the brigades are a purely virtual organization. But the authorities must react, and this is how the authors of the threatening letters achieve their goal: to spread fear of terrorism. “Establish more and more organizations with more and more new names in order to confuse the Western secret services and media” was the slogan of the Saudi Al-Qaida branch on the Internet in 2004. Al-Qaeda has also mastered disinformation. However, she is careful not to jeopardize her just as conscientiously defended credibility.

Finally, there are two other areas in which the Internet plays a central role for the terror network: On the one hand, the "operational business", i.e. the identification of worthwhile targets and the development of a common strategy. On the other hand, the ideological, theological and ideological training and indoctrination of the supporters.

New analytical depth

Al-Qaeda has become noticeably more professional in these areas as well. This was particularly evident in a strategy paper distributed by the GIMF in December 2003 entitled “Jihad in Iraq - Hopes and Risks ”.9 The paper also became famous in the West because it seemed to anticipate the Madrid attacks. The basic assumption of the (probably Saudi Arabian) authors was that the USA could not be defeated militarily - in view of the final victory rhetoric of Al-Qaida known to date, a real analytical advance, especially in the 42-page paper a detailed examination of the domestic political constellations of all major countries of the Iraq war coalition. According to the authors of their "domino theory", only if the allies of the USA are forced to withdraw one after the other by means of large attacks can ultimately also succeed in unsettling the USA.

In this context, they also came to what was later understood as the blueprint for the Madrid attack, although it referred to attacks on Spanish soldiers in Iraq itself: “We believe that the Spanish government will not have more than two, at most three Can withstand blows until there is a withdrawal from Iraq because of the great pressure from the population. ”The best thing to do is to strike before the elections, the authors advised, because then the socialists would come to power - a prophecy that was confirmed.

The real surprise, however, remains the analytical depth of this paper. Based on an evaluation of the American press, the terrorist strategists concluded that the US could be forced to withdraw above all by driving up the costs of the occupation of Iraq. Such an approach to the thinking of the enemy represented something completely new for Al-Qaeda. There are now numerous papers in which the religious rhetoric of redemption hardly plays a role anymore, but the focus is on what is feasible.10

This category of texts, which are mainly published on the Internet and are intended for personal use, not for propaganda, also includes a document from the summer of 2005, in which advice is given on the entry of jihad-willing into Iraq The best, it says, is to take the route via Syria, disguised as a businessman, or in jeans and with Western music on the Walkman, to dispel the authorities' suspicion that you have made your way to the battlefield.

Al-Qaeda is also putting a lot of energy into providing ideological information to its sympathizers and the religious and theological justification of the attacks. Contrary to the recurring myth of the purely nihilistic, amoral and killing-focused terrorist organization Al-Qaeda, the latter plays a decisive role for the sympathizers, as can be clearly seen in the discussions in the Internet forums.12 Today, every Islamist terror network maintains a Sharia -Committee. Both the legitimation of the beheading of hostages and the delegitimation of the democratic elections in Iraq have been published for a long time, carefully substantiated with quotations from religious sources. 13

New type of terror?

Online magazines such as The Voice of Jihad14 or The Summit of Islam, in which speeches by Osama Bin Laden and heroic stories from the early Islamic period as well as martyrs are printed, are the media for the dissemination of the world and history and ideology on the World Wide Web to encourage the will to fight. Here you can also contact us for the purpose of planning an attack. The exchange in the forums also plays a role in disseminating the ideas.

The attacks in London in July 2005 give rise to the assumption that a new variety of Islamist terrorism can arise from this spread of propaganda by Al-Qaida & Co. The four assassins of July 7, who were not trained in any al-Qaida camp and had no long-term relationship with al-Qaida cadres, 15 have apparently recognized a way in this ideology to charge their existence, which they perceive as meaningless, with meaning - and be it by blowing oneself up in exchange for the promise of a certainty of salvation in the midst of the fellow citizens now identified as enemies.

In the light of these new developments, Al-Qaeda should now be viewed less as a firmly established organization and more as a provider of interfaces to the sympathetic environment: The terror network wants its followers to act on its behalf - and in doing so, above all, limits itself to conveying ideas, contacts and occasionally money. The internet is the perfect medium for this.

1 SITE = The Search for International Terrorist Entities, www.siteinstitute.org.

2 USA Today, September 29, 2005, p. 2A, "Female Suicide Bomber kills 6 in Iraq".

3 "Al-Ma’sada" was also the name of one of the Al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, which is why some experts suspect a closer connection between the operators of the forums and the core of Al-Qaeda.

4 The Jordanian author Fuad Hussein writes in his book “Al-Jil al-thani l-al-Qa'ida” (The Second Generation of Al-Qaeda), published in Beirut in 2005, with reference to correspondence with Al-Qaeda strategists that this is even the express goal of the organization.

5 As in the online magazine Ma’askar al-Battar, closing words of the 1st edition.

6 “By order of Al Qaeda”, Tagesspiegel, March 10, 2005.

7 Al-Qaeda has been using the Internet since at least 2000, but in the early days mainly for the publication of speeches by Osama bin Laden. The well-known pages www.neda. However, com and www.azzam.com were closed after September 11, 2001.

8 The exact name under which the newsgroup could be found always changed at short intervals, which is why the motto of the "old" GIMF was: "We will return when you return" - which should mean that you already have the new address will find.And indeed, the corresponding new links were regularly passed on in the discussion forums.

9 Yassin Musharbash: The New Al-Qaida Doctrine, Spiegel Online, March 18, 2004.

10 Another example are the lists of priorities for attack targets published by Saudi Al-Qaeda in summer 2004.

11 Yassin Musharbash: Travel Guide for Terror Tourists, Spiegel Online, July 25, 2005.

12 This is not to say that these attributes do not all apply to al-Qaeda to different degrees. But it is not correct to reduce al-Qaeda to that alone. At its core, it is a constant and comprehensive religiously arguing and feeling organization that would have no followers without reference to religious sources.

13 Yassin Musharbash: Zarkawi calls for jihad against all democrats, Spiegel Online, January 23, 2005.

14 From the Voice of Jihad (Sawt al-Jihad), more than 20 issues appeared up to October 2005, but not regularly since autumn 2004. The magazine was apparently produced in Saudi Arabia. Other magazines are Ma’askar al-Battar, also discontinued, and several current online magazines from various terrorist groups in Iraq. The peak of Islam, for example, comes from the environment of az-Zarqawi.

15 It is still uncertain whether the ringleaders might not have had contact with al-Qaeda cadres in Pakistani Koran schools. What is new, however, is that the assassins were probably not recruited in the traditional sense, but apparently showed a considerable degree of initiative and therefore sought and found the way to Al-Qaeda themselves.