The second wave of Al Qaeda militants operating internationally was characterised by the breaking of their ties with the 'real' Muslim world they claimed to represent. If we exclude most of the Saudis and Yemenis, as well as the 'subcontractors' (militants from local organisations that act under the Al Qaeda label in their own country), most Al Qaeda militants left their country of origin to fight or study abroad (usually in the West), breaking with their families. They lived separate from society and rarely integrated with a new community, except around some radical mosques. They were cultural outcasts, in their home countries and their host countries. But they were all westernised in some way (again, except for the Saudis and Yemenis); none had attended a madrasa, and all were trained in technical or scientific disciplines and spoke a Western language. If we include the logistical networks, some held Western citizenship (the alleged 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui was born in France). Most of them (except, again, the Saudis) became born-again Muslims in the West after living 'normal' lives in their countries of origin. The mosques of Hamburg (Al Quds), London (Finsbury Park), Marseilles and even Montreal played a far greater role in their religious radicalisation than any Saudi madrasa.
Thus, far from representing a traditional religious community or culture, these militants broke with their past (and some with traditional Islam altogether). They experienced an individual reIslamisation in a small cell of uprooted fellows, where they forged their own Islam -- as vividly illustrated by Muhammad Atta's refusal to be buried according to tradition, which he dubbed un-Islamic. 12 They did not follow any Islamic school or notable cleric, and sometimes lived according to non-Muslim standards. They were all far more products of a westernised Islam than of traditional Middle Eastern politics. However old-fashioned their theology may seem to Westerners, and whatever they may think of themselves, radical Euro-Islamists are clearly more a postmodern phenomenon than a premodern one.
Even if many of these militants come from the Middle East, they are not linked to or used by any Middle Eastern state, intelligence service or radical movement, as had been the case with the militants of the 1980s. With a single, transitional exception, 13 they are part of the deterritorialised, supranational Islamic networks that operate specifically in the West and at the periphery of the Middle East. Their background has nothing to do with Middle Eastern conflicts. Their groups are often mixtures of educated middle-class leaders and working-class dropouts, a pattern common to most West European radicals of the 1970s and 1980s (Germany's Red Army Faction, Italy's Red Brigades, France's Action Directe). Many became 'born-again' Muslims or gaolhouse converts, sharing a common marginal culture.
Roughly there are three main categories: students, who came from Middle Eastern countries to study in the West; second-generation Muslims, who were either born in the West or came as infants; and converts. The students (for example, the World Trade Center pilots) are usually middle or upper class, and all were educated in technical or scientific disciplines. The second-generation Muslims emanate from the working class and disfranchised urban youths. The converts are a more complex category. Most of the individuals who gravitate towards these three categories are 'new Muslims', either born-again or converts.
We will now try to summarise what these new militants have in common, using a sample based on those individuals involved in or indicted for international terrorism since the 1993 World Trade Center attack. 14 International terrorism is taken to mean attacks that are committed outside the homeland of the perpetrators, and are not state-sponsored.
Our militants operate globally, travelling widely, settling in various countries that have little connection with their homelands and learning foreign languages. Zacarias Moussaoui, a French citizen of Moroccan descent, studied in Montpellier, learnt English and settled in London, where he became a born-again Muslim. Muhammad Atta and the other 9/11 pilots came from the Middle East, settled first in Germany, learnt German, and then went to the United States. Djamel Beghal, who was living in the Paris suburb of Corbeil, settled in Leicester, in the English Midlands. Ahmed Ressam left Algeria, where he was born, for Marseilles and later for Corsica (1992-4), before settling in Montreal, where he scraped a living from casual jobs and theft. He became a born-again Muslim at the As Sunnah mosque and went to Afghanistan in 1998. Back in Montreal, he was contacted by a Mauritanian, Mohambedou Ould Slahi, who funded his preparations to attack Los Angeles International Airport in December 1999. Ould Slahi used to live in Duisburg, Germany, where he attended university and launched an import business.
Al Qaeda is an international organisation, even if its centre till 2001 was in Afghanistan. Its local networks were built with the aim of targeting a specific objective and organised around 'hubs', none of which was in a Middle Eastern country. The 9/11 attacks were prepared in Hamburg, Spain and Kuala Lumpur by four students based in Hamburg (an Egyptian, Muhammad Atta; an Emirati, Marwan al-Shehhi; a Yemeni, Ramzi Binalshibh; and a Lebanese, Ziad Jarrah). The members of the Hamburg support cell for 9/11 fitted the same patterns. They met at the Al Quds mosque in Hamburg. London probably served as the main global centre for propaganda and the recruitment of would-be terrorists who were dispatched to Afghanistan.
Relations between militants and their country of origin are weak or non-existent; we are facing not a diaspora but a truly deterritorialised population. Almost none of the militants fought in his own country, or in his family's country of origin (except some Pakistanis). Two cases are especially relevant: those of the Palestinians and the Algerians. One would expect a Western-based born-again Muslim of Algerian or Palestinian origin to be eager to wage jihad in his country of origin, both Algeria and Palestine being battlefields. But I do not know of a single instance of such a return from the diaspora. The French Redouane Hammadi and Stephane Ait Idir, of Algerian origin, carried out a terrorist attack in Morocco (1995); Fateh Kamel and Ahmed Ressam (both Algerians) tried to blow up Los Angeles airport. None of the Algerian militants in Al Qaeda came directly from Algeria. Links with Al Qaeda were built up through Algerian immigration, not by way of the GIA's headquarters or other groups within Algeria. Conversely, the campaign of demonstrations in Algeria, from 1999 onwards, has been carried out in the name of democracy, human rights and defence of the Kabyle (Berber) identity, not of sharia or an Islamic state.
All of the Palestinians in Al Qaeda (such as Mohamed Odeh and Abu Zubayda) come from refugee families (either from 1948 or 1967). None of them tried to return to Palestinian-Israeli territory. There is a trend among uprooted Islamic Palestinians towards a 'de-Palestinisation' of their identity in favour of the ummah, as is obvious in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh, in Lebanon, where Salafi groups are on gaining ground, as we saw previously.
The same is true of the Egyptians: how does one explain the discrepancy between the high number of Egyptians in Al Qaeda's leadership and the decrease in religious violence in Egypt? Clearly this time it is the leadership inside Egypt that has cut links with the internationalists. 15
Some personal trajectories are particularly instructive in highlighting the internationalisation of Islamist militants. Ramzi Ahmed Yousef's life has already been discussed. Mohammed Mansour Jabarah, who was born in Kuwait, went to Canada when he was twelve years old and later became a Canadian citizen. He was allegedly the intermediary between Al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiah in Indonesia. 16 It is interesting to note that (as was the case with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubayda, other Al Qaeda Kuwaitis) he never attempted an operation in Kuwait. Amor Sliti, a Tunisian-born Belgian citizen, was a frequent worshipper at the Finsbury Park mosque in London, spent years in Afghanistan with Bin Laden, and helped the murderers of the anti-Taliban commander Massoud to travel to Afghanistan. Sliti married a Belgian woman and gave his very young daughter in marriage to an Afghan mujahid.
Wadih el-Hage, a US citizen, has been indicted for helping in the attacks on the East African US embassies in 1998. A Lebanese Christian who converted to Islam, el-Hage also lived for a while in Kuwait and went to the United States in 1978 to study city planning at South-Western Louisiana University. He married an American, fathered seven children, and went off to help the ummah fight the Soviet Union. Then, in the early 1990s, he worked in Sudan as Bin Laden's secretary. By 1994 el-Hage had moved to Kenya and helped to establish an Al Qaeda cell in Nairobi -- the same unit that allegedly plotted the embassy bombing there. EI-Hage returned home in 1997 and took a low-level job as manager of the Lone Star Wheels and Tires shop in Fort Worth, Texas. Also indicted in the case was Ali Mohamed, a major in the Egyptian army. He went to the United States in 1986 and continued his military career. He joined the US army and was eventually assigned to the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Within a year of his 1989 discharge, he was training Al Qaeda members in Afghanistan and Sudan and travelling the world for Bin Laden, delivering messages and conducting financial transactions.
Born March 1960 at EI-Harrach, in the suburbs of Algiers, Fateh Kamel moved to France, and later settled in Canada in 1987. He took citizenship, married a woman (Nathalie B.) from Gaspé, Quebec, and opened a business in Montreal, importing Cuban cigars. Kamel went to Afghanistan in 1990 and then to Bosnia, where he met members of the Roubaix gang (see page 316). He was extradited from Jordan to France in April 1999 for allegedly being the 'emir' of the Roubaix network.
L'Houssaine Kherchtou, born in Morocco in 1964, went to Corsica after graduating from university, settled in Milan where he headed the Islamic cultural centre, and went to Afghanistan in 1991. He was arrested in Kenya for his role in the 1998 attack on the US embassy there.
Beyond these examples, a general rule is that, except for a few Pakistanis and Yemenis, no Al Qaeda member left Europe or the United States to fight for Islam in his homeland or that of his family. 17 As we have seen, none of the Algerians involved in international Al Qaeda terrorism came from a GIA stronghold in Algeria; they all became radicalised in Europe (like Ahmed Ressam). The foreigners sentenced in Yemen in January 1999 for kidnapping included six British citizens of Pakistani descent (including the son-in-law of Abu Hamza, the Egyptian-born former imam of the Finsbury Park mosque) and two French Algerians. No Britons of Yemeni descent were involved in the case. The two young Muslims sentenced in Morocco for shooting tourists in a Marrakech hotel in 1994 were from French Algerian families. Omar Saeed Sheikh, convicted in Pakistan for the kidnapping of Daniel Pearl, is a British-born citizen of the United Kingdom. He is one of the few who returned to his family's country of origin.
All these examples bear out how activists of Middle Eastern origin have hardly ever undertaken missions in the region or with a regional objective. They have struck global targets, in most cases from the West. 18
+ Re-Islamisation in the West
Many activists, whether settled in the West or studying there, became born-again Muslims and turned politically radical soon after, while still there (for example, the 9/11 pilots, Ressam, Trabelsi, Daoudi and Kelkal, and alleged would-be pilot Moussaoui). Many of them were not known for being very religious-minded until they became born-again in the West. 19 Re-Islamisation occurs never through the social pressure of the neighbourhood, family or community, or on return to the country of origin, but as the result of an individual quest that usually leads to a personal meeting with an Afghan veteran in a mosque headed by a neofundamentalist preacher. A number of mosques are known to be used for that purpose: the Hamburg Al Quds mosque (led by Moroccans) for the 9/11 pilots; London's Finsbury Park mosque for Daoudi, Djamel Beghal, Bensakhria and many others (Christophe Cazé corresponded with Abu Hamza); the Brixton mosque (whose chairman, Abdul Haqq Baker, is a moderate) for Moussaoui and Reid; and the Montreal Assuna-Annabawiyah mosque for Ressam. Gaols are also recruiting centres for, among others, converts.
The lives of the leaders of many such mosques have followed a' de-territorialised' trajectory. Abu Hamza became a born-again Muslim in Britain. He originally came from Egypt to study civil engineering, attained British citizenship and returned to Islam after meeting veterans from Afghanistan. 20 Abu Qatada, whose real name is Omar Abu Omar, is a Palestinian from Jordan who was granted political asylum in Britain in 1993. He wrote editorials for the Algerian GIA journal Al Ansar, while audiotapes of his incendiary sermons were found in the Hamburg apartment of Muhammad Atta. Sheikh Omar Bakri Muhammad leads the al-Muhajiroun group, linked with Hizb ut- Tahrir, while Abdullah el-Faisal, a Jamaican convert, was convicted of inciting racial hatred in his violent anti-Jewish sermons. Young converts can travel throughout Europe, going from one such mosque to another, ignoring ethnic divides and speaking English everywhere (just as Catholic clerics and monks in the Middle Ages, going from one monastery to another, spoke Latin).
All of these preachers and organisations target second-generation Muslims, explicitly playing on their sense of being victims of racism, exclusion and loneliness in the West, and hence are very successful among Blacks or non-Muslim members of the underclass, as well as gaoled petty criminals. They offer a valorising substitute identity: members of the vanguard of internationalist jihadists who fight the global superpower and the international system.
There is now an interesting reverse trend: the export of radical Islam from West to East. During the 1990s proportionally more and more Islamic radicalism in Muslim countries has been organised in and from the West, as in the case of Omar Saeed Sheikh (see above). Raed Hijazi, arrested in Jordan for allegedly attempting to blow up a hotel in 1999, is a US-born Muslim who studied business at California State University in the late 1980s and joined a group in Sacramento called the Islamic Assistance Organisation.
An interesting phenomenon that has nothing to do with Al Qaeda is the spread of Hizb ut-Tahrir (the Liberation Party). This radical fundamentalist organisation, now based in London, spread to Central Asia, Pakistan and the Middle East from its British hub. In April 2002 three Britons were arrested in Egypt, allegedly for making propaganda on behalf of Hizb ut-Tahrir: Reza Pankhurst, Ian Malcolm Nisbett and Maajid Nawaz. None of them has any connection with Egypt, and two are converts. 21
+ Uprooting and Acculturation
Many activists are Western citizens. Syrian-born Mohammed Haydar Zammar is German, as is Said Bahaji; Ahmed Sayyid Khedr and Fateh Kamel are Canadian. Nizar Sassi, Redouane Hammadi, Stephane Ait Idir, Moussaoui, Kamel Daoudi, Ahmed Loudaini, Khaled Ouldali and many others are French. Wadih el-Hage, Khalil al-Deek, Raed Hijazi, Kamal Derwish (alias Ahmed Hijazi, killed in Yemen), and all the members of the 'Lackawanna Six' group are citizens of the United States. Omar Saeed Sheikh is British. Amor Sliti is Belgian. Abu Mesaab is Spanish, as are two other Guantanamo Bay detainees, Ahmed Abderrahman and Abdesslam Rechouane.
None (except for the Saudis) was educated in a Muslim religious school and Jarrah even attended a Lebanese Christian school. Most of them studied technology, computing or town planning, as the World Trade Center pilots had done. Mohamed Saddiq Odeh studied architecture (in the Philippines); Khalid Sheikh Mohammed graduated from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical University in Greensboro in 1986. Daoudi was a computer engineer, employed by the French municipality of Athis-Mons. Omar Sheikh studied at the LSE. Munir al-Motassadeq studied electronics, al-Zarqawi supposedly biology. Omar Khan Sharif, who perpetrated a bomb attack in Tel Aviv, studied at London University. Many so-called imams and sheikhs such as Abu Hamza al-Masri and Omar Bakri Muhammad also studied science and technology.
Many activists cut their family ties when joining groups associated with Al Qaeda. This is congruent with the generation gap that is the hallmark of neofundamentalism, but it is particularly striking in the case of these individuals. While Islam stresses respect for one's parents, many of Al Qaeda's operatives have an uneasy relationship with theirs. The 9/11 pilots broke such links years earlier, although Ziad Jarrah returned to Lebanon in February 2001 when his father underwent open-heart surgery. Conversely, Abdullah Azzam stressed that one should seek the advice of one's parents before embarking on jihad. The new breed of activists cares little for such niceties. They adopt a way of life that is opposed to tradition: they are either too westernised (seeing women outside marriage) or too Islamic (regarding their parents as 'bad' Muslims).
Whatever their level of faith and religious commitment before becoming radicalised, most of these militants undeniably behaved in a more Western than traditional way, to the extent the parents and friends of those who had been arrested or died in a terrorist action all advanced the same explanation: 'They were irreligious; they had to be prodded to mosque. They drank. They smoked. They went clubbing and chasing girls.' 22
Many militants married a 'Western' girl, or at least a Muslim woman from another country. Omar Khan Sharif, from a Pakistani family, married an Arab; Motassadeq a Russian; Fateh Kamel a Quebecker; Djamel Beghal a Frenchwoman; Kamel Daoudi a Hungarian;Amor Sliti a Belgian; and Slimane Khalfaoui a Frenchwoman. Daoudi even met his Hungarian wife through the internet; she asked for a divorce three years later when he suddenly asked her to don the hijab. Jarrah lived with and married a Turkish woman, Aysel Senguen. Their tumultuous five-year relationship (love, break-ups, quarrels, reconciliation, abortion) was the everyday story of a modern couple. 23 Abdessatar Dahmane, one of the two Tunisians settled in Belgium who murdered Ahmed Shah Massoud, took his wife, Malika el Aroud (a Belgian citizen born in Tangier, Morocco), to Afghanistan. She wrote a book in French, telling how her husband behaved like a 'modern' man (sewing the buttons on his shirt because she hated doing such tasks). 24 Converts underwent the reverse trend: Lionel Dumont married a Bosnian and Jose Padilla an Arab (his second marriage). Bypassing racial and ethnic divides is a characteristic of radical neofundamentalists.
Most of these militants eschewed a traditional Muslim marriage, which favours a union from within a kinship group (and preferably between first cousins), or at least an arranged marriage, which was normal among Al Qaeda's first generation. Its second generation all chose their own partners without familial interference. But there are also many single men in Al Qaeda and no women, which is a significant difference from the Islamist movements (the Muslim Brothers, Hamas, PIS, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah have many female members).
+ The Peripheral Jihad
The peripheral character of Al Qaeda militants is also reflected in the geography of their chosen battlefields, which exhibits a paradox: most Al Qaeda fighters are ethnic Arabs, the majority being Saudis, Egyptians, Algerians and Jordanian-Palestinians. But Al Qaeda has been conspicuously absent from Arab lands, at least before the US occupation of Iraq, with the exception of the Khobar Towers attack, the bombing of USS Cole and the October 2002 murder of Laurence Foley, the USAID representative in Jordan. Nor have these militants cared much for Arab conflicts (although the US occupation of Iraq is attracting some Al Qaeda fighters). Osama Bin Laden paid only lip-service to the Palestinian cause till late 2001, while plans for the 9/11 attacks were initiated well before the second Palestinian intifada. Most of the terrorists involved arrived on US soil in the spring of 2000 and the decision to attack had been made that January, which shows that it was not a reaction to the escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Instead of fighting in the Middle East, Al Qaeda and its ilk have been conducting military jihad in the West (New York, Paris and London), in Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Central Asia, Pakistan, Kashmir, the Philippines, Indonesia and East Africa -- but not in Egypt, Israel/Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, the Gulf states or Algeria. The radicals who in the spring of 2004 engaged in violent actions in Saudia Arabia are Saudis with a Saudi agenda; they targeted Western interests in the Kingdom nevertheless. More Al Qaeda Arabs went to Indonesia and Malaysia than to Palestine or Egypt.
This is not just because Arab states take their own internal security seriously. Logically the recommunalised Muslims of the West are fighting at the frontiers of their imaginary ummah, and are doing so because what agitates them most are the consequences of their own westernisation. All of the literature and websites linked to Al Qaeda emphasise and publicise the 'peripheral' jihad, from Bosnia to the Philippines. Most jihadi websites are based in the West or in Malaysia. This is not only because of censorship; it is because the people behind them live in the West. While Al Qaeda's campaign against US interests has constantly grown, and hundreds of Islamic militants have been arrested or tracked down in Europe, Islamist violence in the Middle East has steadily decreased since the Luxor killings of 1997. (I believe that the violence in Iraq and Israel-Palestine is primarily motivated by nationalism rather than religion, even though religion may easily accompany nationalism.)
The decision to wage a peripheral jihad was reached because the locations of such jihads seem like 'virgin lands' that have relatively poorly organised resistance movements. Thus foreign volunteers can hope to influence not only their local comrades in arms but also society as a whole. This is certainly not the case in areas like Israel/Palestine or other Middle Eastern countries, where nobody is likely to accept a lecture from a Western Muslim. The periphery is more receptive to the jihadis' millenarianist dream. But in Bosnia as in Afghanistan many local fighters, specifically Sufis, were antagonised by Salafi and Wahhabi propaganda. 25 Ultimately no foreign jihadis have been able to impose their religious agenda on any Muslim society, though it would be fair to concede that they have played significant military roles in conflicts in Chechnya, Bosnia and Kashmir.