Merchant of Death
Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

Blood from Stones

Visit Douglas Farah's
author page at

Press Releases

Why Al Qaeda 1.0 Still Matters
The Dec. 11 attack in Algiers by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb shows that the old guard of al Qaeda, what some analysts call al Qaeda 1.0 (rather than the new, decentralized structure) still matters.

As Craig Whitlock noted in the Washington Post, the group (formerly known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat-GSPC) has markedly improved is capabilities since formally allying with al Qaeda 14 months ago.

What is striking, as noted by my colleague Evan Kohlmann in that piece and elsewhere, is the quantum leap in the propaganda capabilities of AQIM, the ability to film the attack and rapidly make high-quality video available on the Internet.

The simultaneous nature of the rising sophistication of AQIM, particularly its "media" wing, and the formal alliance with al Qaeda central strike me as more than a passing coincidence.

It is increasingly clear that the old guard, operating from Pakistan and the border region with Afghanistan, has regrouped and is in more direct communication with its affiliates than it was 6 months ago.

Resources still flow through them, perhaps not in as centralized a form as before, but again, a reconsolidated resource gathering and distribution appears to have been established. A formal alliance brings certain benefits that freelance operators, and perhaps some homegrown groups, do not have, particularly in access to military and propaganda training, as well as economic resources.

I am not disputing the validity of the al Qaeda 2.0 thesis put forward by Peter Bergan and others. I think it is accurate in describing how the Salafist networks are shape shifting to carry on their struggle in many parts of the world. It is also useful, however, to not lose sight of the fact that the bin Laden's of the world still matter and still wield a great deal of influence.

The pattern of the spread of al Qaeda to northern Africa is the same as elsewhere around the globe, facilitating what the old guard is so adept at.

Across Mauritania, Mali and much of the rest of the Maghreb there has been a huge influx of Saudi government funds to facilitate the building of mosques and schools to spread _wahhabist_ theology. This is accompanied by the rapid growth of _wahhabist_ charities that, financed in large part by Saudi petrodollars, can offer goods and services the state or the poorer Islamic groups, simply cannot.

The pattern of penetration of Saudi money and clerics, coupled with NGOs that have little oversight by either the Saudi or the host government, has been seen from Bosnia to Pakistan to northern Nigeria and Indonesia.

With these groups providing the ideological/theological softening up, those advocating direct violence are harvesting in well-plowed ground. This is how the old guard al Qaeda has traditionally operated. This is why the Maghreb is in such danger.

It is also increasingly clear that the old guard has learned that the impact of any operation can be greatly amplified by being able to reproduce images of the attack on the Internet, creating the sensation of a divinely-led blow to in infidel.

The fact that soft targets everywhere are extremely vulnerable and that the attacks may not require a great deal of skill, are not mentioned. The images of government buildings in flames and panicked civilians fleeing, are enough to show the hand of Allah in the victory.

We see these propaganda strides in Iraq, in the increasing frequency and sophistication of the communications by bin Laden and Zawahiri, and the ability of groups like AQIM to quickly produce evidence of their attacks.

As long as they are able to do this, their ability to recruit from an already-prepared population will remain high.

A Bad Weekend for Law Enforcement
Window into the Midset of Jihadists
Maintained by Winter Tree Media, LLC