Merchant of Death
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The Emerging Shape of Future Jihad
The coming shape of the Islamist jihad war is becoming clear: self-starting groups that are increasingly decentralized structure, linked by shifting networks and communicating almost exclusively through the Internet.

The chief architect of this strategy is the Spanish-Syrian strategist Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, the subject of a very nice piece in The Washington Post, whose 1,600 page treastise, "The Call for a Global Islamic Resistance," has been circulating on Web sites for 18 months.

Written under the pen name Abu Musab al-Suri, the document espouses the concept of "nizam, la tanzim," or ‘System, not organisation.’ Jihadist groups should develop a template that allows them to create structures wherever they are, and carry out recruitment, fund-raising and attacks.

The leadership, as traditionally understood in hierarchical structures, would be limited solely to general guidence of the true believers. This would essentially do away with the role of the traditional al Qaeda leadership in directing attacks or plotting a grand military strategy.

One of the most interesting things about Nasar, now in prison after being arrested in Pakistan last October, is his willingness to extensively engage in self-criticism and critique of al Qaeda and its operations. He has even been willing to differ publicly with Osama bin Laden, at least during bin Laden's days in the late 1990s as an occassional media star.

This strategy is not necessarily widely embraced by the traditional jihadist leadership, and certainly not by the traditional Muslim Brotherhood groups, who maintain a fairly rigid structure and closed network.

Yet the two strategies are also not mutually exclusive. There can be a hierachical organization at the core that plans for the larger actions of the al Qaeda structure, as structures are needed to acquire and train with weapons of mass destruction or biological and chemical attacks.

At the same time, Nasar's strategy offers an opening to anyone, anywhere, to fulfill his Islamist duty to attack the infidel. This type of attack is cheap, hard to detect, relatively easy to organize and, if compromised, hurts only a few people. It is also much harder to prevent or obtain good intelligence on.

The one ray of hope is that few Muslims have embraced Nasar's strategy so far, at least to the point of acting on it. There may be even fewer Muslims in Europe and elsewhere who believe his hateful message and are willing to act on it than he thought. Or maybe there are things in progress that will prove he has an audience.
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