Sunday, June 7, 2009

Al Qaeda’s Latest Campaign of Terror Takes Aim at the Western Economy

Al Qaeda’s Latest Campaign of Terror Takes Aim at the Western Economy

Al Qaeda, known for its spectacular attacks on US embassies, Navy ships and symbols of military and economic power, may be fine-tuning its targets to cause maximum damage to the Western economy. Recent jihadi chatter on the Internet suggests both exultation about the economic crisis gripping the West and a call for what can be labeled as “econo-jihad,” targeting Western financial systems and economic infrastructure. This not simply a new propaganda spin. Monitoring Al Qaeda’s online statements, videos, audio messages, letters and press releases reveals that jihadists see economic jihad as a promising weapon of terror and the current financial crisis as a result of their activities. In fact, crippling the Western economy may now be the primary goal for the jihadis.

While not a new idea for Osama bin Laden and his supporters, economic jihad has certainly become more appealing for them recently. As long ago as 2002, Al Qaeda claimed that its strategy was to reduce America to economic ruin. On its now defunct Web site,, the movement’s propagandists assured its followers that even though the Sept. 11 attacks had failed to deliver the knockout blow that bin Laden had intended, they needn’t despair. Just as the mujahedeen had triumphed against all odds over the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, defeat of the United States was inevitable.

In 2004, bin Laden referred to the 9/11 attacks as economic: In his videotape broadcast on Al Jazeera and posted online, he bragged that Al Qaeda spent $500,000 on the event, while America lost, “according to the lowest estimate, $500 billion — meaning that every dollar of Al Qaeda defeated a million dollars” of America, “besides the loss of a huge number of jobs.”

The calls for economic jihad are well accepted and further promoted by their numerous online forums and chatrooms. The concept of jihad, dating back to the earliest stages of Islam, has always been open to various interpretations. Jihad as a requirement for all Muslims was presented and discussed in various dimensions, including military, spiritual, political, religious and more. Islamist discourse, as is evident in Islamist forums and Web sites, is increasingly proposing the use of such jihad. In this variation, jihads aim primarily at undermining the Western economy, particularly the US economy, with the ultimate goal of bringing about the total collapse of the West.

An analysis of discussions on Islamist forums, along with terrorist operations on the ground, strongly suggest that an economically oriented notion of jihad is not a purely theoretical idea, but has actually affected the terrorists’ choice of targets. Future attacks will presumably continue to focus on targets that could have an economic or financial impact, rather than a military one. In the patient scheme of Al Qaeda, spectacular attacks may still be on the menu, but weakening the Western economy by various means is the latest goal of their jihad.

Gabriel Weimann is a professor of communication at Haifa University in Israel and American University’s School of International Service.

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