'Each man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world'
-- Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms

'Artists are tricky fellows sir, forever shaping the world according to some design of their own'
-- Jonathan Strange, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Crone and Harrow

Crone, Manni and Harrow, Martin (2010) ‘Homegrown terrorism in the West, 1989-2008’, DIIS Working Paper 2010:30

Further to using Crone and Harrow’s new distinction of homegrown terrorism (as being about ‘belonging in the West and autonomy from terrorist groups abroad’) to distinguish the Stockholm bomber, al-Abdaly, as an internal affiliated terrorist, it is worth examining al-Abdaly vis a vis the Crone paper in greater detail.

In dividing the distinction of “homegrown” terrorism into two further sub-categories, belonging and autonomy, Crone and Harrow evaluate four cases of Danish terrorism to conclude that ‘“homegrown terrorism” could more precisely be conceptualized as an evolution from “external affiliated” to “internal affiliated” – with a short interval marked by “internal autonomous” terrorism.’

Belonging – place of birth, citizenship, formative years (designated as ‘arrived in West before age of 16’), been in the West for more or less than five years

Autonomy – is by definition ‘ruled out by international organizational attachment’ and has three further indicators, Jihad abroad, training abroad, travel to a conflict zone

The authors stress that, ‘if a case is scored as having two or three of the four indicators in either of the categories, we consider it internal or autonomous’

Taimor Abdulwahhab al-Abdaly

Belonging: Born in Iraq, Citizen of Sweden, Arrived in Sweden aged ten, been in the West for more than five years (three from four indicators, hence a relatively high degree of belonging, but his place of birth and the place where he spent his childhood would later be attacked by Western powers though Sweden was not involved)

Autonomy: The information on al-Abdaly’s apparent four year travels in the Middle East (2006-2010) is incomplete. But he has most likely travelled to a conflict zone (Iraq) and trained abroad. The difficulty in evaluating autonomy and an element that is excluded from the Crone and Harrow investigation, is the enabling ability of Islamist forums online. Autonomy can thus be evaluated in the al-Abdaly case as low or high, depending on the evaluation of his use of Islamist forums as contributing to affiliation with a terrorist group.

Crone and Harrow could evaluate al-Abdaly as internal (high degree of belonging) affiliated, fitting with their conclusions. But the paper lacks reasoning. It seems likely that the change from external to internal has been enabled by the internet – which provides a militant environment and support network for unsophisticated operations without the necessity of travel to conflict zones.

The issue is of the ‘cybercaliphate’ and its ability to self-start a terrorist act – to develop the terrorist, to provide a virtual cell, sanctuary, training ground and ideological environment – in short to feel part of something larger, enabled. Crone and Harrow cite the Internet as enabler in the ‘Glostrup’ case, where members of the cell made contact with Irhabi007 – ‘al-Qaeda’s webmaster’ – later discovered to be Younis Tsouli, a London student. Disaffected members of Western counterculture can now find a new Islamist identity on the internet and join forums that coagulate anti-Western expressions.

Further, Crone and Harrow note the current debate among counter-terrorism experts on command structure: ‘This debate has been most emphatically formulated by Marc Sageman [see Sageman, M. (2008) Leaderless Jihad: Terror Networks in the Twenty-First Century (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press)] who argues that the current jihad has become “leaderless,” and Bruce Hoffmann [see Hoffmann, B. (2008) ‘The Myth of Grass-Roots Terrorism’, Foreign Affairs, 87(3), p.133 for Hoffmann’s critique of Leaderless Jihad and this NYT article for the debate], who suggests that al-Qaeda has consolidated and is able anew to conceive plots and give orders. In other words, Sageman argues that the dynamics of terrorist networks in the West are increasingly “homegrown,” since the push for action comes from below. Conversely, Hoffmann claims that the dynamics are predominantly top-down with al-Qaeda being increasingly back in business.’

It seems more likely that the internet forums are enabling recruitment, radicalization perhaps even financing in a way that removes the necessity for a top-down command structure. In the way that a small business might approach a bank for a loan, expertise, support and advice, so too the would-be jihadi approaches the Islamist networks on the Internet.

See also:
Kim, Jung; Lee, Cheol-Won and Im, Eul Gyu (2007) ‘Changes of Cyber-Terrorism: Autonomous Terrors and Counter-Measures’ in Computational Science and Its Applications – Iccsa 2007, ed. Gervasi, O. and Gavrilova, M. (Berlin: Springer-Verlag)

Kohlmann, Evan F. (2008) ‘“Homegrown” Terrorists: Theory and Cases in the War on Terror’s Newest Front’, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, July, 618, pp. 95-109

Nesser, Peter (2008) 'How Did Europe's Global Jihadis Obtain Training for Their Militant Causes?', Terrorism and Political Violence, 20(2)