Radical Islamic terror succeeded in impacting the daily life of everyone in this world. Anyone traveling on a plane, taking a train ride, or going to the theater in a capital city in Europe or the US, may be a victim of radical Islamic terror act. To drill down and better understand radical Islamic terror, Giyus.org met with Dr. Boaz Ganor, head of the International Institute for Counter Terrorism in IDC Herzelia, one of the first such institutes in the world. Dr. Ganor is also the founder and Chairman of the International Academic Counter Terrorism Community (ICTAC), an International association of institutions, experts and researchers in fields related to the study of terrorism and counter terrorism.
Giyus.org: This interview is about radical Islamic terror – while Osama Bin Laden is a common household name these days – not everyone understands the motives. Let’s take a look at the roots or Islamic terror organizations.
Dr. Ganor: When we talk about Islamic terror there are mainly 2 types of organizations: Global Jihad and local Jihad. Al Qaeda is the most prominent Global Jihad movement. Around Al Qaeda we see a number of circles. The first circle includes local organizations which are tightly connected to Al Qaeda. Examples of such organizations include Al Qaeda Iraq, North Africa Al Qaeda known as Maghreb Al Qaeda and the Yemen branch of the Arab Peninsula Al Qaeda. These are local establishments with local agendas but they all adhere to the main theme of Global Jihad as led by Al Qaeda’s leaders.
The 2nd circle is made of affiliated organizations. These organizations are typically local Jihad groups which were founded as branches of the Muslim Brotherhood and developed military capabilities. In this category you can find organizations like Hamas and the JI in Indonesia. These groups often hide their affiliation to Al Qaeda to avoid the penalties that come with such affiliation. But the connection and the moral guidance are strong.
The 3rd circle is home grown terrorists. These are small groups or individuals that operate locally in the west. There is no real connection between these organization and Al Qaeda itself, but these are initiatives that were launched as a result of exposure to Al Qaeda’s doctrine and incitement online. You could say Al Qaeda inspired them to launch their own terror group. Some home grown terror organizations may want to increase their involvement with Al Qaeda, so you might see individuals traveling to Al Qaeda’s terror training camps in Yemen or Pakistan. In those cases, there is often a closer connection once they return to their home countries.
Giyus.org: Would you say that there is a central control to all these radical terror organizations?
Dr. Ganor: There is a debate on this issue led by 2 scholars Professor Bruce Hoffman and Professor Marc Sageman. Professor Sageman wrote several books including “Leaderless Jihad” where he claimed there is no central hierarchical control and that Jihad is all about local establishments taking advantage of local opportunities. Professor Hoffman claims however, that despite 10 years of counter terrorism activities Al Qaeda is alive and well and is still capable of launching centrally controlled terror attacks. It’s still too early to dismiss Al Qaeda and its control over its own organization and the various affiliated organizations. I tend to agree with both scholars – I believe that Al Qaeda is still a power to reckon with and Bin Laden and Zawahiri have a strong control over the many local organizations that support their agenda. On the other hand, home grown terrorism has grown significantly leaving more room for individual action.
Giyus.org: So what’s the difference in the agenda of local vs. global Jihad?
Dr. Ganor: Both types of groups believe that we should all live under an Islamic regime. The Global Jihad groups believe that their fight is to bring Islamic rule to the whole world. Local Jihad groups believe in the global vision but think they should focus on their own region as first priority. Hamas for example, fights to turn Israel into Islamic regime. They would like to see an Islamic rule over the whole world but they have local priority. There is no disagreement here just different priorities.
Giyus.org: As a main state sponsor of terror, how does Iran fit into this picture?
Dr. Ganor: All that we discussed above relates to Sunni Islamic Jihad. Iran, as a Shiite Islamic regime is a bit different. While they believe in the global Jihad cause, they would like to see global Shia Islamic rule. Ayatollah Khomeini which led the Iranian revolution in 1979 established Iran’s foreign policy so that one of its pillars is the distribution of the Islamic revolution to other Shiite populated areas. Their method calls for empowerment of local Shiite populations and establishment of military/terrorist capabilities for these populations. Hezbollah in Lebanon is the best example of this strategy in action.
You have to remember that there is a wide and deep divide between the Sunni and Shiite branches in Islam. Some people claim that there would be peace between Israel and the Palestinians before there would be peace between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.
But despite that divide you see tactical collaborations in certain areas in the world. Hamas is the best example. Hamas is a Sunni organization, highly affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Yet, Shiite Iran is its main financial backer and Hamas is happy to take their money despite their Sunni-Shiite differences.
Saudia, with a mainly Sunni population, played a major part in supporting Hamas in the early years, including major financial contributions. Today, as they understand the Iranian threat to the region, they are distancing themselves from Hamas. Iran is only happy to step in and fill this vacuum.
Hezbollah actually facilitated the connection between Iran and Hamas. In 1992, Rabin deported Hamas’ and Palestinian Jihad’s terrorists to Lebanon. Lebanon refused to let them in and they remained on top of a mountain between Israel and Lebanon for almost a year. Hezbollah was the only organization that supported them and brought them food. Israel eventually let those terrorists back in, but they’ve had a year to be influenced by Hezbollah and Iran.
So in essence Iran leads the Shiite terror activities aiming to spread Shiite Islam across the world. Sunni Jihad is led by Al Qaeda and its local support organization. They have the same goal but differ in their views of Islam.
Giyus.org: Why do Islamic terror organizations believe that suicide bombings are helping them pave the road to worldwide Islamic domination?
Dr. Ganor: I believe that terror organizations are rational and that suicide bombers are making an informed decision to blow up. A rational decision process is about choosing the right alternative, which in the eye of the beholder seems more efficient.
For terror organizations there are many benefits to conducting suicide bombings. The suicide bombers are their “smart bomb” technology. The suicide bomber can make decisions on the spot to maximize the bombing impact – if he arrives and sees the target (e.g. a restaurant) is empty and across the street there is a gathering of people he will blow himself up among the crowd to maximize the number of casualties.
Because of that precision, suicide bombings are the most lethal attacks. Looking at suicide bombings statistics in Israel, between 2000-2005 suicide bombings accounted for 0.6% of all terror attacks in Israel but those 0.6% of attacks resulted in 50% of casualties. So from the perspective of a terror organization suicide bombings are highly effective.
As a result of the large number of casualties suicide bombing create bloody scenes, leading to significant press coverage and increased fear in the general population. The intensive media coverage exposes suicide bombings worldwide. No matter what your initial opinion is, most people in the western world find it hard to believe someone of its free mind will opt to kill himself by becoming a suicide bomber. Oddly, this leads to some justification to suicide bombings – the most common reaction is these people must have been so badly treated that they would willfully kill themselves in a suicide bombing.
Last but not least, another benefit of a suicide bombing attack is the certainty that the attack will succeed. Once the suicide bomber is on his way you can be sure the attack will go through – it may be more or less successful but he will blow himself up killing as many people with him as he can. Once he does blows himself up, the terrorist poses no threat the organization as he cannot reveal incriminating details.
Giyus.org: Let’s look from the perspective of the suicide bomber itself – what’s in it for him?
Self image – the suicide bomber view himself as martyr (Shahid). In the case of Palestinian bombers, they also believe they are becoming martyrs for the Ummah (community) of the Palestinian people. One suicide bomber insisted that in his last photo he will be seen with his head cut off in his hand showing the Palestinian people he became a martyr for them. By doing this altruistic act his self image is empowered.
Family benefits – Most suicide bombers are from low income families. The families of Shahids enjoy immediate increased social standing in the community and receive monthly financial support from then on. Again, another act of altruism on behalf of the suicide bomber – by becoming a martyr he guarantees the well being of his parents and siblings.
Heavenly benefits – these are the most crucial benefits and they rely on deep religious believe that martyrs go straight to heaven. We call these attacks suicide bombings but in the Islamic world suicide bombers are martyrs – the word suicide is not used at all. Suicide is forbidden in Islam, but becoming a martyr is sacred. The religious belief is that a martyr does not die but is immediately transformed to heaven. A martyr bypasses all the phases that good Muslims go through before they can reach heaven – tossing in their graves until their souls are pure and can enter heaven. There are those that claim that many suicide bombers were not religious and have violated Islamic laws before they triggered the bomb. To them I say, that the belief in martyrdom is so strong that you can do what you want before becoming a martyr, all will be forgiven. Furthermore, the concept of secular Muslim does not exist – even those that do not honor the rules of Islam, do not call themselves secular and are brought up with the belief that martyrs go straight to heaven. In letters written by the 9/11 terrorists this strong religious belief is evident. The letters from Mohamed Atta, a ring leader and the pilot that flew flight 11 into the World Trade Center, to the terrorists under his command reminded them – don’t forget the beautiful virgins that will wait for you in heaven. This is a very realistic belief. There was a suicide bomber in Israel that detonated the bomb on his body but due to a technical error the blast was not strong enough to kill him. He woke up in an Israeli hospital and was convinced he is in heaven. He kept on insisting he is in heaven until the interrogator asked him if there are Jews in heaven. Of course the answer is NO and then he finally figured out something went wrong.
Giyus.org: How do you grow up with such convictions? How much does childhood incitement a part of this conviction?
Dr. Ganor: The wish to become martyrs is part of early childhood education in the Islamic world. From the early age into the school years martyrs are honored and children are encouraged to become Shahids. After years of indoctrination and with a strong belief in benefits of becoming a martyr there are those that are ready to go through with it.
Furthermore, the Islamic society is a close society in which relations between boys and girls are taboo. With the hormones raging like everywhere else in the world, the frustration is great. The only way to have a relationship and physical contact with a woman is to marry her. Marriage requires certain financial standing that may not be possible. So becoming a Shahid is a shortcut to enjoying physical pleasure with women. To western ears this seems absurd, but this is a realistic notion to Islamic youth. This is part of the rational from their perspective.
Giyus.org: Those that send these kids to suicide bombing missions don’t view that as child abuse?
Dr. Ganor: While the managing level also believes that the suicide bombers go straight to heaven, they do not send their own kids to become suicide bomber. An Israeli reporter once interviewed the wife of a senior Hamas military official. He asked her about Shahids in general and about suicide bombings and then asked if she would send her own child to become a suicide bomber. Her answer was of course but not now he has to finish his studies first.
So there is of course abuse and manipulation on behalf of those that send others to suicide bombing missions. But there is also a wide spread belief among the general Muslim crowd in the heavenly benefits Martyrs gain after becoming Shahids in the name of Jihad.
Giyus.org: Since Al Qaeda’s September 11th attacks airport security has been playing a cat and mouse game with terrorists. What’s your opinion on the recent deployment of intrusive checks in US’ airport security?
Dr. Ganor: It’s much easier being a terrorist than being a counter terrorist. As a counter terrorist you cannot protect all targets and budget is also an issue. As a terrorist you have to find one loophole, one place less secured. When you deal with counter terrorism there are a number of circles. The first one and the most crucial one is intelligence. Without intelligence you are working in the dark. But when you have information and can stop a suicide bombing before it happens that’s the major win. This by the way is why target killings as means to fight terrorism is on the rise – this is the only way to stop a ticking bomb before it reaches its target.
The 2nd circle in counter terrorism is security. Since terrorism is learning and evolving process so is counter terrorism. Terrorists are always looking for the soft spot – they are sending dry teams to gather intelligence and see what is being checked and then figure out how to bypass those checks.
To fight terror you have to think like a terrorist and that’s not always easy for the counter terrorism organizations.
The new system deployed in the US relies on full body scan. It is a direct result of a failed terrorist attack in which the suicide bomber was hiding the bomb in his underwear. It has 2 major problems; first it poses a strong breach of privacy for the 99.9% of the travelers that are innocent. Secondly, it will not detect bombs hidden inside the terrorist’s body. Since terrorists have used such methods before, they are likely to use them again. Considering these
There is a new approach to terrorism which aims to find the bomber and not the bomb. This new approach uses biometric methods and questioning to detect people with malicious intent and not necessarily find the bomb. I am working with an Israeli company weCU, which employs such new methods to advance airport security without sacrificing the privacy of innocent travelers.