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Book Review: Architect of Global Jihad by Brynjar Lia

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

Architect of Global Jihad by Brynjar Lia

Architect of Global Jihad: The Life of al Qaida Strategist Abu Mus’ab al-Suri is Brynjar Lia’s definitive biography of the shadowy terror theorist, Islamist intellectual and sometime jihadi, Mustafa bin Abd al Qadir Sitt Maryam.

Sitt Maryam, who went by al-Suri in jihadi circles, was a red haired, fair-skinned Syrian renegade from the Muslim Brotherhood who was trained in military tactics and explosives in Saddam Hussein’s terrorist camps, passing on his skills to fellow “Arab Afghans” during and after the Soviet War. Attracted to secular military theory, guerrilla warfare tactics and strategy rather than theological disputes, hating the West but despising Salafist radicals, Lia’s Abu al-Suri is an isolated and anomalous figure in “the jihadi current” of the 1990’s and post-9/11 era.

“A born critic” with a grim and unsmiling demeanor who entangled himself in acrimonious personal feuds with leading jihadis, including Osama bin Laden, al-Suri failed to win many adherents to his insightful “system not organization” (nizam la tanzim) theory of jihad until his arrest caused his writings, especially his magnum opus The Global Islamic Resistance Call to go viral in the Islamist darknet.

A true intellectual, widely read in western literature and military writings, al-Suri crafted a stategy of jhad that adapted arguments of 4GW, “leaderless resistance” and classical Maoist insurgency to suit Islamist purposes and conditions while rejecting secret, hierarchical, organizations and al-Qaida’s “Tora Bora mentality” as historical failures. Self-radicalization and “sudden jihad syndrome” among alienated Western Muslims was the stuff from which al-Suri hoped to build a massively decentralized, open source, self-sustaining campaign of terrorism.

A hundred and forty some pages of text in Architect of Global Jihad are devoted exclusively to excerpts from al-Suri’s 1,600 page treatise on terrorism operations and strategy. He was a serious and determined opponent of Western civilization’s core values, despite having enjoyed long stretches of reasonably comfortable Western exile in Spain and “Londonistan” to such a degree that al-Suri was in no particular hurry to rejoin the jihad and even acquired the unenviable (and inaccurate) reputation of only being a “pen jihadi”.

Musab al-Suri, who is likely dead at the hands of Baathist jailers, is best described as an Islamist parallel to Vladimir Lenin before the Bolshevik Revolution. The similarities are striking, the irascible temperment, formidible intelligence, the frustrating politics of exiled revolutionary communities, the ideological marginalization both men endured as radicals in a community of already extreme activists and the embrace of terrorism (tactically in Lenin’s case, strategically in al-Suri’s). al-Suri and Lenin, despite wide ideological differences, as revolutionaries represent the psychological type Eric Hoffer termed “true believers” – pitiless, absolutely committed, intellectually rigid on matters of principle but tactically flexible and creative in terms of method.

Such men are dangerous, to themselves as well as to society.

Strong recommendation:


Related posts on or including Abu Musab al-Suri

Lexington GreenAbu Musab al-Suri: Theorist of Modern Jihad and The Networked Jihad: Parasitic on Developed World Technology, Information, Ideas

Charles CameronA Terrorist’s Call to Global Jihad: Deciphering Abu Musab al-Suri’s Islamic Jihad Manifesto

John RobbSURI: nizam, la Tanzim (system, not organization) – Global Guerrillas

The Jamestown FoundationThe Jamestown Foundation: Al-Suri’s Adaptation of Fourth  , The Jamestown Foundation: Al-Suri’s Doctrines for Decentralized  and The Jamestown Foundation: Abu Mus’ab al-Suri and the Third

Jihadica Abu Mus`ab Suri: Architect of Global Jihad Neglected? and Training for the Lone Jihadi

The Hoover InstitutionThe Terror Fringe

Oslo and Utoya: open source warfare

Sunday, July 24th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron — analysis of 2083 manifesto, John Robb ]


Just a quick note — section 3.18 of the 2083 European Declaration of Independence reads as follows:

3.18 “Open source” warfare – clandestine cell systems – the most efficient way of warfare in Phase 1

A clandestine cell structure is a method for organising a group in such a way that it becomes virtually immune to detection, penetration and decapitation. As such, it is a critical strategic element of our operations. It is not in any way lead under a fixed, fragile hierarchy but works as an extremely distributed movement, a resilient network made up of small, autonomous groups or cells. Each group is lead by a cell commander, often working solo, who makes all the decisions based on fixed fundamental principles. We therefore avoid the use of electronic communications (including mobile phones, email and internet chat), because electronic intelligence, signals intelligence, ELINT, SIGINT, is a strength of conventional militaries and counterintelligence organisations.

Solo Martyr Cells are completely unknown to our enemies and has a minimal chance of being exposed. The relatively indestructible and impenetrable nature of the Cell System allows the individual to stay hidden until he is ready to “activate” himself. Even then he will escape the scrutiny often reserved for young men of Arab descent. Optimally he should not have any affiliations to “extremist networks” or to any extreme right wing movements for obvious reasons. This will disallow the National Intelligence Agencies to place the individual on their “radar”/under surveillance. As with the “open source” concept in general our core principles which include armed resistance against the cultural Marxists/ multiculturalists are made available for public collaboration. Our evolving approach to conducting warfare makes it extremely quick to innovate and share tactics rapidly from cell to cell without the direction of a vulnerable leadership hierarchy.

Each European country has tens of thousands individuals who are affiliated with far right conservative movements (from moderate to extreme). In addition, there are several thousand individuals who sympathise with armed resistance groups against the cultural Marxists/multiculturalists (many of them being in the police force and the intelligence agencies themselves).

National Intelligence Agencies have very limited resources and will not be able to monitor tens of thousands of people efficiently (they will not waste excessive resources on individuals who are not considered an immediate threat). They will not have any chance whatsoever to implement efficient means against Solo or even Duo cells because you are not on their “priority watch list”. Even if you are on a watchlist you have several opportunities.


Groups and individuals who use terror (spreading fear and means of intimidation) as its primary weapon (even if concentrated on specific individuals or government buildings only) will always have limited “open” support in the population.

The rather excessive secrecy and decentralised concept of our command structure can contribute to a reduction or distortion of information about our goals and ideals. This would only be a problem if f. example a cell commander fails to send an announcement to predefined news agencies and blogs. The biggest threat is that media or government agencies might attempt to distort our messages and material and present it to the media as NS or racist in nature in an attempt to de-legitimise us. This has the potential to prevent the wanted effect of our operation, support for our cause and political pressure on current regimes (to halt Muslim immigration and Islamisation). However, if the cultural Marxist/multiculturalist governments attempt to falsely give credit to racist organisations they risk creating more activity among the NS movements so it is a double edged blade even for them.

There appear to be two references to “open source warfare” in the document: this one is the main one, on p. 840 of my downloaded .docx version. There’s also a mention of “open source intelligence”.

I haven’t found a reference to John Robb in this context — but given that John pioneered the concept of OSW in his writings, I will be interested to see his comments on the brief version described above.

Google Ideas SAVE conference

Friday, July 8th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron — cross-posted with brief intro from Alix Levine‘s blog — topic: Google’s Summit Against Violent Extremism ]


Google Ideas — the Google “think/do tank” — recently co-hosted (with the CFR and Tribeca Film festival) a conference on countering radical extremism in Dublin, with a mix of “former extremists, activists, academics, survivors, executives and public sector officials” in attendance.  Blog-friend Matt Armstrong was there, live-tweeting with enthusiasm. Dr William McCants of Jihadica and CNA wasn’t terribly impressed with the outcome, and posted at Foreign Policy:

I am not ready to give up on the enterprise of countering violent extremism just yet, but I am less sanguine about its chances of success than I was before I started working on the problem. Google Ideas’ summit has not increased my optimism, but its resources and potential do.

Alix Levine of Cronus Global attended the event, and reported back on her blog. I’ve commented briefly on McCants’ piece on FP, but wrote a longer piece as a comment on Alix’ blog, and am cross-posting it here in the hope that it will stir further discussion…

I’m comparing Will McCants‘ response to the Google Ideas conference on FP with yours, and I’m glad you wrote as you did.

McCants – whose work I generally admire — opens his comments by quoting Jared Cohen to the effect that the purpose of the conference was to “initiate a global conversation”. McCants then more or less dismisses the conference itself a couple paragraphs later with the words “If these are indeed the conclusions of the conference, Google Ideas needs more thinking and less doing in its approach”.

Conclusions? How does he get so quickly from “initiate” to “conclusions”?

Okay, we all know that a conference can lead to a volume of proceedings read mostly by the authors themselves and a few aspiring students eager to follow-my-leader and dead end there – but this conference was very clearly intended to be the start of something, not the wrap-up.

So your comment, Alix, “Instead of critiquing Google’s effort, it will be more productive and valuable to work in unison with Google on their mission to ‘initiate a global conversation'” seemed to me to bring us back to the actual intent Google had announced for the conference, and you reinforce that when you write, “I hope that more people will join in on the conversation in a meaningful and (gasp) positive way.”

My questions are: how and where do we do this?

There will have been contacts made at the conference that will lead to an exchange of emails, no doubt – but that’s not a global conversation.

Here are some of the problems I foresee:

(a) siloing: the conversation limiting itself to a few constituencies, each of which talks mainly among its own members, leading to

(b) group think: in which the widely assumed gets even more firmly entrenched as “wisdom”, with

(c) secrecy: meaning that potentially relevant information is unavailable to some or all participants, all of which add up to

(d) blind spots: topics and approaches that still don’t get the attention and exploration they deserve.

The solutions would need to include:

(a) networked diversity: by which I mean a structured means of getting the unpopular or minority opinion front and center (compare business brainstorming in which a facilitator ensures even the “quiet ones” get heard, and that even poor ideas are expressed without critique until a later, evaluative stage),

(b) contrariety: meaning that whatever ideas are “easily dismissed” get special attention, with

(c) transparency: meaning that whatever could be redacted and made partially available is made available, not (as in US Govt “open source” material, closely held), so that

(d) oddballs and outriders get to participate…

Jami Miscik who was Deputy Director for Intelligence at the time, caught my attention when she said in 2004, “Embrace the maverick”. Oddballs aka mavericks make the best contrarians, because they start from different premises / different assumption bases. Miscik accordingly invited science fiction and film writers to interact with her analysts at CIA, and found that when they did, they produced 80% already known ideas, 10% chaff, and 10% new and “valid” scenarios. But even then, “science fiction and screen writers” is a box…

Cross-fertilization, questioning of assumptions, passion, reverie, visualization, scenario planning, play – the number of strategies that could be employed to improve the chances of a successful new insight emerging are many and various – unkempt artists probably know some of them better than suits with high IQs and clearances, and Google clearly knows this, too…

But where?

I mean, what Google+ circles do any of us join, to join this global conversation? What twitter hashtag brings us together under one roof? When’s the follow up in my neck of the woods, or yours?

What’s the method for getting the conversation widespread, well-informed – and scaleable, so the best of the grass roots and local ideas can find their way to the influential and informed, and the best insights of the influential and informed can percolate through to the grass roots and local?

Lastly, I’d like to thank Google for getting a dialog going between those with a range of subjective experiences of radicalization, and those whose job it is to understand and thus be able to interdict it. Demonization never got the situation in Northern Ireland anywhere near peace – listening did.

And thank you too, Alix, for your own contribution. Let’s move the conversation onwards.

When Dictators Go Mad – Gaddafi Sentences Libya to Death

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

“Any Libyan who lifts an arm shall be punished with death….Any Libyan who undermines the sovereign state will be punished with death.” “Those who commit crimes against the army shall be punished with death. Anybody who works for a foreign company that undermines the country will be punished with death.”

Twitter is absolutely amazing on reporting events on Libya the last few days. What they lose in passing on rumors the make up for by being hours or days ahead of MSM and USG reaction.

Col. Gaddafi, who looks these days like a cross between a has-been rock star in Celebrity Rehab and Ethel Merman in her dotage, is desperately trying to cling to power and has unleashed artillery, naval bombardment, warplanes, helicopter gunships and African mercs on his own people. No word if the honorable member of the UN Human Rights Panel has employed poison gas yet, but the Libyans appear to be holding their own in fierce fighting in Libya’s largest cities.

The USG response has been muted on Libya. This sober restraint may reflect the vulnerability of American oil industry workers trapped in the fighting as well as the discomfort of anticipation of the details of recent deals between Western corporations and former government officials and the Libyan regime coming to light if Gaddafi falls. Or alternatively, Gaddafi tearing lucrative agreements up if he remains in power.

Will Dr Fadl retract his Retractions?

Monday, February 14th, 2011

[ by Charles Cameron ]

Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, popularly known as Dr Fadl, wrote two of the key works of jihadist ideology, The Essential Guide for Preparation and the thousand-page Compendium of the Pursuit of Divine Knowledge, in the late 1980s — thereby providing his friend from student days, Ayman al-Zawahiri, with powerful scholarly backing for the doctrines of militant jihad and takfirism. Lawrence Wright refers to Fadl as an “Al-Qaeda mastermind” in a detailed 2008 New Yorker analysis.

Dr Fadl was imprisoned without trial in the Yemen shortly after 9/11, but it was after he had been transferred to an Egyptian prison in 2004 that he wrote Rationalizing Jihad, the first volume of his “retractions” — a work so powerful in its attack on his own earlier jihadist doctrine that al-Zawahiri felt obliged to respond with a two-hundred page letter of rebuttal. A second volume from Dr. Fadl followed more recently.

Here’s the point: as far as we (the “open source reading” public) know, Dr Fadl remains in Tora Istikbal prison in Egypt, and thus far it has been possible for Al-Qaida and others to argue that his “retractions” were the result of coercion.


In recent days, however, Egypt has been in considerable flux.

There were reports before the fall of Mubarak of prisoners being liberated or escaping from prison — either as part of the revolution, or alternatively to supply Mubarak with groups of paid thugs who could attack the demonstrators. More recently, the freeing of political prisoners has been one of the demands the demonstrators have made of the military, and it is here that Robert Fisk’s report in The Independent today fits in:

As for the freeing of political prisoners, the military has remained suspiciously silent. Is this because there are prisoners who know too much about the army’s involvement in the previous regime? Or because escaped and newly liberated prisoners are returning to Cairo and Alexandria from desert camps with terrible stories of torture and executions by – so they say – military personnel. An Egyptian army officer known to ‘The Independent’ insisted yesterday that the desert prisons were run by military intelligence units who worked for the interior ministry – not for the ministry of defence.


Every major act on the world stage has consequences that ripple out in unexpected directions.

If Dr Fadl regains his liberty, the question arises whether he will claim his critiques of jihadist dictrine were obtained by force, and effectively retract his retractions – or whether he will stand by them, as I somehow expect he might — still declaring, this time as a free man, that “There is nothing that invokes the anger of God and His wrath like the unwarranted spilling of blood and wrecking of property,” and “There is nothing in the Sharia about killing Jews and the Nazarenes, referred to by some as the Crusaders. They are the neighbors of the Muslims … and being kind to one’s neighbors is a religious duty.”


I haven’t seen any discussion of this question in the western press, and it was only a tweeted nudge from Leah Farrall on January 31 that set me thinking about Dr Fadl, and the questions that his possible release from prison might raise.

Is he free? Will he be freed? If he is, what will he say?

Whichever tack he takes, his statements will have impact.

And as Leah points out, there are parallels between Dr Fadl’s critique of al-Qaeda and that of Abu Walid al-Masri — which just gives me further reason to be interested in what we might hear next from either one.

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