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a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

"Who won the elections?"

Posted by Thomas Nephew on March 27th, 2004

In December 2003, two Norwegian researchers, Brynjar Lia and Thomas Hegghammer of the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (Forsvarets forskningsinstitutt, FFI) found a 42 page document on the Internet titled “Jihadi Iraq, Hopes and Dangers” (Arabic, PDF). They now argue that it “served as ideological inspiration and policy guidance for the terrorist attacks in Madrid”, quoting the anonymous author:

…It is necessary to make utmost use of the upcoming general election in Spain in March next year.

We think that the Spanish government could not tolerate more than two, maximum three blows, after which it will have to withdraw as a result of popular pressure. If its troops still remain in Iraq after these blows, then the victory of the Socialist Party is almost secured, and the withdrawal of the Spanish forces will be on its electoral programme.

(via a Bjorn Staerk 3/24/04 quicklink; emphasis and underlining from the Arabic original)

Beyond the obvious fact that the Madrid bombers did as the document proposed, Lia and Hegghammer point out that the “nom de terror” chosen by an alleged Al Qaeda video spokesman after the attack — Abu Dujana, a warrior and contemporary of Mohammed — matches one mentioned in the “Hopes and Dangers” document.

The authors see a more pragmatic, cool variety of Islamist in the pages of this document. Yassin Musharbath, writing for the German weekly SPIEGEL, agrees:

The message is clear: the jihadists should spend their resources carefully, not at random.[…]

The Jihad handbook of December 2003, whose authenticity is much more certain* and which was probably written in the summer of 2003, is very different from most of the Al Qaeda publications seen until now. For one, it’s less nuts and bolts than the pure bombmaking manuals out of the Afghan training camps, but simultaneously much more intellectual and analytical than the usual propaganda material. […]

In any case it’s an example of the professionalization of Al Qaeda in military tactics. The mujaheddin are reminded again and again in the text not to act spontaneously and rashly: the authors send their pupils off with “Preparation and planning are the foundations for success of every project,” the authors remind their pupils. “Only that guarantees (…) great capability, shortens the (required) time and removes the confrontation with danger.”

(via A Fistful of Euros)

The behavior of an alleged ringleader of the Madrid attacks bears out that this is not your 1990s Al Qaeda any more. A cell phone on an unexploded bomb led Spanish police to Jamal Zougam within a day of the bombings. The next time he was seen in public, he wasn’t declaiming “God is great” or “Death to the crusaders.” As the New York Times reports:

When Mr. Zougam arrived in court after five days incommunicado, he reportedly asked the clerks, “Who won the elections?”

(via Regnum Crucis)

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*EDIT, 3/27: The comparison is with a message purportedly written by Abu Musab al-Zarkawi and released before the election, in which he comments on the Spanish government’s theory that ETA was responsible for the bombing.
UPDATE, 8/4: A New Yorker article pulls together this and other aspects of the 3/11 attacks.

Take away the dumb ones and the rest look smarter
SPIEGEL author Musharbash calls the new Al Qaeda a “learning organization.” But it could be simpler than that: for all its haphazardness — the “unconnected dots” before 9/11, the Great Tora Bora Escape — the war on terror may have exerted some strong selection pressure on terrorists. That is to say, despite it all, maybe a lot of the gung-ho hothead types are dead or in custody by now. True, that would still leave the colder, smarter, more cunning ones. But it would also still leave them on the run.

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