Al-Qaeda Communications Provide Insights Into What Terrorists Want

Tue Jan 25 08:09:56 2011 Pacific Time
DURHAM, N.C., Jan. 25 (AScribe Newswire) —
Without any formal direct contact with terrorist organizations, it is difficult for Western nations to answer two fundamental but important questions: What do terrorists want, and how do they plan to achieve it? New research examining communications among Al-Qaeda members provides some insights into the core values and beliefs of the world’s most dangerous terrorist organization, and could help in designing strategies and policies aimed at preventing future terror attacks.
Gregory Keeney, a student in the Master of Management Studies program at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, and Detlof von Winterfeldt, former director of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, analyzed the writings and verbal statements of Al-Qaeda’s members and spiritual leaders, primarily from 1998 to 2008. Their findings are included in “Identifying and Structuring the Objectives of Terrorists,” published in the December 2010 issue of Risk Analysis, a journal from the Society for Risk Analysis. Their research was supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security through the National Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE).
Keeney and von Winterfeldt distinguish between several different types of objectives: means objectives (guiding short-term, day-to-day actions); fundamental objectives (guiding medium- to long-term actions); and strategic objectives (guiding all decisions leading to end goals). “We found only a few strategic objectives, several fundamental objectives and a large number of means objectives,” Keeney said. “For example, one of Al-Qaeda’s strategic objectives is to inspire and incite Muslims to attack the enemies of Islam. But this likely won’t be achieved without first maintaining support from the Muslim masses. Therefore, maintaining the support of Muslims is a fundamental objective because it contributes to the strategic objective of attacking Islam’s enemies.” Analysis of Al-Qaeda verbal statements and writings — including speeches and audio transcripts of Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri — reveals five major strategic objectives:
1) Inspire and incite Islamic movements and the Muslim masses of the world to attack the enemies of Islam;
2) Expel Western powers from the Middle East;
3) Destroy Israel;
4) Establish Islamic religious authority in the Middle East; and
5) Extend Islamic authority and religion into new areas of the world.
Among the fundamental objectives identified by Keeney and von Winterfeldt are Al-Qaeda’s desire to maintain its status as the dominant Islamic terrorist organization, creating homegrown terrorist cells in the U.S. and Europe, attacking U.S. targets, recruiting new followers, and causing economic losses in the U.S. Many of the means objectives emerging from Al-Qaeda communications relate to effectively utilizing media to recruit new insurgents, providing instruction on terrorist tactics, and portraying Western nations in a negative light. “Al-Qaeda leaders understand that winning the battle of the media requires using the media to achieve your own objectives better than your enemies use the media to achieve their objectives,” Keeney said. “Al-Qaeda produces and distributes its own communications via the Internet, but also tries to influence American media’s reporting on the war on terror.
” The researchers also believe Al-Qaeda will continue its attempts to develop homegrown terror cells in the West and specifically in America, in keeping with the group’s stated intentions to expand fundamental Islam worldwide. “Al-Zawahiri — al-Qaeda’s top strategist — has said, ‘The day will come when we rule the United States — we will rule the whole world,” Keeney said. “Clearly, al-Qaeda sees its battles extending far beyond the Middle East.” Based on their research, Keeney and von Winterfeldt advise government and security officials to develop further intelligence on homegrown terror cells in the U.S., to engage more fully in the effort to win Muslim “hearts and minds,” and to create a coordinated media strategy to combat terrorist misinformation and propaganda. The complete research report is available at – – – – CONTACT: Chris Privett, Duke University Office of News & Communications, 919-660-8090,
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