Exploring Terrorist Targeting Preferences
Al Qaeda, the jihadist network personified by Osama bin laden, seeks a restored caliphate free of Western influence. It uses terror as its means. But how does terrorism serve the ends of al Qaeda? Understanding its strategic logic might suggest what U.S. targets it may seek to strike and why. This monograph posits four hypotheses to link means and ends. The coercion hypothesis suggests that terrorists are interested in causing pain, notably casualties, to frighten the United States into pursuing favorable policies (e.g., withdrawing from the Islamic world). The damage hypothesis posits that terrorists want to damage the U.S. economy in order to weaken its ability to intervene in the Islamic world. The rally hypothesis holds that terrorism in the United States would be carried out to attract the attention of potential recruits and supporters. The franchise hypothesis argues that today's jihadists pursue their own, often local, agendas with, at most, support and encouragement from al Qaeda itself. Each of these four hypotheses was examined using an analysis of 14 major terrorist attacks, a structured survey given to terrorism experts, and an analysis of statements by al Qaeda. The monograph concludes that the coercion and damage hypotheses are most consistent with prior attack patterns, expert opinion, and the statements. The rally hypothesis appears to have weaker explanatory power. The franchise hypothesis coincides with the majority of post-9/11 attacks, but, unless such franchises are active in the United States, may not indicate what the next attack here might be.
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Some Observations on Rationality
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Affiliates Yes Potential Afghanistan Al-Qaeda Attack Consistent attack modalities Attacks Characteristic Value Ayman al-Zawahiri Characteristic Value Affiliates Claims Responsibility coercion hypothesis Conventional weapon Venue damage hypothesis Department of Homeland dirty bomb economic damage Medium effects Entertainment or commercial experts Explosive potential Medium franchise hypothesis global goal Hardness Soft Homeland Security hypothesis posits inspire Iraq Islamic caliphate Islamic world January jihad jihadist Khalid Sheikh Mohammed killed martyrdom Medium Explosive potential Medium Modality Conventional militant jihadist military Modality Conventional weapon Mombasa motivations Muslim world optimal means organization Osama bin Laden potential attack Potential casualties Medium Potential economic damage potential Medium Modality Qaeda Qaeda believes Qaeda operatives Qaeda statements radiological rally hypothesis Saudi September 11 attacks specifically strategic strikes suicide bombers target selection Target Types terrorist terrorist attack tion U.S. Department U.S. economy U.S. government U.S. homeland Unconventional United Value Affiliates Yes Western World Trade Center Yes Potential casualties