June 19, 2009 / 11:13 AM / 8 years ago

ANALYST'S VIEW: Al Qaeda's strengths and weaknesses

(Reuters) - Worsening attacks in Somalia and Yemen are an example of a proven al Qaeda strength - the ability to develop like-minded affiliates that prosecute its campaign against the West and local governments seen as Western stooges.

Following are excerpts from a speech listing the group’s strengths and weaknesses by Brynjar Lia, a research professor at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, delivered in Oslo in March 2009.



Al Qaeda propagates a simple popular message ... that “Islam is under attack,” militarily, religiously, and economically. Al Qaeda’s simple message of foreign occupation, desecration and exploitation seems to resonate deeply. The reason for this is simple: there is some truth to it. The Western world, led by the United States, has a strong and visible presence in this part of the world, militarily, economically and politically.

Powerful image

Al Qaeda has become the world’s most feared terrorist organization, which exerts an immense attraction on young people. In some countries in Europe, it has become ‘cool’ to be a jihadi. The ensuing U.S.-led military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq further elevating al-Qaida’s status to almost mythical proportions. Not only did these invasions serve as “evidence” that al Qaeda’s rhetoric about the aggressive Western world was true. The invasions also demonstrated the power of al Qaeda to provoke the sole remaining superpower to drain its military and human resources.

Global character

Unlike most terrorist groups of today, membership in al Qaeda is open for virtually everyone, irrespective of ethnicity and nationality ... As long as one is willing to accept its extremist ideology, anyone can in principle become an al Qaeda member. It exploits the Internet and is a prolific producer of propaganda material.


Killing of civilians

A major weakness ... is that it is always difficult to justify the killing of civilians. You will recall that there were mass demonstrations in Jordan and Morocco against al Qaeda following attacks by al Qaeda-related groups.

Political weakness.

Another weakness is its unwillingness to prepare for a future transition to politics. Al Qaeda’s appeal is totally dependent on the continuation of violence. Its brand-name is simultaneous car bomb attacks with suicide bombers, not state building and party politics.

The passage of time.

At some point, al Qaeda’s image will inevitably fade; all extremist ideologies have a limited life span, so does al Qaeda’s extremist interpretation of Islam. Some time in the future, al Qaeda will loose its attraction among the youth, and to pose as a jihadist will no longer be ”cool.“ Already, al Qaeda is slowly but steadily becoming yesterday’s enemy. At the same time, the ”Obama factor’ has greatly improved the image of the United States internationally and undermines the credibility of al Qaeda’s hate propaganda.

Peace talks

Al Qaeda’s biggest problem is that several of its key regional partners in Iraq and Afghanistan are contemplating the idea of negotiating a political solution with their enemies. This spells trouble for al Qaeda.

If the Taliban movement agrees to a ceasefire and enters into serious negotiations with the Karzai government, al Qaeda will no longer be useful to the Taliban. On the contrary, Taliban might consider al Qaeda a major liability which it needs to get rid of.

For a full transcript of the speech click here

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