We are living in the most crucial time in modern history since the Cold War. Today’s enemy is not a standing army of a sovereign nation. It is a theological movement with a mission to destroy Western civilization. As the Cold War ended in the 1980s, the U.S. focused more on the Eastern Bloc countries, although the real threat to our security was brewing in Africa and the Middle East. We continued to build up our military might for ground-style wars, but did not see the danger of terrorism that would erupt into a different kind of warfare.
The U.S. could have learned a lesson in the early 1980s, when there were thirty-six suicide attacks against Americans inside Lebanon. In April 1983 the U.S. Embassy in Beirut was bombed by Hezbollah, killing 63 people. At the request of the Lebanese government, the U.S. established a peacekeeping force to control the conflict between Muslims and Christians. The Muslim military viewed our soldiers as their enemies and attacked them regularly. In October 1983 truck bombs struck two barracks, killing 241 U.S. troops for which the Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility. In December 1983 a truck filled with explosives rammed into the three-story administrative wing of the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait City, killing five people. That attack was claimed by a radical Shiite group with ties to Iran.
In August 1998 the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya and the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania were bombed by al-Qaeda, resulting in the death of over 224 people. Intelligence reports on East Africa continued to downplay the strength of al-Qaeda operations in sub-Saharan Africa. While U.S. Ambassador to three East African island nations from 2002 to 2005 there were many signs of al-Qaeda’s presence throughout the region and we received several serious threats.
The horrific attacks on September 11, 2001, were undertaken by nineteen al-Qaeda jihadists of which fifteen came from Saudi Arabia, two from the United Arab Emirates, one from Lebanon, and one from Egypt. Osama bin Laden, the planner, and his al-Qaeda operatives were indoctrinated by Wahhabi preachers in Saudi Arabia. Part of the narrow doctrine includes the killing of infidels, which has become a permissible act in the Wahhabi teachings. Justifying armed jihad–to create a worldwide caliphate–was the goal.
Last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris are part of an on-going attempt to destroy Western civilization. To claim a journalistic blasphemy as justification for their actions is no different than the 2012 attacks by Islamists on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi over the bogus claim of an offensive video. The Paris attackers reportedly received military training from Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen.
The rise of Islam started in the 7th century when the Prophet Muhammad began to unify Arabia into a single religious polity. Islam’s glory came in the 12th century when Sultan Saladin defeated the Crusaders, and established a caliphate in North Africa and the Middle East. The Ottoman Empire expanded Islam’s territorial power in the 13th century, ultimately controlling much of Europe, Middle East, Arabian Peninsula and North Africa, lasting until after World War I, when the empire was dismantled. Islamists have been waiting ever since for the opportunity to return to power.
The Arab Spring in North Africa and Arabian Peninsula, beginning in December 2010 opened the door to a number of new Islamist groups affiliated with al-Qaeda. Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi stated that his demise would bring to power al-Qaeda. Since his death in 2011 Islamists have taken control of large swaths of the country. In Yemen, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has taken control of large areas in the southern part of the country; has a large presence in Syria, along with other Islamist groups.
The killing of Osama bin Laden in May 2011 did not end the Global War on Terror. Removing the U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011 only gave rise to a new breed of Islamists bent on taking over the country, which fate awaits Afghanistan. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), first appeared in Iraq in 2003, and has since grown substantially. The poorly trained Iraqi army has been no match for the battle hardened Islamists, who now control a large swath of territory in Iraq and neighboring Syria. ISIS recently declared a caliphate over an area the size of Maryland.
Wahhabism was born in Saudi Arabia in the early 1700’s, when Muhammad ibn Saud signed a pact with the preacher Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhabi, to help build the large kingdom through armed jihad. Wahhabi strict tenets have been practiced ever since. Osama bin Laden was indoctrinated by preachers who justified the killing of infidels as part of the Wahhabi doctrine. Osama bin Laden had stated that he considered all non-Muslims as invaders of Muslim soil. He called for a ‘fatwa’ or a declaration of war, against all the Western powers with the United States foremost on the list. The fatwa has been reinforced by Ayman al-Zawahiri the new al-Qaeda leader.
The Salafi fundamentalist movement which started in Egypt co-exists with the Muslim Brotherhood, a political movement active since 1928. Both want to take control of the governing process in North Africa and the Middle East. Mohamed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood member, was elected president of Egypt in 2012. He served one year before being deposed due to his radical leadership. In one speech he summed up his beliefs: “The Koran is our constitution, the Prophet Muhammad is our leader, jihad is our path, and death for the sake of Allah is our most lofty aspiration” further stating, “This nation will enjoy blessing and revival only through the Islamic Sharia.” The strict Salafi and Wahhabi doctrines espouse a caliphate ruled under Sharia law. Neither allows tolerance of anyone considered an infidel. It was radical Islamists who beheaded Daniel Pearl in Pakistan, Nick Berg in Iraq, and Paul Johnson in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia is the largest supporter of radical Islamist groups. It has financed over 4,000 mosques, religious schools, and cultural centers around the world. Since the early 1990’s there have been over 2,000 mosques and Islamic centers built in the United States, an increase of over 100%. The Wahhabi teachings in many of the ‘madrassas’ have cordoned off students within a growing society of extremism. A Daily Times article in 2005 described some of the madrassas as incubators of extremism and violence. Many of the imams preach the same form of fundamentalism practiced in Saudi Arabia that justifies armed jihad.
Islamic religious leaders around the world have increased their negative rhetoric in recent years. There are reports that during sermons in Mecca, imams have preached violence and attacks against Israel. They have also increased their negative sermons against the United States. Wahhabi imams have great influence over young people. Former CIA Director James Woolsey once told Congress, “Wahhabi extremism today is the soil in which al-Qaeda and its sister terrorist organizations are growing.” The Council on Foreign Relations noted that Saudi Arabia is the largest source of financing for al-Qaeda. The former publisher of an Egyptian-American newspaper noted that radical Islamic groups have taken over the leadership of several ‘mainstream’ Islamic institutions in the United States. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted that Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other terrorist groups noting, “Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.”
Two generations of young men have received radical teachings since Saudi Arabia began building the vast network of religious institutions. Many young Muslims educated in the madrassas around the world have grown up knowing only killing all around them, or the chance of being killed. Few have received any secular education, ever worked, or even planned for the future. Their only thoughts have been to become a terrorist, with armed jihad being a way of life.
While the influence of radical Islam is on the rise, President Barack Obama has stated that with the demise of Osama bin Laden al-Qaeda is on the path to defeat–al-Qaeda has been dismantled. Terrorism experts however note that with the on-going terrorist attacks around the world, the Global War on Terror (GWOT) is not over. The “Investigative Project on Terrorism” (IPT) recently listed six American Islamist activists who work in the Obama administration–are Muslim Brotherhood operatives—and have a strong influence over U.S. Policy. They include an assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, a Homeland Security adviser, a special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), the director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, an imam in the Islamic Society of North America who is the Sharia Czar, and an advisory council member on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships.
IPT released a report noting that terrorist cells have grown rapidly in the U.S. since 1991, identifying 127 training centers. Steven Emerson the founder and its director told me in a meeting, “The way to gain influence among the Muslim community is to control the mosques, to control what people think, to have the right imam preach the right message.” Islamic mosques and madrassas are increasingly teaching extreme interpretations of the religion, which presumably inspired the two Chechen-born terrorists who undertook the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.
There are countless radicalized Islamists around the world today, ready to carry out terrorist attacks. Killing individual Islamists will not bring about a long-lasting peaceful outcome. Arab states must join in a coalition whose primary mission is to moderate the radical teachings of imams, curtail the inciting of jihad by preachers, set up centers to re-train young Muslims with hopes for employment and a productive life. This is a better long term approach than having CIA operatives and U.S. troops on the ground. Drone attacks need to also be carefully considered, so as not to radicalize moderate Muslims as we attempt to kill Islamist leaders. We need to understand that the new breed of Islamist groups will continue to attract recruits, ready join the ranks of jihad.
The increase of Islamist extremists around the world is alarming; many are gaining influence in poverty-stricken Muslim countries across North Africa, the Sahel region, Arabian Peninsula and Middle East. The new generation of Islamist fighters has grown up knowing only conflict, and is more brutal than its predecessors. These radical Islamists delight in their attacks by shouting: Allahu Akbar (God is great) as they indiscriminately kill infidels. With Osama bin Laden’s ‘fatwa’ still in place, we can expect more jihadist attacks against the United States and other Western countries. Winning the Global War on Terror could take many years.