The divided jihadist movement

Thomas Hegghammer of Jihadica and Marc Lynch both point to a new report from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point called Self‐Inflicted Wounds: Debates and Divisions within al‐Qa’ida and its Periphery as a major new study on international jihadism. I don’t have time to read all 200 pages at this point, but the executive summary was interesting:

The internal jihadi divisions examined in this report include tactical disagreements over takfir (excommunication of Muslims) and the killing of Muslims; strategic disagreements over whether the jihadi struggle should focus on the near enemy (i.e., nominally Muslim regimes) or the far enemy (the United States and its Western allies); friction between jihadi pragmatists and jihadi doctrinarians; rifts between al‐Qa’ida Central and local affiliates; as well as the sometimes tense relations between Arab and non‐Arab members of the jihadi movement. The competition between the jihadis and their Muslim counterparts  scrutinizes the jihadis’ relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and the Shi’a community.

The phrase “jihadis and their Muslim counterparts” confused me, but I think that it is drawing a contrast between international jihadis like al‐Qa’ida and its allies and local Islamist groups (like the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and Hezbollah) that have a regional focus (Egypt for the Egpytian Muslim Brotherhood, Israel/Palestinian territories for Hamas, Israel/Lebanon for Hezbollah). One illustration of the difference would be during the summer of 2009 when Hamas attacked a Gaza-based group called Jund Ansar Allah.  This group had criticized Hamas for not being interested in the international jihad.

The study reports three major findings:

  • Overall, it hurts the movement to have these divisions, but because of al‐Qa’ida’s resilience it can actually increase the dangers that it poses (presumably by empowering divisions and splinter groups).
  • It also hurts al‐Qa’ida to compete with Islamist groups, but it can also burnish its credentials with extremists as al‐Qa’ida assumes the role of “recalcitrant underdog.”
  • “A third broad finding is that jihadi divisions matter in different ways. Quarrels over tactics and strategy tend to be more damaging to jihadis than dissent over goals and views of the enemy. Disagreements over tactics—and especially ongoing protests at al‐Qa’ida’s killing of Muslims—have greater potential to shove al‐Qa’ida further toward the margins of the Islamic community than to split jihadi organizations. Ongoing leadership debates over strategic questions, on the other hand, can pose direct threats to the group itself, but do not necessarily marginalize al‐Qa’ida further from the mainstream. In practical terms, certain tactics tend to be more controversial for jihadis than lack of consensus on broader questions as goals and objectives because tactical adaptations have direct practical consequences visible on the ground.”


  1. December 28, 2010 at 7:38 pm | Reply
    Sorry-dear reader.
    Since nearly 200 years- if one sincearely wishes to understand what it is all about- one HAS to look at the intentions and works of the “most-of-all-criminal-organisations” ,socalled -Secret Services- unfortunately now spread all over the world.
    This I am writing as an expert in this field.
    All what is written above and elswhere about ,no matter where in the world and in whatever disguise used to manifest theire humanity-poisoning activities,if one wishes to stop that most-criminal-actions one must first of all stop all the socalled “wolfs in sheeps clothes”-the Secret Services-In the first row CIA,Mossad, ISI(=CIA)ect,ect.Taliban IS CIA! Al-Qaida IS CIA! Jihadis ARE CIA! Hamas IS Mossad! etc.etc.
    These agencies have to be shot down forever,their agents and all of those who are involved ,no matter from which walk of life,or those intending to get involved in such an activity- quickely be put in prison for a very long time.then,and only then there will be an end to such nonsence -activities.
    But I am sorry to say that this will first of all not be enough belived and also those organisations are so powerfull today and act above law that the only way to stop them from doing there evil backround-work will be some happening like an asterioid hitting the earth and ending all that most-criminal activities on the spot,because people now are in their deapest sleep since the beginning of HUMAN mankind.
    With most good wishes for the change of mankinds condition we are in now. Dr. Aswaz Truv

    Ps.: These plastic-muslims doing the dirty work for their hidden or not hidden criminal agencies,are the most foolish ones.Why? First and most important of all:
    !!!!!!! THERE IS NO PERMISSION for their socalled JIHAD!!!!!!!!
    And the fact that they are involved alltough there is no permission ,is the most clear sign that Secret Services are financing,supplying with weapons,and doing the propaganda work for it -and for the public-against it.And none of those individuals,no matter what the may be told or believe about,will ever enter paradise or become a matyr by doing such criminal idiot-works for the only benefit to lay much more heavy burdens on themselves,their families,their communities,and even whole mankind,poisoning -for the benefit of their hidden or not hidden suppliers -their hearts and the hearts of all those around them. They are the biggest idiots in that whole game-and the biggest losers. AND SECRET SERVICES KNOW THIS FACT VERY WELL-THAT IS WHY THEY ARE DOING THIS DIRTY WORK NOT BY THEMSELVES-THERE ARE MANY FOOLISH PEOPLE OUT THERE TO MANIFEST A MANY MOST-SLEEPING-ELITES CRIMINAL INTENTIONS.

  2. Dr. Aswaz,

    I don’t doubt that there are connections with terrorists and intelligence services that we don’t know about. I am skeptical of you specific contentions that jihadis are directly tied to the CIA and Hamas is directly tied to the Mossad for the reason that (especially for Israel) it would not make sense for these agencies to purposely foster groups that want to destroy their own countries. On the other hand, I am aware that the Israeli government tried to create an environment where Hamas would grow at the expense of secular Palestinian groups like Fatah, but I would characterize that more as a policy that backfired as opposed to a sinister plot to create a menace.

    There is a writer named Lee Smith ( for some things I have posted on him) that has published some things recently that contends that jihadist groups are used by Middle Eastern governments to hurt their enemies, which makes more sense to me. Other countries have done the same thing throughout history. That seems to me to be a better explanation than creating these groups to terrorize the agency’s domestic population, although it would not surprise me if that has occurred in some cases.

    Finally, I agree with you that Muslims who massacre civilians are acting outside of the approval of most Muslims around the world.

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