Perspective Paris # 15: The Future History of Jihad – Wassim Nasr
The past month – the fall of Kabul, the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 atrocities and the historic trial of the Paris attacks – has been a time of deep emotional turmoil. Paris Perspective takes stock of these events by analyzing the evolution of international jihad.
It was “nothing personal”. This is what Salah Abdeslam, the main suspect in the 2015 massacres which left 130 dead in Paris, said this week before a French court.
Abdeslam was part of an Islamic State cell that carried out bombings against bars, restaurants, the Bataclan concert hall and the Stade de France on November 13, six years ago.
He is believed to be the only surviving assailant.
The trial is a time of judgment for the families of the victims and thousands of others caught up in the horrors of that night. Old wounds are reopening, as with the recent resumption of the 9/11 military trials at Guantanamo Bay.
Today, after Afghanistan’s dramatic fall to Taliban militants, world powers – rivals and allies – fear increased terrorist activity as jihadists around the world celebrate the chaotic withdrawal of Western forces from Kabul.
Good for al-Qaeda, bad for Daesh
Al-Qaeda, a Sunni insurgent multinational, sees the Taliban revival as “a sign from God,” according to France 24 terrorism specialist Wassim Nasr, who monitors radical Islamist strategies.
“Movements that belong to al-Qaida or al-Qaida sympathizers have been emboldened because they see it as proof that with patient and armed jihad – followed by negotiations – they can achieve what they want.”
The return of the Taliban Islamic Emirate rejuvenated the central command of al-Qaeda and its affiliates. But things were different for the Islamic State group, which lost its “caliphate” in the Levant and saw its leaders killed by international forces.
“Since the first day of the creation of this [Islamic State] caliphate in 2014, [Al-Qaeda] considered illegitimate, ”explains Nasr.
“I got to ask a few questions of a prominent al-Qaeda leader in the Arabian Peninsula, and he was the first to tell me since 2014,” [Islamic State] were illegitimate and [Abu Bakr] al-Baghdadi was an impostor.
“So al-Qaeda is happy, and the Islamic State is not.”
Young people deprived of their rights
As a journalist and broadcaster, Nasr stays tuned, analyzing social issues and reaching out to vulnerable youth in The underprivileged of France the suburbs, or the suburbs.
The disenfranchised in these regions are the main targets of the radicalization of religious extremists who are master manipulators to recruit often miserable young people seeking to make sense of their lives.
Abdeslam sought to use the Paris bombings trial as a sort of pulpit, with his microphone ultimately silenced by a judge. So how were his words received in the suburbs, or so called “difficult neighborhoods”?
Nasr says they’re not very careful. “They don’t follow these trials. They don’t care at all. That’s how I feel,” he said.
“On the other hand, from day one the media were looking for what Abdeslam was going to say.”
With the marathon trial set to last nine months, things could change, depending on what Abdeslam says or doesn’t say, Nasr adds.
Political representation of mulims in France?
In the wake of the 2015 Paris attacks, is there a new generation of Muslims growing up and feeling their voice is being heard by the government? On the eve of the 2022 presidential election in France, is there any political representation of French Muslims?
The myth of the Muslim vote
Since the 2015 attacks, France has been forced to look in the mirror to recognize the realities facing its Muslim population and the ghettoization of Muslim communities.
When it comes to political representation, however, not much has changed over the past six years.
Any discussion of a Muslim vote as France prepares for April 2022 presidential elections is nonsense, says Nasr. France is not like other countries, because Muslims vote either on the right or on the left.
“If you are talking about the suburbs, for example – what can be considered as “the Muslim vote”? The majority votes for Jean-Luc Melanchon, who is on the extreme left, “he said.
“But if you’re talking about [voter] participation or going to the polls is very low. A lot of people don’t even bother to vote. “
From the turmoil of the 2015 Paris massacres – and the subsequent “lone wolf” attacks across the country – the concept of Islam of France was born.
The idea is simple: an inclusive and state-approved interpretation of the Islamic faith in accordance with the standards of French secular democracy to prevent radicalization and promote integration.
But has this roadmap for the future of Islam and Muslims in France made much progress on the ground?
No, says Nasr – because the purpose of Islam of France has never been political. From the start, it was created to monitor extremist views emanating from mosques or individual imams.
“French Islam didn’t work. It’s still a project, but I don’t know if it will work. Whenever a state gets involved in such issues, people usually don’t follow,” he said. declared Nasr.
In trying to bring the Islamic faith into the secular mainstream, if a Muslim anywhere in the world sees “islam.gov”, it won’t work.
Yet since Paris and other cities in Europe were hit by terrorist attacks, international jihadism has evolved, especially in response to massive global investments in security, surveillance and international cooperation.
All those accused in the Paris court have been tracked down using technology. So what has changed from the point of view of the jihadists?
“As the legal measures evolved, the jihadists adapted their way of doing things,” explains Nasr.
The 2001 and 2015 strikes in the United States and Paris were exceptions. They involved assembling crews, training them, sending them to target countries, procuring weapons and manufacturing explosives.
In the years that followed, Nasr adds, it was very difficult to build these kinds of teams and find seasoned fighters ready to return to their home countries and attack.
However, the trend has shifted to something else.
“ISIS has achieved what al-Qaeda could only dream of: succeeding in getting so many people to take action. Terrorist actions in their own country – whether as citizens, residents or refugees, ”Nasr said.
“And that’s the trend today… it’s less deadly than big attacks like 9/11, but the political impact is still the same.”
Have French anti-radicalization policies worked?
The low-cost Jihad business model
In monetary terms, the costly “terrorist shows” of the past 20 years turn into less expensive operations with a proportional “terror dividend”, as illicit financing channels are closed through international forensic monitoring of accounts.
In the 2020s, terrorism is more profitable.
“It doesn’t cost much. It’s really easy to mount something like the attack on Kabul [airport]. He’s a suicide bomber with a single explosive belt, ”Nasr explains.
“It doesn’t cause a lot of damage compared to the number of casualties. But we saw the panic it caused – the fire from the Taliban and US forces – so there is the psychological impact.”
Jihadist movements live on a micro-economy, accumulating small sums of money over time to create a larger pot that allows them to conduct their operations at low cost and high gain, Nasr adds.
Is the future organic?
Another potential evolutionary branch of terrorism is the composition, delivery and delivery of weapons. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently warned that the next wave of attacks was more likely to be biological in nature than traditional physical assaults.
Is this how the jihadists will subvert security measures in the future?
Nasr believes Blair is right, but the development of chemical or biological weapons by jihadists is limited. Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and the Islamic State in Iraq have separately tried to develop chemical weapons.
“But these were very low-tech chemical weapons. And even when they were used, the number of casualties was very low,” he says.
“Corn [Blair] was talking about the psychological impact. They try … you can develop the weapon, but then you have to develop the ability to deliver it. “
For jihadists, it’s one thing to develop biochemical weapons in a makeshift laboratory, but quite another to “put them on a plane and make them work.”
So, once the Paris tribunal on the November 13 attacks has delivered its conclusions in nine months, what outcome can we expect and how will the decisions impact the future of endogenous radicalization in France?
For Nasr, justice will at least have had its day, unlike the United States.
“To sum up, France and European countries are doing what the United States did not want to do – by trying terrorists in ordinary, non-military courts.”
This makes the judicial process a public process, which is essential in a democracy.
The most important message from the United States – with the lawsuits for Sheikh Mohammed at Guantanamo – it’s a military trial.
“These are not the usual rules. This is not an ordinary court. So on the other hand [over the past 20 years], Western powers use drones to kill people. And it’s extrajudicial, ”says Nasr.
Therein lies the paradox.
“When you have the opportunity to try people in court – as a democracy – you should. “
Written, produced and presented by David Coffey
Recorded, mixed & edited by Cécile Pomeani, Nicholas Doreau & Yann Bourdelas
Wassim Nasr is a journalist, host and author based in Paris