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Review of Al-Qaeda: The Transformation of Terrorism in the Middle East and North Africa – Dr. Moshe Terdiman

January 1, 2016


Review of Al-Qaeda: The Transformation of Terrorism in the Middle East and North Africa

By Moshe Terdiman

 research fellow in the Ezri Center for Iran & Persian Gulf Studies, University of Haifa

Denise N. Baken and Ioannis Mantzikos, Al Qaeda: The Transformation of Terrorism in the Middle East and North Africa, Santa Barbara, California: Praeger, An Imprint of ABC-CLIO, 2015, 246 pp.  including notes and index.

The recent terrorist attacks in Paris, which resulted in 130 people killed and 368 people wounded, the bombings in Beirut which killed 43 people, the downing of a Russian passenger jet over Sinai with 224 people on board and the terror attack in California which resulted in 14 people killed, among other terrorist attacks in Mali, Nigeria, Syria, Iraq, Beirut as well as in other places have brought to the fore a few questions: Why do terrorist organizations use ever-escalating forms of violence? Why this violence has so much appeal among the Muslim youth all over the world who become the foot soldiers of the Islamic State and al-Qaeda? What is the relationship between al-Qaeda central and its affiliated organizations? What is the difference between al-Qaeda and the Islamic State? What is the secret of al-Qaeda’s and the Islamic State’s success? How can these and other terrorist organizations be stopped, if at all?

The answers to these and other questions can be found in this joint contribution of two accomplished researchers who are experts in terrorism. Unlike many books which have been written on al-Qaeda, this book looks at al-Qaeda in particular and terrorism in general as a business industry and shows how this approach may be the secret of its existence. This book shows how al-Qaeda has been using various methods in order to grow, sustain itself and stay relevant throughout its 27 years of existence.

According to the writers, the goal of al-Qaeda – and of the Islamic State – is to institute a new world order, first in the Arab world and then elsewhere. This new world order will emulate and return to the golden age of Islam, the days of its beginning. In order to reach its goal, one of the main methods has been the use of the internet to report on its activities, to deliver speeches and announcements, to keep in touch with affiliate organizations and individuals, to spread its word, to recruit Muslims – especially from among the youth – throughout the world for its cause, to post instructions for the conduct of various kinds of terrorist attacks, etc.

Another main method has been the use of violence in order to create an environment of fear which could assist al-Qaeda as well as other terrorist organizations to achieve their aims more easily by expanding their rule over larger areas, as happened with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, and by instilling fear in their subjects and opponents. Thus, the use of violence and fear is not only a very important aspect of al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, its individual recruits in the West, and its affiliate organizations but also a very important marketing and recruitment tool.

In order to sustain themselves and grow, al-Qaeda, its affiliates, and other terrorist groups, such as the Islamic State, have had to diversify their sources of income. These main sources of income include mostly profiting from illicit and criminal activities, such as: kidnapping for ransom, drugs trafficking, people trafficking, diamonds, ivory trade, etc. as well as the selling of oil in the case of the Islamic State.

These same methods have also been used in order for al-Qaeda to adjust to new places as it expands and to adopt new strategies as it faced external pressures and internal challenges.

The book has ten chapters. The first chapter discusses the origins and development of al-Qaeda’s ideology. The second chapter discusses the evolution of al-Qaeda and deals also with the Islamic State. The third chapter analyses the violence factor as part of al-Qaeda’s and the Islamic State’s business plan and from the point of view of those who decide to take part in it. The forth chapter looks at al-Qaeda’s sources of funding. The fifth chapter discusses al-Qaeda’s marketing and recruitment techniques. The sixth chapter discusses al-Qaeda’s use of the internet as a tool to bring its ideology and methods of activity to every home and make terrorism personalized. The seventh, eighth and ninth chapters analyses the evolution of al-Qaeda in Yemen and the Arab Peninsula, its evolution in Syria and Iraq and its evolution in North Africa and the Sahel respectively. The last chapter discusses al-Qaeda in the future and suggests way to respond to this challenge.

The book is accompanied by a website,, which is a bottom-up  initiative which “offers citizen analysts virtual community space to use as: solution-driven idea forum; violence-phenomenon resource locator; and intermediary to creating reality-centered tools that meet the violence phenomenon challenge”. The website includes data on al-Qaeda and its main affiliate organizations, news on terrorist organizations’ activities, charts of terrorist activities in various countries conducted by various terrorist organizations, external resources for further knowledge and research and a forum in which everyone can suggest a solution or ask questions.

This book is a must read for everyone who is interested in understanding the main global terrorist organizations and its development from a business point of view, and, thus, in developing some new ways to fight it.

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