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13 Jul 2005
Within days of the London terror attacks, we have heard a great deal about how terrorism in the UK has entered a new era.
We have ‘homegrown’ terrorists operating undetected in a suburb of Leeds. These are bright young men operating without alerting their families, and willing to die for their cause. The message is clear - we need to sharpen our tools to deal with such a threat.
The larger problem we face lies in what we term ‘international terrorism’ - it is not an organization, but a network; a loose federation of people who form alliances and enter into joint ventures as and when it suits them. They can be a disparate bunch of people with a variety of motivations who are all being harnessed by an ideology. Over the past few years, many of these people have received help and training from what was a central core. This has led directly to the emergence of a network that resembles more a global business than a military hierarchy. This has been the preferred organizational structure for terrorists up until now. The nodes in the network operate like strategic business units in a company and, in the case of the international terror network, each business unit has the objective of causing as much disruption and gaining as much attention as possible.
The most chilling part of what has been revealed over the past few days is the fact that the perpetrators of these dreadful crimes have not tried to hide their identities. This could suggest that internal competition is emerging amongst the network and different groups are jostling for position. As with any other business, it is the responsibility of the corporate centre to control the internal competition - failure to do so will ultimately result in self-destruction. The possible consequences for us in the meantime may be a series of similar incidents across the globe.
We believe that we have made significant progress in weakening the core of Al-Qa'ida, let us hope that that it is now not too weak to control its internal competition.
The views and comments presented in this article are that of the author and should not be interpreted as the collective view of the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies