Relevant Concepts And Alqaeda Criminology Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

The opinion of Governments, scholars and media regarding terrorism, threats, counterterrorism and policies implemented have been controversially discussed and criticized. This essay discusses whether Al Qaeda was ever a really threat to the United States or not. In order to get there, the discussion was structured in four sections. First, this paper offers a review of two important definitions, "terrorism" and "threat" as well as an overview of Al-Qaeda's history, beliefs, roots and its evolution since it is an organization that has substantially changed in the last eleven years.

The core of the discussion whether Al-Qaeda was ever a threat to America or not, lays on the 9/11 as the shocking events that changed history. This essay looks at two different perspectives regarding the attacks, the reasons for Al-Qaeda to attack and the threats posed on America. The third section flows around the two views of terrorism first as a strategy and second as threat to the public or both as happened on September 11. Additionally, this section includes a comparison with the case of terrorism in Colombia and FARC. The last part of this discussion considers the war on terror and counterterrorism as a response to a threat, its difficulties and how proportionate and effective these responses are.


The concepts of terrorism and threat are intertwined and have become more contested topics since the 9/11 attacks. There are countless definitions of terrorism and has been almost impossible to agree on one, which implies, that without consensus it is more difficult to tackle terrorism. Generally, people use a definition that reflects their understanding of events based on different patterns and perceptions; therefore, this essay agrees with the definition proposed by the United Nations since it is a less biased organization although its definition still lacks of international agreement.

SC Res 1566 of October 2004: "… criminal acts, including against civilians, committed with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury, or taking of hostages, with the purpose to provoke a state of terror in the general public or in a group of persons or particular persons, intimidate a population or compel a government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act, which constitute offences within the scope of and as defined in the international conventions and protocols relating to terrorism…"( Saul, B., 2005:p.164)

On the other hand, a threat according to Susan Scholtz (2000) "are events or incidents that represent a potential for harm concerning losses that have not yet taken place but are anticipated , future-oriented, have a negative cognitive perception and is affected by the person's beliefs about self and world, goals, and goal hierarchy. [1] Terrorism and Threat are two concepts based on perceptions and whether the threat is real or not is fed up with fear mainly by the government and by the media. These perceptions of threat changed after 9/11; terrorism became part of everyday life and discourse. The assessment of security, foreign policy and the way the international agenda is constructed have changed; even the USA patriot act signed in 2001 has been modified; America used 9/11 as a reason to intervene and address the threats. (Bowman K., 2005). This will be further discussed in the following sections.

Americans' as well as Muslims' perception of threat has evolved, both perceived each other as a threat, for both there is a permanent feeling of potential victimization of self, family, country, beliefs and values. For Americans the threat of 9/11 was unique, media coverage of the event portrayed vivid and never-ending illustrations of death and destruction. This makes civilians more aware of and sensitive to the existence of threats which in the case of 9/11 led citizens to support restriction of civil liberties.

Figure1 offers a view of some attacks carried out by al-Qaeda; this reflects that terrorism has been present for a long time before the 9/11. There were several other terrorist attacks within the same years that either failed or its impact was not as catastrophic. [2] 

In order to understand Al-Qaeda, it is important to have a brief look at the history, its roots, beliefs and evolution. Al- Qaeda means "the base", and is an Islamist ideology and a terrorist hierarchical network founded and organized by Osama Bin Laden in 1989. The true roots of Al-Qaeda network stem back to 1979-1989; after Afghanistan was invaded by the Soviet Union, this is the moment when Bin Laden developed his organization. During the 1990's Al-Qaeda operated in Sudan and carried out several attempts to divide and conquer bigger organizations but failed. During the Soviet Union invasion to Afghanistan America provided money, training and arms to fight back [3] ; this facilitated the creation of Al-Qaeda. Then In 1996 Al Qaeda moved to Afghanistan to strengthen relations with Taliban and issued several attacks to America [4] .

There has been much debate about the Al Qaeda organization's structure or lack of, an aspect that affects how governments perceive the threat and respond to it. Al Qaeda's beliefs and philosophy lies in diminishing American influence in the world and overthrowing regimes seen as secular or anti-Islamic (Egypt-Saudi Arabia). Al-Qaeda has viewed their struggle as a war and religious-based with an extremist interpretation of the holy book. (Dalacoura, 2002)

These characteristics are reinforced by Samuel Huntington and his theory of 'The Clash of Civilizations' these theory, reflects some patterns of Al-Qaeda's ideology. He mentioned the civilization's identity, the processes of economic modernization and the secularization of the world. Huntington said that civilizations are differentiated from each other by history, Language, culture, tradition and, most important, religion where the conflicts of the future will occur along the cultural fault lines separating civilizations where differences in culture and religion create differences over policy issues, ranging from human rights to immigration to trade and commerce to the environment. . (Huntington S. 1993: pp. 25)

Another statement that reflects Al-Qaeda's beliefs and nature is the 'Declaration of Jihad' [5] in the mid 19990's Bin Laden criticized the Saudi royal family and accused them for inviting foreign troops in Saudi Arabia, and condemned US military presence. Thus, in 1998 Bin Laden issued a Fatwa, or religious law, he argued that the United States had made "a clear declaration of war on God, his messenger, and Muslims. [6] 

Al-Qaeda has evolved from a local to a global movement persuading Muslims around the world to commit to jihad against America. While counterterrorism efforts have somehow diminished the organization and efficiency in terms of recruitment and training, the movement continues to attract, motivate, inspire and facilitate a network of extremists. Al-Qaeda's leadership has been a move toward decentralization and they have modified their tactics and target selection strategy. (Randy Borum and Michael Gelles. 2005 pp. 470)

For more than a decade, "Al-Qaeda has demonstrated to be a strict hierarchical organization that allows inner mobilization; this implies that every single member should be in the capacity to carry out other duties. It also reflects its ability to adapt, the nature of its structure proves its capacity to react, fill positions and quickly rehabilitate". (Rohan, G. and Aviv, O., 2010 pp. 1064.) See figure2.

FIGURE2: Source: Rohan Gunaratna and Aviv Oreg (2010): Al Qaeda's Organizational Structure and its Evolution, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 33:12, pp.1055

Figure2: organizational structure and hierarchy of Al-Qaeda


The 9/11 attacks have brought plenty of discussion regarding how much of what the world knows is true. Indeed, some conspiracy theories disagree with the idea that the 9/11 attacks were perpetrated solely by al-Qaeda, without any advanced knowledge on the part of any government agency. [7] Dick Nanto 2004 discusses the costs of 9/11; he argues that the attacks were part of Al Qaeda's strategy to disturb Western economies and enforce loss and unexpected costs such as physical damage, loss of lives, slower world economic growth, on America and other nations; The 9/11 attacks led to the invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq and the War on Terror as a response. (Dick K. Nanto, 2004)

According to Nanto 2004, with the 9/11 attacks Al Qaeda proved that their terror attacks could represent substantial damage and fear; the effect of the attacks would cause governments, businesses, and people to change the way they behave in everyday life, 9/11 affected the world's economy at different levels depending on how the attacks are viewed. It caused a shift in public perceptions of the threat to their security and their vulnerability to terrorist activity; this intensified the need for security which implied a high budget to counter terrorism. 9/11 affected several aspects not only in the government but also in citizens leaving psychological and political repercussion making people feel the government needs to prevent any similar attack at all cost. (Nanto, D. 2004)

. The global costs of this shift in perceptions of threat are dispersed, varied and in many cases, difficult to quantify like the costs of human anxiety and fear. Regardless of the many reason provided by Al-Qaeda, the governments, different scholars and even the media concerning the terrorist attacks, none explanation seems enough; but still, some will help us understand the 9/11. Figure.3 reflects the economic costs of 9/11

Source: Nanto, Dick K. 2004 9/11 Terrorism: Global Economic Costs. Washington D.C., USA. UNT Digital Library. p.p.2 Accessed 03/01/2013.

Figure.3 shows economic costs of 9/11.

Figure 3

According to Michael Scheuer, (Former CIA Intelligence officer) 9/11 terrorist attacks were the response to United States' Foreign Policy, America's support and relationship with Israel and American presence in the Arab peninsula. Additionally, it reflects the impact of Jewish-American that have influenced and corrupted the congress even when America has no domestic interest there as Michael Scheuer stated in an interview [8] "it is the Israeli lobby in America that is dragging the US into wars, Israel itself as a country, is not a problem. The real problem is the leaders of the Jewish American community in the US, who influence and corrupt our Congress to support Israel when we have no interest there."

Another important reason that many have refused to accept is that it is also a religious war, in several ways it is a misreading or a selective reading of the Koran. Bin Laden justified his war on Muslim beliefs and he found ammunition in the Koran to give his war Islamic legitimacy. This is supported by "the clash of civilization theory" proposed by Samuel Huntington presented above.

With the 9/11 attacks, America considered Al-Qaeda a threat to national security, "since 9/11, the United States and its allies have killed or captured a majority of Al-Qaeda's leadership; toppled the Taliban and overthrow Osama Bin Laden but the US have not cause absolute damaged to the organization; Al-Qaeda is still considered a threat for America." [9] Terrorist attacks continue in other places and even nearly every American citizen expects attacks will come. Al-Qaeda is considered a threat because although Bin Laden is dead he initiated and inspired a decentralized force. The problem is that al Qaeda represents an ideological movement, not a finite group of people and Americans considered this as a threat.

According to Bergen and Hoffman 2010 report; America now confronts "a dynamic threat that has diversified to a broad array of different attacks, from shootings to car bombs to simultaneous suicide attacks to attempted in-flight bombings of passenger aircraft." Although they express that it is less severe than 9/11 is more complex and diverse.

The report also stated that "the danger of al-Qaeda comes not only from its central leadership in Pakistan, but through its cooperation with other like-minded groups". The report, drafted by Hoffman and Peter Bergen argues that al Qaeda's ideological influence has increased among other jihadist organizations in South Asia and in countries such as Somalia and Yemen.

After the attacks on 9/11, Al-Qaeda was considered number one enemy and threat and after more than a decade the assessment of Al-Qaeda as a threat to the U.S has been of wide-ranging discussion. On one hand, as Hossal expressed it, "today, after 11 years, it is clear that the al-Qaeda of 2001 is not the same al-Qaeda of today. Its institutional goals have endured since their full development; the means with which it attempts to fulfil them have changed by necessity." (Hossal, 2012)

In an interview with the voice of Russia in September 2012, Bill Roggio gives some arguments to infer that Al-Qaeda is still a threat. He suggested the U.S. need to keep in mind that Bin Laden's or others leaders death or captured is not an indicator of Al-Qaeda's strength or weakness; the real indicator is the strength of Al-Qaeda sponsor states (Pakistan, Syria, Iran.) Roggio also stated that Although Al-Qaeda has been weakened by the legacy leaders being killed or captured they have been able to recover and become a global insurgency controlling significant areas for training, recruiting, execute attacks and to operate in outer government space and still has a powerful ideology. Likewise, he argues that Al-Qaeda has expanded their brand throughout the Middle East, south Asia and some

African countries like Somalia and Kenya which might represent a permanent threat to the west. [10] 

According to Roggio, Al-Qaeda is part of the Jihadi network where different groups are working closer, collaborating, sharing leadership and resources and are committed to fight Local Jihad by thinking and acting globally. But it is also true that after 9/11 the United States has become more vigilant and perhaps has become better at spotting attacks and has improved intelligence institutions. American policy and effort to stop people from becoming terrorists depends on both, the state where these policies are applied and America's commitment where the troops are involved. Yet, a reality is that the U.S has no interest and economically cannot afford this.

There is another side of the coin which states that Al-Qaeda is not considered a thread for America. This view is supported by John Muller 2011 he discussed that there is a misguided and inflated view of Al-Qaeda where America has "preferred to engage in massive extrapolation", Judging from news reports and in agreement with Muller perspective on terrorism and threats it would be possible to say that" Americans are troubled by fantasies about terrorism," "They (Americans)seem to believe that terrorism is the greatest threat to the United States and that it is becoming more widespread and lethal. They are likely to think that the United States is the most popular target of terrorists. And they certainly have the impression that extremist Islamic groups cause most terrorism.

Another similar perspective is proposed by peter Bergen in his book Holy War [11] They criticized the arrogance of some Americans who believe that al Qaeda is after America "because America is rich, capitalist, democratic, secular, fun-loving, and free but What Bin Laden condemns the United States for is simple: its policies in the Middle East. The continued American military presence in Arabia, U.S. support for Israel, its continued campaign against Iraq, and its support for regimes such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia that bin Laden regards as apostates from Islam. The media attention was both exhilarating and troubling. It reinforced my sense that the field benefits not just from Muslim violence but also from the ignorance and paranoia of non-Muslim the media and politicians react to it with hysteria, running in fear of getting blamed for a successful attack and perpetuating the gigantic, expensive, counterproductive National Security State. And that points to the only way out of a trap that's lasted a decade. It has nothing to do with national security and everything to do with politics. The U.S. has to embrace the reality that terrorism is not anything remotely like the existential threat we make it out to be.

Therefore, a second argument to agree with the statement that Al-Qaeda should not be considered a threat is supported by Michael Scheuer 2008, he argued that it is necessary to "acknowledge that al-Qaeda would have no trouble mounting the kind of attacks made against Israel in America - guns, cars, militant Muslims, and open borders for other needs are all readily available - but that, at this time, it has no interest in staging Intifada-type attacks in the United States". [12] 

Additionally, he also stated that Al-Qaeda does not represent a threat for America first because Al-Qaeda no longer has the capability to match or exceed the attacks of 9/11 in American soil, he explained that al-Qaeda leaders have decided that attacks in the United States are only worthwhile if they have maximum and simultaneous impact in three areas: high and enduring economic costs, severe casualties, and lasting negative psychological impact. Moreover, Al-Qaeda appears to recognize the huge difference between attacking Israel and attacking the United States. Intifada-style attacks could not satisfy any of al-Qaeda's three-part doctrine. A last argument suggested by Scheuer is based on Qaeda's leaders conclusion that attacks like those used against Israel - which intend to cause deaths of women, children, and the elderly - would unite Americans rather than divide them.


There are two views of terrorism, first as a 'strategic threat' and second as a threat to the public or 'strategy of terror' Lawrence Freedman 2007 has stressed that terrorism as a strategy often works, but considered terrorism as a desperate measure and as a strategy of the weak. She analyses three basic types of strategy: "controlling, consensual and coercive." Each suggests a potential relationship with the target which suits the discussion of this essay.

First Controlling Strategy "the aim is to remove the other's capacity to choose, for example by occupying their land or seizing their assets." Second the Consensual Strategy states that "the other's capacity to choose is respected and the game can be played to mutual benefit." Third, Coercive Strategy "in which neither control nor consensus can be readily achieved, the aim is to influence the other's choice through the application of threats, possibly in combination with inducement; coercive strategies have the problem of persuading an adversary who remains a voluntary agent to change behaviour in response to threats. Coercive action requires a narrative Freedman stressed that terrorism can only be a coercive strategy." Freedman (2007: p. 319)

The second view on terrorism is as a threat to the public or 'strategy of terror' strategic terror does not seek to control the target but rather to stimulate changes in the target's attitudes and behaviour. Strategic terror depends on threats, which can only work if they are understood by the intended recipients. If one state is challenged by another in regular conflict it may take the form of an insurgency, using methods of guerrilla warfare. The objective of an insurgent strategy has traditionally been to undermine the morale of the state's forces; in this type of warfare the state may be undermined through assassinations of its agents, from political leaders to police chiefs. In these cases the element of terror is tactical. Freedman (2007: p.320)

At the strategic level, it attempts to use acts of violence to influence a whole political system. More recently terrorists have targeted society as a means of getting at the state. In traditional state-centred thinking, grand strategy is the point at which the full resources of the state - economic, social and political as well as military - are mobilized to deal with an external challenge. Freedman (2007: p.320:324)

Terrorism as a strategy can be exemplified with FARC a guerrilla organization in Colombia and compared with Al-Qaeda. This comparison is based on a set of characteristics which determine their terrorist strategies. Both organizations share almost the same operational and organizational strategies, additionally, the tactics implemented to achieve goals shift from bombings, murder, to kidnapping, to extortion, and hijacking. As well as guerrilla and conventional military action against political, military, and economic targets, however, FARC does not use suicide as a tactic. In contrast, FARC tends to use terrorism as a strategy whereas Al-Qaeda may pose a Coercive and terror strategy simultaneously. Cragin, K., and Daly, s. (2003: p.43)

FARC primarily operates in Colombia, but sought refuge in neighbouring countries (Ecuador and Venezuela.) while Al-Qaeda attempts to attack America as well as other Middle Eastern and African countries while maintaining a secret location. In contrast with Al-Qaeda, The FARC has been involved in peace talks with the government to legitimize their social justice cause. However, they incorporate drug trafficking strategy of taxation, control and distribution for funding which enables FARC to obtain sophisticated weapons, communications technology, and helped them gain control of one third of the territory. [13] 

Another difference is that FARC engages in guerrilla warfare and its ideology is neither nationalist nor religious; instead, it claims to fight for control of Colombia to take power and institute socialist reforms. Al-Qaeda's leaders have religious and political strains within its ideology. Al-Qaeda then has broader objectives under an Islamic ideology but both with a common enemy: the United States. FARC can, be seen as having an insurgent strategy and a radical socialist ideology. Both implement tactical terror, FARC for instance, targets rural areas and its families forcing them to abandon their homes through assassination, but mostly FARC and AL-Qaeda have targeted society as a means of getting at the state. Lastly, it would be pertinent to say that both organizations most likely have shown a capacity to survive and revive after their main leaders have been killed. [14] 


The war on terror is a concept introduced by Bush and was justified as the response to the attacks on the 9/11. According to (Perl, R., 2007) The government and the media have used this term to refer to a global military, political, legal and ideological struggle that attempts to target both organizations called terrorist and regimes accused of supporting them. It is a broad tactical campaign to prevent Islamic terrorists from targeting America. It has been deployed to justify and normalize a global campaign on counterterrorism through a narrative that incorporates assumptions and beliefs which determine the strategy implemented, the U.S. troops and their allies have achieved neither stability nor security. [15] 

In agreement with Jordan Levine the war on terror has presented some drawbacks which have shown to be a disproportionate war; one of the reasons is the lack of definition or use of broad definitions allowing certain nations to stereotype other countries and its allies; which may turn into generalizations against other cultures. Broad definitions allow governments to use a flexibility to redefine success conveniently, to suit political purposes, this leads to lack of clarity and may seem there is a misreading of the national strategies, unclear understanding of overall policy, objectives, or strategy in the implementation of measures that undermine human rights and the rule of law. This also extends division among people of different backgrounds, increase the use of offensive attacks where fear creates opportunities for anger and further conflict [16] .

According to Alex Bellamy 2005 the war on terror is disproportionate and consequently cannot be justified. It is disproportionate because, "it is a war on a tactic not a specific group of people, where the response to the 9/11 in terms of use of force was unbalanced." Therefore, "the war on terror has been used to justify actions that on closer inspection have very little to do with satisfying the just cause created by September 11". Thus, the invasion of Iraq did not contribute to the pursuit of the cause. Additionally, Double-effect or collateral damage is another reason why the war on terror is disproportionate as happened in Iraq where the victims of terror attacks are citizens of the state launching the military campaign. (Bellamy, 2005: p.p.286)

Since September 11th, there has been massive increase in anti-terrorism strategies and operation. A research conducted by Cynthia Lum, Leslie Kennedy and Alison Sherley in 2006 discussed that counterterrorism strategies implemented are ineffective. They argued that airport security decreased airline hijacking, but increased hostage taking and other forms of terrorism against embassies and diplomats. Moreover, counterterrorism intensified severity of punishments which has undermined human rights. Additionally, UN resolutions' narrative against terrorism is too general, show no agreement with definitions and have allowed the United States a wide and convenient understanding of the resolutions to carry out invasions in countries such as Iraq. Likewise, military retaliation during these invasions only creates opportunity for new terrorist attacks, fear and collateral damage. Also, the type of political governance together with the patriot act as counterterrorist strategies are seen as erosion to freedom and give new power to agencies against terrorism related issues; which may broaden responses to a wide variety of arenas increasing terrorist events.

To conclude, it is important to bear in mind what Michael Scheuer said during an interview al Qaeda's capacity to cause damage after 9/11 has been exaggerated. America is being attacked for its foreign policy. Somehow, America's intention to promote democracy around the world is not working, many nation are not ready for democracy. Furthermore, America seems to have forgotten about the teenagers and kids who are watching U.S. troops killing innocent civilians, watching their relatives die; they are being influenced by extremist religious views and soon will become grown men enlisting a group in the Jihadi network; this is creating a war without end.

On the other hand, America has given too much focus to counter-terrorism and WMD but there are several other threats that are being ignored and are probably more dangerous than terrorism these threats were discussed by (Kofi Annan, 2002) as "Problems without passports" that only international action and cooperation can solve such as contagious diseases, starvation, human rights, illiteracy poverty to name a few. These threats may not be posed in America or developed countries but at one point these issues will have an impact on western societies.

Americans should not be too concern about terrorism, since most of the attacks do not occur in American soil. There are some internal threats and issues they face every day but somehow are not prioritized such as natural disasters, climate change, the rising national debt, unemployment, inflation and gun shooting in public places. This is where governmental institutions should be putting a bit more of effort.


America has had an instrumental attitude towards international organizations such as the UN which has allowed implementation of strategies and justifying intervention through a wide understanding of the resolutions established. An example of this is the invasion in Iraq.

Al-Qaeda has demonstrated to be a well-established network that has evolved and has changed its target; however, America still fears Al-Qaeda's scope of reach. The discussion on this essay may allow concluding that Regardless of Al-Qaeda attacks, Al-Qaeda itself may not be considered a real threat; in order for Al-Qaeda to become a real threat they may need to change the way of working,

Instead of believing in the conspiracy theories, it might sound more coherent to believe that the war on terror is being a way to restore legitimacy and authority by promising Americans protection and safety from "threats."

a review on the reasons why Al-Qaeda attacked the US might be valid, however terrorism should not be the way neither the end.

America needs to implement coherent and more efficient counterterrorism strategies as well as they need to stop getting involved in conflicts where they have no domestic interest. Additionally, media and press play a significant role with their publications, the less objective media is the more fearful citizens will be and the longer the war on terror will go on.

If the American foreign policy in the middle east needs to be adapted government wants And threat created by American Government when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, which then turned out to be a threat to American soil. Al-Qaeda threatens America because of its foreign policy in the Middle East.

America may need to accept its interest in middle east oil and natural resources as well as the fact that the war on terror up to some point is religious, they also need to understand that their intentions to convert every nation into democracy may not be proactive. These aspects have definitely influenced decision regarding counter-terrorism.

In order to win the war on terror, America must value the needs and concerns of all groups equally instead of favour one nation over another; with tolerance and respect for all people and nations terror problem may eventually be solved. Counter-terrorism policy needs to be rational, effective, and cause as little harm as necessary.