Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

Targeting Leaders as a Strategy for Countering Terrorism: The Egyptian Case

Academic journal article The Polish Quarterly of International Affairs

Targeting Leaders as a Strategy for Countering Terrorism: The Egyptian Case

Article excerpt

Targeted killing as a way of combating terrorism is based on the assumption that the centre of gravity for a terrorist groups is the leader, meaning that they are the source from which the group draws both moral and material strength from its leader, so if the leader is removed, the group will disintegrate. This assumption could be true in the case of some traditional organisations with one leader, but terrorist organisations are currently very complex. There are many active leaderless terrorist organisations in the Arab region, which are inspired by terrorist ideology, and in this case the power of ideas and ideology is, for the terrorist, more important.

Egypt's experience in countering terrorism, examined in this article, reveals that countering terrorism requires complex strategies, relying not only on targeting leaders. For example, even though Sayyid Qutb was arrested and executed for plotting to assassinate then President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1966, his thoughts and ideas have inspired generations of jihadists.

Besides, the efforts of America during the Bush administration, in cooperation with several countries in the Middle East, did not lead to the end of terrorism, but instead new patterns of terrorism were created and overlapped with organised crime, making it more complex. Moreover, new terrorist phenomena have emerged in the light of what is happening in Yemen specifically, including the phenomenon of "inspired terrorists," those who were influenced by the ideology of Al Qaeda through contacts with Al Qaeda members and carried out operations against U.S. interests without being official member of the organisation.1

The debate over the strengths and weaknesses of terrorist organisations is moving beyond focusing on the leaders. In his study on terrorism in Iraq, Major Chris Arnold pointed out that individuals are the main resource of any terrorist organisation, especially those that are decentralised. These individuals may be recruits, and in this case their importance is linked to maintaining the organisation's ideology, experts who help to develop IEDs, or smugglers of money and people. Arnold argues that information is the enabler of the terrorist organisations, while Colin Powell, the former U.S. Secretary of State, considered that money is the "oxygen" of terrorism, as it is important for recruiting new members and providing the necessary resources to carry out terrorist attacks.2

The literature on countering terrorism usually discusses three approaches to fighting terrorism. First, the traditional strategies aimed at maintaining a level of policing, collecting information about the terrorist groups, and detaining the terrorists in an attempt to thwart their plots. If the security forces fail to prevent the attack, they arrest those responsible for the attack and prosecute them.

Second, the military strategies, which are based on direct military confrontations with terrorist groups. This strategy is usually followed when the terrorists are located in areas outside the capital. The Egyptian government has followed this strategy in combating terrorism of the jihadist groups in Sinai since the Rafah bombings on 5 August 2012, in which 16 Egyptian soldiers were killed and seven were injured.3 The Egyptian armed forces announced the launch of Operation Eagle on 7 August 2012.4 This operation aimed at destroying the tunnels in Sinai, which are used to smuggle weapons for the jihadist groups, and arresting members of these groups.

The third strategy addresses the motives of terrorists and the environment that protects them.5 Usually, states tend to combine these three approaches to varying degrees.6

Egypt followed a set of complex strategies to fight religious terrorism during the Mubarak era, especially in the 1990s. The goals of these strategies were to deal with terrorism both in the short term, in order to prevent any terrorist attacks, and in the long term, in order to prevent the emergence of terrorist groups. …

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