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May 28, 2013 10:04 PM   Subscribe

"Idiosyncratic Terrorist Breaks Out on His Own in Sahara Bloodbath" International terrorist Moktar Belmoktar, responded the way talented employees with bruised egos have in corporations the world over: He quit and formed his own competing group. And within months, he carried out two lethal operations that killed 101 people in all: one of the largest hostage-takings in history at a BP-operated gas plant in Algeria in January, and simultaneous bombings at a military base and a French uranium mine in Niger just last week.
posted by artof.mulata (37 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
See what happens when employers can't enforce non-compete clauses? I hope you're happy, unions.
posted by gsteff at 10:32 PM on May 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Heh, the tpm comments are actually fairly decent. Skilled subordinates breaking off isn't anything new in war, but it's a little surreal to imagine it happening because he wouldn't turn in expense reports and because his superiors were sick of Belmoktar flaming them on jihadist forums.

Combine this with the reports I've read on Syrian rebels groups fundraising for their militia groups by showing off their exploits on Youtube and it all feels somewhat surreal.

What next, a terrorist kickstarter?

"We need $100k to carry out this bombing campaign. Contribute over $100 and get your name added to our press release as a contributor. Contribute over $20,000 and you can pick the site of one of the attacks. And if we meet our push goal, we can spread the campaign to the neighboring country!"
posted by dragoon at 10:37 PM on May 28, 2013 [17 favorites]


Yeah. Part of me's thinking we don't have much to worry about from Jihad anymore now that it's been thoroughly colonised by managerialism. Oversight! Procedures! Measurable outcomes! Neoliberalism triumphs again!
posted by Sonny Jim at 10:48 PM on May 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


Same old story, innit?

- "Yeaaaah, Moktar, about that ... we're gonna need you to come in to work on Friday."
- "Moktar, did you turn in the TPS report for the last car bomb?"
- "Moktar they said they would take my Bashar Assad stapler but it's mine and if they take it from me I'm going to burn down the training camp."
posted by barnacles at 10:49 PM on May 28, 2013 [14 favorites]


"We need $100k to carry out this bombing campaign. Contribute over $100 and get your name added to our press release as a contributor. Contribute over $20,000 and you can pick the site of one of the attacks. And if we meet our push goal, we can spread the campaign to the neighboring country!"

Kinda makes sense, since terrorism is half-meme. You're fucked up and angry? You can either pull an independent spree killing, but if you have some sort of religious or cultural structure you can tie into that 'terrorist' structure and give your violence some larger meaning and legitimacy. As an old professor said, 'death is worse than meaningless'. So of course you'd transmit the ideas of 'terrorism' and jihad through memable ways.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 10:55 PM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah. Part of me's thinking we don't have much to worry about from Jihad anymore now that it's been thoroughly colonised by

See the movie Carlos if you're looking for some historical precedent. The complex business of terror ... and ego.
posted by philip-random at 11:07 PM on May 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Belmoktar might have seen a certain justice in the coverage of the last week’s attack in Niger in the leading French daily, Le Monde. Among the adjectives used to describe the event: “Spectacular.”

Wow, um, maybe they shouldn't be talking about terrorists attacks using those sorts of terms? A fireworks show, concert, or art installation is spectacular. Something involving people dying, being kidnapped, or facilities being blown up shouldn't really be discussed in this way.

They basically called it "awesome", in the classical meaning of that word.
posted by emptythought at 12:10 AM on May 29, 2013


After years of trying to discipline him, the leaders of al-Qaida’s North African branch sent one final letter to their most difficult employee. In page after scathing page, they described how he didn’t answer his phone when they called, failed to turn in his expense reports, ignored meetings and refused time and again to carry out orders.

Moktar:

That's what I'm saying. Why? The
leads. He's got the good leads...
what are we, we're sitting in the
shit here. Why? We have to go to
them to get them. Huh. Ninety
percent our sale, we're paying to
the office for the leads.

Terrorist companion:

The leads, the overhead, the
telephones, there's lots of things.

Moktar:

What do you need? A telephone, some
broad to say "Good morning,"
nothing...nothing...

Terrorist companion:

No, it's not that simple, Moktar..

Moktar:

Yes. It is. It is simple, and you
know what the hard part is?

Terrorist companion:

What?

Moktar:

Starting up.

Terrorist companion:

What hard part?

Moktar:

Of doing the thing. The dif...the
difference. Between me and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.
Going to business for yourself. The hard part is...you know what it is?

Terrorist companion:

What?

Moktar:

Just the act.

Terrorist companion:

What act?

Mkotar:

To say "I'm going on my own."
'Cause what you do, my terrorist friend, let me
tell you what you do: you find
yourself in thrall to someone else.
And we enslave ourselves. To
please. To win some fucking
toaster.
posted by three blind mice at 12:11 AM on May 29, 2013 [6 favorites]



Wow, um, maybe they shouldn't be talking about terrorists attacks using those sorts of terms? A fireworks show, concert, or art installation is spectacular. Something involving people dying, being kidnapped, or facilities being blown up shouldn't really be discussed in this way.

They basically called it "awesome", in the classical meaning of that word.


yeah, and? It's a 'spectacle'... I think there's a Zizek thing about it. The creation of a spectacle to break the bubble of hyperreality around Western capitalism or something. Buildings getting blown up on movie screens are 'awesome'. Somebody wandering around with bloodstained hands in a production of MacBeth is 'sectacular'. Its fucked up and horrible, but you can't deny its an effective tableu.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 12:14 AM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


They basically called it "awesome", in the classical meaning of that word

Or maybe they called it "awful", in the classical meaning of that word.
posted by hattifattener at 12:15 AM on May 29, 2013


Wow, um, maybe they shouldn't be talking about terrorists attacks using those sorts of terms? A fireworks show, concert, or art installation is spectacular. Something involving people dying, being kidnapped, or facilities being blown up shouldn't really be discussed in this way.

They basically called it "awesome", in the classical meaning of that word.


Is that term reserved for when the US kills a pile of people? Perhaps US forces should claim copyright.
posted by biffa at 12:58 AM on May 29, 2013


Wow, um, maybe they shouldn't be talking about terrorists attacks using those sorts of terms?

Okay, but only if people should stop using the word "terrorist" in the way it's being used as well.
“The Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act,” prohibits filming or taking pictures on livestock farms to “defame the facility or its owner.” Violators would be placed on a “terrorist registry.”
posted by Jimbob at 1:41 AM on May 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


So I guess he didn't get the memo about the terrorist gold-rush in Syria?
posted by xqwzts at 4:08 AM on May 29, 2013


And it foreshadows a terrorism landscape where charismatic jihadists can carry out attacks directly in al-Qaida’s name, regardless of whether they are under its command.

I have the sense that this has been happening for some time, really, but I might be wrong. I think it's funny that after years of being told that Al Qaeda is dangerous because it's a bunch of disjoined cellular groups, this document shows us a version that looks like a corporation.

So attacks like these have become normalized, as if asymmetrical warfare and the targeting of civilians are simply one more form of globalized economic activity. The moral quality or alleged religious motivations for such campaigns of violence are simply gone now. But then, it's become true on all sides of the "global war on terror," hasn't it?
posted by kewb at 4:30 AM on May 29, 2013


Reminds me of the endless internal quibbling within the original Algerian independence movement documented in A Savage War of Peace. As I recall, that ended up with a bunch of leaders getting killed and dumped in the desert. People talking as if this is a portent of Al-Qaeda more broadly, but I'm wondering if it is more closely connected to historical factors specific to the Mahgrib/North African Islamic and nationalist movements (constant paranoia and internal conflict have also characterized post-colonial movements in the region).
posted by AdamCSnider at 5:37 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have the sense that this has been happening for some time, really, but I might be wrong. I think it's funny that after years of being told that Al Qaeda is dangerous because it's a bunch of disjoined cellular groups, this document shows us a version that looks like a corporation.

Yes and no. You might equally well compare it with a medieval aristocracy --- they refer in the letter to joining the organisation by pledging fealty. Certainly ye kings of old had no end of trouble trying to get their liege lords to pull the same yoke, since they had so much discretion to act on their own.


So attacks like these have become normalized, as if asymmetrical warfare and the targeting of civilians are simply one more form of globalized economic activity. The moral quality or alleged religious motivations for such campaigns of violence are simply gone now. But then, it's become true on all sides of the "global war on terror," hasn't it?

This strikes me as an empty-headed statement. Al-Qaeda may have its HR troubles, but the article itself describes the guy's motivations for joining as religious/ideological -- he favoured AQ's global Islamist ambitions over his native Algerian's nationalists ones. Just because an organisation needs money to function does not mean that it is solely motivated by greed. There have definitely been terrorist and/or revolutionary organisations that became purely mercenary over time; the FARC leaps to mind. But if that was all AQ wanted they'd be focusing a lot more effort on blowing up oil pipelines and not so much on trying to take over the Syrian rebel movement.
posted by Diablevert at 5:45 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


three blind mice

Always Be Conspiring
posted by surplus at 6:40 AM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yahoo! Acquires Moktar Startup for $150 million In Cash; Meyer Promises "Explosive Growth"
posted by brain_drain at 6:55 AM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Coffee is only for bombers?

Sorry.

Really I just popped in here to remark the terrorist's name sounds like something out of lousy SciFi/Fantasy.
posted by Samizdata at 7:03 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


What next, a terrorist kickstarter?

Previously on MetaFilter...
posted by Strange Interlude at 7:04 AM on May 29, 2013


Al-Qaeda may have its HR troubles, but the article itself describes the guy's motivations for joining as religious/ideological -- he favoured AQ's global Islamist ambitions over his native Algerian's nationalists ones. Just because an organisation needs money to function does not mean that it is solely motivated by greed.

I feel that I needed to stress my "as if" a bit more; I'd suggest that the quantitative logics of global economics tend to capture and organize other ideological commitments, using them as "brands" which extend primarily economic ways of acting and perceiving. The kind of "global Islamism" Al-Qaeda stresses seems like an empty brand more than anything else. That's ideological, but an ideology that allows in The "greed" isn't for money, as with FARC, but for numbers of recruits, numbers of victims, and the size of ransom demands. None of those quantitative measures have much to do with the ostensible political or religious goals of Al-Qaeda, unless those goals are already entirely inseperable from rather secular ideas like financial impact, media profile, and risk-return analysis.

They don't measure how close Westerners are to leaving holy lands, for instance, nor how close to "true" faith a particular part of the globe or the globe as a whole has gotten; the language of this document has essentially no real religious content. What is the nature of the performance being quantified here, how would you link that performance to the stated goals of Al-Qaeda's already rather bizarre and rather selective conglomeration of multiple extremist doctrines?

Feudalism is a good metaphor for their organization but then, one could just as easily point to the way the metaphor of neo-feudalism has been used to describe the structure and effects of global corporations, or to the use of private military contractors who prove unmanageable in their own ways. Is Blackwater/Xe/Academi about ideology, patriotism, or pure greed? Or is it more likely a combination of the three? (Police and military privatization are of course frequent subjects in analyses of neo-feudalism.)
posted by kewb at 7:08 AM on May 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Has anyone else read this book? I feel like its relevance only seems to grow as we get farther and farther from the wars and deeper and deeper into blowback in a world where everyone is increasingly wired into mainstream culture.
posted by Mooseli at 7:20 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]



Kinda makes sense, since terrorism is half-meme. You're fucked up and angry? You can either pull an independent spree killing, but if you have some sort of religious or cultural structure you can tie into that 'terrorist' structure and give your violence some larger meaning and legitimacy. As an old professor said, 'death is worse than meaningless'. So of course you'd transmit the ideas of 'terrorism' and jihad through memable ways.


If the jihadist underworld has its own web forums and YouTube-like martyrdom-video sites, how long can it be until someone codes up a Kickstarter/Indiegogo clone for crowdfunding terrorist campaigns ("Jihadstarter"?)

“Contribute to the bombing of Uncle Sam's Fried Chicken. Contributions of $1 or more will get Friday prayers said for them. Contributions of $10 or more will get their names read out in the martyrdom video. $25 gets you a “I Helped Bomb Uncle Sam” certificate (1/300 claimed). $1000 or more gets you one virgin in the afterlife.”
posted by acb at 7:59 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]



yeah, and? It's a 'spectacle'... I think there's a Zizek thing about it.


It's from Baudrillard's Society of the Spectacle.
posted by acb at 8:01 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Always Be Conspiring

I like the idea of al Qaida as a top down corporation with an HR department - and presumably company letterhead. As if such an organization could be so organized and still operate secretly.

But I bristle at the idea that there always has to be some fundamentalist, jihadi philosophy that motivates people and not the ordinary, usual "my boss is a dick" sort of thinking that drives most people. That's what made me think of that scene in Glen Garry - just ordinary people with ordinary motivations.
posted by three blind mice at 8:02 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's from Baudrillard's Society of the Spectacle.

Guy Debord.
posted by forgetful snow at 8:56 AM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


It looks like the contents of this letter has been reported on before. Here's an article from Feb. 14, which focuses more on the insight into AQIM and the division of directions, from how quickly and how strictly to apply Islamic law, to criticism of the destruction of Timbuktu's World Heritage-listed shrines, because, as [Abu Musab Abdul Wadud, the nom de guerre of Abdelmalek Droukdel] wrote, "on the internal front we are not strong."

Also of note, there are text links to the scans of the original Arabic, and an English translation.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:05 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I feel that I needed to stress my "as if" a bit more; I'd suggest that the quantitative logics of global economics tend to capture and organize other ideological commitments, using them as "brands" which extend primarily economic ways of acting and perceiving.

I'm going to try and simplify this to make sure I understand your point: I think you mean to say that anything that needs money to work ultimately becomes subsumed and absorbed into the structure of capitalism, so that its goals become indistinguishable from the goals of a corporation (growth and profit) and its ideology becomes merely branding, that is, purely aesthetic.

I don't think I agree with you there.


The kind of "global Islamism" Al-Qaeda stresses seems like an empty brand more than anything else


Inasmuch as a brand is a collection of symbols design to evoke a particular emotional response/declare allegiance to a given group or ideology, I'd say that branding is far bigger and older and more important than the corporation, that a brand is a tool that a corporation may use, but one which may equally well be used by other types of groups or organisations for other reasons, and that merely using one does not mean it is devoid of ideological meaning: a family crest, a bishop's mitre, a general's stars, a skinhead's red laces.


That's ideological, but an ideology that allows in The "greed" isn't for money, as with FARC, but for numbers of recruits, numbers of victims, and the size of ransom demands. None of those quantitative measures have much to do with the ostensible political or religious goals of Al-Qaeda, unless those goals are already entirely inseperable from rather secular ideas like financial impact, media profile, and risk-return analysis.

If it's not for money it's not greed. The desire for power is not the same as the desire for money, though one can get you the other and the same person often wants both.

As for the ostensible religious or political goals of Al-Qaeda --- every terrorist group is an army in the egg. What they want is military and thereby political control of a given territory. What they don't got is the man power to obtain these things. The long term goal is to win enough recruits to their side to wage a war and win it. That's the basic idea: you use coup de theatre to provoke a crisis which fractures society on pre-existing fault lines, sowing enough chaos to reap a war. It doesn't work very often (usually the fault lines aren't deep enough) and even if it works you'll likely lose the war. In the meantime, they try and do things that will make them seem more popular and powerful and keep the lights on and the bullet shipments coming in. That's what moktada's bosses were complaining about --- that his workaday efforts weren't hitting his outrage quotas.
posted by Diablevert at 9:33 AM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Gabriel Rossman has done us all the favor of mashing up the al-Qaeda letter and the sorority girl email from a while back:

If you jihadis keep being such boners, Sigma Nu of the Maghreb is not gonna do martyrdom operations with us BECAUSE WE'LL FUCKING SUCK
posted by Cash4Lead at 10:30 AM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, wasn't Baudrillard the one who called 9/11 a simulacrum or something?
posted by symbioid at 10:49 AM on May 29, 2013


symbioid: The Spirit Of Terrorism

MUJAO Suicide Bomber Hit Uranium Mine, Barracks In Niger

Difficulties and variances in Arabic transcription make searching in English very difficult.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:53 AM on May 29, 2013


Le Monde: Des djihadistes frappent le Niger et la France & Les dessous de la rupture entre AQMI et Mokhtar Belmokhtar:
Interrogé par le Telegraph, Rudolph Atallah, ancien expert de l'antiterrorisme au Pentagone qui a authentifié le document, estime que ces coups d'éclat montrent surtout que Belmokhtar "envoie un message directement à ses anciens chefs en Algérie en disant : 'Je suis un djihadiste. J'ai le droit de m'émanciper'. Dans le même temps, il envoie un message directement à Al-Qaida, en disant : 'Regardez ces crétins incompétents dans le nord. Vous pouvez me parler directement'". Aucun pays occidental n'a encore confirmé la disparition du djihadiste, donné pour mort plusieurs fois depuis le début de l'année.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:39 PM on May 29, 2013


So basically he got fired and went to start his own Moktar Belmoktar Terrorism Company.
posted by Apocryphon at 9:43 PM on May 29, 2013


Apocryphon: "So basically he got fired and went to start his own Moktar Belmoktar Terrorism Company."

LLC. Do NOT forget the LLC.
posted by Samizdata at 11:02 PM on May 29, 2013


Al Qaeda's boss asserts himself
The Zawahiri memo, which was published on Monday by the Al Jazeera news network in the original Arabic, is addressed to the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq and the leader of Syria's Jabhat al-Nusra, which is a front organization for al Qaeda, according to the State Department.

In the memo, Zawahiri chastises the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, in a tone that an irritated parent might use, for announcing in April the merger of the Iraqi and Syrian wings of al Qaeda "without asking permission or receiving advice from us and even without notifying us."
AQ International, with wholly-owned subsidiaries AQAP (LLC), AQI (LLC), AQIM S.A., in strategic partnership with BH GmbH, Taliban Inc. and HN & Sons, announces an exciting new business venture...
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:59 AM on June 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


"without asking permission or receiving advice from us and even without notifying us."

Heh. This sounds like something from Four Lions.
posted by homunculus at 6:42 PM on June 12, 2013


Extreme capitalism of the Muslim Brothers

This reminds me of how the introduction of money into societies that use other systems of exchange (barter, debt-obligation, kinship) drives out those systems, and how the financialization of various aspects of our societies subsumes and overwhelms older, traditional relationships.

"Tell Mike it was only business, I always liked him. "
"He understands that."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:42 AM on June 14, 2013


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