The above findings refute the conventional wisdom about terrorists. The global Salafi terrorists were generally middle-class, educated young men from caring and religious families, who grew up with strong positive values of religion, spirituality, and concern for their communities. They were truly global citizens, conversant in three or four languages, and skilled in computer technology. One of the striking findings of this sample is that three-fourths of the terrorists joined the jihad as expatriates, mostly as upwardly mobile young men studying abroad. At the time, they were separated from their original environment. An additional ten percent were second generation in the West, who felt a strong pull for the country of their parents. So a remarkable 84% were literally cut off from their culture and social origins. They were homesick, lonely, and alienated.
The result of this growth pattern of preferential attachment is a topological map of nodes clustered around large hubs, called a scale free [aha!] network. This has interesting properties. This type of network is robust and resists random attack. Stopping terrorists randomly at our borders will not affect its structure. It may stop terrorists from coming here, but will leave the network undisturbed. However, it is vulnerable to targeted attack, namely against its hubs. If the hubs are destroyed, the system breaks down into isolated nodes. The jihad will be incapable of mounting sophisticated large scale operations like the 9/11 attacks and be reduced to small attacks by singletons. It is of course possible for such nodes to try to become hubs and create their own little networks. Ahmed Ressam tried to recruit new untrained collaborators in the Millennial Plot after his original co-conspirators were unable to travel to Canada. But such operations have not generally been successful.
The hubs are vulnerable because most communications go through them. By following communications back to them, good police work would be able to identify and arrest these human hubs. This strategy has already shown considerable success. The arrests of Baasyir and Ali Ghufron have seriously disrupted the Indonesian cluster. The arrests of Zain al Abidin Hussein (abu Zubaydah), Fateh Kamel and Amar Makhlulif (abu Doha) have broken up the Maghreb Arab cluster. Less is known about the structure of the Core Arab cluster. No doubt the arrests of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, his nephew Abdul Basit Karim (Ramzi Yousef) and the death of Subhi Mohammed abu Sittah (Mohamed Atef) have significantly weakened it. But the survival of many of its leaders such as Osama bin Laden and his son Saad, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Mohammed Ibrahim Makkawi (Sayf al-Adl) still makes it a potent threat. Future terrorist operations are most likely to come from this cluster.
6. Turn the jihadi vanguard back on itself.
8. Subvert the authority of senior commanders.
10. Force jihadi propagandists back on their heels.
11. Understand and exploit the ideological breaks in the jihadi movement.
12. Anticipate al-Qa’ida’s transformation from an organization to a social movement.
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