A Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence led by the University of Maryland

Militant Islamist Networks in the West


Militant Islamist Networks in the West

Investigators: 

Project Details

Abstract: 

This project generates empirical descriptions of the worldviews, organizational structures, operational capabilities, and political and strategic objectives of the most important underground Islamist networks and organizations. Information is being collected from a wide variety of source materials, including both primary sources (such as the groups' own ideological treatises, their Web sites, statements by their spokesmen, judicial and trial materials, and publicly available reports produced by the police and security services) and secondary sources (including scholarly books and articles, serious works of investigative journalism, media reports, and information found in electronic data bases).

Primary Findings: 

The purpose of this project was to identify and describe several of the Islamist and jihadist networks operating in Europe, both in the present and in the recent past, with the purpose of assessing the present and future threat that these networks pose to the security of the West in general and the United States in particular. After delineating those networks, a distinction was drawn between three different types of Islamist groups, all of which have radical agendas even though some eschew violent means (at least in the short term):

1) non-violent "participationist" groups that engage in lobbying, organizing, and publishing and at times even run for elections (such as the representatives of groups linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, South Asian Mawdudist networks, and Turkish groups linked to the AKP such as Milli Gor); and

2) "rejectionist" groups that openly disparage the institutions and values of Western host societies and their ultimate aims to destroy those societies. These rejectionist groups can be further subdivided into a) ostensibly non-violent groups (like Hizb al-Tahrir al-Islami, which is awaiting the restoration of the Caliphate before initiating "offensive jihad"), and b) violent jihadist groups, whether these are linked to wider networks or are so-called "self-starter" cells.

There are two main research findings. The first is that most of the recent jihadist plots and attacks in the West (as of the time period of this project: 2005-2008)have not been hatched or perpetrated by "self-starter" cells (contrary to the argument of Marc Sageman in Leaderless Jihad); most of the perpetrators or would-be perpetrators in these cases have in fact been linked to foreign jihadist networks, either in South Asia or in North Africa. The second is that the "Islamist threat" should not be reduced to or identified solely with the immediate terrorist threat posed by jihadist cells and networks, as is commonly done. On the contrary, it is not violence-prone jihadist groups that constitute the primary long-term political threat to the West, including the United States, but rather non-violent Islamist groups in category 1 above that seem to be systematically exploiting the very Western freedoms they eventually hope to supplant by employing a gradualist "radicalization from below" strategy. This strategy is based on the establishment of front groups and parallel hierarchies, the gradual radicalization of and attainment of hegemonic control over Muslim "civil society" within Western countries, and getting appointed as the "official" interlocutors between Western host societies and their Muslim communities.

Methodology: 

Rigorous qualitative research methods and historical analysis were used, i.e., a careful examination of an extensive array of primary sources (e.g., judicial materials, Islamist publications, parliamentary reports) and secondary sources (scholarly and journalistic materials) in a multitude of European and some non-European languages. In addition, the primary investigator conducted interviews with select extremists on matters related to the above themes. In general, the project examines individual cases in depth, compares those cases with others, and then draws broader conclusions based on the findings from and comparisons between those case studies.

Timeframe

Project Period: 
July 2005 to April 2008