Decentralised leadership in contemporary jihadism: towards a global social movement
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On October 19th 2003, nearly six months after the outset of the invasion of Iraq by US troops, a video was released by al-Qaeda media arm al-Sahab showing Osama bin Laden directly threatening Spain. In his words, Spain, then governed by Prime Minister José Maria Aznar from the Partido Popular (PP), may face a terrorist attack should Spanish military forces continue to be part of the coalition that invaded Iraq and toppled the Saddam Hussein regime. Less than six months later, on March 11th 2004, Madrid was shaken by coordinated bomb attacks in several commuter trains at peak hours, killing 191 people and wounding thousands. The “first well-known al-Qaeda-inspired terrorist conspiracy in Europe” had been in preparation for years thanks to the long-term presence of radical Islamists on Spanish soil. The first jihadist bombing on this continent since 9/11 seemed to have answered Osama bin Laden’s warning call. Those who later claimed responsibility for these attacks pointed out Iraq as their main source of motivation. Symbolically the bombings were carried out a few days before the first anniversary of Iraq’s invasion. On the national scene, because “terrorism is meant to terrify” and affect an audience, terrorists clearly intended to affect the outcome of the national general elections scheduled three days later. The Madrid terrorists were not self-starters, nor were they members of al-Qaeda who had performed an oath of allegiance to bin Laden. Instead, they were mostly first-generation immigrants from Northern Africa or the Near East who had been settled in Spain for years, had decent jobs and for some of them wives and children. The setting up of the Madrid bombings was an illustration of the rising context of the contemporary jihadist movement, targeting a country and blaming it for what was happening thousands of kilometres away. This example is highly valuable to describe the continuously evolving nature of the jihadist movement up to now.
Bartolo, R. (2011). Decentralised leadership in contemporary jihadism: towards a global social movement. Journal of Terrorism Research, 2(1), pp. 44-61.
Journal of Terrorism Research
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