Ioannis Michaletos
(RIEAS Junior Analyst and Editor at Southeast Europe – World Security Foundation) 


The international Islamic terrorism of the late 20th century and early 21st poses a great threat to the established world order as it is exercised by the nation states in particular. It is not an American concern as some pundits point out. France was a notable victim of mass terrorism from Islamic source in the mid 90’s. Moreover Russia has paid a terrible loss in lives due to its Chechnya involvement since 1994 (1). China also has created the Shanghai’s Organization for Cooperation in 1997 (2) , mainly in order to combat radical Islamic movements in Central Asia along with Russia and neighboring states (3). 

China has been facing great strains due to Islamic terrorism and in December 2001 it formally asked from USA to have Chinese citizens been held in Guantanamo; handed into Chinese custody in relation to terrorism activities (4) . The hallmark of 9/11 from its point has made USA the undisputable victim of Islamic extremism and therefore it is more than obvious that this country would ultimately lead the way for the” war against terror”. The main target is to fully prevent terrorist groups of acquiring weapons of mass destructions, a fear that was repeatedly been held by strategic analysts in the late 80’s, such as Martin Van Crevelt and Robert Art (5) .

The roots of international Islamic terrorism can be found at first glance in the war in Afghanistan during the 80’s, a war that was actually a proxy one fought during the height of the Cold War. The Afghani Mudjahentin fought their holly war –Jihad- with the help of the Wahhabist regime of Saudi Arabia and that of Pakistan. The US support was crucial during the war where the American Services and most importantly the CIA managed to promote the fighting capabilities of the “Holy Warriors” by transferring via Pakistan the necessary logistical and armament support. There were over 40,000 Mudjahentin, gathered from Muslim states around the globe, that fought in this war and some of them will ultimately provide the human resources base for the terrorist cells of the 1990’s terrorist organizations (6) .

The Afghanistan experience was of crucial significance, since it gave a great boost to the self confidence of the Islamists, by defeating the Soviet superpower. In the minds of the fanatics the war was seen as a holy one, in which the reborn Islamic movement –Which drew its inspiration right from the Medieval era- could succumb the will of the greatest land forces of the world, the Soviet Army. Nevertheless they failed to mentioned that their struggle would most probably failed if it wasn’t for the Stinger type missiles provided by USA  along with the rest massive support.

After the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, the radical Islamists became active in non Muslim states that were populated by significant Muslim minorities. According to the acclaimed Bernard Luis the radical Islamists regard as blasphemous for faithful Muslims to be governed by “Infidels” (7) . Therefore conflicts in areas such as Eritrea, Chechnya, Bosnia, Kasmir, Philipines and West China became battlefields full of Islamic “Holly fighters”. Moreover civil conflicts such as the one that ripped apart Algeria in the 1990’w had a Jihad outlook and it was the then Al Qaeda –“The Base”- that provided the logistic, training and financing support, led by Osama Bin Laden, a veteran in the Afghanistan war (8) .

In order for this international network to be functional, safe havens would be needed for its training camps and warehouses. Saudi Arabia was not suited since it came into opposite terms with Osama Bin Laden and actually forced him to leave the country, because it was undermining the regime. Also the fact that Western troops due to the first Gulf War, had been deployed in Saudi Arabia, gave Bin Laden the impetus to turn against his own country and more specifically to try and overturn the Saudi Dynasty (9) . 

From that point and onwards Sudan was the first state that welcomed Bin Laden, up until 1996 where it forced him to leave because of combined international pressure. It is interesting to not that Sudan due to its long term civil war was not functioning as a proper state and therefore it was an ideal place to be used as a terrorist hideout (10) .
Therefore the opportunity of returning back to Afghanistan during the Taliban campaign; was an opportunity not to be missed. There Osama Bin Laden and his followers supported the fanatics Taliban and in exchange he was able to transfer his headquarters in the Afghanistan area (11) .

The confrontation between the radical Islamists and USA is not a surprising result, since the very basic principles of the former is on complete ideological terms with the latter and moreover the Islamists portray themselves as defenders of their faith and not of any particular state or nation. That means that they completely reject the basic principles that the international community is adhering for the past two hundred years; the rule of law and the existence of nation states. Osama Bin Laden calls on Muslims to attack every Westerner and according to Kanan Makiya and Hassan Mneimneh, his speeches resemble the ones used in the 7th century where the Arab tribes managed in just a few decades to break up the then Persian Empire and inflict great damages to the Byzantine one (12) .

During the 7th century BC, the Arabs managed in less than two generations to transform themselves from an amalgamation of tribes in the Arabian peninsula, into the greatest power the world has ever seen, stretching from Spain to India, and from Central Asia to Somalia. It is a paradigm that seems to invigorate modern radicals that also seem to believe they could achieve the same nowadays.

Al Qaeda early enough discovered the possibility of attacking the enemy with weapons of mass destruction. In 1998 an associate of Bin Laden’s was arrested in Germany where he was about to buy elements for WMD. Al Qaeda also tried to get a hold of Uranium of Southern African source, in Sudan (13) .

In parallel with the above activities Al Qaeda proceeded with its plan of sticking the USA in a major unexpected attack that fully complied with its notion of global guerrilla warfare, of proportions though unknown to humanity up until the 9/11/2001. The attack on the twin towers killed 3,000 persons and caused over 90 billion USD in the American economy (14) . It also showed for the first time in history the capabilities that non-state actors have, and what are the main challenges to be dealt with in the eve of the 21st century.

World’s response in the 9/11 was unified into the condemnation of terrorism and the swift and decisive action by USA towards the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, destroyed Al Qaeda’s bases and completely disrupted the operational capabilities of this terrorist organization. Since then no other attack has been staged at US soil.

The problem of Islamist terrorism remains though in the world, that has witnesses during the past five years numerous attacks with hecatombs of victims in , Madrid, London, Bali, Cairo, Amman, Jeddah, Karachi, Istanbul, as well as countless attempts to strike, virtually all over the world. The intelligence and security agencies have been capable of breaking up scores of terrorist cells that are in many occasions interrelated with organized crime, making the hunt for terrorist an incredibly complicated procedure that requires, amongst other, international cooperation and intelligence exchange (15) .

Furthermore the terrorist threat could not be thoroughly succumbed if the underdevelopment of the Arabic-Muslim world is not to be addressed in order to prevent the radicalization of the existing regimes that have to confront international pressure from one side and populist demands fro the other. The resolution of the Palestinian issue is regarded by many as the main element that divides the West from the Muslim world; therefore it is notable to examine the developments the past few years. In the summer of 2000 the then Prime Minister of Israel was ready to accept the recognition of an Palestinian state and to provide it with some 95% of the West Bank’s total surface , with East Jerusalem as its capital and with a strategic control of the Jordan valley.

These were the maximum offers ever made by Israelis but were not accepted by the Palestinian leadership and Yasser Arafat, a complication that lead to the Intifanda 2 from September 2000. The result was the political failure of Barak’s government and the subsequent arrival of the hawkish Sharon’s administration that lead to the continuation of the cycle of violence, still raging in Israel. It is fair to say that it is in the interests of radical Muslims not to have ever a solution to the Palestinian problem in order to perpetuate hatred and mistrust towards the West for the years to come.

On overall the world is facing the difficult choice of safeguarding its safety without compromising freedom and prosperity that were upheld even during the most difficult times of the Cold War. The first crucial step towards the long term strategic counterbalance of the radicals should be the decrease of energy dependence by the West towards Muslim states, a signaling move that would most certainly unleash progressive political forces in those states in the coming decades. The current energy rich Middle East has been able to create an artificial social context whereas the medieval norms thrive on par with superb business and technological advancements, a combination that has proved very lethal indeed.


(1) Richard Falkenrath, : Analytic Models and policy Prescription: Understanding Recent Innovation in US Counterterrorism:, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 24, 2001, p. 165.
(2) Wall Street Journal, 8/01/2002
(3)New York Times, 11/12/2001
(4)New York Times, 11/12/2001
(5)Martin Van Crevelt”Technology & War”, New York, Free press, 1989. AND Robert Art,”The strategy of selective engagenment”, International Security, 23:3(Winter 1998/1999), p. 84-88.
(6)John K. Cooley, “Terrorism: Unholy wars”, Athens, Ellinika Grammata, Greek ED, 2002, p.23-220.
(7)Bernard Luis, “The roots of Muslim Rage: Why so many Muslims resent the West, and why their bitterness will not easily be mollified”, The Atlantic Monthly, September 1990.
(8)John K. Cooley, “Terrorism: Unholy wars”, Athens, Ellinika Grammata, Greek ED, 2002, p.23-220.
(9)Pankaj Mishra, “The Afghan tradegy”, New York Review, 17/12/2002
(10)Daniel Benjamin & Steve Simon, AA failure of Intelligence?” New York Review, 20/12/2001
(11)Pankaj Mishra, “The Afghan tragedy”, New York Review, 17/12/2002
(12)Kanan Makiya & Hassan Mneimneh, “Manual for a raid”, New York Review, 17/01/2002
(13)Tim Judah, the Center of the World”, New York Review, 17/01/2002New York Times, 17/11/2001.
(14) New York Times, 17/11/2001.
(15)Frank Anderson, “International Terrorism and International Cooperation, Countering suicide Terrorism”, The International Policy Institute for Counterterrorism, Israel, 2001

Further reading-resources
- Declaration of war against the Americans occupying the land of the two holy places (
 English text of bin Laden's 1996 declaration of war, with a biographical introduction.
-  Dollars for terror (
 Prologue to the American edition. The Cold War continues ... The Nairobi and Dar es Salaam attacks -- An American friend at the Palace of Nations -- Islamism versus Arab nationalism -- The mercenaries of globalization -- The CIA's "Afghans" and their networks -- Osama bin Laden, our man in Kandahar -- The Muslim Brothers' holy (and financial) war -- Is there a pilot onboard the U.S. aircraft? -- Making good use of "low-intensity conflicts" -- The privatization of U.S. foreign policy -- Islamism and Zionism: complementary enemies -- Iran, the Great Satan's alibi -- Why Saudi Arabia finances Islamism -- The Taliban, mercenaries of the American oil companies -- Behind the Luxor Massacre, bin Laden's "Afghans" -- Islamist deal-making and organized crime -- Afghanistan and Sudan are the wrong targets -- Islamism as confrontation -- The CIA at the negotiating table.
- Frontline: Looking for Answers (
 The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and the WGBH Educational Foundation present information about the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. PBS and the WGBH Educational Foundation discuss the roots of hatred found in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, radical Islam, and the failure of U.S. intelligence on September 11, 2001. This information is provided as a supplement to a segment of the television series "FRONTLINE."
-  Islamic studies (
 Provides access to resources available on the Internet which are either primary-source material from Islamic web sites that highlight the religion's own viewpoints or scholarly research on a variety of Islamic subjects. Includes several articles on terrorism, 9/11, the Taliban, Bin Laden, and the Iraq crisis.
-  Teach-in on terrorism (
 A series of presentations and panel discussions covering the geographic features of the Middle East and Afghanistan, the various cultures of the Middle East, the common roots of the Abrahamic religious traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and the emerging global environment we live in which provides unprecedented opportunities for terrorist activities.
-  The terrorist attack on America (
 A collection of articles previously published in the journal Foreign affairs on contemporary terrorism, the ability of the United States to combat it, and radical Islamic politics.
- Arabia: The Wahhabi Movement (
 The Naqshbandi-Haqqani Sufi Order of America presents the Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc. entry about the Wahhabi movement. The Wahhabi movement is an Islamic revivalist movement that originated in Saudi Arabia in the 18th century. The Islamic reformer Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792) founded the Wahhabi movement. The Wahhabi movement is a fundamentalist movement. Al-Wahhab was influenced by Hanbali scholar Ibn Taymiyah (d. 1328).
-  Islam in an era of nation-states (
 Includes bibliographical references and index
- Islamic fundamentalism in Central Asia:  (
-  Wahhabi ( offers a definition of Wahhabi from the Columbia Encyclopedia, which is published by Columbia University Press. The Islamic Wahhabi reform movement was founded by Islamic reformer Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792). Abd al-Wahhab was dedicated to pursuing what he considered a pure version of Islam.
- Why they hate us (
 "National Review" presents the commentary "Why They Hate Us," written by Ray Takeyh and published as part of National Review Online on October 9, 2001. Takeyh asserts that Saudi exile and accused terrorist Osama Bin Laden (1957- ) and his followers are representative of a new radical religious movement. The movement is a subculture of Islam that uses violence and terror against the West.
- A theory of fundamentalism (
- The challenge of fundamentalism (
 Includes bibliographical references (p. 215-251) and index.