Not that devout Muslims needed to be told -- this is, after all, what they do, and what they have been doing for 1,400 years. What's new is that the media is actually writing about it and not calling Mohamed Merah and the millions of other jihadists "lone gunman."
The New Mastermind of Jihad Wall Street Journal (hat tip David W.)
A recently freed Islamist thinker has long advocated small-scale, independent acts of anti-Western terror
Mohamed Merah, the 23-year-old Islamist gunman who hunted down three Jewish children and a rabbi after murdering three French paratroopers in Toulouse last month, didn't act alone. In his journey from the slums of Toulouse, to the local mosques, to the terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan that he described to French police, to filming his murder of the terrified children in order to post video clips on the web, Mr. Merah was following a path marked out years earlier by the coldblooded jihadist theoretician Abu Musab al-Suri.
European Pressphoto Agency
Abu Musab al-Suri, in an undated photo released by the U.S. government's Rewards for Justice program around 2004. He's been called 'the most dangerous terrorist you've never heard of.
What is perhaps more disturbing, Mr. al-Suri was recently set free from prison in Damascus, Syria, and his current whereabouts are unknown. Turned over to Syria after his capture by the CIA in late 2005, Mr. al-Suri was released sometime in December (according to intelligence sources and jihadist websites) by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad—a move apparently intended to warn the West of the consequences for opposing his rule.
Barely noticed in the midst of Mr. Assad's own brutal assaults on civilians, Mr. al-Suri's release may well contribute to the emergence of more attackers like Mr. Merah in the West. "His videos are already being reuploaded. His audios, reposted," wrote Jarret Brachman, a former CIA analyst and the former director of West Point's Center for Combating Terrorism, in a blog post after the news of Mr. al-Suri's release first appeared on jihadist sites.
Once called "the most dangerous terrorist you've never heard of" by CNN, Mr. al-Suri, whose real name is Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, served in the days before 9/11 as the facilitator who took Western reporters to meet with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Photographs of him from those trips show a well-built man with pale white skin, a red beard and blue eyes who—Afghan garb aside—would not look out of place in an Irish pub or a cafe in Brussels.
Mr. al-Suri in a photo released by the U.S. government's Rewards for Justice program around 2005. Mr. al-Suri scolded Osama bin Laden for having 'caught the disease of screens, flashes, fans and applause.'
Mr. al-Suri's plans for a wave of "individual jihad" in the West are contained in "A Call to a Global Islamic Resistance," a 1,600-page book that he published on the Web in 2005, shortly before he was apprehended in Pakistan with a $5 million CIA bounty on his head. The manifesto combines strikingly clearheaded historical analysis with trenchant commentary on what he saw as two decades of strategic and operational failures by jihadists. The destruction of the World Trade Center was a short-term public-relations success for al Qaeda, Mr. al-Suri conceded, but American cruise missiles had made short work of the group's havens in Afghanistan, and Western special forces and intelligence agencies had decimated the ranks of its fighters and crippled the global jihadist movement.
What Mr. al-Suri learned from the Afghan debacle and from al Qaeda's subsequent defeat in Iraq was that jihadists were all but helpless in battle against modern Western armies. In place of old-fashioned hierarchical terror organizations, which had failed, he called for a global struggle in which shadowy motivators and facilitators would prompt jihadists to train and arm themselves in independent, self-generating terror cells that would target Western civilians. His goal: a relentless campaign of exemplary acts of violence under a single ideological banner, culminating in the use of weapons of mass destruction.
Mr. al-Suri has been credited by Western European intelligence agencies and police with drafting the blueprints for the train bombings in Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005, as well as with helping to shape Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's terror campaign in Iraq. Apprehended on Oct. 31, 2005 by the Pakistani intelligence service, he was turned over to the CIA, which sent him back to his native Syria. He was "treated well during his incarceration" of six years, according to an Islamist spokesman in London, Dr. Yasser al-Siri. Some Islamists place him now in Syria; others suggest that he was flown to Iran, where he resided along with other top figures in al Qaeda after the organization's defeat in Afghanistan, before he made his way to Pakistan.
One of the chief exponents of Mr. al-Suri's brand of jihadism was the Yemini-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who helped to motivate Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan to kill 13 colleagues in November 2009 at the U.S. Army base in Fort Hood, Texas. Mr. Awlaki was also instrumental in producing a slick, downloadable English-language magazine called Inspire, which contained bomb-making recipes along with long excerpts from Mr. al-Suri's writings.
Mr. al-Suri is interesting, said Gilles Kepel, the French political scientist who is widely considered the world's leading authority on Islamist radicals, "because he is part of the second generation of the jihadist movement, the ones who were concerned with the failure of mobilization after 9/11." For Mr. al-Suri, according to Prof. Kepel, the failure of the 9/11 attacks to rouse global Muslim outrage was compounded by the failure of the jihadist terror campaign in Iraq, and by subsequent Western success in reducing what was once a global movement into increasingly isolated archipelagos of local movements and causes.