The attrition rate inflicted upon al Qaeda by carrying out suicide bombings, a new generation of jihadists' wariness towards killing themselves, and evolving technology has made the terrorist organization turn toward other tactics, argues an Israeli journalist in this morning's The New York Times.
By reading posts from al Qaeda's closed online forums—Ekhlaas and Firdaws—and talking to American and Israeli intelligence, Ronen Bergman reports an important schism has opened among al Qaeda militants regarding suicidal terrorism.
While the terrorist group has been careful not to mention it in its official statements, it is no longer uncommon to find jihadists in their chat rooms and, according to Western intelligence sources, in interrogations, stating that young men are reluctant or simply too scared to take part in suicide attacks. At the same time, military blows against Al Qaeda’s training structure since 2001 have meant that the number of extremists with combat experience is decreasing, and that new recruits are harder to train.
The startling cost in lives of its operatives in Iraq and Afghanistan has motivated Al Qaeda’s technical experts to start seeking technical solutions, primarily on the Internet, that would render suicide unnecessary. These solutions mostly revolve around remote controls — vehicles, robots and model airplanes loaded with explosives and directed toward their targets from a safe distance.
According to one post on Maarek, which Bergman describes as "the most sophisticated jihadist forum for discussing explosives manufacturing," one technologically sophisticated jihadist advocated using dogs to carry out bombings. Another option discussed on these online forums is using remote-controlled aircraft to deliver the deadly payload.
The shift away from suicidal terrorism isn't only tactical, it's religious as well. Suicide within Islam is strictly forbidden, although some clerics have diluted the prohibition to allow it only under extreme conditions and as a last resort during warfare. Bashir bin Fahd al-Bashir, a Saudi, pro-al Qaeda preacher, declares suicide bombings are allowed under two conditions: 1) the operation's commander believes it will inflict heavy losses and 2) suicide bombing is the only way to inflict such losses.
Bergman says the military will face two problems due to this shift in tactics. First, it usually takes the military two-to-five years to adjust to an insurgency's change of tactics. Second, Bergman fears the profile of rank-and-file al Qaeda-inspired terrorists will change from uneducated and enthusiastic young men to highly educated jihadists with expertise in electrical engineering and robotics.