The difference between al-Qaeda and ISIS is in the use of terror techniques. Al-Qaeda has almost disappeared because it decided to stop using the internet and modern technology after it realized this could expose it. ISIS, as a secret group, became prominent as a result of technology and published most of its activities on social media networks.
Theoretically speaking, technology is supposed to expose ISIS but it turned out that the latter is often one step ahead of global security apparatuses. It individually communicates with those who are enthusiastic about its message via online networks. According to preliminary details, this is was the case of the young man who carried out the recent Manchester attack.
ISIS recruited him at his home in Manchester and he did not need to travel to ar-Raqqah in Syria. Security forces work to expose terrorists and thwart their operations by infiltrating such organizations and planting their agents. They monitor electronic messages and phone calls but it seems this is no longer yielding any results. The frequency of terrorist attacks in Europe prove this fact.
A relevant event of great significance happened recently. Few days ago, the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology was inaugurated in Saudi Arabia. Although there are around 1,000 centers in the world that specialize in the affairs related to terrorism, this center is different. It is a massive radar that electronically detects activities particularly on social media networks.
It reads billions of circulated letters, sorts them and categorizes them following which they are analyzed by relevant officials. The center handles the task of recognizing concepts, lessons and fatwas (religious edicts) and has distinguished itself for its ability to differentiate between local dialects as most of the circulated material, whether written or spoken.
Intervention is done through detecting and pursuing dangerous circulated material or by discussing it and guiding it in the right direction. The Center is supposed to fill the gaps in the electronic space, which extremists dominate.
Manchester’s lone wolf is one of hundreds or perhaps thousands in the virtual world. Security apparatuses confront difficult challenges as terrorists’ tools and tactics progress. They listen to phone calls, read messages, monitor the sale of arms and materials used to make weapons, and gather information from their informants who risk their lives to be on the ground.
Real failure is not in the inability to expose criminals before they commit crime or in failing to to thwart a terror attack, it is in the inability to build bridges to stop these torrents of hatred and incitementAbdulrahman al-Rashed
Meanwhile, ISIS looks online for those with characteristics matching its objectives. The group communicates with them individually and this lessens the chances of being exposed or infiltrated. After communicating with dozens of young men who had already been deceived, they are guided to achieve the group’s aims.
Most of the time, one of them will be willing to carry out a crime either by using a suicide belt or a machine gun. Sometimes, they are tasked with using a vehicle to ram people or with simply using a kitchen knife to murder people.
Real failure is not in the inability to expose criminals before they commit crime or in failing to to thwart a terror attack, it is in the inability to build bridges to stop these torrents of hatred and incitement. This is not a general case in Muslim societies as it is claimed, and it’s not true that hatred and criminal activities have spread as a result of the Muslims’ suffering in European “ghettos.”
These crimes are also not exclusive to those angry with their regimes’ practices in Muslim countries. These are all excuses to justify terrorism. There are the same exact cases in other communities who follow other religions, such as Sikhism, Hinduism and Buddhism, so why don’t they wear suicide belts to voice protest or purify themselves?
Even Muslims from the previous generations did not do this. Why are today’s Muslim generations doing so? The spread of extremism in Birmingham and Manchester in Britain is much easier than its spread in Saudi Arabia and Egypt because laws are strict in the latter two and lenient in the former.
One last note: Fighting extremism is more important than fighting terrorism.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.