How does the terrorist group Al-Qaeda select their targets and what is their motivation?

Seminar Paper, 2014
26 Pages, Grade: 12.0


The paper sets out to show the link between the attacked targets and motivations of Al Qaeda
(AQ) as a terrorist group. It introduces AQ and outline its goal of establishing an Islamic
Caliphate and the immediate objective of driving out United States Interest from the Muslim
world. It proceeds to provide data on the attacked targets claimed by AQ. The data is analyzed
using the Constructivist theory to expose the development of identities and how they relate to
the immediate objective and the attacked targets. It proceeds to discuss the cases where AQ
claimed responsibility by looking at the messages in relation to the motivation and the
attacked target. Further, it looks at cases where AQ was suspected but did not formally claim
responsibility to establish the consistency between the AQ's goal and attacked target
understood within the constructed identity. The paper finally concludes that attacked targets
are very consistent with AQ's motivations hence the ability to use the combination to identify
a terrorist group responsible for an attack where both are known and no single group claims

List of Abbreviation
Al Qaeda
International Islamic Relief Organization
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
United Nations Organization
United States of America
Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device

Table of Content
Background ... 5
Methodology ... 8
Research Question ... 8
Method ... 9
Study Limitations ... 11
Literature Review ... 11
Data Presentation and Analysis ... 12
Theory ... 15
Discussion ... 17
Conclusion ... 25
References ... 26

The Terrorist Group's Selection of Targets and Their Motivation: The case of Al Qaeda
Terrorism has been in existence for a long time now and it has been observed that like a
pestilence in middle Ages it panics both leaders and citizens (Deutch 1997). Terrorism as a
concept has been conceived as; `the use of violence or threat of violence by an organized
group to achieve political objective. The violence is directed against a targeted audience that
extend beyond the immediate victims, who are often innocent civilians. Further, either the
government can be either the perpetrator of violence or the target, it is considered an act of
terrorism only if one or both actors is not a government. Finally it is a weapon of the weak'
(Lutz 2010). This conceptualization leaves out groups whose main motive is financial gains
like those involved in kidnappings.
The involvement of the use of force or threat of use of force is inimical to terrorism. In the
same vein this use of force or threat is always directed towards certain targets who may
extend beyond the immediate victims. The selection of targets has raised questions whether it
is an indiscriminate act or it is a well premeditated act. According to Drake, `terrorist attacks
are occasionally called 'indiscriminate' [...] in practice, however, attacks by non-state terrorist
groups are rarely indiscriminate' (Drake 1998). This means that terrorist's undergo an intense
process in identification of their targets to help them convey their demands. This has been
particularly observed among non-state terrorist groups as Drake opines.
Al Qaeda (AQ) is one such non-state terrorist group which has dominated research and
literature now for a while. Al Qaeda has been observed as the residual network infused with
ideological outlook of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri and acting according to their
strategic direction (Martin C. Libicki 2007). Hoffman observes that, Bin Laden graduated
with a degree in Economics and Public Administration in 1981 from the prestigious
University of King Abdul-Aziz in Saudi Arabia (Hoffman 2002). It is this particular
management degree coupled with his experience in his family business that has been observed
to have enabled him to turn the terrorist movement he founded into the world's preeminent
terrorist organization (Bergen 2001). These factors coupled with others like the invention of
satellite telephone has enabled Bin Laden to communicate with his team in real time leading
to his success and Al Qaeda's.
Hoffman continues to observe that, bin Laden could have not existed and thrived in any other
era apart from the 1990s (Hoffman 2002). This is because bin laden was expelled from Sudan

in 1996 to Afghanistan and this meant that he was separated from his group members and
without such gadgets like Satellite Telephone, the geographical separation would have
hindered his coordination of his organization. The ability of Al Qaeda operatives to use
modern technology like the use of computers to communicate via emails and other internet
platforms, flying first class et al. is what guaranteed AQ as a network (Bergen 2001). The
ability of been Laden to combine his personal management acumen and modern technology
provided opportunity for Al Qaeda to emerge and become the dangerous terrorist group it is
The origins of AQ can be traced back to the 1990/1991 Persian Gulf War and U.S troops'
deployment on Saudi soil. However, the first actual emergence of AQ as a concrete entity is
observed to have been in 1998 (Chalk 2002). In similar vein, the roots of Al Qaeda has been
traced to the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Bergen opines that, the Afghan war
against the communists `troubling legacy' created an Islamists militants who have become
transnational in spreading terrorism and guerrilla around the world (Bergen 2001). It's out of
the war against the communists and the United States activities in the Middle East that
informed the establishment of AQ as a terrorist group.
This group which has been observed to have helped in financing, recruiting, transporting and
training Sunni Islamic extremists for the Afghan resistance (Publication 2010), whose name
literally means the `base' is headquartered in Afghanistan and has enjoyed support of the
Taliban regime to have an ample opportunity to operate without disturbance. The relationship
established between AQ and the Taliban regime provided the safe haven for smooth operation
within the Taliban controlled areas in Afghanistan for AQ. It has been observed that AQ do
not only operate on its own but also through an interconnecting complexes of other externally
based terrorist organizations and cells linking extremists in at least 40 countries (Chalk 2002).
This makes AQ so dynamic in its operations and activities.
Despite having enjoyed the operational base under the Taliban regime for a long time, AQ
lost its haven in late 2001 when coalition forces removed the Taliban regime from power.
This made its senior members to shift and now resides in Pakistan's Federally Administered
Tribal areas (Publication 2010). AQ like any other organization needs funding which has been
observed to originate from individual donations, money diverted from charitable
organizations like the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) as well as capturing
hostages and demanding finances before release (Chalk 2002). However, AQ has faced
several challenges as a result of coalition forces activities both in Afghanistan and Iraq as well

as change in legislations regarding money transfers. Despite all these, it's still viewed as the
greatest security risk to the United States.
According to Libicki et al. they note that, AQ's ultimate goal is in establishing an Islamic
Caliphate beginning with one country and spreading across the whole `umma' (global Islamic
Community). They have continued to point out that the immediate goal of AQ is to expel U.S
as well as its interest from the Islamic world. The only obstacle to the creation of the Islamic
Caliphate is the U.S and her ally's (Martin C. Libicki 2007). Consequently, the call for the
killing of both America's civilians and military as well as those of their ally's was made a
religious duty of each and every Muslim whenever and wherever it was possible according to
the fatwa or religious edicts issued by bin Laden in 1998 (Chalk 2002). From the foregoing,
the goal has been outlined and the means through which it would be achieved provided by the
fatwa hence the motive.
Motive here is conceived as a composite interconnection between AQ's goals and its
perception of the value of attacking a target as a way of promoting the goals (Martin C.
Libicki 2007). Therefore, it is the motive that links the AQ and its objectives and define its
selection of target which ends up in bringing satisfaction to the group. Goals are only
promoted if and only when a defined enemy is singled out and damage inflicted upon it. This
follows, that failure to carefully select and inflict damage to the wrong or undefined enemy is
contrary to the goal and objective hence motive. This means that in any given situation that an
attack has been undertaken, careful consideration has to be taken on who shall be the bearer of
the lose occasioned by the attack. This translates to mean that the selection of AQ's targets are
based on well calculated plans with clearly defined enemy who should bear the greatest
burden. With this kind of understanding, that attacks are carefully planned and targeted, then
it means that we can use the attacked targets in some situations to understand the motivations
of the attack and identify to a degree possible the attacker.
It's out of this kind of understanding of non-state terrorists' groups' selection of their targets
that this paper seeks to explore; how Al Qaeda's selection of their targets informs their
motivation. The paper therefore seeks to answer the question, how does the Al Qaeda's
selection of targets points to their motivation? By establishing the clear link between Al
Qaeda's objectives and their choice of targets, the paper shall help to bring out the strong
connection between objectives and target selection. This connection is helpful in situations
where an attack has been met on a target and no particular terrorist group has claimed
responsibility. In given circumstances where terrorist groups operate with known objectives

and an attack has been met on a target, the target can then be used to identify the responsible
group. This identification will help in making the terrorist group to bear the consequences of
their act.
The United States Department Publication and Andrew Tan's 2006 book; The Politics of
Terrorism: A survey, shall be used in gathering data on terrorist attacks committed by Al
Qaeda to identify their targets in such attacks. This data shall then be presented on a table
indicating the date, place, target and casualties in relation to AQ's objectives. Constructivism
theory shall then be used to analyze the choice of targets by AQ. The statements used by AQ
to claim responsibility shall be analyze to establish the link between such messages and the
overall motivation. In other cases where AQ was suspected of committing an attack but did
not claim responsibility shall be discussed to expose how attacked targets can be used to
assign responsibility based on objectives. The paper concludes that there is strong connection
between attacked target and motivation with the ability to use them to identify a terrorist
group which has attacked a particular target and failed to take responsibility.
This particular section provide the general framework of how the paper has been written.
Research question which informs the writing of this paper shall be introduced. Further, the
actual steps of how this question shall be answered shall follow including where to get the
data and how the data shall be presented and finally analyzed. It will also provide study
limitations which would point at factors that constrain this work hence setting its strict
boundaries. Finally, it will look at the work of other scholars who have also written on this
topic to appreciate their contributions as well as in situating this work within the academic
Research Question
The war on terrorism has sometime been referred to as the war against the mysterious enemy.
This has been so because in some situations, it is very difficult to identify who the
perpetrators of the terrorist attacks are. However, the lack of ability to determine who the
terrorist group which has sponsored an attack is does not make the effects of terrorist
activities any mild. In circumstances and environments where there are known terrorist groups
operating with defined objectives, the attack targets can be used to identify the terrorist group
responsible for the attack. This is based on the observation of individuals like Drake who have
observed that in cases where non-state terrorist sponsor an attack, they are always very
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How does the terrorist group Al-Qaeda select their targets and what is their motivation?
Aalborg University  (Culture and Global Studies)
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Calvince Barack (Author), 2014, How does the terrorist group Al-Qaeda select their targets and what is their motivation?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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