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The threat of terrorism in the United States has been real. This applies to attacks against United States citizens in and out of the country as well as the United States’ interests all over the world. Besides Al Qaeda and Islamic Jihad, there are numerous terrorist organizations spanning the entire globe and drawing support from extremists who are driven by different goals. As the concept of terrorism may be difficult to define since it means different things to different individuals or groups. This paper will adopt the definition given by Wolf:
Terrorism is the calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear, intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological. (Wolf, 2006, pp. 156)
Are Al Qaeda and Islamic Jihad the only terrorist groups posing threat to America? What threat do for instance Al Shabaab and Hezbollah pose and if there is do the two organizations pose the same level of threat? Assessment of terrorism risk will focus on these questions.
Hezbollah and Al Shabaab
Literally ‘the party of God’ Hezbollah is a Shi’a Islamic group based in Lebanon that has been designated by the United States as a terrorist organization. Historically, Hezbollah is responsible for the deaths of many Americans: the 1983 truck bombing of the US embassy and US Marine Corps barracks in Lebanon, 1984 bombing of US embassy annex in Beirut, and 1985 hijacking of TWA flight 847 when US Navy diver Robert was murdered (Townsend, 2007).
This shows that the group is capable of targeting Americans. Attacks such as those that happened outside the US and more are likely to occur due to what Hezbollah perceives as the US posing a threat to its ties with Iran. This could be aggravated by the current opposition of the US to Iran’s nuclear program since the group has close ties with Iran.
Federal Bureau of Investigation in its report to U.S Congress (2009) estimated that the group is well organized and acts as a legitimate organization ( with seats in Lebanese parliament) while at the same time supports terrorism mainly through clandestine support of other groups such as Hamas, Fatah, and Islamic Jihad. The organization forecasts that networking could be done through a process of establishing cells even on US soil or recruiting extremists and radicals through, for example, Salafi – internet sites, which spew aggressive anti-US rhetoric. Through such radicalization, members would become radicalized to the point where they view violence as legitimate. If such radicalization is done to US citizens it could be possible to get such citizens to turn against their very own. Some may argue that the recent shooting at Fort Hood took such a dimension.
In his address to the US Congress, Robert Mueller, the director of the FBI argued that Al Shabaab, formed in 1994 and based in Somalia, represents hard-line radical youth movement within the Islamic Court Union which has been fighting the transitional Federal government for the control of Somalia with the gradual defeat of the latter. He reported that the US Department of State designated it as a terrorist group. It has been connected to pirates who capture ships in the Indian Ocean.
He added that there are fears that Somalis who have migrated to the US (and are in the region of 250,000) could be easily recruited whenever they make trips to their homeland. Based on this fact, it can e concluded that presently, Al Shabaab poses a greater threat to Americans than Hezbollah. The former operates in a lawless state while the latter group is to some extent legitimate. A June 8, 2009 video message featuring an American Al Shabaab commander, Abu Mansur Amriki in which he refuted President Obama’s June 2009 Cairo speech to the Muslim world, demonstrates that this threat could be real.
Do we change tact in dealing with global terrorism? In his article, Tucker conceived terrorist groups as huge networks with their ability to mobilize resources and recruit members without being affected significantly in the event that the top leaders (high-level targets) get eliminated. He argued that terrorist groups continue to flourish despite the deaths of high-level suspects. After such deaths, the groups reconstitute themselves easily due to what he attributed to the resilience of networks. It is the position of this paper that conventional wisdom for example elimination of high-level targets through drone attacks does little to eliminate the threat of terrorism, Tucker called it “strategic error” (p. 12) and proposes the formulation of networks since in his view, “it takes a network to counter a network” (p. 12).
To succeed in the modern war on terror, the United States and its allies must move away from interventionist measures and employ preventative ones such as countering the proliferation of dangerous weapons and groups as well as engendering ideas such as democracy, capitalism, and globalization (Tucker p. 15). In Somalia for example strengthening the Transitional Federal Government could bring about democracy and therefore deal a heavier blow to Al Shabaab than say a drone attack on one of its leaders. In addition, stifling Gulf of Aden pirate attacks will definitely cut off Al Shabaab’s cash cow which in turn will cripple the financial muscle of the entire organization.
Mueller, R. (2009) Congressional testimony. Web.
Townsend, F. (2007) The Terrorist Threat to U.S Homeland. Web.
Tucker, D. (2008) “Terrorism, Networks, and Strategies: Why the Conventional Wisdom is Wrong.” Homeland Security Affairs, 6,2. Web.
Wolf, T. (2006) Terrorism Today (PP.156). Cape Town: Paulines Books.