Inside an Al-Qaeda Jihadi Manual
A new translation of a jihadi management manual reveals Al-Qaeda strategies for destroying the United States.
William McCants, a fellow at theCombating Terrorism Center
at West Point, received a phone call last year from a colleague with an interesting request. Princeton University Professor Michael Duran, now head of Middle Eastern Affairs for the National Security Agency, had discovered online what seemed to be an important book on Jihadi intelligence and management techniques written by someone high up in Al-Qaeda.
Duran turned to McCants and his exceptional Arabic-language skills for help. McCants got to work. Four months later, he produced a viable English version of “The Management of Savagery,” by Abu Bakr Naji (a pseudonym), a chilling, sophisticated book detailing Western-inspiried strategies that would help Al-Qaeda to bring down the United States. Beliefnet’s Islam editor Dilshad D. Ali spoke with McCants about the book.
How did you and Michael Duran know which manuals and articles found online are genuine jihadi works?
With this one it was easy to tell because many parts of it were published serially in a magazine called Sawt al-Jihad, “The Voice of Jihad,” which is an official Al-Qaeda magazine. This magazine had been published out of Saudi Arabia. And so, we knew that this book definitely has the seal of approval of Al-Qaeda.
Tell me about the book. What are some of the major things you learned?
It really struck me how informed the jihadis are about U.S. policy, about Western political science, and military tactics. Naji draws on those sources heavily to frame his argument.
And this piece, which is in the genre that jihadis call strategic studies, is very secular in orientation and argument. The author is not trying to justify the tactics he recommends through religious arguments. He’s speaking to the choir. He draws heavily on Western sources. For example, he quotes Paul Kennedy with regard to imperial overreach and the notion that a superpower can be hurt if it overextends itself militarily and economically--like the Soviet Union. He uses that as his jumping-off point for his discussion on how best to take down the United States.
What does Naji say are the best ways to destroy the United States?
His grand strategy is that in the past, the jihadis have tried to overthrow their local governments, and they haven’t had much success. And the primary reason for this, Naji argues, is that the local governments are propped up by a superpower. And so, even if they throw all their energy into taking it down, they won’t have any ultimate success because the superpower will always be there to prop it up.
What you need to do is to remove the superpower’s influence from the region. Naji doesn’t have any delusions as to the relative strength of the jihadis versus the United States, but he does believe that you can make the United States withdraw its influence. And the model he points to is the Soviet Union and Afghanistan.
Naji advises provoking the superpower into invading the region directly, and this does several things for the jihadi movement. It’s a major propaganda victory for the jihadis because by attacking the superpower directly, they’re seen as standing up to the crusader. But when they attack the local government, they’re seen as fighting other Muslims, which is a major public-relations problem for them. By forcing the United States to come in directly, they can be seen as standing up to the great worldwide oppressor.
The second thing this tactic does is, if you can bog the United.States down in the region, it will remove its aura of invincibility that Naji says is supported by the media. And he says once you’ve dispelled this aura of invincibility, then you can persuade more and more people to join your cause and to agitate against local governments. And these local governments, if they’re allied with the superpower, will be put under a lot of pressure.
And then finally, what you can achieve with the superpower invading directly is that they will be overextended militarily and economically the longer that they stay. And that, eventually, will cause a lot of social divisions at home, and the superpower will have to withdraw its forces. Its influence will be greatly diminished in the region. Iraq is the best example of this.