Strategic Intelligence Gathering Is Vital For Those Who Study Terrorism
With the Arab Spring and the subsequent political upheaval in the Middle
East and North Africa, many groups labeled as terrorists by politicians
and intelligence agencies across the world have announced their plans to
enter legitimate state politics. Many of these groups have had political
wings in the past, whereas others are in the process of transition from
armed resistance groups to legitimate political parties.
Groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas have maintained both wings for decades
now, but other groups are now making waves in the political realm. What
is difficult for Western governments, however, is to determine whether
they can develop trust in these groups. Are these new groups truly
political parties or do they still have an undercurrent of violence?
Can an armed resistance/terrorist group truly become a legitimate
political party? What will happen if a supposed terrorist group is
democratically elected to office? In order to assuage their fears,
governments must rely upon strategic intelligence gathering in order to
differentiate between armed groups and political parties. This essay
provides an overview of the current transition in many of these countries
along with an explanation of the reliance of those who study terrorism on
strategic intelligence gathering.
Terrorist group or political party?
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood is one group which has long been a challenge
to understand. The group, founded in 1928 by Hassan al Banna, was banned
from Egyptian politics by Egyptian president Abd al Nasser in the 1950s
after an assassination attempt on his life. The group renounced violence
in the 1970s and declared that it would seek an Islamic state via a
democratic system. In 2005, Muslim Brotherhood members did make up close
to one fifth of all Egyptian parliament seats. Recently, it created its
own Freedom and Justice Party and announced it would participate in the
Egyptian parliamentary elections.
Egyptian Islamist group Gama'a al-Islamiya is another terrorist group
turned political party. During the 1990s this group launched numerous
terrorist attacks against tourists in Egypt as well as an attempted
assassination on recently deposed President Mubarak. The group's goal was
to violently overthrow the Egyptian government. Professionals who study
terrorism should be very familiar with this group, as its former
spiritual leader, Shaykh Umar Abd al-Rahman was jailed in the United
States for his involvement in the first World Trade Center bombings in
the early 1990s. The group declared a cease fire in 1999, split into two,
and in 2002 declared that it had used jihad in a misguided manner.
Recently, senior member al-Zumar announced the group would become active
in Egyptian politics. "The party will not use violence in dealing with
any situation or with the state and will abide by Egyptian law and the
constitution," he said. "We want to tell the world that Islamists are not
seeking power…We will work to remove the people's fears of Islamists. Our
new party will include Christians and women who would be able to hold
senior posts in the party if they win them."
Importance of strategic intelligence
The rhetoric and action of these Egyptian groups thus far indicates they
are now seeking a political solution to their needs and desires. Given
their background, especially that of Gama'a al-Islamiya's recent past,
Western governments must utilize and act upon strategic intelligence
gathered by agents and those analysts who study terrorism to determine
the group's dynamics within the particular state and to determine whether
the group represents a threat to its own state as well as to Western
interests. By utilizing strategic intelligence, governments will better
understand these groups who have publicly renounced violence and
determine whether they can work effectively with them in international