According to commentary on the incidents of Sept. 11, 2001, if al-Qaida were tied to a country that was hostile to the United States, then it would not engage in such an operation. Indeed, despite having had more opportunities to carry out similar activities than al-Qaida, groups tied to the Soviet Union during the Cold War era did not undertake such actions. They possessed training, supplies and competence, but the interests of countries, even in a state of hostility, place boundaries and rules on conflict that are not binding for an isolated group with nothing to lose.
According to commentary on the operation by Humam al-Balawi — who blew himself up during an intelligence meeting in Khost in Afghanistan in 2009 — he was an individual adventurer and didn’t belong to the Taliban movement. If he truly belonged to the Taliban, the group would have chosen to keep him entrenched in the intelligence apparatus for its benefit. On the contrary, he worked individually and with self-motivation, driven by personal revenge, and not within the framework of a conflict between the Taliban and the United States.
Many terrorist attacks don’t seem to be associated with classified and well-known terrorist organizations, but rather belong to a different kind of operation, or a new generation tied to individuals or small groups that are limited and were previously unknown. Thus, one can describe them as “foreseen crimes and unexpected performers” within this swift transition of conflict and terrorism from countries to groups to individuals.
Here, one can estimate the volume and level of confusion and bewilderment in the confrontation of violence and extremism. The militaries and security institutions were subject to reformulation and reorganization in order to confront a new and different enemy than the one they were accustomed to in previous wars and conflicts: to face groups that differ from countries in their methodology and strategy. As soon as countries acknowledged that groups are different from them, and no longer made a connection between violence and countries, or accused groups of being agents for a certain country, they found themselves confronting a new kind of phantom violence: conflict with unidentified persons and invisible terrorists.
Traditionally, one deals with such crimes by blaming well-known terrorist organizations, and by looking for evidence and information, even if impossible to prove, or downplaying them, saying that they are isolated, individual acts. However, it is not comforting to say that the crimes are individual in nature, or that they don’t belong to organized terrorist plots, as it is also not reassuring to falsely attribute the acts to organized terrorist groups.
The fact is that these crimes result from hatred and individual extremism, and are performed by those who are driven by an accumulation of hatred, and who have access to the information and expertise provided by the Internet and social media networks. Crimes are crimes, and their status does not change, whether they are performed or planned by countries or armed groups and organizations. In all cases, we witness the loss of innocent lives, as well as a deep crisis in culture, relationships and planning, daily life and the organization and administration of resources, services and priorities.
It is not required, of course, to abandon the prevailing interpretations, but we need to look for other reasons for the deep-rooted social and cultural crisis, which encourages violence in all its forms, and include crimes of political extremism – for study purposes at least – within the diseases, defects and problems of social and societal crises.