2 - Who Joins al Qaeda?  pp. 27-41

Who Joins al Qaeda?

By Steve Coll, Yosri Fouda, Jessica Stern and Marc Sageman

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STEVE COLL

Perhaps we can define the difference between the discussion we just concluded and the one we are about to begin by mentioning the elusiveness of any quantitative census of al Qaeda or the movement that al Qaeda represents. What we are interested in is the qualitative census of that movement. We are interested in the problem of counterinsurgency.

If this is really a campaign of counterinsurgency or at least a campaign analogous to counterinsurgency, then one of the challenges is to separate the most nihilistic, violent elements of that movement from those who could be converted to ordinary politics in the manner of counterinsurgencies throughout history. That requires an understanding of where the most violent adherents began, how they were radicalized, and from what social strata they came. Why, from among the many, many millions of angry young Muslim men with grievances toward the West, has a relative handful chosen to participate in this sort of nihilistic violence?

Our first speaker is Yosri Fouda, an investigative reporter for al Jazeera who has the distinction of having interviewed both Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh prior to their arrests in Pakistan. He has lived with this story, and with the characters who have thrust themselves fully into our agenda, throughout his professional life.