New Jihadis Break Stereotypes


By Mawassi Lahcen

The latest generation of jihadists has never been to an al-Qaeda training camp. These recruits learn everything they need to know online.

Abdellah Rami of the Moroccan Centre for Social Sciences (CMS2) in Casablanca talks with Magharebia about this new kind of terrorist: the young man who moves unnoticed among the population until he strikes.

Magharebia: Convicted Argana café bomber Adil Othmani and members of the Moroccan al-Qaeda cell dismantled in September look very different from the 2003 Casablanca bombers. Instead of long beards and Afghan-style dress, these young men are clean-shaven and wear jeans, modern jackets and sunglasses. What prompted this shift?

Abdallah al-Rami: We’ve noticed the same thing about the terrorist who committed suicide in Tangier after killing a foreign tourist. What you’re describing – the new breed of terrorist – is part of what we can call the “Internet Generation”.

He and his generation were formed through their exposure to the jihadist current and its literature via the internet. They are mostly new to religion, and they don’t have any profound Sharia or ideological training that makes them embrace dress and behaviour compatible with Salafist Jihadist principles.

This change, however, is not restricted to the younger generation. Many of the older elements have replaced the Afghan-style dress and long beard with an appearance that avoids attention from security officers.

Magharebia: You say they are new to religiousness, but isn’t religious commitment the main reason that they are drawn to jihadist groups?

Al-Rami: We’re now faced with a new generation that has only recently known religiousness and that doesn’t have profound ideological understanding of Salafist Jihadist principles. They learn about jihad not through a religious venue but from satellite TV and the media. From there, they train via the internet until they eventually become terrorists ready to carry out operations.
[AFP/Abdelhak Senna] The Argana Café bomber was part of a new generation of terrorists.

[AFP/Abdelhak Senna] The Argana Café bomber was part of a new generation of terrorists.

Magharebia: If everything is now taking place in a virtual world, how do these new recruits and terrorist organisations ever meet?

Al-Rami: It’s an ideological relation, a symbolic relation. As a result of the international media coverage that al-Qaeda gets in hotbeds of tensions around the world, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan or Somalia, some sort of initial recruitment takes place remotely as soon as people’s curiosity is aroused.

Sympathy with these organisations usually starts with following media coverage of their operations. In an attempt to further understand what is going on, people start browsing the internet to read more about these terror groups and the people behind them. Curiosity and attraction gradually lead to ideological recruitment through forums, documents and information provided by jihadist websites.

The person goes from simple curiosity to a belief in jihadist principles. He feels convinced of those principles and ideas, without having any direct relations or structural links to al-Qaeda. This new form of recruitment has been growing and developing in recent years.

Magharebia: How are these websites able to turn someone from a casual visitor into a potential suicide bomber?

Al-Rami: It’s a complete and integrated system. He starts by following news of an al-Qaeda bombing. He then goes on to read the latest political analyses by members of the jihadist current and their ideological debates with other parties, passing through an archive of Salafist Jihadist religious and ideological literature, up to instructions on methods of killing and bombing, even pamphlets on military training, security protocols and electronic warfare manuals.

It’s like a university for terrorists. It’s an integrated university featuring several departments to train jihadist cadres. Anyone who enters graduates as a trained terrorist prepared to carry out suicide operations.
[Lahcen Moqnia] Since Bin Laden’s killing, al-Qaeda has been encouraging “lone wolf” attacks, Moroccan analyst Abdellah Rami says.

[Lahcen Moqnia] Since Bin Laden’s killing, al-Qaeda has been encouraging “lone wolf” attacks, Moroccan analyst Abdellah Rami says.

Magharebia: Does the 25-year-old convicted of the Marrakech bomb attack fit the profile of a “jihadi university” graduate?

Al-Rami: He was first influenced by jihadist ideology in 2005 by following the news about al-Qaeda in Iraq. He tried to join al-Qaeda in Iraq, but failed. He moved from trying to join al-Qaeda in Iraq to planning and executing terrorist operations here in Morocco.

Magharebia: That’s a big step, from curiosity to bombing. What happened to him?

Al-Rami: Adil Othmani learned on jihadist websites about making explosives. Having that knowledge alone was enough to encourage him to try. The internet played the main role in providing this information. He moved from a theoretical conviction in jihadist principles to actual implementation.

The 2003 Casablanca suicide bombings were the work of amateurs, not a big organisation with a widespread presence. They were just individuals who were supporters of al-Qaeda after the 9/11 attacks.

But they knew how to make explosives.

Herein lies the danger from sympathisers and supporters of al-Qaeda. That community is now deemed more active and effective than actual elements of al-Qaeda, especially after the crackdown by security agencies around the world. Therefore, we believe that al-Qaeda is now paying special attention to recruiting these sympathisers, training them via the internet and giving them Sharia coverage for their actions through the fatwas it issues.

Magharebia: Twelve suicide bombers blew themselves up in the 2003 Casablanca attacks, but Moroccan officials are now warning of what’s being called the “lone wolf terrorist”. How did things change from large cells to one-man operations?

Al-Rami: Al-Qaeda is exhausted, because of the blows that it has been dealt as part of the war on terror. Since Bin Laden’s killing, al-Qaeda has been encouraging individual, isolated operations.

Al-Qaeda now depends on such people for its very survival.


The Magharebia web site is sponsored by the United States Africa Command, the military command responsible for supporting and enhancing US efforts to promote stability, co-operation and prosperity in the region.

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