The trajectory of radical, “jihadist” Islamic groups indicates that they will increasingly target wider categories of groups, including Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims, perhaps limiting their appeal in the Muslim world, writes Quintan Wiktorowicz in the journal Studies in Conflict & Terrorism (March).
The radicals belong to one segment of the Salafi or Wahabbi movement in Islam, which stresses returning to a purified Islam but is divided on the use of violence to achieve its aims. Both the jihadists and those taking a non-violent position in the movement use the same texts and teachings, but the former camp has developed new understandings about how such principles as “defense against agression,” and “civilians” are operative in the contemporary period.
The most well-known division among Salafis is over the use of the term jihad (or “struggle”), with the extremists, such as those associated with Al Queda, going well beyond the traditional understanding that battle with non-Muslims is only pemitted as a defense against an outside force invading Muslim territory.
Wiktorowicz writes that even by the late-1990s, the extremists agreed with the non-violent Salafis that violence should never be used against fellow Muslims, though they had little problems with killing non-Muslim non-combatants. By September 11, even that prohibtion was dropped, as jihadists argued that any one who cooperated with a non-Muslim enemy (the U.S. in this case) should be targeted since they are technically no longer non-combatants.
The extremists have continued to broaden their use of violence since 9/11, as can be seen in recent attacks against the Shi’ite Muslim communities of Pakistan. Wiktorowicz concludes that “More attacks might also be expected against others in the Sunni community, in addition to state officials and government personnel…In the end, this may erode popular support for Al Queda, as increased violence did to [radical groups] in Algeria, but in the meantime, more groups of people will likely find themselves on the jihadi list of legitimate targets.”
(Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 1200 South Hayes, Arlington, VA 22202-5050)