13 August 2003
Terrorism Expert Says War on Terrorism May Take Years
Terrorists have embraced suicide terrorism as
a weapon of war
Suicide terrorism has become a major tool of warfare used by international
terrorist groups to advance their political agendas, and recent
attacks have proven to be very effective, says a RAND Corporation
According to Bruce Hoffman -- vice president for external affairs
at RAND in Washington and an expert on international terrorism
and terrorist groups -- the current global war on terrorism is
unlike any war the United States has fought in the past and it
is likely to last for years if not decades. Hoffman offered his
assessment during a recent digital video conference with journalists
gathered at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow.
"[T]errorist groups have consciously embraced suicide terrorism
as a weapon of warfare, as an instrument of warfare. And the reasons,
I think, are simple," Hoffman said. "It's very effective. It kills
lots of people. As you may know, RAND has maintained a chronology
of international terrorism that goes back to 1968 that has over
15,000 incidents in it. And I think it's extraordinary, when you
look at that, what one finds is that suicide terrorism, on average,
tends to be four times more lethal than other forms of terrorism."
Hoffman also said it is "fascinating" that "of all the international
terrorist suicide attacks that have occurred since 1968, 70 percent,
or more than two-thirds of them, have occurred within the past
Hoffman said the kind of war the United States and its allies
are engaged in to halt the spread of terrorism is not a conventional
war where there is a definitive beginning.
"Many people see September 11, 2001, as the beginning, but obviously
it started long before that," he said. "I think the biggest challenge
for the United States is that in the past decade we've gotten used
to fighting wars that last months, if not weeks. Certainly the
[Persian] Gulf War in 1991, a more recent invasion of Iraq, as
opposed to our presence in Iraq. It was in a matter of weeks that
essentially we defeated the enemy and declared the conflict over."
On the contrary, Hoffman said, this "is a war that's going to
last years, if not decades, if only because our adversaries have
declared this to be an epic struggle. They may see this fundamentally
as a war of attrition."
Hoffman said he thinks that what al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden
deliberately created throughout the 1990s was a movement that can,
both independently and by following his direct orders, "simultaneously
challenge and confront the enemies of Islam wherever" they are.
"[O]ne of the key long-term gains we can have," he said, "is ...
opening up communications," since "the radical Islamists or the
radical Jihadists have almost a monopoly of the information sources
that they are propagating to segments of populations in the affected
Following is a transcript of the Hoffman digital video conference:
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DIGITAL VIDEO CONFERENCE
DR. BRUCE HOFFMAN
August 11, 2003
MODERATOR: ... He is the vice president for external affairs and
director of RAND here in Washington, D.C.
He is an expert on global security environment, terrorism, which
is obviously the theme of today's topic, and other emerging threats,
including the Middle East.
He was educated both at the University of Oxford and Connecticut
College. And just to hit a couple of highlights on his bio, he
is an internationally recognized expert on terrorism, who has written
extensively on terrorism in both academic and popular journals
and who has testified before Congress on this very subject.
His recent book is INSIDE TERRORISM, and it's been published both
here and abroad, in English and in other foreign languages.
DR. HOFFMAN: And it's being published in Russian.
MODERATOR: Oh, is it?
DR. HOFFMAN: Sometime next year.
MODERATOR: We'll get to read it.
He is currently editor-in-chief for Studies in Conflict and Terrorism,
a leading scholarly journal in its field.
He is also the chairman of the International Research Group on
Political Violence jointly sponsored by the U.S. Institute of Peace
and a trust in London whose pronunciation I'm not quite clear on.
DR. HOFFMAN: Faragiv (phonetic).
MODERATOR: Thank you. And it seeks to find new approaches to counterterrorism.
And, finally, just one highlight, and there are many, as you know
from going through the website. He has served as a member of the
U.S. Department of Defense Counterterrorism Advisory Board.
He has done a number of DVCs for us in the past, and we know that
you will find this very useful for you and your paper. We're very
What we thought we would do is ask him to make a few opening remarks
and then spend the remainder the dialogue in an exchange with you
so you can ask the questions that you would want, and he can ask
any questions you would want.
Does that sound good?
DR. HOFFMAN: That's my pleasure.
... Why don't I, for 10 minutes or so, just give you kind of an
overview of what I'm thinking about in terms of terrorism, and
then we can, you know, open it up to your questions, and I'll sort
of touch on three areas: the war against terrorism in general,
and particularly as it relates to the struggle against al-Qaida,
which is really the preeminent struggle, a bit about Iraq.
And then a bit about suicide terrorism in general, because --
well, two reasons. One, mainly, I know that it's of significant
interest, obviously, to Russia, to Russian security officials,
to journalists, obviously, and indeed to your readers.
It's a field that I've actually been studying since 1997, before
it became unfortunately as popular as it is today.
I had a cover story on the American monthly -- the Atlantic Monthly,
in the June issue, on the logic of suicide terrorism, and I've
been working on a project at Rand on how to effectively counter
suicide terrorism. So I think that might be of interest, too.
So I'll sort of give about three minutes to each, and therefore
allow plenty of scope for your questions in this overview.
With regard to al-Qaida, obviously, the attack in Jakarta, which
wasn't perpetrated by al-Qaida, but by, at least we suspect, Jemaah
Islamiya (JI), which is an al-Qaida-affiliated or associate group,
and it clearly demonstrates that although there's been tremendous
progress in the past nearly two years in the war on terrorism,
much needs to be done.
I think I would look at it that if this is a war, it's a war unlike
any the United States has fought in the past. It's certainly not
a conventional war, where there is a definitive beginning. Many
people see September 11, 2001, as the beginning, but obviously
it started long before that.
I don't think it's the kind of war that is going to have a definitive
ending, or a defined ending, where you defeat an opponent, there's
some sort of truce or cease-fire, there's some sort of negotiation
and settlement, and then you move on.
I think the biggest challenge for the United States is that in
the past decade we've gotten used to fighting wars that last months,
if not weeks. Certainly the [Persian] Gulf War in 1991, a more
recent invasion of Iraq, as opposed to our presence in Iraq. It
was in a matter of weeks that essentially we defeated the enemy
and declared the conflict over.
This I think is a war that's going to last years, if not decades,
if only because our adversaries have declared this to be an epic
struggle. They may see this fundamentally as a war of attrition.
And I think the biggest challenge that the United States and other
countries face in dealing with the global menace of terrorism is
to sustain momentum, is to keep focus on this problem, and not
be lulled into a [false] sense of security or an artificial sense
of complacency that, when there's a period of relative calm, and
there's not many terrorist incidents occurring, that we declare
victory and think that we've actually won. Because I think this
is going to be a long struggle that will be prosecuted on many
What we see in Jakarta is one of the latest levels, is that --
I think the biggest success thus far in the war against terrorism
is that we've made it more difficult for al-Qaida and associated
groups like Jemaah Islamiya to attack more of what they see as
a high value targets -- American embassies and consulates, American
So that's been the success, and that's great, that we've prevented
them from attacking precisely the targets they think are most valuable,
not least the United States homeland itself.
But what we've seen is that their capacity to inflict pain remains
intact, and what they've done is not concluded, because of our
successes in the war against terrorism, that it's gotten too difficult
for them to engage in violence, but, rather, they've just shifted
their sites to softer, more accessible targets.
And, you know, obviously, a J.W. Marriott Hotel in downtown Indonesia,
which by definition is public, is about as soft a target as it
comes, as opposed to, let's say, the very well-protected U.S. Embassy
So that's sort of the three-minute overview of the war against
terrorism and al-Qaida.
Moving on to Iraq, I think that right now we're on a precipice,
and the precipice is really because what one sees are reports of
increasing numbers of foreign fighters and Islamic radicals at
least attempting to use Iraq as a rallying point, the same way
Afghanistan was a rallying point for Islamists against the Soviet
occupation 20 years ago.
And what I think they're attempting to do is to make Iraq into
the 21st century version of what Afghanistan was to your country.
In other words, a rallying cry, a place where foreign fighters
are supposed to come to defend Islam.
And the precipice isn't so much that we drifted into greater violence,
because things are not stable. I don't think they're out of control
or chaotic in any sense. But I think that what we're seeing is
a gradual at least prolongation of low-level fighting that could
become very vexatious.
Certainly in terms of al-Qaida's propaganda, going back to the
end of February, the beginning of March, they have emphasized the
importance of terrorists, of Islamists, of Jihadists to come to
Iraq and to turn it into a battlefield that have invoked the image,
not so much, actually interestingly, of Afghanistan 20 years ago,
but more of Somalia a decade ago, where the forces of the Somali
warlord, Mohamad Farah Aidid and the events that were depicted
in the book and in the movie of the same name, "Black Hawk Down," confronted
the United States military in October 1993, killed 18 American
Rangers and Delta Force commandoes, and then forced the U.S. to
So they very consciously, going back to February, March, that
now is not the time to operate. After the United States forces
are present in Iraq is the time to use guerrilla warfare to defeat
this enemy, and that indeed guerrilla warfare is the only viable
alternative to confronting stronger adversaries.
And I think it was interesting that within a week or two of the
fall of Baghdad, al-Qaida propaganda reemphasized this point, in
fact, belabored it even more, saying that now is the time to really
inflict a defeat on the United States.
So, unfortunately, what we're seeing now in Iraq, and particularly
with the car bomb attack on the Jordanian embassy last week, could
be -- and I emphasize the "could be" -- it's unclear -- but could
be a manifestation of this clarion call to guerrilla warfare manifesting
And that's why we're at a precipice, that it's really going to
be very important now to bring the situation under control.
I think that, actually, the Afghanistan/Iraq analogy is a bad
one because for the mujahidin struggle 20 years ago, it was very
actively supported, not just by the United States and other countries,
but using Pakistan as a cross border staging area which doesn't
really exist in terms of prosecuting a campaign in Iraq. The terrain
in Iraq is not nearly as suitable to guerrilla warfare as Afghanistan
And it's interesting, what we see in Iraq is primarily urban guerrilla
warfare. Now, admittedly, the terrorists and the guerrillas have
a tremendous advantage because they can emerge from obscurity,
strike, and then vanish back into the anonymity of a city.
But by the same token, that's a weakness and a strength for the
government forces because they can call upon a large population
to provide information and give support. And also the government's
assets and its main power is concentrated in the city.
So I think although al-Qaida and various commentators have said
that there's something of an analogy, I think it's a rather falser
one than one assumes.
And the last three minutes to discuss suicide terrorism. I think
what I found in my research, and what I pointed out in this article,
is that, contrary to popular belief, and I think a common misconception
that sees suicide terrorism as acts of violence perpetrated by
frustrated, desperate, humiliated individuals, who see no other
recourse and were driven to these wanton acts of really egregious
violence because of profound socioeconomic or even psychological
In point of fact, what one sees is that this is an extraordinarily
rational and instrumental weapon of warfare, consciously embraced
by terrorist groups and used against their opponents.
Now, that's not say amongst the suicide bombers themselves as
individuals there might not be this sense of desperation, of frustration,
or humiliation even. But one has to say -- I hope not sounding
very callously -- that there are, unfortunately, desperate, frustrated,
humiliated people throughout the globe, and most of those people
are not strapping on suicide belts or putting on suicide vests
and going and blowing themselves up at other people.
The common denominator, rather, is that the organizations, the
terrorist groups, have consciously embraced suicide terrorism as
a weapon of warfare, as an instrument of warfare. And the reasons,
I think, are simple.
It's very effective. It kills lots of people. As you may know,
Rand has maintained a chronology of international terrorism that
goes back to 1968 that has over 15,000 incidents in it. And I think
it's extraordinary, when you look at that, what one finds is that
suicide terrorism, on average, tends to be four times more lethal
than other forms of terrorism.
Also, I think what's also fascinating is that 70 percent of all
the international terrorist suicide attacks that have occurred
since 1968, 70 percent, or more than two-thirds of them, have occurred
within the past three years.
So this is becoming not an isolated or sporadic phenomenon as
it once was, but for many terrorist groups, almost the preferred
or predominant means of expression. It's becoming the preferred
And what I mean by that is, if you look back to the mid-1980s
in Lebanon, where suicide terrorism really took hold, at least
in the modern era and captured our attention, and Hizballah, and
Islamic Jihad, which was its cover name, were using suicide terrorism
to attack the U.S. embassies in Beirut, the Marine barracks, the
French paratroop headquarters, and so on, it's fascinating that
in the mid-1980s suicide attacks accounted for only 17 percent
of all of Hizballah's Islamic Jihad's terrorism.
And we thought virtually all their activities were suicide terrorism.
That's because this particular tactic is so alarming and so captures
But in point of fact, the vast majority of their terrorist operations
were in the other category, you know, bombings that were not suicide,
shootings, kidnappings, barricaded hostage, and only a relatively
small percentage were suicide bombings.
But what we find, for example, in Palestine, in Sri Lanka, I dare
say, al-Qaida operatives as well, is that now you shift where the
favorite tactic, where perhaps as much as 80 percent of the terrorist
attacks are suicide terrorist attacks, and only a smaller percentage,
let's say 20 percent, are in the other category.
So I think, tragically and unfortunately, the trends that Russia
is experiencing with the Chechnyan suicide bombers is not at all
unique, but conforms to a wider pattern of international terrorism
And I think I'll stop there and turn it over to you for any questions
you might have.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much for the opening remarks you've
made for us. I hope they were useful for you. We're very interested
in your questions, so please --
Q: Thank you much, Dr. Hoffman. I would like to ask you -- you
said that this war with terrorism could last for years and decades.
But is there a clear winner in the long run, and who will be?
HOFFMAN: Well, there could be -- yes, that's a very good question,
actually. I think the clear winner will be determined by our resolution
and determination not to succumb to, firstly, the fear and intimidation
that is the terrorists' stock in trade because that's what they're
trying to do, is to get the governments that are their targets
to make concessions, to alter policies, to behave differently,
to give in to the terrorists.
So in this sense I think not acceding to their demands, not succumbing
to their threats is what victory will be predicated on.
I think the key to achieve that victory, though, is to realize
that this is going to be a long struggle. Again, I'm not saying
that it's necessarily going to be prosecuted at the level of intensity
that exists today. I mean, one hopes that we'll move on to a period
of time where if there is an al-Qaida, al-Qaida is seriously weakened,
where al-Qaida's ability to support and to spawn affiliated or
associate groups is appreciably reduced.
But I think, realistically, we shouldn't think that we're going
to return to an era such as existed, let's say, between the end
of the Cold War and September 11, 2001, when there was unprecedented
security throughout the world, with obviously some aberrations,
but, generally speaking, the world felt as if it was a much more
secure place, where the benefits of globalism were palpable, and
enjoyed a more emphatic standing, whereas I would say now they
are rather viewed more suspiciously and, in essence, are contracting
the freedom of movement of persons and goods across borders is
So I don't think we're going to be able to go back to the sort
of halcyon period we had in the 1990s, but -- I don't think we'll
be at the same level we are today, but I think we have to have
realistic expectations that we're not going to completely -- I
mean, I have to say this I hope not too pessimistically -- I don't
think we're going to eliminate this threat of terrorism from radical
Jihadists, at least in my lifetime.
Q: Don't you think that the fight against terrorism that is going
on all over the world, actually, is kind of like treating the symptoms,
but not treating the real cause of the problem? And what is the
real cause of the problem and how should it be treated?
HOFFMAN: Well, I'll take the second question first and then get
into, you know, where we are in the war against terrorism, how
we should focus it.
I mean, the main problem is that -- the question is, what is the
root cause? And I don't think that's an easy question to answer.
Not to be evasive, but I think the problem is that, from the study
of terrorism, what one sees is that over the past decades, indeed
over the past centuries, terrorism has erupted and flourished in
different places and different times due mostly to an idiosyncratic
combination of factors, and it's very hard to look at one specific
factor, whether it's separatism or irredentism, whether it's poverty,
whether it's lack of education, whether it's religion, whether
it's cultural differences, and pinpoint that and say that that
is the one cause, or the one root cause of terrorism.
It seems to vary in countries at different times, depending on
that country's own culture, depending on that country's own history,
depending on its cultural or ethnic homogeneity, depending on its
So it's hard to say let's address the root causes of terrorism,
because I would say which one, and at which time, because it's
very much something that's evolving.
I mean, I'll give you an example. Just the other day, the Basque
separatist group, the ETA, issued its annual warning to foreign
tourists not to come to Spain, threatening that they will bomb
tourist resorts. And then a couple weeks ago there was actually
a bombing at the Santander airport in the northwest of Spain, which
is a tourist destination.
And you look at the Basque problem and you see that -- I don't
think there's any country that has devolved or has responded as
much to an indigenous ethnic group's demands as Spain has to the
There certainly -- in previous decades, especially under the Franco
dictatorship, they couldn't speak their own language or pursue
their own cultural activities and so on. And that's being completely
The Basque province has the greatest autonomy of all the provinces
in Spain. The Basque language, of course, is freely used. It's
enshrined in the Basque province's constitution. There's a Basque
police force. The Basque province, in fact, is the most economically
-- it's sort of the industrial powerhouse of Spain. It's the most
Yet, what one sees is this persistence in terrorism, even there,
even when all democratic values are being upheld, when the demands
of the populace is responded to.
So I don't think there is one root cause, and that's the problem.
But your question now getting into how we combat terrorism, though,
raises the right issue. I mean, there isn't -- and I don't think
anyone studying this, or anyone knowledgeable of this realizes
that there isn't only a military solution to the problem of terrorism,
and that a military solution is one that's going to be short-lived,
that without addressing the root causes, without addressing the
fundamental problems, terrorism will resurrect itself or arise.
So, therefore, I think the best policy is one that I think the
United States has now embraced, which is to use military force
to weaken the terrorist groups, because, of course, that's -- I
mean, that's an essential priority, in my view, that's the essential
prerequisite. You have to break the back of the terrorist organizations
and diminish their power.
But that's the short-term solution. At the same time, though,
hands and glove with that, there has to be a longer term process
that does address root causes and that looks at -- that looks at
it, I think, very clearly and not in an overly optimistic or in
a Pollyannaish way that says if we end poverty, if we educate people,
then terrorism will end.
Because what we find is that -- look at the 19 highjackers, or
Osama bin Laden himself, who came from in some cases, if not enormously
wealthy backgrounds, but very comfortable socioeconomic backgrounds,
middle, or at least upper middle class backgrounds.
They were all well-educated, many of them were from very stable
family environments. You can't blame it on a broken family home
or abusive parents.
So I think what one has to do is realize that you've got to address
the root causes, but have realistic expectations, that, in and
of itself, that won't necessarily solve the terrorism problem.
It will certainly help and it will certainly reduce the problem.
And I think here one of the key long-term gains we can have is,
firstly, in opening up communications, and certainly one problem
is that the radical Islamists or the radical Jihadists have almost
a monopoly of the information sources that they are propagating
to segments of populations in the affected countries.
So, certainly, the work that the United States State Department
does in its public information activities is very important in
that regard, I mean, not the least this new radio station that's
beamed to the Middle East, Radio Sawa, I believe it's called.
Secondly, I think it's providing services to citizens in countries
that their own governments are either unwilling or incapable of
providing. Education, firstly, and especially the rise of the madrasas
in many countries, where, once again, there's this monopoly, not
just of information, but of education.
But, certainly, getting states more involved. I mean, the reason
that a lot of these radical charities have gotten a foothold is
because they provide services that citizens expect from their governments
that the governments don't provide.
So that's one step. And then I think providing the social services
that citizens expect from their governments -- medical care, jobs,
employment advice. Again, this is where the charities have gained
so much power in the past decade is, they filled the vacuum that
governments have created.
So that's I think how one best goes about best addressing the
root causes. But you have to do that from a position of strength,
essentially having to defeat the terrorist organizations or weaken
Q: Thank you. You have said in your opening remarks that one of
the biggest successes, if I got it correctly, is that you have
made it more difficult for terrorists to attack sensitive targets,
like American embassies or American military institutions, now
forced them to choose softer targets, like Marriott Hotel, for
But does it make it less tragic when they attack the softer targets,
the targets where, as you put it, some of the -- and doesn't it
make a picture that, you know, the stronger one is safe from terrorism,
but you relieve your burden and put it on the shoulders of some
HOFFMAN: That's a very good question. I didn't mean to imply that
at all. That's why I said that their power to inflict pain remains
intact, and I agree entirely. I mean, the outcome is just as tragic
to whoever's involved, whether you're at the World Trade Center
site or whether you're at the Pentagon.
So, no, I didn't mean to imply that. But what I meant to say is
that, clearly -- my point was rather different. Was that, clearly,
the sophistication and the capabilities of terrorist groups have
I mean, their preference would be to continue to attack what they
see are highly lucrative symbols of, for instance, American power.
To my mind, I mean, the attack on the Pentagon was, I think, a
very dramatic blow struck at American power. And there's a world
of difference, obviously, between attacking the Pentagon and blowing
up a bar in Bali on a Saturday night or walking into a restaurant
in Casablanca on a Friday night and blowing that up or blowing
up a hotel.
So my point wasn't to in any sense say that it's better or it's
an improvement that the more important targets are being protected,
and we're forcing the terrorists to attack more vulnerable targets.
My only point is that it's clear that we've made it more difficult
for the terrorists to operate, and that's what's forced them to
attack these more accessible, softer targets.
The challenge now is to continue with this process of weakening
and sapping the energy and the morale of the terrorist organizations
to make it even more difficult for them to operate in total.
So, no, it's a step forward, but, as you point out, it's a very
incomplete step forward.
Q: Thank you. And I'd like to ask you a very -- well, let's say,
very naive question.
So some terrorist groups claim that they are not terrorists, they
are freedom fighters. What would be the distinction? What is actually
terrorism -- what is the distinction between freedom fight and
HOFFMAN: Well, this is -- you know, this is one of the fundamental
problems, both in terms of international cooperation against terrorism,
but even academically and rhetorically and theoretically in addressing
the terrorist problems.
Because often how you define terrorism depends on your perspective.
In other words, if you sympathize with the victims, you call acts
of violence terrorism. But if you sympathize with the cause or
the motivation or the justification of the perpetrators, then you
tend to call them freedom fighters or you tend to call their acts
of violence something other than terrorism.
I think that, firstly, there's no cause in the world that could
ever justify the wanton infliction of harm against innocent civilians.
So that, in itself, becomes a very simple point of differentiation,
or point of definition, is that when civilians are killed or harmed,
whatever acts of violence, whatever justification may be summoned
up to explain or to defend those acts lose any moral force because
that is just -- it's terrorism.
I think in a wider sense what we define as terrorism is the use
of violence or the threat of violence to achieve political change.
In this sense it's to cause governments or populations to behave
differently, to have profound effects on people's sense of security
and well-being, and to use fear and intimidation to advance political
Q: Well, you said there is no real cause that would justify attacks
against civilians. But, for example, during the terrorist operations,
whether it's in Afghanistan or in Iraq or in Chechnya, the state's
power was inflicting damages not only at their targets, small targets,
but also at the surrounding environment, and the civilian population
has been victims -- has fallen victims to these attacks also.
Doesn't it mean that -- doesn't it make it that the party that
combats the end to terrorist operation is also guilty of terrorism?
HOFFMAN: No, I wouldn't say guilty of terrorism at all. I would
say that it's a completely different context.
I mean, certainly, the wars that were fought most recently in
Afghanistan and in Iraq conformed to the rules of war. And I think
that's a very important distinction right there, is that we live
in an imperfect world, and, of course, the rules of war that exist
at times, unfortunately and tragically, especially for innocent
civilians in military parlance, you know, the collateral casualties
that are inflicted in the course of military operations, the consequences
are equally tragic, whether you're killed or harmed in a terrorist
incident or in a bombing raid.
But I still think there are very important distinctions, normative
and moral ones, that can be made. Those conflicts were fought within
rules of war.
Terrorism is never fought within the rules of war.
I mean, the rules of war, at least The Hague and Geneva Conventions,
certainly our whole conception of modern international law, going
back to Hugo Grodius (phonetic) in the 17th century, has several
key basic assumptions.
I mean, firstly, that civilians will not be wantonly and deliberately
Now, obviously, it's tragic when civilians are killed in the course
of war and in military operations, but I still think there's a
world of difference between military operations that, in a theater
of war, in a theater of declared war, that inadvertently or accidentally
kill civilians and the acts of terrorists, which deliberately and
specifically attempt to inflict violence and harm on civilians.
Secondly, it's accepted that at least those environments are conflictual
environments. I mean, the United States made no secret that it
was going to war against the Taliban and al-Qaida and, in turn,
against Saddam Hussein and its regime. I mean, Iraq and Afghanistan
became theaters of conflict.
The problem with terrorism is that it's not confined to any one
theater of conflict. Al-Qaida, for instance, didn't just operate
in Afghanistan or Pakistan, but embarked on a worldwide campaign
So that I think is an important distinction. Because warfare at
least is conducted within some limited battlefield. I mean, the
United States didn't go around, you know -- it was confined to
Afghanistan or in the case of Iraq, it wasn't a worldwide bombing
campaign, for example. Whereas terrorism -- and we see that al-Qaida's
struggle, terrorist struggle, is very much a worldwide bombing
Secondly, in the rules of war, not only are the rights of civilians
recognized, but also the rights of neutrals. Terrorism repeatedly
and regularly violates the rights of neutral territories, seeks
not only to enmesh noncombatants of the enemy state in its violence,
but any noncombatants of other states in it.
So I think that right there, there are very important distinctions
to be made. But first and foremost is that when civilians, under
the rules of war, are wantonly and deliberately killed by military
forces, we rightly call that a war crime, and those responsible
are brought to justice.
Again, we live in an imperfect world, but, nonetheless, there
have been court-martials of U.S. pilots, for example, for Afghanistan
for mistaken bombing attacks.
In terrorism, I mean, that is precisely what's enshrined in their
strategy and tactics. There's no sort of war crimes. It's precisely
to attack and to harm civilians.
So I think it's an important difference.
Q: Well, let's look at this problem from the other handle and
take a very complete example of Corsica, if you could comment on
this. You know, for example, in Corsica, the separatists are also
called terrorists, but they blow up the empty houses. If they kill
somebody, they usually kill their -- make very targeted killings.
What is the difference then between a political assassination and
terrorism? But they are still called terrorists, although very
few civilians have suffered.
HOFFMAN: You know, the simple answer -- I don't mean to be glib
-- is that it's a different form of terrorism. It's certainly a
less egregious form. It's certainly one that's closer to guerrilla
warfare, let's say, than to terrorism.
But then you get into the question -- let me pose a counter-example
to you, Northern Ireland. When the IRA attacked, let's say, a Royal
Ulster constabulary policeman that was on duty, who was wearing,
you know, a flack jacket, who was carrying a weapon, I mean, you
could debate whether that was terrorism or if that was guerrilla
But what about when that same policeman, for instance, when the
IRA found out his address from, you know, some social services
computer or from a hospital, in fact, and then showed up at his
doorstep at 9 o'clock at night, knocked on the door and he came
to the door, expecting it was a neighbor, and, you know, wasn't
wearing his body armor, wasn't wearing his uniform, didn't have
his weapon, and is shot dead, is that an assassination or is that
So I think -- in my view, it's terrorism. Again, it's a very different
form of terrorism than blowing up a hotel or going into a restaurant
and just harming random innocent people, but at the same time,
though, it's a form of violence waged that is unconventional, that
is outside the rules of war. It's not in a declared zone and --
I mean, again, it's a different kind of terrorism in terms of its
impact, both in terms -- qualitatively, in terms of its numbers,
and perhaps in terms of its focus, but I still would classify it
Because in Corsica, I mean, in a democratic country, the opportunity
to change -- you know, to defend the power and to effect political
change through peaceful means exists.
So in democracies it evades by logic or understanding why someone
should have to resort to violence and have to use violence. It
can only be terrorism.
I mean, there's a more interesting question in an environment
where there is no possibility of attaining peaceful, legal political
change, whether there resort to violence then becomes terrorism.
But I would still give you the same answer, is that when innocent
civilians are killed, there's no other way to describe it.
Q: Since you are an expert on the Middle East, what will you say
about the prospects of peace assessment between Israelis and Palestinians
in terms of, you know, continuing terrorist attacks and, you know,
the measures taken by Israeli government and the countermeasures
taken by Hizballah, for example?
MODERATOR: That should be easy for you.
HOFFMAN: Well, at least right now, there's greater cause to be
optimistic than at least at any other time in the past three years.
So that's all to the good.
But I think the complications are enormous. I mean, certainly,
in some respects, Iraq and the defeat of Saddam Hussein I think
was a very important step forward, if only eliminating one of the
key destabilizing factors in the Middle East.
I mean, after all, it was Saddam Hussein that was paying Palestinian
families of suicide bombers bounties -- or rewards of $25,000 each.
So, certainly, there was state sponsorship and encouragement of
Certainly Israel thought its security was most directly threatened
by any conventional force, was the Iraqi force. So the removal
of Iraq, I think, is an important and a positive step forward.
The question now is whether three years of intense violence and
bloodshed on both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli divide of increased
polarization, of heightened enmity can, in a matter of weeks or
even months, be dramatically reversed.
I think we have to go through an enormous period of confidence
building that will be predicated on the current truce, what the
Palestinians call the hudna (phonetic), being extended.
And we'll see. I mean, I have greater cause for optimism than
at any time in the past, but, I mean, as you know, it's a very
delicate and very perilous situation.
Q: Then another question. Quite recently, a couple of days ago,
I think, Shamil Basayev was included in the State Department list
of terrorists, and his assets were arrested, and all the measures
taken in this respect have been taken.
But he has been well-known as a notorious terrorist for at least
seven years since Bejonov's (phonetic), and no links to Bejonov's
case or to the Brothar (phonetic) case, you know, this Nordost
(phonetic) music hall hostage-taking.
They didn't force State Department to take this measure, but now
that there is an information -- I'm not sure how well it is founded
and how well it's confirmed -- that he has received some money
from Osama bin Laden, he has become a member of this terrorist
So what is the -- what are the standards of relationships, standards
of State Department, those (inaudible) individual or group into
the terrorist list?
HOFFMAN: Well, I mean, I should preface my answer (inaudible)
to say that actually you should probably ask the political officer
in the embassy who can answer that much better than I can, since
I don't work for the State Department and I'm not privy to the
decisions that determine whether a particular individual or terrorist
group is added to the list of foreign terrorist organizations and
sanctions imposed on it.
I think, you know, my understanding of the process -- and, again,
I would caveat this that I'm not a U.S. government employee, and
I don't work with the State Department on this.
My understanding is that this is a very deliberate and very considered
process that is dependent on, not just as you -- I mean, you state
what is obvious, which is that Basayev has long been involved in
terrorist activities, that he's affiliated with groups that are
certainly at least ideologically sympathetic to Osama bin Laden
and may well have closer ties.
But that's exactly the point. To get this designation by the State
Department involves a process that is very deliberate and very
considered. It rests on the amassing of incontrovertible evidence.
So it's not just newspaper accounts or even cable accounts that
point to this or that development in a particular terrorist group's
evolution or even prominence.
But it's actually the presentation of very hard, incontrovertible
evidence, which involves the State Department's legal department,
as well as its counterterrorist and its regional specialists, that
incontrovertibly demonstrate that not only there are suspicions,
not only there are fears or concerns that this person is receiving
money from terrorist organizations, that this group has engaged
and supported terrorist activities, but that there's a very high
threshold of proof to get onto that list, and it's a very rigorous
And this often explains the time lag. I don't think -- I have
to say that I don't think it's at all unique that there are groups
not on this list. I mean, the last time I looked, I think there
were only 29 terrorist groups on the foreign terrorist organizations
list, whereas, of course, if you look in the back of the annual
global patterns of terrorism, I think you'd find something like
60-some-odd terrorist groups throughout the world.
That's not to say that the 30 or so -- or the 31 that aren't included
on that list aren't terrorist groups. Rather, it is to say that
they have not -- at least in the process that results in their
designation as a foreign terrorist organization, has not been completed
for those groups.
It's, in essence, a legal requirement that was created by Congress
Q: Well, I offer another very naive question. I've met many people
from government and from American political circles. Still I don't
have a clear picture.
What is al-Qaida, actually? What is its organizational structure?
And who is Osama bin Laden? And hasn't al-Qaida become a sort of
-- or hasn't Osama bin Laden become a sort of scarecrow that now
is behind any terrorist act, wherever it happens? And al-Qaida
became a -- we call it a scapegoat, you know, for -- again, for
any terrorists, and you don't need actually any proof.
For example, in Djakarta, Jemaah Islamiya, which you say it's
affiliated with al-Qaida, but isn't this, you know, putting al-Qaida
behind it just kind of a justification of some (inaudible) measures?
HOFFMAN: See, what you call a naive question is actually a very
sharp and very informed question. In fact, I think that's probably
the most important question of our time.
Well, let me answer it in two respects. One is that I think there's
a popular misconception, in the United Stats, but elsewhere, that
al-Qaida is a monolithic entity, and that there's one al-Qaida.
And that's a fundamental mistake. There's not one al-Qaida, there's
in fact many al-Qaidas.
There's the al-Qaida -- and let me back up for a second and to
say there's many al-Qaidas. I think it was deliberate that bin
Laden himself specifically and consciously created an organization
that functioned at multiple operational levels, and that left no
one clear footprint, and that had no one distinct modus operandi.
If you look at al-Qaida terrorist operations over the past decade,
you can immediately heave out four main strands. You've got the
very professional terrorists, the Mohammed Assa's, the September
11th type of attack, with the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Africa
in 1998, where it's very clear it's al-Qaida operatives that are
functioning at the direction, following the orders of some central
command authority, at least historically, that has directly involved
bin Laden himself.
And we know from testimony in New York Federal Court by bin Laden's
confederates that bin Laden himself was involved five years before
the attack on the embassy in Nairobi in planning that attack, and
used his acumen in the construction and building trade to direct
where the bomb and the truck should be positioned in front of the
Certainly we know from the videotape that was released, that U.S.
forces discovered in Kandahar in November 2001 that was broadcast
the following month, December 2001, where in that home video bin
Laden himself says how only he and a handful of his circle knew
about the full details of the September 11th plots.
So we know that at some level of al-Qaida operations there's a
very close link between the terrorist attack and the al-Qaida senior
But then, I think deliberately, conceived of a terrorist movement
-- and I'm using the word "movement" instead of an organization
-- that, again, was very loose and very flexible. Because then
you have, for instance, trained amateurs, in other words, people
who have been trained by al-Qaida over the past ten years, whether
it was in the Sudan or in Yemen or in Afghanistan, who in some
cases aren't following the direct orders of al-Qaida's central
commander, of bin Laden, but nonetheless have been trained and
dispatched throughout the world and, either on their own or operating
through loosely affiliated groups, are carrying out terrorist attacks.
Richard Reid, for example, the shoe bomber on the American Airlines
flight that was en route from Paris to Miami in December 2001,
in that category.
I don't believe that that attack was ordered by bin Laden or by
the al-Qaida central command, but nonetheless there were people
that supported Reid clearly because fingerprints and other forensic
evidence was found in the explosive device that did not belong
to Reid, but to at least one other individual.
That you have a group that was trained by al-Qaida at some point
and that is out there operating independently, but is certainly
motivated by, is certainly inspired by, is certainly animated by
And given the fact that the recent congressional -- the Joint
Committee of Inquiry of the U.S. Senate, U.S. House of Representatives
Intelligence Committee, reported that upwards of between 70,000
and 120,000 persons were trained by al-Qaida within the past decade
in, as I said, Afghanistan, Sudan, and Yemen, one sees that there
are probably lots of these trained amateurs like Richard Reid and
like the cell that supported him out there right now.
So that's the second level.
Then you have a third level, which I would call the affiliated
or associated groups. Jemaah Islamiya is one of them. We know,
for instance, that Jemaah Islamiyah's master bomb maker, master
strategist, Jamali (phonetic), an Indonesian individual -- that's
his nickname or his nom de guerre; his name is Rudin Isamadin (phonetic)
-- was trained by al-Qaida as well, then went to Southeast Asia,
set up his own terrorist movement or -- I'll just say, actually,
provided the military expertise or the terrorist expertise to an
indigenous radical Islamic group that enabled it to become a terrorist
group, which was Jemaah Islamiya.
I don't think Jemaah Islamiya follows orders directly from al-Qaida,
but nonetheless its long-term aims to establish transnational Islamic
republics dovetail very much with bin Laden and al-Qaida's aims,
but it operates independently.
I would say that many of the Kashmiri independent groups, Jaish-e-Mohammed
or Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, to name two of them, also are very closely
affiliated with al-Qaida and receive money. Their members have
been trained by al-Qaida, have received weapons, but operate completely
on their own.
And then there's even a fourth category that I call the local
walk-ins. These are Islamic radicals in countries throughout the
world that have had no direct contact at all, ever, with al-Qaida
or with bin Laden, but nonetheless are inspired by or motivated
by bin Laden's propaganda, and completely on their own decide to
engage in acts of terrorism to support al-Qaida's goals.
So in that sense what we said is, as I said earlier, is the movement
that has not one clear operational style, not one distinct or definitive
group of terrorists, ... but that, rather, is a conglomeration.
And I think that's what bin Laden deliberately created throughout
the 1990s, was a movement, rather than a solitary organization,
that both independently and then following his direct orders, which
simultaneously challenge and confront the enemies of Islam wherever
So I don't think it's all -- I mean, I agree with you that there's
a tendency to use al-Qaida for a shorthand for any type of terrorist
operation. And that is an over-simplification.
But equally it's a falsehood to say that many of these terrorist
attacks have no al-Qaida connection whatsoever. The connection,
I believe, is often an inspiration or motivation, if not direct
the aid and assistance to the terrorist group, perhaps not the
specific terrorist attack, but at least to have built the foundations
that have enabled these groups throughout the world to carry out
Q: Well, probably, I guess it might be the last question, and
I'm not even sure that the American Embassy will ever invite me
for a leader conference if I ask it.
But, still, speaking about professionalism, it's no secret that
Osama bin Laden emerged as a public figure or as a militant --
notorious militant during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan,
and Americans had a great hand in creating this figure, and most
probably CIA was a part -- had played a part in it.
Well, don't you achieve the truth of your own (inaudible) then?
HOFFMAN: Well, in a broader sense, because you're entirely correct
that the United States did sustain and aid the Mujahedin movement
in its confrontation with the Red Army in Afghanistan and played
a pivotal role, obviously, in the events that led to the withdrawal
of the Red Army from Afghanistan.
But I still think that -- so, in a broad sense, yes, this is part
of that continuum. But I think specifically in terms of bin Laden,
no. I mean, bin Laden, I think, is a unique force that certainly
was facilitated, and certainly bin Laden and al-Qaida took root
and flowered from the groundwork -- or from the events that transpired
in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
But I think, though, that there's still a difference between the
United States has, as is often alleged, somehow created this monster
that then turned on them. I don't think that's the case at all.
And, personally, I've never seen any clear evidence that the United
States had specific and direct dealings with bin Laden. Bin Laden,
even at the time, was viewed as too radical for the United States.
It's not to say that allies of the United States, particularly
the Pakistanis, didn't have close relations with bin Laden, or
that the Saudi government might not have at the time certainly
had those relations. But I don't see him as the direct product
of a monster that the United States created.
But at the same time, I mean, you're right to say that certainly
the fact that bin Laden emerged from that milieu, had that not
existed -- I mean, but that's, you know, counterfactual in history.
I mean, who can say if "x" didn't happen, that "y" wouldn't have
occurred? We don't know.
But I still think bin Laden is very much a unique phenomenon.
I mean, he was the right person at the right time. Had nothing
to do with the United States or even any other country. What it
had to do with was the fact that he had enormous family wealth
that he could call upon to provide the seed money, or the foundation
or the backbone to this terrorist movement.
He also, I think, emerged at a time when the collapse of communism
removed one main ideology in the global sphere. And then I think
the crisis of democratic and free markets in many countries created
another crisis of confidence that within the year in 1990s when
people found that the two main ideologies that had guided the post-World
War II world were -- on the one hand, one was defeated, and the
other one was being challenged, religion, and not just radical
Islam, but evangelical Christianity, messianic Judaism, extreme
Hinduism as we see in India now, began to fill this void.
And bin Laden, being the right -- as I said, right man in the
right place, was able to exploit, I think, that vacuum and fill
it with very -- what he saw as very simplistic and a very austere
interpretation of what needed to be done, and using his family
money, was able to take advantage of it, not least using the benefits
of globalization to build and sustain this terrorist movement.
MODERATOR: Despite your fear that you won't be invited back, we
do have ten more minutes, and if you have other questions, we are
happy to entertain them.
Q: Well, maybe one small question, speaking once again to your
opening remarks on suicide bombers, which is, I think, one of the
specifics you are interested in.
Is there any limited number of them, or are they just reproducing
themselves, you know, even if they're dead? I mean, the numbers
of bombers, tell us, are they to end some time?
HOFFMAN: I mean, that's a very good question. I think the key
is -- in the past is that there was a paucity of people that were
actually willing to blow themselves up or to engage in suicide
What one is finding in a number of different conflictual environments
is that, on the one hand, because the terrorist organizations have
embraced suicide terrorism as a policy, as I said earlier, as an
instrument of war, they are deliberately working to create an environment
that encourages and sustains suicide terrorism.
And what they've done is created, I mean, as you well know, the
cult of the martyr, where people that see more value in their death
than in life, and they're attempting to extol in these martyrs
I mean, you look at the situation, not just in Palestine, but,
let's say, in Sri Lanka and even amongst al-Qaida martyrs, is that
these people are on posters, they're on calendars, they're on key
chains. Their families are treated extremely well.
The incentive isn't necessarily, you know, in the Islamic tradition
to ascend to this glorious heaven, you know, these ethereal goals,
but it's also, I think, very tangible material goals, that their
families will be well-provided for, they're given an annuity or
some payment. They go from being ordinary members of the community
to the most well-respected, even venerated members of the community.
They get all kinds of material goods.
So the terrorist groups have created an environment that sustains
Now, I don't think anyplace in the world, not least with al-Qaida,
that there are an indefinite, you know, an inexhaustible pool of
people who are willing to become martyrs, to become, you know,
Whether they'll exhaust themselves or not, I can't say, but I
think, unfortunately, is that in these conflicts, and because of
the strength of the terrorist propaganda and recruitment, and because
of the veneration of the suicide bombers as a recruiting tool,
that, on a sustained basis, at least in the handfuls, this can
continue for some time.
And I think the reason is that the terrorist organizations know
that probably short of using some weapon of mass destruction, that
suicide bombing is exactly the tactic and the weapon that instills
the greatest amount of fear and trepidation and intimidation and
And because it's so effective in killing and in gaining publicity,
for example, they will continue to try to use this. I mean, one
hopes that the numbers will diminish, but I think that they see
it as a way to gain attention for themselves and their causes and
thrust themselves at least -- to push themselves onto national
and international agendas.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
Q: Thank you very much, Dr. Hoffman.
MR. VOLKHONSKY: Thank you.
DR. HOFFMAN: My pleasure.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much for coming in. We appreciate it.
And thank you for coming this morning.
MR. VOLKHONSKY: Thank you, Dr. Hoffman, for coming in so early.