Islamist Extremism After the Arab Spring
A string of violent demonstrations against U.S. diplomatic missions in the Middle East—including an attack that killed J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, on September 11—raises the specter of Islamic extremism in transitioning Arab democracies. Former FBI top agent Ali Soufan, who investigated the 1998 bombings at U.S. embassies in East Africa and the 2000 strike on the USS Cole, says it’s significant that out of the entire Muslim world, these violent attacks only took place in Arab Spring countries. “The extremists, especially al-Qaeda, in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, felt very weakened,” he says, “not only by the death of Osama bin Laden, but also by the weakness of their narrative in the Muslim world.”
The protests seem to have been, at least partially, set off by a U.S.-made video denigrating the Prophet Mohammed, but analysts speculate whether some of the uproar was pre-planned, perhaps by al-Qaeda linked groups. What’s your take on who is responsible for these attacks and whether they were planned to coincide with 9/11?
I truly don’t believe the attacks took place just because of an ignorant video. Nor do I think it’s a coincidence they happened in places where the so-called Arab Spring occurred—in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and Libya, where the U.S. ambassador was tragically killed. In the Muslim world, there are so many different countries, from Indonesia to Morocco—to have the whole thing focused in areas that have experienced the Arab Spring is significant by itself.
The extremists, especially al-Qaeda, in the aftermath of the Arab Spring felt very weakened, not only by the death of Osama bin Laden, but also by the weakness of their narrative in the Muslim world. The narrative of global jihad doesn’t really exist anymore. They need something to energize their people and find new recruits to oppose the U.S.—even though this movie has nothing to do with the U.S. government, and most of the demonstrators know that.