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Jihad in the Skies By: Dr. Walid Phares
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, January 02, 2004


Since September 11, one thing is sure: Jihad has reached the skies of the world. With the simultaneous hijacking of four planes and the targeting of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, al-Qaeda opened the skies to its worldwide fury. On the one hand, the Jihadists have launched operations from Kenya to Newark, New Jersey. On the other hand, the U.S. and many other governments have structured an unprecedented cooperation against this rising threat. One of its earliest results was the victorious move ending with the prosecution of the three men involved in the SAM 18 missiles few months ago. With this December Orange alert, the jihad in the skies has returned to target American and international transportation systems.

The main two questions now are: 1) Have the Jihadists, including al-Qaida, decided to use the skies as a space of mass destruction? Put another way, is the entire international transportation system at risk, or at least a target? 2) How will the world respond to this plague?

First, the Jihadists plans: When I watched the amateur video tape of Osama bin Laden celebrating 9/11 released in the U.S. back in the fall of 2001, I realized how serious al-Qaeda was about the use of or the destruction of airliners. Osama was praising the Mujahedeen who "outsmarted the infidels" by using the latter's commercial planes to kill thousands of people. In his words, and in the words of his aides such as Sleiman abul Ghais on al-Jazeera, the men behind the September genocide were thrilled with this new weapon. It gave them what many jihad strategists call the "ultimate balance of power." In an interview to al-Jazeera that year, Libyan leader Muammar Quaddafi said of Osama: "The man is more powerful than all regimes in the region. He has ICBMs capable of crossing oceans into America." When asked which ones he replied, smiling, "He can hijack planes around the world and smash them into any target in the U.S."
 
Both Islamist and Communist radicals have targeted air transportation since the 1970s. Palestinian groups, Lebanese Arab factions and other Pan Arabists have distinguished themselves in hijacking American, European and Israeli civilian planes, using their passengers as pawns in exchange for their imprisoned comrades. Conquering a passenger plane became a model for terrorists around the world. But this older generation of hijackers played tangent to international morality, even if they broke international law. The Jihadist brand of terrorism has gone beyond the common radical tradition.
 
The al-Qaeda jihad of the skies basically shattered the boundaries of morality by taking inhumanity to a sky level altitude. The target is not limited to the political consequence of hijacking, but the actual quantitative killing of civilians. "I thought thousands will be killed," said bin Laden on the private tape, captured by the U.S.
 
This explains the determination by the Jihadists to strike again and relentlessly in and from the air. But how do they explain it to their own followers? Sheikh Yussef al-Qardawi, the main Jihadi theologian on al-Jazeera, spent many Sundays over the past two years legitimizing the death of civilians on the path of jihad. "If the enemy is hiding behind civilians or is mixed with them, then the enemy has made his choice and the Mujahedeen have no choice but to strike." Others, abusing Muslim history, have circulated comparisons with early seventh century military operations between Mecca and Medina, disrupting the pagans' transportation lines. But 9/11 surpassed all ideologies. There are no legitimate Islamic rulings allowing the sheer massacre of air bound civilian passengers. In technical Islamic law, this is called Hiraba, an illegal war.
 
But the radical Islamists have developed a theology of their own. They push jihad into any space they can reach, and widen their scope boundlessly. With no significant resistance by moderate intellectuals, the fatwas against the infidel skies are up and running. From "ji-hacking" planes and using them against targets (all civilians), they have moved to consider the planes themselves as targets; hence, the latest foiled attempt to purchase anti-aircraft missiles.
 
How about the world's response? Is there one? Ironically, the response is the daughter of the Jihadists' stubbornness. The more al-Qaeda and company move the jihad into the skies, the more the international community unites against them. From Los Angeles to Vladivostok, from Amsterdam to Bombay, international cooperation is tightening. Despite their initial divide on Iraq, the coalition against terrorism has no parallel in world history. From China to Peru, humans will not tolerate airplanes used in jihad, for any passenger of any nationality, race or religion could be targeted. The world may have been fragmented on most issues of international relations, but up in the skies, they are united against bin Laden and the Islamists' jihad. And Osama has no one to blame but himself. 

Dr Walid Phares is the author of the newly released book Future Jihad. He is also a senior fellow with the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington DC.


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