- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 5, 2004

Terrorism is driven by underground financial networks, regional upheavals, charismatic leaders and extremist religious beliefs. Four books that take on these subjects are worth noting.

In Blood From Stones: The Secret Financial Network of Terror (Broadway Books, $24.95; 225 pages, veteran investigative reporter Douglas Farah uncovers the shadowy world of financial dealings and networks that make it possible for terrorist groups such as al Qaeda to fund and sustain their complex and expensive operations.

This world stretches from the war-torn West African nation of Sierra Leone, where rough diamonds are mined and shadowy figures, such as terrorist middlemen, pay cash to rebel warlords for the raw diamonds, to the gold markets of the United Arab Emirates and the secretive diamond trading center in Antwerp, Belgium, where huge profits are garnered from their sale.

In addition to profiting from the illicit diamond trade, terrorists generate income from sympathetic communities in Europe and the United States through charity front organizations that siphon off millions of dollars and then use hawala money changers to transfer the funds overseas to the terrorist groups.

The book is richly informed by the author’s extensive travels to the regions where such funding networks operate and his access to investigatory and court documents. As the author argues, the pivotal role that the worldwide underground financial networks play in fueling terrorism is one of the primary battlegrounds that must be won to deprive terrorism of its financial lifeblood.

• • •

Hassan Abbas, a former officer in Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s anti-corruption police force and visiting fellow at Harvard University’s Law School, has written a highly informative account of his country’s radical Islamic groups in Pakistan’s Drift Into Extremism: Allah, the Army, and America’s War on Terror (M.E. Sharpe, $69.95, 276 pages).

The book examines the rise of religious extremism in Pakistan and its close connections to the leadership and policies of the country’s military and security establishments, who dominate that country’s political system. Drawing on the author’s intimate knowledge of, and interviews with, Pakistani military and intelligence officials, the book contains new historical materials on important events that presaged the rise of extremism in Pakistan.

These include the failed military coup by Islamic fundamentalists in 1993-94, the symbiotic relationship between the country’s national security establishment and extremist religious elements who gave birth to the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan, and the way in which General Musharraf handled the volatile situation in his country after the September 11 attacks.

The last chapters discuss al Qaeda and the militant jihadi groups in Pakistan, whose fierce radicalism has taken such a toll on Pakistani society and whose founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, had originally envisioned as living in a more secular state.

The book’s final chapter recounts behind-the-scenes American dealings with Pakistan after September 11, when Secretary of State Colin Powell succeeded in reversing Pakistan’s previous support for the Taliban. The author concludes that Pakistan’s domestic and regional predicament can be improved only if it succeeds in making peace with India on Kashmir and reducing the role of the military in politics.

• • •

In Osama: The Making of a Terrorist (Knopf, $26.95, 352 pages), Jonathan Randal, a journalist who has extensively covered the Middle East, attempts to uncover the factors that drove a deeply religious Saudi multi-millionaire to become, from the wilds of the Afghan/Pakistani border, the world’s most charismatic, preeminent and yet elusive terrorist leader and chief threat to the United States, its allies, and Middle Eastern rulers.

To Mr. Randal, Osama bin Laden epitomizes the conflict between Islam and the West, resulting in an estrangement not only from the West, but especially the country of his birth, the petro-monarchy in Saudi Arabia, which he considers corrupt and morally bankrupt.

Unlike Osama’s terrorist leader predecessors, however, this independently wealthy entrepreneur is termed by Mr. Randal an “Islamic Goldfinger,” who combines the twin roles of president of Jihad Incorporated and a money dispensing foundation. This enabled him to build a worldwide network of adherents willing to follow and implement his deeply held “grievances [which] cleverly combined fact and fancy.” Despite such entrepreneurial skills, however, Mr. Randal criticizes Osama as a “Muslim Samson” who “brought the temple down on his Taliban hosts” as American forces overthrew them in Afghanistan in retaliation for September 11.

The book is not only about bin Laden but the environments that produce the Jihadists who are so ready to give up their lives for the cause. Mr. Randal analyzes how such adherents turn to martyrdom operations as a means of reinventing themselves to overcome their own failures in life, while drifting further and further into religious fanaticism.

This is one of the best accounts of bin Laden, al Qaeda and the broader jihadi movement, showing how Islamic terrorism has evolved and proliferated since the 1980s to become today’s first order magnitude national security threat to so many nations around the world.

• • •

In Investigating Religious Terrorism and Ritualistic Crimes (CRC Press,$69.95, 453 pages), Dawn Perlmutter, Director of the Pennsylvania-based Institute for the Research of Organized and Ritual Violence, provides a highly authoritative and informative analysis of religiously-inspired terrorism.

The author’s distinction between homicide and suicide bombers is one of the best that this reviewer has ever read: “Homicide bomber is inaccurate and diminishes the seriousness of the group’s religious beliefs and the seriousness of the threat. Suicide bomber implies a true believer, someone who will deliberately die for the cause, and who is much more dangerous (martyr).”

Religious terrorism is not confined to Islamic fundamentalists, however, but includes millennial groups with apocalyptic beliefs, White Supremacists, and militant sects who have branched off from traditional religions, such as Christianity or Judaism.

To support and advance their extremist religious faith, religious terrorist groups also engage in criminal activities, such as hate crimes, tax evasion, weapons violations, vandalism, arson, robbery, torture/coercion, mass murder/mass suicide, homicide, and terrorism. The book also discusses occult and ritualistic crimes, and provides techniques to assist students, scholars, and especially crime scene investigators, to understand, identify, profile and solve such religiously-inspired crimes.

Joshua Sinai is a Washington-based analyst on terrorism issues.

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