Muslims are the main victims of al Qaeda’s deadly terrorist attacks against the West, despite claims by the group’s leaders that only a few Muslims have died in the organization’s global war against Westerners, according to a study by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, N.Y.
In 2007, al Qaeda’s second in command, Ayman al-Zawahri said in a document he wrote called the “The Power of Truth” that “we haven’t killed the innocents; not in Baghdad, nor in Morocco, nor in Algeria, nor anywhere else. And if there is any innocent who was killed in the mujahedeen’s operations, then it was either an unintentional error, or out of necessity.”
The report, published in December by Scott Helfstein, Nassar Abdullah and Mohammad al-Obaidi, scholars at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point center, concluded that al Qaeda has done just the opposite and that the group’s terrorist actions from 2004 to 2008 led to more non-Western deaths than Western killings and have turned many of Islam’s faithful against the extremist group.
“The fact is that the vast majority of al Qaeda’s victims are Muslims: The analysis here shows that only 15 percent of the fatalities resulting from al Qaeda attacks between 2004 and 2008 were Westerners,” according to the report, titled “Deadly Vanguards: A Study of Al Qaeda’s Violence Against Muslims.”
“Many victims of al Qaeda and its affiliates have been Muslim, and people in the Muslim world know that. This explains why many Muslims deplore al Qaeda, and why you see more Muslim voices these days expressing strong opposition to al Qaeda and the ideology it espouses,” the report states.
“Despite numerous warnings and ongoing public debates about the indiscriminate use of violence, al Qaeda remains committed to its current tactics as displayed by the steady stream of Muslim fatalities from 2006 to 2008.”
The study, which focused on al Qaeda violence from 2004 to 2008, stated that only 15 percent of the 3,010 victims killed in al Qaeda-related attacks were Western.
The research also found that during the period from 2006 to 2008, only 2 percent (12 of 661 victims) were from the West, and the remaining 98 percent of those killed were inhabitants of countries with Muslim majorities.
“During this period, a person of non-Western origin was 54 times more likely to die in an al Qaeda attack than an individual from the West,” the report states. “The overwhelming majority of al Qaeda victims are Muslims living in Muslim countries, and many are citizens of Iraq, which suffered more al Qaeda attacks than any other country courtesy of the al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) affiliate.”
The researchers of the study used “Arabic media sources to study the victims of al Qaeda’s violence through a nonprism.” Researchers said it was to “avoid accusations of bias associated with Western news outlets or U.S. datasets.”
“Al Qaeda and sympathizers consistently argue that Western media outlets are no more than propaganda machines, and therefore, any reports or data they release distort facts or lack accuracy,” the researchers said.
The recent killings of seven CIA officers in Afghanistan’s eastern province of Khost by Jordanian-born bomber and double agent Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi was the most significant al Qaeda attack on a Western group this year. However, overall, U.S. intelligence officials agree with the report’s findings that al Qaeda attacks have taken many more Muslim lives than those they target.
“Many victims of al Qaeda and its affiliates have been Muslim, and people in the Muslim world know that,” a U.S. counterterrorism official told The Washington Times.
“This explains why many Muslims deplore al Qaeda, and why you see more Muslim voices these days expressing strong opposition to al Qaeda and the ideology it espouses,” the counterterrorism official said.
An al Qaeda video released after the death of al-Balawi urges “jihadists” to strike U.S. targets.
Retired Army Maj. Gen. Timothy M. Haake said in an interview that al Qaeda’s inability to control civilian deaths is “what turned the Sunni tribes against them in Iraq and it may work against them in Afghanistan as well, but it’s not certain.”
“Civilian casualties soured their [al Qaeda] relationship in Iraq,” Gen. Haake said. “It is their Achilles’ heel. It was one of the psychological and moral underpinnings used by [Gen. David H.] Petraeus to create the Anbar Awakening, which divided al Qaeda from the Sunni tribes in Anbar province.”
As with the Anbar Awakening, also known as the Sons of Iraq, which started in 2005 among the Sunni tribes in Anbar province, the top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, and Gen. Petraeus are hoping to create the conditions so that tribal leaders will step up to provide security in Afghanistan.