Al Qaeda Goes Viral

07/08/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In 2004, one of the most important documents in the history of Islamist terrorism began to appear on jihadist Internet forums. Serialized in Arabic over 40 installments, The Global Islamic Resistance Call caused a sensation within radical Islamic circles. Throughout its 1,600 pages, the book implicitly criticized Osama bin Laden while offering practical advice for aspiring jihadists preparing for a post-bin Laden version of Al Qaeda. As a barometer of its influence, one important jihadist website quickly called it "the book that needs no introduction."

The Global Islamic Resistance Call was an attempt to move Al Qaeda from a small but powerful jihadist group into a banner around which the world's Muslims would rally. It presented a surprisingly thorough critique not only of Al Qaeda but all previous jihadist efforts. It gave practical instructions for mass murder and urged readers interested in joining Al Qaeda to act independently of the formal organization. And it contended that transforming Al Qaeda from a terrorist network into a global movement of self-starters would make it impervious to U.S. and allied counterterrorism efforts.

The book's author is a Syrian-Spaniard named Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, better known by his nom de guerre, Abu Mus'ab al-Suri. Present at the creation of contemporary jihad -- he had close ties to the legendary Palestinian jihadist Abdullah Azzam, a mentor to bin Laden in Afghanistan during the anti-Soviet war of the 1980s -- al-Suri is one of the most important contrarians and theorist-practitioners in the history of Al Qaeda. If bin Laden's lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is analogous to V.I. Lenin, al-Suri is the jihadist Leon Trotsky: eager to pick a doctrinal fight and inject a reformist current into Al Qaeda's operations. To U.S. counterterrorism experts, he represents a fearsome enemy: studious, adaptive and determined to stay a step ahead of the U.S. effort to destroy the jihadist movement.

Now, a new book by a Norwegian terrorism scholar seeks to introduce al-Suri to the readership that the terrorist has sworn to destroy.

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