Committed Actors and Sympathizer Terrorists

We begin our discussion by comparing and contrasting the committed actor against the sympathizer. Our war on terrorism has become more than just a military action. It involves various ideas, intrinsic values and acute perceptions on the part of both America and its opposition. We can no longer think merely in terms of only radical actions by the terrorists but must consider the strategic deployed of the al-Qaida forces intending to add fuel to the Muslim extremist mindset or to attract potential recruits.

In today’s fight to counter the terrorist threat it is imperative that we properly identify and define the relationships which exist between the assortments of players. Communications now empowers organizations and groups of people to the point where they have a major voice in the day by day aspects of their life. These transnational actors eventually influence international politics.

According to Burton (Burton, 2005) bin Laden’s al Qaeda is not a state type actor but is still viewed as a valid fighting entity. Their sphere of influence is not merely a tactical perspective but engulfs psychological maneuvers as well. As such we start to see two types of criminal elements emerging in this landscape. We have the committed actor verses the sympathizer.

Usually the common association thought of towards al Qaeda membership lies in the framework of the committed actor who is especially predominant as the dreaded suicide bombers. These people are the hard core, idealistic comrades who seek out causes and ideologies to pursue. Don’t be mistaken into believing these bands of followers are mentally deranged or in any way out of focus with reality.

The author of the article (Burton, 2005) used the 1993 World trade center bomber Ramzi Yousef as a prime example of this sort of terrorist. Ramzi Ahmed Yousef’s terrorist career sprouted from his 1991 association with the Abu Sayyaf, a well known Philippine terrorist group who proposed to him the possibility of bombing attacks being conducted here in America. There eventually evolved a mutual understanding between him and Abubakar Janjalani, the leader of Abu Sayyaf.

In 1992, Yousef flew to America and upon landing at JFK he was detained by the immigration authorities for possessing a counterfeit Swedish passport. When the authorities inspected his language they discovered an assortment of bomb-making manuals. Naturally he was held in an INS detention cell however due to the overcrowded conditions within the cells Yousef was released. Upon his release he immediately moved to New Jersey and established contact with a New York militant’s cell that assisted him in his future bombing plans.

The rest is history as we recall in February of 1993 he drove a rental van loaded with explosives into the underground garage of one of the World Trade Towers. He activated the bomb and proceeded to leave the area via another vehicle. Six people were killed and thousands were wounded. He later revealed that his goal was to topple one building and have it crash into the other resulting in over 250,000 people dying.

It is interesting to know that Khalid Sheik Muhammad who masterminded the 2001 bombing of the World Trade center was none other than Yousef’s uncle. You may be asking yourself why this is important to us. Well, to be brief we can readily see that Yousef was not some sort of blind follower without any intelligence. It was his plans that his uncle ultimately used when destroying the Twin Towers.

As mentioned in our text (Burton, 2005) committed actors may not stand out from the crowd. Yousef himself was one such person. He was well educated and clearly was related to one of the middle or upper class families of Kuwait. He held a regular job and by all accounts he was a model in society.

In contrast let us look at the sympathizer whose behavior is less methodical. By definition a sympathizer is someone who sympathizes with something. This is a person who shares feelings or opinions of another and hopes they will be successful in their venture. Our text stated that those investigators who specialize in these types of terrorists find it extremely difficult to determining the exact emotional outpour that causes them to commit such violent acts. The sympathizers of the more popular groups such as al Qaeda or other organizations may actually be motivated by their shared community, political disagreements or feelings of injustice. Unlike the committed actor the sympathizer is involved less in the planning of their actions but rather as an emotional response invoked from some recent event. They frequently lack the proper training or fail to possess the needed resources to complete their goal. It is safe to say that their usual operations are on the “sloppy side” but do not be mistaken they are still very dangerous.

Next we will discus how sympathizers were believed to have been a “core component” of al Qaeda’s strategy prior to the Sept. 11 attacks. Al Qaeda was hoping to be able to tap into the political sentiments amongst the Muslim nations causing greater attention to his ultimate goals. Although bin laden’s ultimate goal was never achieved he did manage to generate sympathizer actions within certain parameters. These small sympathizer actions made al Qaeda appear larger than life and dictated to the Muslim world that he was a “force to be dealt with”. This façade allowed the organization to continue their endless struggle towards defeating America.

As I have continually said any actions whether successful or not aids in boasting the appearances of a terrorist group. You do not have to win a battle but merely show you fought well. This to me is what the sympathizers bring to the table for al Qaeda. Ideology brings a powerful message capable of motivating ordinary people into action. These people both committed and sympathizers believe what they are doing is proper and right. With these thoughts in mind it is easy for them to follow the ideological framework of their leaders without faltering.

Now let us consider to what extent al Qaeda’s strategy has succeeded regarding their “sympathizers.” There can be no doubt that the operational capability of bin Laden and of al Qaeda has weakened greatly over the years. The sad part is that the ideology of global jihad as practiced by bin Laden has become the model for multiple terrorist cells around the globe. After the 9/11 attacks many jihadists began to view al Qaeda as a model to emulate and as a major leader in the Islamic movement. Bin Laden himself was seen by his followers as someone who not only gave his money to the cause but also himself (Burton, 2005). He departed his wealth lifestyle to reside with the peasants and the Arab fighters. While in their presence he proceeded to cooked with his people, he ate from his humble caves with them and even dug trenches along side of his supporters. His followers viewed him as a militant hero and it is often hard to shatter such loyalty.

Al Qaeda attempted attacks upon our iconic targets in order to inspire and instigate a new generation of young formable terrorist. It is evident that al Qaeda no longer enjoys the support among the Muslim people worldwide but it still seeks to exploit the hidden anger, untold suffering and the built up resentment of the Muslim people towards America. When we invaded Iraq terrorism was given a new lease on life. When we view the support al Qaeda receives from the countries of Asia, Africa and the Middle East we must view the campaign of this terrorist organization as semi-successful.

As a result of the American led actions against al Qaeda their position has most certainly been weakened. However we soon discover a number of actions which propel these terrorist actions back to the forefront of the Muslim nations. Let us briefly consider the US led coalition into Afghanistan or perhaps we should think about the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Least we overlook all the negative media reports we viewed on the television on Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. These certainly fail to paint a pretty picture for of America. Prior to the horrible attacks of 9/11 Al Qaeda had conducted perhaps one major attack each year. After the 9/11 incidents they managed one attack every three months. We now find many groups emulating the tactics used by al Qaeda. This tells me that al Qaeda’s power today is derived from the various sub-groups it has trained, financed, armed and supplied to further their ideologies. Its central power is may be destroyed but the organization is still capable of conducting critical attacks by use of their many sympathizers.

When questioned as to the most interesting aspect of Mr. Burton’s article I would simply reply as follows. When I read Mr. Burton’s article (Burton, 2005) I was surprised to find that although al Qaeda boasts their outward image as a force with great power they are not what they used to be. They now possess nothing more than the status of a figurehead however we must never underestimate this revealing fact. Even with no power the author clearly makes known that the sympathizers cause can and are a dangerous element to deal with.

As we move on to the second article entitled War, Psychology, and Time we will start by explaining the “psychology of defeat,” from bin Laden’s perspective. Bin Laden firmly believed that with the use of the psychology of defeat he could boaster a new and expanding Muslim empire. This concept led to the attack on America’s twin towers. He felt that the Muslims were suffered from the psychology of defeat. They were expected to be weaker than the various Christian nations and they rightfully accepted this limitation. He felt that his people failed to understand that the Christians were not only weak but also corrupt. He reinforced the idea that America was one of these nations and as such was the enemy of the Muslim people.

When bin Laden devised the 9/11 attacks he attempted to instigate several things. First, the attack was intended to show the Muslim world that America could be attacked and ultimately hurt. His second goal was to see what our reaction would be. Now this was pure genius on his part as it involved a win-win situation for him. If we did nothing it would provide ammunition for bin Laden that we were a weak nation while on the other hand if we launched a series of campaigns against the Islamic nations involved he could convince the Arab countries that we are an enemy of the Muslim people. This was a win either way for bin Laden.

It is interesting to note that initially after 9/11 President Bush used the word “crusade” to describe his eventual actions of war. His quote was “this crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while” (Bush, 2001). By his use of this single word he managed to alienate many Europe and especially Arabic-speaking nations around the world. As a world leader, I would have expected his staff to have realized the offense connotation that such a word might produce in the Muslim communities. I vividly recall when he mentioned that world I immediately placed my hands on my head and loudly proclaimed, “What is he saying.”

I would like to explain how bin Laden calculated the United States responds to the 9/11 attacks and its outcome. This was explained in the support material listed above but I will reiterate it here once again. After bin Laden had attacked the Twin Towers he concluded that he was a winner regardless of what action America took. As explained, if we did nothing in response it would indicate that we are a weak nation and if we launched our attacks on those nations suspected of this horrible crime it would indicate to the Muslim nations that we are their enemy.

I found it extremely interesting that the author states that bin Laden’s rationale behind the 9/11 attacks was not just to kill Americans but rather to seize the opportunity to create an Islamic empire (Friedman, 2007). If we look at our circumstance than compared to now we frequently find that many of our laws and government actions are changing. We are slowly moving closer and closer to Sharia law here in America. This issue is getting so bad that many state lawmakers are passing laws outlawing “foreign laws” from being considered in state judicial systems (Sacirbey, 2013). There are currently seven states which have enacted or are in the process of such acts at this time. This in itself makes us more aware of the articles reference to the fact that terrorist organizations cannot create empires but rather they attempt to seize nations and utilize that countries power to begin creating their empire.


Bush, George. (2001) Remarks by the president upon arrival. Retrieved from

Sacirbey, Omar. (2013). Sharia law in the usa 101 a guide to what it is and why states want to ban it. Retrieved from

Joseph Parish