US killing moderate al Qaeda leaders, like Abu Yahya, says CT analyst

This is one of the more bizarre theories we’ve heard in a while. Leah Farrall argues that the US is killing al Qaeda leaders who “were actually a moderating force” within the terror group:

And if he [Abu Yahya al Libi] has in fact been killed, I wonder if those who think this is a victory (and those supporting the strategy of extrajudicial killings more generally) have given ample thought to the fact that he along with others who have been assassinated were actually a moderating force within a far more virulent current that has taken hold in the milieu. And yes, given his teachings I do note a certain irony in this, but sadly, it’s true.

What is coming next is a generation whose ideological positions are more virulent and who owing to the removal of older figures with clout, are less likely to be amenable to restraining their actions. And contrary to popular belief, actions have been restrained. Attacks have thus far been used strategically rather than indiscriminately. Just take a look at AQ’s history and its documents and this is blatantly clear.

Yes, you read that correctly, Farrall believes that Abu Yahya al Libi, and other unnamed al Qaeda leaders killed by the US, “were actually a moderating force” because they sought to restrain indiscriminate violence. Sadly, this is what passes for intelligent analysis in some segments of the counterterrorism community.

Will McCants is dead on in his criticism of Farrall’s “argument.” He summed it up well in this Tweet:

being judicious in choosing physical targets is not “discriminating” in a way that should persuade USG to stop going after AQSL

That’s about all that needs to be said in response. We’ll keep you up to date on the next senior al Qaeda “moderate” killed in a drone strike.

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  • donowen says:

    I assume this young lady is paid for her thoughts. If so by whom? Is she the ACLU lawyer? If so when was her last interview with Abu Yahya al Libi. His last video statements hardly moderate. Another individual that will totally distort reality for their own agenda. I assume that agenda is to stop droning.

  • Passer by says:

    I knew i’m going to hear about “moderate” Al Qaeda and “radical” Al Qaeda.
    First it was moderate muslims that will help us, then it became moderate islamists that will help us, then it became moderate Al Qaeda that we are looking for.
    The need to search for “moderate” Al Qaeda indicates weakness and failure to deal with the phenomenon of Al Qaeda.

  • jayc says:

    As a former cryptanalyst/linguist, I could not help but laughing my tail off at her assertions. But let me just quote the Israelis feelings on ths particular matter; There never is a “bad” time to kill a “good” terrorist.

  • 3DHB says:

    Ms. Farrall is simply trying to piggy back off of the NYT drone/kil-list story. It is currently a trendy opinion and she let jumping on a new trend cloud her judgement as an analyst. Any analyst who believes there are moderate (from the perspective of the average human, or even average Muslim) AQSL needs to have their CV throughly reviewed.

  • mike merlo says:

    Leah Farrall is one of these many Peter Panners who form a loosely knit confederation of self identified intellectuals with little or no understanding of violence & of those presently arrayed against ‘us.’ Another classic example of over intellectualizing a not so difficult to understand/diagnose adversary.
    Many of the leading progenitors & principals of the Islamic Internationale long ago identified the likes of Farrall as individuals from the ‘West’ who could be compromised & manipulated. Walter Duranty was one of the more prominent of this type mindset to surface during Communisms’ early rise in Russia & Eastern/Central Europe.

  • gerald says:

    I would so rather have my head cut off by a “moderate” AQ than a “virulent” upstart.

  • Tony Buzan says:

    I would like to contribute to the discussion in that I think Zawahiri’s clear association with Al Qaeda in Africa (including Boko Horam?) could well prove that he is even more vicious in killing civilians than was previously the case.
    Recall please it was Zawahiri so deeply and directly involved in the brutal MURDER of SCORES of innocent tourists down the Nile River a ways, near Luxor.

  • Sam Bronstein says:

    she is right that the killing of off authoritative senior leaders will result in deviation from strategy and more indiscriminate violence. jarret brachman sums this up well on his blog. we should still kill him though. he was really the one person left that was transcendent in the way bin laden was. bin laden was dual hatted: he was the ceo and the ultimate rhetorical authority. zawahiri was always going to be the ceo when bin laden got taken out, but the rhetorical authority was heavily surrounding atiyah and abu yahya and they are both gone. if zawahiri gets killed does leader of aqap replace him? saif al adel has never made a speech i dont think. what about hamza bin laden in the long run?

  • Vyom says:

    It is very similar to pAQistani theory of “Good” Taliban “Bad” Taliban…..”Moderate” AQ and “Virulent” AQ…ask those who are in line of fire. It is very easy to sit in a air conditioned room and write something like this. Has she ever visited any of these countries or she is just crap shooting?

  • Cindy says:

    From your article: “This is one of the more bizarre theories we’ve heard in a while.”
    I agree.

  • Bill Roggio says:

    Tony, more vicious than, say, flying airplanes into buildings and killing nearly 3,000 people? Yes, I so do wish OBL and the old cadre was around to moderate al Qaeda’s actions.

  • Tony Buzan says:

    Hi Bill, the way I understand the internal AQ debates is that it was Zawahiri that kept badgering OBL to include civilians in attacks such as 9/11 by asserting that they were culpable because they had voted for the government whose policies they objected to.
    The Financial Times reported some pretty extensive debates within al Qaeda with bin Laden supporting largely military targets like the Cole bombing and Zawahiri, who first became famous after the Egyptian tourist massacre at Luxor insisting on broader civilian targeting using this rationale of guilt by participation in the democratic process.
    And this interpretation is further supported by the very small sampling of OBL documents recently released where OBL objects to the tactics of Zarqawi in Iraq killing so many civilians.
    My interpretation of the facts is that OBL clearly signed on to and approved the 9/11 attacks, but it was only after extensive pushing and lobbying from the Egyptian madman who remains at large and a woefully underestimated threat to us all.

  • ExRat says:

    Moderate al-Qaeda?
    Can you say, “oxymoron”?
    I knew you could.

  • DonM says:

    When the adult elephants in Al Qaeda assert discipline, it is hardly a moderating influence. It results in more focused and skilled attacks on western targets. The younger rouges will attack more locally unless disciplined to focus on the west.

  • Neo says:

    He’s moderate now!

  • Brent Lee says:

    In response to the comment suggesting that OBL was reluctant to target civilians; I quote Osama Bin Laden in his FEB 1998 Fatwa: “…ruling to kill the Americans and their allies—civilians and military—is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it.”

  • Tony Buzan says:

    ExRat, I think the dynamics of any radical and extremist group necessarily has differences of opinion that can be exploited and manipulated through psyops.
    Take the Spanish Inquisition. Hernando Cortes left Spain because the Inquisition under Torquemada was too “moderate”. So he went to terrorize the Americas as a conqistador, killing millions.
    Cortes (and numerous others) were furious at the heresy of allowing people who accepted Jesus just prior to being burned at the stake (conversos) to be freed.
    What an outrage that was, he said and many people were faking conversion to Christianity at the stake just to escape the death penalty.
    Cortes felt that they should be burned any way and God would sort it all out later.
    He was considered an extremist and went the the Americas to practice the “true” cleansing of the planet for the Catholics, according to the vision of St. Dominic and his Dalmatian dogs of war.
    Torquemada was, by contrast, reviled and despised for being such a “liberal” at the time.
    Similarly, it is clear that al Qaeda has been split over debates as to whether to kill Muslims and whether to kill civilians.
    As a general proposition, before the 20th century, Osama bin Laden the pig opposed the killing of Muslims and civilians in their assaults.
    The madman Zawahiri, still on the loose, convinced bin Laden otherwise.
    He must be stopped.
    We have our hands full in Africa. Big time.

  • Carl Warner says:

    Yeah, Jeffrey Dahmer is a moderate saint compared to Hitler.
    More BS moral relativism.

  • ExRat says:

    Tony Buzan, I agree that there is most likely a spectrum of opinions within al Qaeda that can be exploited by psyops. And if one limits his examination to that spectrum of opinions, some are more “moderate” than others. But when one compares the spectrum of opinions within al Qaeda with the spectrum of opinions held by the global society at large, I’d be willing to bet that the al Qaeda spectrum of opinion is in its entirety at least 5 sigma out on the radical side of the mean. Ergo my comment, which was directed at the use of the term “moderate” to describe anyone in al Qaeda without some modifier like “relatively”.
    I also agree with you on Zawahiri being at large and necessary to stop, and Africa, and between the two Zawahiri is the easier problem to solve, conceptually, although after bin Laden I suspect he’s going to be even harder to find and engage. Especially since Mr. Obama is blowing the bad guys up rather than capturing and interrogating them. “Dead men tell no tales.”

  • My2Cents says:

    Certainly they are moderates — they have never participated themselves in an attack in the US or on US forces, they have only order their followers to do so.

  • Tony Buzan says:

    ExRat, I am unsure why you chose the figure five sigma from the norm.
    Are you asserting that someone like bin Laden and Zawahiri only comes to the fore once every 10,000 years?
    Isn’t that what 5 sigma ultimately decomposes to in the Fourier series?

  • Solomon2 says:

    Al-Libi was the guy planning on destroying multiple airliners using liquid bombs, yes? His kind of “moderation” we can do without.

  • ExRat says:

    This will be my last comment on this thread.
    Tony Buzan:
    I’m not a statistician and I’m not going to get into a debate about higher math because I’d lose–I’ve forgotten pretty much all of what I once knew about it, But following just a little internet research, my understanding is 5 sigma is about 233 defects per million opportunities, but that’s on both ends of the curve, so I cut that in half. to, say 115 “defects” (people who think and act like al Qaeda) per million people. There are about 7 billion people in the world, so multiplying 115 by 7,000 gives 805,000. Are there as many as 805,000 al Qaedas? I dunno, but it seems like there should be fewer than that.
    Academically rigorous? No, but good enough for commenting on politics, as far as I’m concerned.
    Thanks for the debate.


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