Architect of New War on the West

Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, a Spanish-Syrian citizen tied to al-Qaeda, was seized last fall.
Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, a Spanish-Syrian citizen tied to al-Qaeda, was seized last fall. (Associated Press Video)

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By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, May 23, 2006

MADRID -- From secret hideouts in South Asia, the Spanish-Syrian al-Qaeda strategist published thousands of pages of Internet tracts on how small teams of Islamic extremists could wage a decentralized global war against the United States and its allies.

With the Afghanistan base lost, he argued, radicals would need to shift their approach and work primarily on their own, though sometimes with guidance from roving operatives acting on behalf of the broader movement.

Last October, the writing career of Mustafa Setmariam Nasar came to an abrupt end when Pakistani agents seized him in a friend's house in the border city of Quetta and turned him over to U.S. intelligence operatives, according to two senior Pakistani intelligence officials.

With Spanish, British and Syrian interrogators lining up with requests to question him, he has turned out to be a prize catch, a man who is not a bombmaker or operational planner but one of the jihad movement's prime theorists for the post-Sept. 11, 2001, world.

Counterterrorism officials and analysts see Nasar's theories in action in major terrorist attacks in Casablanca in 2003, Madrid in 2004 and London in 2005. In each case, the perpetrators organized themselves into local, self-sustaining cells that acted on their own but also likely accepted guidance from visiting emissaries of the global movement.

Nasar's masterwork, a 1,600-page volume titled "The Call for a Global Islamic Resistance," has been circulating on Web sites for 18 months. The treatise, written under the pen name Abu Musab al-Suri, draws heavily on lessons from past conflicts.

Nasar, 47, outlines a strategy for a truly global conflict on as many fronts as possible and in the form of resistance by small cells or individuals, rather than traditional guerrilla warfare. To avoid penetration and defeat by security services, he says, organizational links should be kept to an absolute minimum.

"The enemy is strong and powerful, we are weak and poor, the war duration is going to be long and the best way to fight it is in a revolutionary jihad way for the sake of Allah," he said in one paper. "The preparations better be deliberate, comprehensive and properly planned, taking into account past experiences and lessons."

Intelligence officials said Nasar's doctrine has made waves in radical Islamic chat rooms and on Web sites about jihad -- holy war or struggle -- over the past two years. His capture, they added, has only added to his mystique.

"He is probably the first to spell out a doctrine for a decentralized global jihad," said Brynjar Lia, a senior counterterrorism researcher at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, who is writing a book on Nasar. "In my humble opinion, he is the best theoretician among the jihadi ideologues and strategists out there. Nobody is as systematic and comprehensive in their analysis as he is. His brutal honesty and self-criticism is unique in jihadi circles."

After the bombings in Madrid and London, investigators fingered Nasar as the possible hands-on organizer of those attacks, because he had lived in both cities in the 1990s. But so far, investigators have unearthed no hard evidence of his direct involvement in those attacks or any others, although they suspect he established sleeper cells in Spain and other European countries.

'A Very Difficult Man'

Nasar was born in Aleppo, Syria, in 1958 and studied engineering. In the early 1980s, he took part in a failed revolt by the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood against Syrian strongman Hafez al-Assad. According to his own written accounts, he fled the country after that, then trained in camps in Jordan and Egypt. Later, he said, he moved to Europe when it became clear that Assad was firmly entrenched in power.


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