The Third Wave: Welcome to Jihad 3.0, the Unpredictable Third Generation of Terrorists

Michael Wesley, in The Weekend Australian, 21 December 2014 , where the title is Sydney siege: Welcome to Jihad 3.0, the third wave of terrorism and the most unpredictable”

JIHAD 3.0 arrived in Australia at 9.44am on Monday morning. This is a new and more dangerous form of terrorism, and if we misunderstand its methods and intentions, we risk getting our response to it badly wrong. Some commentators argue that because Man Haron Monis had no formal connection to Islamic State, the Martin Place siege should not be regarded as terrorism. Others have argued it was no more than a “lone wolf” attack, a law-and-order issue. But this is a profound misunderstanding of what terrorism has morphed into.

The attack at Martin Place was very different from first-generation or second-generation terrorist attacks — but it was terrorism, and terrorism of a brutal and more unpredictable sort.

sydney siege -APPolice assist a hostage who escaped from the Martin Place siege in Sydney- Pic from AP

First-generation terrorism, which emerged in its modern form in the late 1960s, was waged by secretive, hierarchic organisations such as the Irish Republican Army or the Palestine Liberation Organisation. Its violence was targeted and calibrated, its victims more often than not chosen carefully to be symbolically significant to the terrorist cause.

Second-generation terrorism emerged in the 90s. Its distinguishing feature was a franchise model, where a successful central organisation such as al-Qa’ida inspired offshoots in other locations. Membership was still important, often through the swearing of loyalty (or bayat), and a form of hierarchy was still present, both within and between franchises. The violence was no longer calibrated — it was large-scale and spectacular — and although not always successful, second-generation terrorists at least tried to be discriminating in selecting their targets.

Jihad 3.0 dispenses with any form of organisation or sense of proportion or discrimination in its violence. It gains its foot soldiers by inspiring them to lash out at their society. Its only form of connectivity to its followers comes via slickly produced propaganda parlayed across the internet and social media. And each attack it inspires, by people it is not even aware of until they commit violence in its name, is claimed and used to inspire other followers. Islamic State’s online magazine Dabiq claimed credit for Numan Haider’s attack on police officers in Melbourne in September and for a man who attacked police with a hatchet in New York in October.

Jihad 3.0 provides a cause for those who feel alienated by society. Monis, who instigated the Martin Place siege, had been raging against society for years. An Iranian, originally of the Shia faith, he converted to Sunni Islam once the cause of Islamic State had inspired him, and he pledged allegiance to its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, via his website earlier this month.

Having found the alienated, jihad 3.0 offers them a chance at celebrity. Monis, who had been desperate for publicity for years, saw an opportunity to become headline news. But to do this he needed more than just violence — it needed to be an indiscriminate attack carried out in the name of Islamic State, and the potential for horror needed to be sufficient to transfix a normally jaded media.

Most significantly, jihad 3.0 offers its alienated, fame-hungry foot soldiers a menu of attack options. High on its list is the unpredictable, brutal attack on a member of the public, police officer or soldier, such as the killing of Lee Rigby in London in May last year. This appears to have been the option chosen by Haider.

Another menu choice is the brutal hostage-taking, itself inspired by the attacks in Mumbai in November 2008. This was Monis’s choice on Monday morning.

The objectives of third-generation terrorism are threefold. Foremost is publicity. Monis was as desperate to publicise his cause and the terror of his victims as Islamic State will be to claim his attack as part of its growing global terror footprint. By forcing his hostages to use their social media accounts to convey his messages, Monis created a constant media feed, designed to keep people transfixed to their screens in horror.

Even now the Islamic State publicity machine will be hard at work splicing together images of the siege and footage of its latest martyr into an evolving documentary of its growing reach, ­designed to inspire new foot soldiers, wherever and whoever they may be.

The second goal of jihad 3.0 is justification. The violence waged by religious extremists has a symbolic purpose: to demonstrate that they are part of a holy war. Inspired by an end-of-days cosmology, they believe they are warriors in the last great pitched battle of believers against unbelievers. In this struggle there are no noncombatants: those not fighting on their side are, by definition, ­enemies.

The third goal follows: polarisation. Each act of terror is intended to push societies towards their extremes. In multicultural, open societies such as Australia, these acts of violence are intended to isolate and stigmatise the Muslim community. Extremists hope that a Muslim community that feels alienated from society will be a much richer source of religious warriors in their holy war.

Herein lies a warning for those among us who want to close ranks against our Muslim fellow citizens — that is precisely what Islamic State and its fellow travellers want you to do.

Unlike earlier forms of terrorist violence, jihad 3.0 is intended to be indiscriminate and horrifying. We will never know what Monis’s intention was but images of the slaughter of hostages, whether from Beslan in the Russian Federation in 2004 or Nairobi last year, were at the back of most people’s minds. These only have been heightened by the horrific slaughter of students and teachers in Peshawar, Pakistan, this week.

It is a tragedy that two hostages were killed in the Martin Place siege, but we are very lucky the death toll was not higher. As a form of terrorism that neither recruits nor trains its foot soldiers, jihad 3.0 has no control over their quality or dedication.

The randomness and indiscriminateness of third-generation terrorism is designed to tear at society’s sense of control and meaning. That any one of us could have been in the Lindt cafe on Monday morning is precisely the point. That Monis was prepared to die along with his hostages rips at our society’s assumptions about self-interest and self-protection. This is violence that is intended to be disorienting and to attack the ties that bind us together as a society.

Jihad 3.0 poses huge challenges for our security services; those who seek to minimise these attacks as lone-wolf or criminal acts have seriously underestimated the scale of their task. Criminals live off society; any damage they do to society is incidental to their main objective, which is making money. Likewise, lone-wolf crazies are assumed to be a containable problem: they may harm some people, but once locked up they pose no further threat.

Terrorists break the law but they are more than merely criminal. The overriding objective of terrorists is to attack society. And because third-generation terrorists are both a symptom and a cause of a new, evangelical style of terrorism, they need to be viewed not as isolated lone wolves but as part of a global movement that is radicalising and motivating individuals all the time.

Because of this new form of recruitment, jihad 3.0 deprives security agencies of their traditional forms of combating terrorism. Previously, intelligence-led counter-terrorism work has relied on monitoring associations, connectivities and flows. Hierarchic, membership-based organisations could be monitored and infil­trated; once they knew a terrorist group’s members, security services knew who to watch and arrest.

As orders were transmitted from leaders to operatives, communications intercepts gave police and intelligence agencies advance warning of attacks. And as money flowed into groups from supporters and back out to terrorists, the broader ecosystem of a terrorist organisation could be identified and rounded up.

But now jihad 3.0 has dispensed with associations, connectivities and flows. Membership of the movement exists entirely in each isolated extremist’s head; the central organisation is not aware of them until they carry out an attack. Communication is general and depersonalised through the internet and social media; inspiration and suggestion instead of orders and instructions.

And flows — whether money, equipment or intelligence — are entirely left in the hands of its extremist followers.

Deprived of dependable ways of tracking terrorist activity, our security agencies are increasingly reliant on a more ecological approach to combating this threat. Instead of being able to identify and track known terrorists, their task is increasingly one of understanding the conditions and motivations that animate potential third-generation terrorists. They have become increasingly reliant on community-based support and are very aware of how fragile that may be if attacks such as Monday’s do polarise our society.

We need to understand the motivations and intentions of this new and dangerous form of terrorism. Their intent is to tear apart our society; the best way to defeat them is to show that each outrage only makes us pull closer together.


Michael Wesley is professor of international affairs and director of the school of international, political and strategic studies at the Australian National University. He has published extensively and has authored several books on foreign policy, including The Howard Paradox: Australian Diplomacy in Asia. He won the 2011 John Button Prize for Best Writing in Australian Politics for his book, There Goes the Neighbourhood: Australia and the Rise of Asia.

He was Executive Director of the Lowy Institute for International Policy from 2009 to 2012 and Professor of International Relations and Director of the Asia Institute at Griffith University from 2004 to 2009. He has also taught at a number of other universities in Australia and overseas. Professor Wesley was an Assistant Director-General in the Office of National Assessments in 2003/04 and served as co-chairman of the Security and Prosperity working group at the Australia 2020 Summit in 2008.

Professor Wesley completed a PhD at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. He is a Visiting Professor at the University of Hong Kong, and previously worked as a lecturer at the University of New South Wales.


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