Decisive Events in History According to Al Qaeda

Roundup: Media's Take

Radio Netherlands 3-17-04

Hans de Vreij
Security and Defence editor

The battle of Poitiers in 732, Spain 1492, Vienna 1693 and Turkey 1917. These combinations of years and places most probably mean little or nothing at all to the average Westerner in 2004. Yet the events to which they refer are all significant moments in the history of two religions: Islam and Christianity.

In 732, Christian forces engaged in battle near the French town of Poitiers with a Muslim army which had managed to advance some considerable way across the continent. The Muslim forces were defeated.

Prior to 1492, southern Spain – Andalusia and Granada – had been an important Islamic stronghold inside Europe. In that year, however, the Muslims were driven from Spain completely by Catholic forces.

In 1693, a decisive battle was fought and won outside the gates of Vienna against Muslim forces which had left Turkey, crossed the Balkans, and were marching across Europe. And 1917 saw Turkey's – Islamic – Ottoman Empire crumble and then collapse following its defeat by the allied powers – chief among them Great Britain and France – during the First World War.

According to some academic researchers, these events from history play a very significant role in the thought processes of the al-Qaeda terrorist network and related radical Islamic groups.

As these specialists see it, the idea of wreaking revenge for past defeats and humiliations is a key goal for such groups, alongside more contemporary motivations such as the desire to wage war against the "Western" and "Christian" occupation of Iraq or against those who launched attacks on the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Israeli security expert Giora Shamis believes Osama bin Laden's so-called "fatwas" and the thousands of documents placed on the Internet by al-Qaeda and similar groups even provide a basis to draw up a list of likely "historical targets" for attacks in or close to Europe. Turkey heads that list, followed by Spain. The next target could be Rome – the centre of power of Roman Catholicism – followed by Vienna, where al-Qaeda might attempt to avenge the aforementioned defeat of 1693.

According to Mr Shamis "Only now is the intelligence community beginning to search the Internet thoroughly for relevant information. Much has already been said there, quite openly." He adds that: "Curiously enough, the attacks in Madrid had already been announced in advance on the Web. A researcher at Norway's FFI defence institute came across the relevant document in December last year, but did nothing with the information."

Hans Jansen, a Dutch expert on the Arab World and Islam, also stresses that, in addition to the more immediate issues on which al-Qaeda focuses, history is a key factor in its philosophy. Asked about the possibility of Rome being a future target, he replies: "I can well imagine that being the case because there are certain statements – attributed to the Prophet Mohammed, who died in the year 632 AD – in which the speaker says that Rome will fall. The men who assassinated Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat in 1981 also spoke of Rome being conquered in the name of Islam".

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