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Understanding Terror Networks

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Understanding Terror Networks [Unabridged] [Hardcover]

Marc Sageman
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 16, 2004

For decades, a new type of terrorism has been quietly gathering ranks in the world. America's ability to remain oblivious to these new movements ended on September 11, 2001. The Islamist fanatics in the global Salafi jihad (the violent, revivalist social movement of which al Qaeda is a part) target the West, but their operations mercilessly slaughter thousands of people of all races and religions throughout the world. Marc Sageman challenges conventional wisdom about terrorism, observing that the key to mounting an effective defense against future attacks is a thorough understanding of the networks that allow these new terrorists to proliferate.

Based on intensive study of biographical data on 172 participants in the jihad, Understanding Terror Networks gives us the first social explanation of the global wave of activity. Sageman traces its roots in Egypt, gestation in Afghanistan during the Soviet-Afghan war, exile in the Sudan, and growth of branches worldwide, including detailed accounts of life within the Hamburg and Montreal cells that planned attacks on the United States.

U.S. government strategies to combat the jihad are based on the traditional reasons an individual was thought to turn to terrorism: poverty, trauma, madness, and ignorance. Sageman refutes all these notions, showing that, for the vast majority of the mujahedin, social bonds predated ideological commitment, and it was these social networks that inspired alienated young Muslims to join the jihad. These men, isolated from the rest of society, were transformed into fanatics yearning for martyrdom and eager to kill. The tight bonds of family and friendship, paradoxically enhanced by the tenuous links between the cell groups (making it difficult for authorities to trace connections), contributed to the jihad movement's flexibility and longevity. And although Sageman's systematic analysis highlights the crucial role the networks played in the terrorists' success, he states unequivocally that the level of commitment and choice to embrace violence were entirely their own.

Understanding Terror Networks combines Sageman's scrutiny of sources, personal acquaintance with Islamic fundamentalists, deep appreciation of history, and effective application of network theory, modeling, and forensic psychology. Sageman's unique research allows him to go beyond available academic studies, which are light on facts, and journalistic narratives, which are devoid of theory. The result is a profound contribution to our understanding of the perpetrators of 9/11 that has practical implications for the war on terror.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Sageman, a University of Pennsylvania professor of psychiatry and ethnopolitical conflict, applies his varied experience and skills to build an empirical argument for the socio-psychological reasons why someone would join an organization such as al-Qaeda. As an officer in the Foreign Service in the late '80s, Sageman worked closely with Islamic fundamentalists during the Afghan-Soviet war and gained an intimate understanding of the development, form and function of their networks. Sageman wrote this book in order to dispel incorrect assertions about terrorist networks made by so-called experts. Using public documents, Sageman tells us that the motivation to join a militant organization does not necessarily stem from extreme poverty or extreme religious devotion but mostly from the need to escape a sense of alienation. He also disproves conventional wisdom that terrorist groups employ a "top-down" approach to recruiting, showing instead that many cells evolve from friendships and kinships and that the seeds of sedition grow as certain members of a cell influence the thinking of the others. Unfortunately, Sageman's academic and dry prose will lose readers who would be interested in his insightful argument. The growing field of counterterrorism includes many more readers than just academics, and a book like this one could have easily covered a greater portion of this market if more care had been taken to enhance the writing.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


"One of the most original and innovative social science studies ever conducted on how individuals are driven to join terrorist organizations."—ForeWord Magazine

"The most sophisticated analysis of global jihadis yet published. . . . His conclusions have demolished much of the conventional wisdom about who joins jihadi groups."—William Dalrymple, New York Review of Books

"In the late '80s, Sageman worked closely with Islamic fundamentalists during the Afghan-Soviet war and gained an intimate understanding of the development, form, and function of their networks. Sagemen wrote this book in order to dispel incorrect assertions about terrorist networks made by so-called experts."—Publishers Weekly

"The best source of information about modern Islamic terrorists."—Freeman Dyson, New York Review of Books

"Marc Sageman advances our understanding of al Qaeda as only the best-known part of the global Salafi jihad. A major contribution to network analysis in its own right, this is a very powerful book."—Randall Collins, author of Interaction Ritual Chains

"Pathbreaking. Combining his skills as a political scientist and a psychiatrist, Sageman dissects the lives of nearly two hundred al Qaeda members and provides unprecedented insight into terrorist ideology, motivation, and action. More than anyone else, Sageman understands the staying power of robust terrorist networks, and he proposes a multipronged response to target al Qaeda. Understanding Terror Networks is timely, very readable, and original. It is a must read for the informed reader and specialist."—Rohan Gunaratna, author of Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror

"Marc Sageman breaks new ground in Understanding Terror Networks. He deftly dismantles the pet—and dangerously mistaken—theories of both the terrorism 'experts' and those in our government charged with defending against terrorists: that al Qaeda is an organic replica of a Mafia crime family, and that the tactics used against organized crime will somehow work against our new adversaries. Sageman tells us not only who these people are who seem unafraid to die as they seek to harm us, but why they do what they do. A must read for all concerned with the phenomenon of terrorism."—Milt Bearden, author of The Black Tulip and coauthor of The Main Enemy

"Understanding Terror Networks is one of the most insightful studies published so far on the global Salafi jihad. . . . A major contribution to the academic literature on terrorism. It is required reading for anyone seeking to understand how widespread the terrorist threat has become and the measures that are required to counteract it."—Washington Times

"Marc Sageman is a former CIA case officer who worked undercover on the Afghan frontier during the 1980s. . . . In Understanding Terror Networks he spreads out a feast of stimulating insights."—Washington Post

"The author effectively refutes the traditional explanation that factors such as poverty, trauma, madness, or ignorance drive people to terrorism. Instead he highlights the crucial role of social networks in the transformation of socially isolated individuals into fanatical mujahideen. . . . This thoughtful book combines theories with empirical data to provide valuable insights. . . . Highly recommended."—Choice

"Understanding Terror Networks is a new and different view of a new and different form of terrorism. The insights and conclusions of Sageman befit his name and will benefit seasoned observers of terrorism, practitioners, and newcomers to the field."—Security Management

"Terrorism analysts should read the book to correct some of their procession's assumptions. The concerned citizen will gain a sobering sense of the pervasiveness and stealth of potential jihadist networks around the globe."—Military Review

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 232 pages
  • Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press; First Printing edition (April 16, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812238087
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812238082
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #436,866 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews
97 of 102 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worthwhile primary research June 27, 2004
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
On balance this book is a very fine review of the actual background and motivations of over 150 members of four specific terrorist networks: the Central Staff around Osama bin Laden, the Core Arabs, the Maghred Arabs, and the Southeast Asians.
The author, who does have intelligence experience and is not just an ordinary foreign service officer, gets high marks for making excellent use of open sources of information, for emphasizing the role of Egypt as a source of terrorism and Israeli behavior against Palestine as the primary catalyst for terrorism now directed against Americans and other Western nations (and recently, Asian nations), and for documenting the distinction between the near enemy (corrupt Muslim regimes) and the far enemy (the West), a distinction all the more relevant because US actions against Iraq brought the far enemy near, and changed the dynamics of the global war on terrorism in favor of the terrorists.
Pages 65-68 offer a superb overview of the nuances of open sources of information, including a useful caveat on "experts" that are only as good as their discipline in seeking out and validating the sources they claim as their foundation. From my own role as a former spy and now global proponent for improved use of open sources of information to product open source intelligence, I regard the author's methodical review of sources and their dangers to be among the very best I have ever seen. His details on press misinformation and the laziness of journalists, and his understanding of how many "leads" about terrorists are actually more sinister and selfish efforts to settle personal scores by fabricating the leads to destroy others using American power, are clear signs that this author is a top-notch professional.
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42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Marc Sageman, holding degrees in doctors of psychiatry and sociology, as well as experience working with the Mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 1980s as a case officer with the CIA, has provided original insight into the nature of the global Islamist (he labels it Salafist) jihad that perpetrated 9/11 and still challenges free people of the world today.

Through empirical research, including studying the biographies 175 known terrorists, Sageman has come to the conclusion that the Al Qaeda threat resembles a network of self-selected individuals who, with their fellow conspirators, are carrying out terror attacks against their targets. This social network resembles an airline, with main hubs where more information passes through and connects the various cliques that make up the small teams of terrorists. The hubs pass information from the leadership down to the cliques, and vice-versa. These teams are held together more by friendship, kinship, and discipleship than any traditional recruitment methods.

The keys to understanding Al Qaeda are in its flexibility, its close-knit ties within each individual clique, and the shared sense of purpose in executing terror attacks. Furthermore, if the cliques could not somehow form a "bridge" with one of the terror "hubs" it is unlikely to go through with any major terror attacks.

This understanding of Al Qaeda as a series of "hubs" and "nodes" is a valuable insight. I believe this book would be enjoyed by anyone who read it. I highly recommend Sageman's work.
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Buy it - should be part of your personal library August 4, 2005
By Mike
Sageman's 'Understanding Terror Networks' is probably the best primer on the global salafist movement. The author begins with the 'Origins of the Jihad,' tracing the importance of ibn Taymiyya, Sayyid Qutb, the Muslim Brotherhood, etc. and does an excellent job of framing the movement in its historical context. In the next four chapters, Sageman discusses 'The Evolution of the Jihad,' 'The Mujahedin,' 'Joining the Jihad,' and 'Social Networks and the Jihad.' Other reviewers have mentioned some of the major take-aways from the book, however I believe that this book needs to be read in its entirety.

Sageman does a fantastic job of debunking the myths propogated by the talking heads in the media, and enlightening readers with empirical analysis.

I point interested readers to Hoffman's 'Inside Terrorism,' Anonymous's 'Through our Enemies' Eyes.'

A superb analysis with a substantial bibliography for further reading.

'Understanding Terror Networks' is a gem. Buy it!
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding Book! Deserves a Better Name! November 8, 2004
A Superior Book! Mark Sageman's Understanding Terrorist Networks is really a ground breaking analysis of Al Qaeda's networks and personalities, not just run of the mill terrorist groups. The psychological breakdown of the membership is excellent and truely helpful to any professional in the field. I found only one conclusion in the empirical data I didn't agree with because it is an academic study rather than an intelligence agency study (i.e I believe there are more than four major sub-groups of Al Qeada, as many as 10, organized by a designated geographic command system and special mission teams versus an ethnographic association (the Maghrebs, Core Arabs, Arab Command and SE Asians ... but his identification of the four core groups of members in the network is fascinating and correct). This book is clearly one of the best studys of Al Qaeda and will be mandatory reading for my students. It is a model for future analytical studies. One suggestion, change the second edition name to Understanding Al Qaeda's Terrorist Networks.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Purchased as a requirement for political science course.
Published 5 months ago by Austin O'Toole
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
perfect packing
Published 14 months ago by kaspar
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Excellent condition. Really good book.
Published 18 months ago by Gregory A. Posey
5.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read!
An absolute essential for researchers in the field of terrorism studies. Sageman is without doubt one of the worlds leading researchers and authorities on global terrorism and he... Read more
Published 22 months ago by Rufus Flywheel
5.0 out of 5 stars I was lucky to get a signed copy of this informative book
I liked this book a lot and I think of terrorists in the ways that the book describes. It was eye-opening.
Published 23 months ago by edhardyarmylady
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent
great book on understanding terror netwworks around the world and how they work. Helpful to everyone in understand topic. excellent reference gbook
Published on December 21, 2012 by tennischamp
4.0 out of 5 stars Stalling the terrorist networks kinetically and through relationships
Sageman's book kept popping up on numerous 'reading lists' and in the footnotes of recent reports and presentations I had studied that I finally read a copy. Read more
Published on December 15, 2012 by C P Slayton
4.0 out of 5 stars Social Networks of Terror
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Marc Sageman's book "Understanding Terror Networks" argues that successfully confronting terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda requires... Read more
Published on May 15, 2012 by T.A.L. Dozer
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Published on August 17, 2011 by ArmyGreg11B
3.0 out of 5 stars Informative but extremely dry
This book is not really about terror networks...this book is about radical Islamic terror networks. This really threw me off when I got this book because I was expecting an... Read more
Published on July 7, 2011 by WPcadet00
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