The Erosion of Noncombatant Immunity within Al Qaeda

The Erosion of Noncombatant Immunity within Al Qaeda

by Carl J. Ciovacco, Small Wars Journal

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Since its inception, al Qaeda's treatment of noncombatant immunity has migrated from full observance to complete disregard. In just over a decade, al Qaeda transitioned from basing entire operations on the inviolable nature of noncombatant immunity to specifically targeting noncombatants. From 1991 until 2002, al Qaeda evolved through five distinct phases in its observance of noncombatant immunity. These phases transition from Phase One's complete respect for noncombatants to Phase Five's intentional targeting of millions of noncombatants with weapons of mass destruction. More recently, however, al Qaeda appears to be taking stock of the harm that targeting noncombatants is having on its cause. This paper will provide a phased analysis of how al Qaeda's provision of noncombatant immunity disintegrated over time and why it may be returning today. This progression of thought and action concerning noncombatants serves as a roadmap by which to understand how and why al Qaeda made these ideological leaps.

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