The aim of the thesis has been to describe the nature of al-Qaeda’s interest in non-conventional weapons, as reflected by the network’s own statements and activities in the period from 1996-2006. The analysis has been divided into two parts: First, I have critically examined primary and secondary source material in order to develop a comprehensive understanding of the history of al-Qaeda’s pursuit for non-conventional weapons. Second, I have discussed why there is a lack of chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) innovation within the al-Qaeda network.
The conclusion to the first part is that the al-Qaeda network’s interest in using unconventional means appears much lower than commonly anticipated. Al-Qaeda’s efforts have been concentrated on crude and easily obtainable CBRN materials, not on developing actual warfare agents. Also, a preference for conventional weapons and tactics is evident on all levels within the network. There are no strong indications that al-Qaeda’s interest for non-conventional weapons has increased after 2001.
With regards to the lack of CBRN innovation, I conclude that the al-Qaeda network clearly lacks some of the characteristics typical of past ‘CBRN terrorists’, such as a millenarian ideology or an ‘expressive attachment’ to this particular type of weapon. In addition, however, I argue that al-Qaeda’s networked structure itself prevents innovation, rather than promoting it. There are at least two possible explanations for this: first, the global nature of the network makes mobility an alternative to innovation; and second, al-Qaeda’s loose organizational structure increases the need for carrying out operations that can immediately be identified with the al-Qaeda ‘brand’.