By Dr Magnus Norell, Infosphere AB
In recent months a picture has emerged in the media that International Jihadist terrorism is on the rise. This picture has been promoted by a string of plots aimed at the US, western targets in Afghanistan and, for example, of stories of ex-pats from Somalia returning to fight (and in some cases die) in their country of origin. This is helped by media-hype that is fast forwarding information about attacks around the globe, making even small low-impact events take on seemingly large and much more ominous roles. What’s more; the hyperbole about threats only helps the terrorists and do the work for them, since the goal of terrorism is to spread fear and terror.
This is not to under-estimate real threats emanating from countries like Yemen and Pakistan’s tribal areas. These are hot-spots that need attention and it is clear that the ease with which new recruits can be summoned is an on-going headache for western intelligence agencies. But that is more a sign of the on-going debate or struggle (sometimes violent) within Islam on what and where Islam is going, and how.
Loking at 2009, the US had 10 jihadist plots or attacks inside CONUS. But none of those had any evident links with one another, except for their apparent religious ideological motive. And none of these attacks and plots was driven by any group; instead, the picture that emerges is one of disparate cases and not one of a single powerful coordinated Jihadist group attacking. In fact, it can be argued that this picture of scattered, often rather un-professional attacks may also show that the international Jihadist movement, though still lethal, has lost some capability for large-scale attacks. The jury is still out on this of course, but it is plausible that all the attention and resources aimed at thwarting such attacks, has had an impact.
Very few cases could be directly linked to the tribal regions of Pakistan, and none of those worked. Internationally, the same picture emerges; small, un-coordinated attacks, with no apparent common driver except for the ideology. What there is, is a multitude of smaller groups and networks, often stating their affiliation with al Qaeda, but in effect, doing so just to appear more powerful than they are. al Qaeda has become a catch-call that blurs important distinctions between different groups and individuals. Such as for example, even though these perpetrators might call themselves al Qaeda, their focus is more often than not on a local agenda and not on the Islamic world-revolution the original al Qaeda argues for. Therefore, by taking these statements of affiliation with al Qaeda for granted and using al Qaeda to describe these terrorists, we are rather helping to build up the brand.
Since the war in Afghanistan in late 2001, the problem of global Jihadist terrorism has become a lot more decentralized and disparate. It was never the unified organization it was portrayed to be, but after 2001-2, it is even less so. This is not necessarily only good news; it is a lot harder to detect and prevent attacks if those attacks are perpetrated by independent individuals and not instigated, planned and executed by hierarchical organizations. But the lesson here is that this reality calls for more nuanced and sophisticated intelligence-work and less one-size-fits-all security approaches. Such an approach could come a long way in enhancing our understanding of global Jihadism and to find and develop efficient tools to counter and defeat what still is a global problem.