First published by Perspectives on Terrorism - Volume 5, Issue 2
In recent years, Al-Qaeda has suffered a number of setbacks, but has also successfully spawned an expansionist global jihadist movement that will survive the death of Osama bin Laden. This article describes how the multifaceted threat posed by global jihadism has evolved over the last decade. It first recounts some of the more salient examples of Al-Qaeda’s post-9/11 strategic, ideological, and structural adaptations, and then offers a balance sheet of Al-Qaeda’s contemporary strengths and weaknesses. Al-Qaeda continues to enable the violence of others, orient that violence towards the United States and its allies in a distributed game of attrition warfare, and foster a dichotomous “us versus them” narrative between the Muslim world and the rest of the international community. Despite this overarching consistency, Al-Qaeda shepherds a different phenomenon than it did ten years ago. The aggregation of the movement’s strategic, ideological, and structural adaptations has fundamentally changed the nature of the jihadist threat to the West. This evolved threat is not inherently more dangerous, as counterterrorism efforts today focus on and disrupt capability earlier and more consistently than prior to September 2001. This multifaceted global jihad will, however, continue to produce greater numbers of attacks in more locations, from a more diverse cadre of individuals spanning a wider ideological spectrum.