By Bill Braniff and Assaf Moghadam
Approaching the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, there is a growing sense among counterterrorism analysts from the policy community and academia that Al-Qaeda has substantially weakened in the last decade and is destined to lose the battle against its enemies, and in particular the United States. Indeed, signs that Al-Qaeda is flagging are ample, and include its loss of Osama bin Laden and important operational leaders; defeat or near defeat of various Al-Qaeda franchises outside of Pakistan; a large number of ideological challenges leveled against the group by some of its former allies; and the series of protests that shook several Middle Eastern and North African states beginning in early 2011. Because the revolts in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, and other countries were mostly nonviolent, they provided a striking counterexample to Al-Qaeda's emphasis on violent regime change in the Middle East.
These organizational setbacks are significant, but must be viewed in the context of Al-Qaeda's success in spawning an expansionist global jihadist movement. Ten years into the fight against Al-Qaeda, that movement's overarching narrative continues to attract followers from a multitude of countries. All the while, the interplay of Al-Qaeda Core (AQC) with its affiliated groups, associated groups, and inspired adherents provides an increasing number of pathways to violence. A number of successful and unsuccessful plots in the past decade, and especially the last two years, serve as a stark reminder that the global jihad remains devoted to striking its enemies, often with ingenuity. The examples listed below span the breadth of the movement; taken together, these representative plots allude to the tactical, geographic, and organizational variability of the violence emanating from the global jihad.