Central Al-Qaeda May Be Wounded but Terrorist Threat Remains
Sarah Field /
On March 12 the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) released a report on the “Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community.” The report stated the following:
Senior personnel losses in 2012, amplifying losses and setbacks since 2008, have degraded core al-Qa’ida…. However, the group has held essentially the same strategic goals since its initial public declaration of war against the United States in 1996, and to the extent that the group endures, its leaders will not abandon the aspiration to attack inside the United States.
The Heritage Foundation has repeatedly argued the same: “Terrorists, including those radicalized in the United States, continue to seek to harm the U.S. and its people.” Heritage continues, “Internationally, al-Qaeda has become more decentralized, leading to a greater dependence on its affiliates and allies.”
Indeed, as the DNI report highlighted, al-Qaeda affiliates and allies remain active throughout much of the world. Some of these major players include:
- Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). A terrorist organization based in Yemen that was behind the 2009 failed Christmas Day bombing by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. AQAP is associated with Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born Islamist key to AQAP English language propaganda, who was killed by a U.S. drone strike in 2011.
- Al-Nusrah Front. An al-Qaeda in Iraq affiliate that is allied with the Syrian rebels fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
- Al-Shabaab. A Somalia-based group that operates mostly in Somalia and East Africa carrying out terrorist attacks and guerilla warfare. Al-Shabaab recently allied itself with AQAP.
- Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). An Algeria-based group that operates throughout North Africa and has allied itself with Ansar al-Din in Mali in a push to impose Sharia law and fight against French forces in the country.
- Boko Haram. Nigeria-based and allied with AQIM and al-Shabaab. In 2011, Boko Haram bombed the U.N. headquarters in Nigeria.
Of course, as the DNI also pointed out, the terrorist threat also exists within U.S. borders. This threat comes in part from the rise of homegrown terrorists—“American citizens, legal permanent residents, or visitors radicalized predominately in the United States.”
With continued counterterrorism efforts, terrorist organizations have found it increasingly difficult to operate their transnational networks, and have instead turned to recruiting those already in the U.S. These individuals generally also have the benefit of already speaking English and having greater freedom to move throughout the U.S. without raising suspicion. In fact, of 54 terrorist plots foiled since 9/11, 44 have been homegrown.
Ultimately, what is important to understand is that “al-Qaeda is not merely concerned with attacking the homeland, but has a global insurgency intent on taking over areas of the world.” Taking on this global insurgency requires more than simply taking out key al-Qaeda leaders—it requires a strong and enduring counterterrorism strategy.
Sarah Field is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.