Terrorist attacks are on the rise but the academic and media elites we rely on for information are, as usual, the last to notice.
According to University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer, “Terrorism—most of it arising from domestic groups—was a much bigger problem in the United States during the 1970s than it has been since the Twin Towers were toppled [in 2001].”
Salafi-jihadist groups, fighters, and attacks have dramatically increased in number over the past several years according to a study by the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corporation. The findings in this study were published at a time when al-Qa’ida affliates—the Islamic State of Iraq (ISIS)—are sweeping across the Iraqi border and have taken control of several cities, drawing worldwide attention to an often ignored, yet intensely debated subject.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney cited RAND’s study at the conclusion of an interview with Megyn Kelly on Fox last Wednesday, saying that “In the last four years there has been a 58 percent increase in the number of jihadist groups around the world, that’s according to a RAND corporation study that came out two weeks ago. There is a dramatic increase in terrorism, a dramatic increase in their capability, and a president who refuses to recognize that there is such a thing as a war on terror.”
Did you catch that? A 58 percent increase in the number of jihadist groups around the world—groups that are a strand of militant Sunni Islamism, dedicated to retuning to “pure” Islam through violent war or struggle against unbelievers. That’s not what some people, including the media, are reporting. RAND’s study acknowledges the following:
Some argue that al Qa’ida—especially core al Qa’ida—has been severely weakened, and there is no longer a major threat to the United States from Salafi-jihadist and other terrorist groups. Former CIA officer Marc Sageman concluded that “al Qaeda is no longer seen as an existential threat to the West” and “the hysteria over a global conspiracy against the West has faded.” Brian Jenkins argued that few of America’s jihadists were dedicated or competent terrorists, resembling “stray dogs” rather than “lone wolves.”
The facts presented in The RAND study, titled A Persistent Threat, The Evoloution of al Qa’ida and Other Salafi Jihadists, examines thousands of unclassified and declassified primary source documents from internal memoranda of al Qa’ida and other Salafi-jihadist leaders, along with their public statements. It builds a database with approximate measurements of these groups’ numerical strength and their attacks, fatalities, and casualties. The facts contradict the aforementioned arguments.
The number of Salafi-Jihadist groups and fighters did indeed increase after 2010, as did the number of attacks perpetrated by al Qa’ida and its affiliates. The Salafi-jihadist movement has become more decentralized, meaning that control has been dispersed among different groups ranging from formal affiliates with sworn allegiance to al Qa’ida to alliances that are committed to establishing an extremist Islamic emirate but have no sworn allegiance to al Qa’ida.
Due to the diverse set of Salafi-jihadist groups, the threat to Western targets is difficult to measure and predict but it is nonetheless existent and on the rise. RAND continues:
“For many Salafi Jihadists, their primary goal is to overthrow regimes in Muslim countries … But some individuals also seek to target the United States and other Western countries.” Ayman al-Zawahiri published “General Guidelines for Jihad” in 2013 which stated that the “purpose of targeting America is to exhaust her and bleed her to death: by, in part, baiting the United States to overreact so that it suffered substantial human and financial losses.”
Western tourists are targets because they “are part of the Crusader campaign” and, they are primarily traveling as Christian missionaries, “callers of pornography and spreading of debauchery,” or spies.
Ninety-nine percent of attacks by al Qa’ida and its affiliates in 2013 were against near enemy targets as they were mostly attracted to the war in Syria, which country hosted more than half of Salafi-jihadists worldwide, either secretly or with other allies.
As governments across Africa and the Middle East are growing weaker, Salafi-jihadist groups are trying to fill the void, and though their attacks concentrated on establishing Islamic emirates in Iraq, Syria and the broader region, they pose a growing threat in the West in the future as groups that actively plot against the U.S. homeland and U.S. targets overseas.