9/11 and the Jihadist Threat: Where We Are after 15 Years

Fifteen years after the 9/11 attacks, we have seen jihadist terrorism proliferate from the mountains and valleys of Afghanistan to the streets of Western cities. Gone are the days when the greatest threat was in the form of jihadist fighters traveling around the globe to carry out an attack. The reach of the jihadist terrorism influence has dramatically changed the nature of the threats we face, and with it the nature counterterrorism policy. As described in New America’s report Jihadist Terrorism 15 Years after 9/11, the types of ISIS attacks America and the world face have evolved:

  • the first are directed by core ISIS;
  • the second are carried out by an affiliate of ISIS with some kind of relatively tight connection to core ISIS;
  • the third are attacks by ISIS affiliates with little or no real connection to the core;
  • the fourth are attacks by individuals who are enabled by ISIS;
  • and the fifth are attacks inspired by ISIS, and are sometimes undertaken by unstable individuals who latch on to ISIS’ ideology to give their violent acts some thin veneer of meaning.

As Jihadists become more resourceful and tech savvy, their methods and tactics have become far more adaptive; so must our counterterrorism policies. The report’s author, Peter Bergen, has 13 recommendations on what should come next.

  1. Enlist rather than alienate the Muslim community.
  2. Either through electronic warfare or other means, take out ISIS’ propaganda production facilities in the Middle East.
  3. Intensify the military campaign against ISIS.
  4. Institute a no-fly zone in northern Syria.
  5. Build a database of all the “foreign fighters” who have gone to Syria to fight for ISIS and the al-Qaeda affiliate there.
  6. Enlist defectors from ISIS to tell their stories publicly.
  7. Amplify voices such as that of the ISIS opposition group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently.
  8. Support the work of clerics such as Imam Mohamed Magid of northern Virginia.
  9. Keep up pressure on social media companies such as Twitter to enforce their own terms of use to take down any ISIS material that encourages violence.
  10. Amplify support to Turkey to help it to tamp down the foreign fighter flow through their country to ISIS in neighboring Syria.
  11. Relentlessly hammer home the message that while ISIS positions itself as the defender of Muslims, its victims are overwhelmingly fellow Muslims.
  12. Prevent suspected terrorists from buying military-style assault rifles.
  13. Stay in Afghanistan.

Access the full report here on the HSDL. For non-registered users, the report is available here.