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September 12, 2016

Threat from Terrorist Groups is the 'Most Serious since 9/11 Attacks'

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Al-Qaeda head Ayman al-Zawahiri


The United States and Europe are confronted with a terrorist threat which is greater than “at any point since the Sept. 11 attacks 15 years ago,” according to a Sept. 9, 2016 Washington Times report by Carlo Munoz (“Terrorist threat at its most serious since 9/11 attacks”).

Munoz cited a Sept. 7, 2016 review of global threats by the United States National Counterterrorism Center chief Nick Rasmussen. Rasmussen warned that both the United States and Europe faced a “bigger, wider and deeper” risk from terrorist groups. The rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, presents a menace which is “considerably less predictable” than those posed by al-Qaeda, the group responsible for, among other acts, the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the Pentagon, the World Trade Center in New York City and the downing of Flight 93 in Pennsylvania.

The more decentralized nature of ISIS—which also seeks to inspire attacks via social media—has enabled the group to carry out attacks “much more quickly and with much less warning” than other terror groups, Rasmussen noted.

Additionally, both ISIS’s structure and a wider variety of recruits has made it harder for U.S. intelligence officials to monitor the group and target the group. Quoting Rasmussen, The Times highlighted:

“The lack of such linkages, especially by lone wolf attackers who were inspired by Islamic State’s impressive online propaganda operation has opened up ‘a size and scale of the [U.S.] population’ susceptible to radicalization.”

The Times article cited Michael Leiter, a former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, who noted the differences between how al-Qaeda selects targets vs. how ISIS does. Leiter pointed out that massive attacks like September 11th, take “immense amounts of planning, communication, financing and coordination.” Accordingly, they come with a high risk of failure. By contrast, ISIS has pursued more “basic tactics, such as last year’s mass shooting as an office party in San Bernardino, California or the July attack in Nice, France, where an Islamic State operative used a truck to run down revelers at the seaside resort town.”

Yet, some terror analysts believe that al-Qaeda is far from down and out.

A recent report for the Hudson Institute by Daveed Gartenstein Ross, a senior fellow at the Washington D.C.-based think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and Nathaniel Barr, a research manager with Valens Global, argued that al-Qaeda is both underestimated by many analysts and a greater long-term threat than ISIS (“How al-Qaeda Survived the Islamic State Challenge,” Aug. 30, 2016). Gartenstein-Ross and Barr said that, “al Qaeda has turned IS’s emergence into a strategic opportunity, pivoting off of IS’s brutality and doubling down on a more low-profile and sustainable approach to growth. Al-Qaeda has quietly, and yet relatively rapidly, gained ground in conflict zones across the Middle East and North Africa, including Syria and Yemen, where the group has seized territory and embedded itself within local communities.”

As Rasmussen noted in his July 14, 2016 testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee, “…it is fair to say that we face more threats originating in more places and involving more individuals than we have at any time in past 15 years.”

Posted by SD at September 12, 2016 03:19 PM

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