Asked and Answered: Global Terrorism Threat Assessment 2024

Global Terrorism Threat Assessment 2024 is a new report from the CSIS Transnational Threats Project focusing on the greatest terrorist threats currently facing the United States and its allies. Catrina Doxsee, a fellow in the Transnational Threats Project, sat down to discuss the report, including current trends in global terrorism and how policymakers can begin to address this issue.

This interview, conducted by Lauren Adler, has been edited for brevity and clarity.

LA: Your report conducts a threat assessment of current global terrorism. What are the greatest terrorist threats facing the United States today, and what trends are we seeing?

CD: Over the roughly two decades following 9/11, the United States was primarily focused on combating terrorist threats from Salafi jihadist organizations, such as al Qaeda and the Islamic State. Today, we’re seeing that the main threat to the United States and its Western allies is coming from individuals who we have traditionally thought of as domestic terrorists—people motivated by ideologies like white nationalism, violent misogyny, anti-government extremism, and various conspiracy theories. The threat to the United States from Salafi jihadists is actually relatively low compared to the past few decades. The main jihadist threat at this point is localized in specific hotspot regions, mainly South Asia, particularly Afghanistan; the Middle East; and both East and West Africa. Also, even when these groups have the will to attack the United States or U.S. allies, they often lack the capability to do so, as many of them are currently in a rebuilding phase. As a result, there is some level of ongoing threat to U.S. and allied persons and assets in these hotspot regions, including embassies, but it’s not the same high-level threat that we’ve seen from jihadist organizations in the past few decades.

LA: You note in the report that the threat to the United States and its allies from internationally based groups is low compared to the last two decades. How has Hamas’s October 7 terrorist attack influenced this threat landscape?

CD: We do continue to see various acts of terrorism around the world, including, notably, the October 7 attack in Israel by Hamas. This points to the fact that terrorism will continue to be a persistent problem around the world—there’s no way to get rid of terrorism as a phenomenon altogether. That said, what we’re seeing is the regionalization of these threats. The Middle East, including the conflict between Israel and Hamas, has long been one of these hotspots where we’ve seen tension, where we’ve seen attacks that flare up. The findings of the report don’t claim to say that such things won’t happen, but simply that when they do happen, there’s less likelihood that international groups will attack targets outside of their immediate regions.

One thing that is interesting that we see following the attack by Hamas and the subsequent Israeli invasion of Gaza is that this international event can inflame existing tensions and extremist sentiment in the United States and other Western nations. Since the October 7 attacks, we’ve seen a wave of violent extremist acts targeting Jewish, Muslim, and Palestinian populations in the United States and other nations. It’s important to understand how international attention on a conflict like this can exacerbate some of the race- and ethnicity-based violent extremist attitudes that we’re confronting within the United States. This also isn’t a unique or isolated phenomenon with the Israel-Hamas war; for example, following the international crises around the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, we saw a wave of violent and racist attacks against Asian Americans.

LA: While international terrorist threats against the United States are low, the threat from violent far-right and far-left domestic terror is on the rise. How can the United States best counter threats that are potentially originating within its own borders?

CD: It’s important that the United States can collect and analyze data in real time about the terrorist threats that it’s facing, including the nature of those threats, and the types of networks these individuals are coming from. We’ve seen in recent years that the United States has experienced the highest number of domestic terrorist attacks in at least three decades. That rise has been largely driven by violent far-right extremists, and, to a lesser extent, far-left extremists. Being able to identify where those threats are coming from will enable the U.S. government and law enforcement at all levels to appropriately allocate resources and intervene in communities, particularly to stem radicalization before someone gets to the point of carrying out an attack.

Overall, the majority of terrorist attacks in the United States are committed by individuals who follow far-right extremist ideologies, including white nationalism, violent misogyny, and anti-government beliefs. In addition to those attacks, however, there has been an increase in attacks from individuals on the violent far left, including those who follow anarchist ideologies. However, it’s important to understand that despite the increase in attacks from all parts of the extremist spectrum, violent far-right attacks are significantly more likely to be lethal, both in terms of the weapons used and the number of resulting fatalities.

LA: U.S. adversaries like Russia and Iran continue to act as state sponsors of terror. How does this further their political and military interests?

CD: States like Russia and Iran frequently rely on irregular means to achieve their political goals. That’s particularly true of Iran, which typically operates through proxy networks. Many of these proxies are terrorist organizations, or at least organizations that have historically used terrorist tactics. We also see Russia, in its attempts to reassert itself on the global stage, in addition to using kinetic action like it has with the invasion of Ukraine—regularly using various forms of irregular political warfare to operate in the “gray zone.” That includes efforts to inflame or exacerbate political tensions and potentially political violence in nations that they view as adversaries. Given that international conflict is increasingly occurring within the gray zone, it’s important to understand how state actors may make use of non-state actors, including terrorist organizations, to further their own goals with an air of deniability.

LA: What trends should policymakers be looking at as they consider ways to address this issue?

CD: We identify a variety of cross-regional trends, including the global spread of far-right extremist ideologies, the use of emerging technologies, and the increased blending of components of different ideologies—even those that one might typically expect to be ideologically opposed to one another—as well as Salafi-jihadist organizations going through rebuilding efforts that may give them the ability to attack further abroad in the medium term. Also, particularly as the United States copes with its primary terrorist threat coming from domestic extremists, it will be important to carefully monitor these threats, especially around potential flashpoint events—including major milestones associated with the 2024 presidential election.

Catrina Doxsee is a fellow in the Transnational Threats Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Lauren Adler is content coordinator with CSIS External Relations.

Catrina Doxsee
Fellow, Warfare, Irregular Threats, and Terrorism Program