Confronting an Uncertain Threat

The Future of Al Qaeda and Associated Movements

Al Qaeda and associated movements (AQAM) have become an increasingly diffuse security threat. Although the Afghanistan-Pakistan borderlands may have represented the epicenter of global terrorism in the past decade, al Qaeda’s various regional affiliates are growing in prominence. The past several years also have seen a rise in al Qaeda–inspired plots by small cells or unaffiliated individuals based in the West.

This flattening and expansion of al Qaeda’s global scope, both physically and virtually, has complicated U.S. and international efforts to combat global terrorism. Counterterrorism professionals work tirelessly to confront existing threats. But the need to focus on today’s exigencies—combined with officials’ limited resources for alternative and long-range planning—means that governments tend to pursue reactive, rather than anticipatory, policies and strategies vis-à-vis terrorism.

Containing—if not defeating—AQAM will require that policymakers and practitioners shape a global environment that is inhospitable to terrorism. Doing this, in turn, necessitates a better understanding of where and how future AQAM threats are likely to emerge. This report seeks to help fill this need for anticipatory knowledge and assist in the development of improved counterterrorism policies and strategy.

Ben Bodurian, David Gordon, Arnaud de Borchgrave, and Juan C. Zarate

Thomas M. Sanderson