A Threat Transformed
February 8, 2011
AQAM has three basic tiers. Bin Laden and his close associates comprise al Qaeda core, the group responsible for 9/11 and now based in western Pakistan. Al Qaeda affiliates and like-minded groups is a broad category that includes al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), al Shabaab, and several other regional terrorist organizations. Al Qaeda–inspired, nonaffiliated cells and individuals is a diffuse tier comprising radicalized groups and individuals that are not regularly affiliated with, but draw clear inspiration and occasional guidance from, the core and affiliates.
The transformation of the al Qaeda threat into a broader movement has important implications for U.S. and international counterterrorism strategy. First, the diffusion of global Islamist terrorism has greatly complicated the work of policymakers and national security practitioners. Al Qaeda core, while operationally diminished, plays an active role within the syndicate of armed groups active in Pakistan and Afghanistan, often helping to facilitate attacks that it alone could not perpetrate. Emerging affiliates pose a range of threats: In less than a year, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula launched two attempted attacks on the U.S. homeland; and Lashkar-e-Taiba, in perpetrating the 2008 Mumbai bombings, provoked further military tensions between Pakistan and India. Nonaffiliated cells and individuals, while mostly unsophisticated, represent a unique type of threat: “homegrown” extremists could enable domestic attacks. This report examines the nature of these changes and is part of a larger, year-long study that will forecast the nature of AQAM in 2025.