Stratfor, the group hacked by Anonymous, puts out this annual report. Interestingly, while they title it the “Jihadism” report, it is almost entirely focused on al Qaeda alone. Like Obama. via Jihadism in 2012: A Persistent, Low-Level Threat | STRATFOR.
Forecast for 2012
We anticipate that the al Qaeda core will continue to struggle in the physical and ideological arenas. The group still has prolific spokesmen in al-Zawahiri, al-Libi and Gadahn, but in 2011 the group issued remarkably few messages. The remaining leaders appear to be lying low following the deaths of bin Laden, al-Rahman and others.
Even though AQAP lost important English-speaking ideological figures when Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan were killed (Khan was the editor of AQAP’s English-language Inspire magazine) the group’s main operational and ideological leadership remain at large. Among this leadership are the group’s emir, Nasir al-Wahayshi, operational commander Qasim al-Raymi, and innovative bombmaker Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri.
The remaining ideological leaders include the group’s mufti, or religious leader, Saudi-born Ibrahim Suleiman al-Rubaish. With a degree in Islamic law, fighting experience with bin Laden at Tora Bora and time served in Guantanamo Bay, al-Rubaish has impeccable jihadist credentials. The influential head of AQAP’s Shariah Council, a Yemeni imam named Adel bin Abdullah al-Abab, is among AQAP’s ideologues. While AQAP is unlikely to ever recreate what Samir Khan accomplished with Inspire magazine, the group’s al-Malaheim Media is still active, and its Arabic-language offerings continue. Those messages frequently are translated into English on such websites as the Ansar Al-Mujahideen English forum.
Moreover, the English-language statements of al-Awlaki and the editions of Inspire magazine remain on the Internet with a readership that numbers in the thousands. Indeed, an article from the first edition of Inspire, “How to Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom,” was linked to thwarted grassroots plots in Texas and New York in 2011. We believe that the threat from grassroots jihadists will persist for the foreseeable future.
We disagree with those who claim that the unrest in the Arab world will end jihadism. The overthrow of the Gadhafi regime in Libya and the democratic movements in Tunisia and Egypt will provide alternative outlets to jihadism for dissent, and other Islamist movements, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, will undercut jihadism ideologically. But the small core of hard-line jihadists will remain undeterred; this group will continue to propagate its ideology and recruit new adherents.
Recruitment will be more difficult in the current environment, and while this may hasten the eventual decline of jihadism, it will not kill the ideology this year. In addition to persisting in such lawless places as Yemen, Somalia and the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, jihadism will maintain its niche in the West, and grassroots jihadists will continue to be radicalized and mobilized in the United States, Europe, Australia and elsewhere.
The United States and Europe
The al Qaeda core and franchise groups will continue to struggle attacking the United States and Europe directly and will continue to reach out to grassroots operatives who have the ability to travel to the West. Otherwise, they will attempt to recruit aspiring jihadists living in the West. This means we will likely see more thwarted or botched plots involving poorly trained operatives and simple attacks like the shooting in Frankfurt. While such attacks can and do kill people, they are not spectacular events as 9/11 and the 2008 Mumbai attacks were. This trend also means that travel to places like Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia, or contact with jihadist planners there, will continue to be an operational weakness that Western intelligence agencies can exploit. Such was the case in Birmingham, England, where 12 suspected plotters were arrested in September and November. Individuals seeking to acquire weapons and explosives will also remain vulnerable to detection.
While Nasir al-Wahayshi’s appeal for aspiring jihadists to avoid contacting franchise groups and traveling overseas in search of training is sound, it has been difficult for jihadists to follow. This is evidenced by the fact that we have seen very few plots or attacks in which the planners were true lone wolves who had absolutely no contact with outside jihadists — or with government agents they believed to be jihadists. While the leaderless resistance model can be difficult for law enforcement to guard against, its downside for jihadists is that it takes a unique type of individual to be a true and effective lone wolf.
Since we believe most plots in the United States and Europe in 2012 will involve grassroots jihadists, we also believe that soft targets — public gatherings and mass transportation hubs, for example — will continue to be the most popular target set. In places like Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan and Somalia, we believe hotels and housing compounds will be more attractive targets than U.S. embassies or consulates, which are much more difficult to successfully attack. With a thwarted plot against a cartoonist involved in the Mohammed cartoon controversy taking place as recently as September, we do not see any end to that threat.
We predict that al-Wahayshi’s advice will go unheeded but that grassroots jihadists in the United States will continue to plan and conduct simple attacks using firearms and other weapons. We do not foresee difficult and elaborate attacks employing explosives.
Proving the threat still remains, there are forecasts for many more countries and regions, covering at least 20 nations. Finishing up:
While the al Qaeda core has been marginalized and heavily damaged, the ideology of jihadism continues to survive and win new converts, albeit at progressively lower numbers. As long as this ideology is able to spread, the war its adherents are waging will continue. While jihadists do not pose a strategic geopolitical threat on a global, regional or national scale, they nonetheless are capable of killing scores of people. For that reason alone, the jihadist threat remains in 2012.