Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

November 19, 2013

The reset of global violent jihad

Filed under: Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Christopher Bellavita on November 19, 2013

This essay was written by Mike Walker as a series of 49 tweets.  Mr. Walker is the former undersecretary and acting secretary of the Army and former deputy director of FEMA during the Clinton Administration.    You can follow his twitter feed @New_Narrative.


The nominee for DHS secretary told Congress last week his first priority would be filling open political jobs. Shouldn’t the top priority of any DHS secretary be protecting the nation? In fact, the DHS nominee said counterterrorism was his third priority. The administration insists we are safer from terrorist attack today. We are, but a threat remains while a new one gathers. Many analysts believe the core of al-Qaeda has been decimated in its Pakistan safe haven. Yet, al-Qaeda keeps replacing everyone we kill. Their bench is apparently deeper than expected. Thanks to good intelligence, we have made it difficult for al-Qaeda to launch major attacks here at home.

Yet, the terrorists’ affiliates, allies & adherents are now active in more than 36 countries. The Al Qaeda movement today is in 3 times more countries than on 9-11. Since 9-11, al-Qaeda has morphed, decentralized & disbursed on purpose. Some analysts believe this diffuse, new al-Qaeda movement is, therefore, less threatening. They say the terrorists are now more focused on local issues, no longer on global violent jihad. These analysts are missing two current trends inside the terrorist syndicate.

First, al-Qaeda’s radical ideology continues to inspire small numbers of people, including Americans. In fact, a new Pew poll indicates as many as 13% of Muslims, perhaps 200 million people worldwide, view al-Qaeda favorably. Analysts also insist those being inspired today are less lethal. Tell that to Boston’s victims. Al Qaeda is actively urging homegrown terrorists to launch more attacks like Boston in America. Many analysts say, however, al-Qaeda’s call to violent jihad is falling on deaf ears. Yet, since Bin Laden was killed at least 50 people in the US, influenced by the al-Qaeda ideology, have been arrested or indicted. In the years since 9-11, law enforcement has done a great job keeping the nation safe. However, Boston proves we cannot stop everything & shows a continued weakness in intergovernmental cooperation.

The second trend is al-Qaeda’s rebirth overseas. The cycle of terrorism is being reset. Though under attack, al-Qaeda continues safe haven in Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, & Somalia. New safe havens are being established in Libya, the African Sahel & the Egyptian Sinai. But it is Syria that is most troubling. Syria is attracting thousands, influenced by al-Qaeda’s radical & absolute beliefs. For the first time in al-Qaeda’s 25-year history, it now has a base in the very heart of the Middle East. Hundreds of Europeans & at least 60 Americans are being trained in Syria. Former FBI director Mueller warns these newly trained Americans may return home & attack here. One cell returning home has already been arrested planning attacks in Belgium.

Spreading violent jihad in recruits’ home countries is a requirement of al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra Front in Syria. The leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq also promises to attack inside the US, as does the brutal new leader of the Pakistan Taliban. And AQAP in Yemen has already launched at least 3 plots aimed directly at the American homeland. Before 9-11, al-Qaeda trained thousands of violent jihadists in large camps in Afghanistan. Today’s terror training is more modular & more subtle, thus more difficult to detect & stop. It is also more sophisticated & more accelerated than during the old days in Afghanistan. Some believe al-Qaeda has accomplished in 2 years in Syria, what it took them 10 to accomplish in Afghanistan. So, the global violent jihad has not disappeared; instead it continues to morph & develop.

Al Qaeda’s leaders have said future attacks will be at the time & place of their own choosing. Al-Qaeda’s adherents are patient & think in terms of decades or even longer. It was reported in mid-2009 that U.S. officials feared al-Qaeda’s ally, the Pakistan Taliban, had gotten their hands on a nuclear weapon. Fortunately, it wasn’t true, but Pakistan’s nuclear security is the second weakest in the world. And leading Pakistani nuclear scientists suggest those weapons could be hijacked & given to terrorists. Taking no chance, FEMA has been developing response plans to deal with the aftermath of an improvised nuclear device.

To conclude, we should all be wary of analysts with rosy assumptions. The global violent jihad movement has only been in hibernation. Today, that movement is resetting for the next new phase of terror. The reset of global violent jihad is emerging from an unfulfilled Arab Spring & is encouraged by weakened US influence abroad. So, the first homeland security priority must continue to be the safety of the United States. We are safer now than on 9-11 but will not continue to be if we take our eye off the ball. It is no time for complacency in America. As the director of the NCTC told Congress last week, al-Qaeda will attack should the opportunity arise.

This essay also appeared on the blog “Pietervanostaeyen: Musings on Arabism, Islamicism, History and current affairs.

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Comment by Arnold Bogis

November 19, 2013 @ 2:49 am

A couple of points/questions:

–Boston: I think I’ve been as tuned in/obsessed as anyone on this blog regarding Boston. But I can go to sleep tonight with the thought that if the level of destruction able to be perpetrated by Al Qaeda in the U.S. homeland in the future can be capped at the Boston Marathon bombing level…well, we’ve won. With absolutely no disrespect to the victims of that terrible day, it does not compare in size or scope to the first attempt to bomb the World Trade Towers (the goal to topple one onto the other), or the coordinated bombings of two U.S. embassies, or the attack on a naval warship, or 9/11…you should get my point. There are strategic concerns and tactical attacks that only become strategic if we overreact.

–“Pakistan’s nuclear security is the second weakest in the world.” This begs the question: whose is worst? The “NPT” nuclear powers are the U.S., Russia, China, UK, and France. Add to that Israel, Pakistan, India, and North Korea. Which of those nations face an internal security problem worse than Pakistan in regards to it’s nuclear arsenal?

–“Taking no chance, FEMA has been developing response plans to deal with the aftermath of an improvised nuclear device.” And taking no sense of urgency, since experts have been warning about the threat of nuclear terrorism since before the 1990s, FEMA and the rest of the responsible U.S. government agencies have been unable to come to any sort of acceptable conclusion to this planning.

–“The reset of global violent jihad is emerging from an unfulfilled Arab Spring & is encouraged by weakened US influence abroad.” What influence has the U.S. lost and how does it translate to an invigorated jihadi movement? It seems to me that the 1990s were the height of our “unipolar” moment — we defeated the Soviet Union and no nation or grouping of states stood in our way. Yet we were attacked in 1993 in NYC, and then again in Africa, and then a naval warship was almost sunk, and of course 9/11…my point being that at the perceived height of our strength we were not immune from terrorist attack. So exactly what weakened influence do we have now that contributes to an increased threat level?

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 19, 2013 @ 8:04 am

Worthy posts and comments! Thanks Mike, Arnold and Chris!IMO important elements to consider in all of the above.

My analytic framework differs and only time will tell of its correctness.

First, a NUDET exploding anywhere in the USA could well collapse our democracy [Republic] so we better be prepared.

Second, the FP [foreign policy] of the USA needs to be more honest. In MENA our interests revolve around three facts. 1. Islam; Israel; and oil! A public explanation of our FP on these subjects is owed by the President [any President] and the Congress.

Third, given the investment in DHS we can get a lot more for our money!

Comment by Philip J. Palin

November 19, 2013 @ 9:47 am

Both of today’s posts emerge from a threat orientation. Each are predisposed to give most (all?) of their attention to the intention and capacity of our adversaries. Given that orientation, their perception of reality is — at least it seems to me — congruent with reality.

In a post last month, I exposed a different orientation. I am much more (but not entirely) focused on our own intention, attention, and vulnerabilities. Whether or not you agree, given this orientation my arguments for engaging reality are (I vigorously assert) congruent with reality.

To state the obvious: both threats and vulnerabilities exist. Is there a way that homeland security or even DHS might more effectively engage this fuller reality? I don’t know Nick. I have had some discussions with Mike. In my experience, the differences between the threat-oriented and vulnerability-oriented can run very, very deep, seriously complicating real conversation, much less mutual understanding. Given this division, collaborative opportunities seem to seldom survive first contacts.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 19, 2013 @ 10:20 am

There is validity to a threat orientation. Also to other orientations. Balancing and line drawing between and prevention makes for some tough calls.

Phil! Compliments to you since very few others don’t have frozen visions as to HS!

Comment by Max G.

November 19, 2013 @ 11:48 am

“To conclude, we should all be wary of analysts with rosy assumptions. The global violent jihad movement has only been in hibernation. Today, that movement is resetting for the next new phase of terror.”

To further conclude, (if that’s even possible) we should be wary of assumptions (System 1 thinking). I concur with William insomuch as we should be balanced and critical in our considerations. Perpetuating a culture of war and inappropriate fear is perhaps our greatest danger. Also be wary of catch phrases like “new phase of terror”, or “Terror 2.0” or “Terrorpalooza”.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 19, 2013 @ 12:28 pm


Sentence in last comment should have read:

Balancing and line drawing between protection and prevention makes for some tough calls.

Comment by Christopher Tingus

November 20, 2013 @ 11:03 am


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