Today marks 8 years since the death of Usama Bin Laden, the notorious and infamous leader of al-Qa’ida. Though the organization has suffered setbacks and has been degraded, its brand and influence continue to offer influence and carry a message even after its founder’s death. Even now, the group has been seeking to reconstitute itself, and Bin Laden’s son, Hamza and his former closer advisor, Ayman Zawahiri are moving the group forward and seeking to make itself relevant both as a terrorist movement and for other groups inspired by the organization after the 9/11 attacks.
In a similar vein, this week, we heard the first public message in five years by Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi, the leader of the group known as the Islamic State. In his appearance published via its media arm, Al Furqan, Baghdadi conjured a similar sense of command and control and even mentioned recent attacks in Sri Lanka, Australia, Burkina Faso and Mali—suggesting that though they had seen a territorial loss in Syria and Iraq, the influence of the organization still has global resonance with current and new potential recruits of the movement.
Furthermore, as we saw with Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qa’ida in Iraq in 2006 and Usama Bin Laden who issued a similar public statement in 1998 after his attack on the U.S. embassy in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya, the recent Baghdadi statement follows a similar precedent of making sure that extremists’ groups are germane and seen in both public and private circles. By being relevant and vocal on public and social media, ISIS and al-Qa’ida alike demonstrate clearly that their groups are significant and are able to show their importance in the global Jihadist community and potential sympathizers.
Last year, the sixth Global Terrorism Index showed that deaths attributed to transnational terrorism fell for the third consecutive years in a row worldwide, decreasing by 27 per cent between 2016 to 2017, according to the study. However, transnational terrorism remains widespread and we know that 67 countries recorded more than one death, and 98 countries recorded at least one attack. This is a major concern and we know key countries such as Afghanistan, Somalia, Nigeria and Syria to name a few, continue to face ongoing threats from terrorist groups who continue to adapt and adjust.
In addition, the threat of far-right extremism both within political terms and ideological extremism in the form of white supremacism offers an additional layer of the diversity of the threat that both Western and global communities face. According to a May 2017 Intelligence Bulletin, the FBI and DHS reported that white supremacist extremism poses a persistent threat of lethal violence in the United States, and two U.S. Senators, Tim Kaine and Dick Durbin both introduced legislation to address the growing threat of white supremacists and other violent right-wing extremists—further showing how the threat of violence is on the rise.
In the United States, the October 27, 2018 attack in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania against a Synagogue; the violence of the August 2017, “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA and the June 17, 2015 shooting and killing of 9 African American worshippers at the Emmanuel A.M.E. church in Charleston, SC by the white nationalist, Dylan Roof, remind us further of the ongoing rise of domestic extremism and how the threat is become diverse and metastasized.
As a former US government counterterrorism analyst for over a decade and now as Executive Director of the leading counter-radicalization think tank working on deradicalization and rehabilitation of both Islamist and far-right extremists, we know more than most what it takes to address and defeat this threat.
The response and nuanced approach for individuals who have gone down extremism both within the U.S. and around the globe will require individualized approaches, and in some instances can be inoculated against populations; however, what we have learned is that all of society must be involved. We also know that the days of 9/11 and the subsequent aftermath have taught us all a lot. What we seek to do for the future, is to learn, and use good practices that have worked well to implement to make a difference. By us staying actively engaged, adjusting, learning and constantly finding new approaches, we stand a chance to fight and resist against this global epidemic and find a way to address this constant and evolving threat.
Dr. Muhammad Fraser-Rahim is the Executive Director, North America, Quilliam International