Panel: Islamic State One of Many Threats to the United States

By Sarah Sicard

While the Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS, continues to dominate headlines, it is but one player in a growing list of threats to the United States and its allies, a report released by the Bipartisan Policy Center on Sept. 23 found.

The report, titled “2014 Jihadist Terrorism and Other Unconventional Threats” said the United States, along with its allies, faces a growing risk of attack by al-Qaida and jihadist groups not affiliated with the terrorist organization such as Boko Haram and the Pakistani Taliban.

"I think you have a number of overlapping phenomena that are appearing right now that make … [the threat landscape] much more complex than we've seen in the past," William McCants, director of the U.S. Relations with the Islamic World Project at the Brookings Institution, said in a panel discussion.

Since 9/11, al-Qaida’s forces and leadership have been decimated by targeted attacks from the United States and its allies. Rather than having a unified organization, it has become dispersed, with smaller groups spreading over 16 countries, Peter Bergen, the author of the report and a CNN national security analyst said.

"One of the themes of this report is that al-Qaida has sort of diffused. I think that’s a good news and a bad news story there," Bergen said.

While it is good that core al-Qaida has weakened, it has also increased its influence to new areas, he said. This poses new threats as al-Qaida can now cause chaos in more locations, panelists agreed.

However, "diffusion doesn't necessarily mean a greater threat to the United States," Bergen noted. Al-Qaida was at its most concentrated when it conducted the 9/11 attack, he said.

One reason that ISIL — which started as an offshoot of al-Qaida — has gotten more press than its parent organization is because it appeals to a new generation by using a social media-fueled “digital jihad,” said panel moderator and FOX News homeland security correspondent Catherine Herridge.

ISIL recruits have been largely young people, Herridge said. “Almost everyone is under 30, but the majority are under 25.”

This is the first social media war, Bergen said. Social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook and Instragram, have been flooded with imagery, videos and notes from ISIL jihadists waging war in Iraq and Afghanistan. ISIL’s media has made it into the living rooms of Americans across the country, he said.

"ISIS is very good TV," Bergen said. "A lot of cable networks are showing their materials."

During the early days of al-Qaida, it too, was on the cutting edge of video and tape recording, Mary Haybeck, a scholar with American Enterprises Institute, said. It no longer finds itself capable of engaging the public like it used to, she noted.

“Al-Qaida central or the al-Qaida leadership has a vision of themselves as the doers, not the speakers,” she said.

Despite al-Qaida’s inability to draw as much media attention as it once did, that has not stopped the organization from being effective, she added.

"Since the 1990s, al-Qaida has spent a lot of time figuring out how to appeal to other groups,” she said. It has integrated itself into smaller terrorist cells and communities and continues to fund and perpetrate smaller-scale attacks.

However, "al-Qaida has a commitment to spectacular attacks," Haybeck said, which could manifest itself into a large-scale attack one day.

They won't want to do something lesser than 9/11, she added.

Topics: Counterinsurgency, Homeland Security

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