November 1, 2006 | The Journal of International Security Affairs

Future Terrorism: Mutant Jihads

The strategic decision to carry out 9/11 was made in the early 1990s, almost ten years before the barbaric attacks on New York and Washington took place. The decade-long preparations and the testing of America's defenses and political tolerance to terrorism that took place before September 11th—were a stage in the much longer modern history of the jihadist movement that produced al-Qaeda and its fellow travelers.

Decades from now, historians will discover that the United States, the West and the international community were being targeted by a global ideological movement which emerged in the 1920s, survived World War II and the Cold War, and carefully chose the timing of its onslaught against democracy. Undoubtedly, the issue that policy planners and government leaders need to address with greatest urgency, and which the American public is most concerned about, is the future shape of the terrorist threat facing the United States and its allies. Yet developments since 2001, both at home and overseas, have shown that terror threats in general—and the jihadi menace in particular— remain at the same time resilient and poorly understood.

Defining the war

The jihadi war against the Soviet Union during the Cold War—and the struggle against the United States and some of its allies thereafter—are all part of a single continuum. Over time, jihadi Salafists and Khomeinist radicals alike have become proficient in selecting their objectives and infiltrating targets. Indeed, an analysis of the security failures that made 9/11 possible clearly demonstrates that the hijackers exploited systemic malfunctions at the national security level. Learning these lessons is essential for better counterterrorism planning in the future. But the jihadists are also learning, and the advantage will go to the side which can adapt most quickly. If the jihadists learn to understand and anticipate their opponents, their tactics and strategies will mutate.

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Al Qaeda