Chairman Deutch, Ranking Member Wilson, and other distinguished committee members, thank you for inviting me to testify today to examine the global terror landscape.
The Easter day bombings in Sri Lanka serve as a stark reminder that our enemies are committed to their cause and are willing to go to any lengths to destroy our way of life. Nine suicide bombers, many of them well educated, including two sons of a wealthy spice tycoon, and a pregnant woman, killed more than 250 people during attacks on churches and hotels. The suicide bombers swore allegiance to Islamic State emir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi before carrying out their heinous attacks.
The Sri Lanka bombings took place just one month after the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) declared a victory over the Islamic State.3 While the Islamic State may have lost its physical caliphate in Iraq and Syria, it is by no means defeated. For today’s hearing, you ask us to examine the landscape of global terrorism. My testimony will focus on the threat from both Sunni jihadists and Shiite militias backed by Iran, as well as other state sponsors of terrorism.
In short, the jihadist threat has become more diverse since the horrific attack on September 11, 2001. Prior to 9/11, al-Qaeda maintained a base in Afghanistan and fought alongside the Taliban, operating primarily at the cellular level in several other countries throughout Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia. Al-Qaeda’s base in Afghanistan was key to allowing it to recruit and train its cadre of global operatives for attacks against the U.S. and its allies. Iran’s primary proxy was Hezbollah in Lebanon, and it also supported Palestinian terrorist groups against Israel.
Since 9/11, al-Qaeda’s footprint has greatly expanded. It has established branches in Yemen and Saudi Arabia (al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula); North and West Africa (al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin, or JNIM); Somalia and East Africa (Shabaab); Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar (al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent); and in Syria. In many of these countries, al-Qaeda maintains an active insurgency, and in some, al-Qaeda’s branches or allies control a significant amount of land.
However, al-Qaeda is no longer the only global jihadist actor. The Islamic State, which arose from a dispute between al-Qaeda branches in in Iraq and Syria, now rivals its parent group in many ways. The Islamic State has what it calls “provinces” in countries spanning from West Africa through East Africa and into the Middle East, all the way to Southeast Asia. Since it declared its so-called caliphate in 2014, the Islamic State has taken credit for most of the Sunni jihadist attacks in the West, including operations that were inspired or directed by the group.