The document was written in April, before the death of al-Qaeda in Iraq leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
United States-led counterterrorism efforts have seriously damaged the leadership of al-Qaeda and disrupted its operations; however, we judge that al-Qaeda will continue to pose the greatest threat by a single terrorist organization to the homeland and US interests abroad.
We also assess that the global jihadist movement, which includes al-Qaeda, affiliated and independent terrorist groups and emerging networks and cells, is spreading and adapting to counterterrorism efforts.
Although we cannot measure the extent of the spread with precision, a large body of all-source reporting indicates that activists identifying themselves as jihadists, although a small percentage of Muslims, are increasing in number and geographic dispersion.
If this trend continues, threats to US interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, leading to increasing attacks worldwide.
Greater pluralism and more responsive political systems in Muslim-majority nations would alleviate some of the grievances jihadists exploit.
Over time, such progress, together with sustained, multifaceted programmes aimed at the vulnerabilities of the jihadist movement and continued pressure on al-Qaeda, could erode support for the jihadists.
We assess that the global jihadist movement is decentralised, lacks a coherent global strategy and is becoming more diffuse.
New jihadist networks and cells, with anti-American agendas, are increasingly likely to emerge.
The confluence of shared purpose and dispersed actors will make it harder to find and undermine jihadist groups.
We assess that the operational threat from self-radicalised cells will grow in importance to US counterterrorism efforts, particularly abroad but also in the homeland.
The jihadists regard Europe as an important venue for attacking Western interests.
Extremist networks inside the extensive Muslim diasporas in Europe facilitate recruitment and staging for urban attacks, as illustrated by the 2004 Madrid and 2005 London bombings.
We assess that the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives; perceived jihadist success there would inspire more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere.
The Iraq conflict has become the “cause celebre” for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world, and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.
Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight.
We assess that the underlying factors fuelling the spread of the movement outweigh its vulnerabilities and are likely to do so for the duration of the timeframe of this estimate.
Four underlying factors are fuelling the spread of the jihadist movement:
1. Entrenched grievances, such as corruption, injustice, and fear of Western domination, leading to anger, humiliation and a sense of powerlessness.
2. The Iraq jihad.
3. The slow pace of real and sustained economic, social and political reforms in many Muslim majority nations.
4. Pervasive anti-US sentiment among most Muslims, all of which jihadists exploit.
Concomitant vulnerabilities in the jihadist movement have emerged that, if fully exposed and exploited, could begin to slow the spread of the movement.
They include dependence on the continuation of Muslim-related conflicts, the limited appeal of the jihadists’ radical ideology, the emergence of respected voices of moderation and criticism of the violent tactics employed against mostly Muslim citizens.
The jihadists’ greatest vulnerability is that their ultimate political solution – an ultraconservative interpretation of Shariah-based governance spanning the Muslim world – is unpopular with the vast majority of Muslims.
Exposing the religious and political straitjacket that is implied by the jihadists’ propaganda would help to divide them from the audiences they seek to persuade.
Recent condemnations of violence and extremist religious interpretations by a few notable Muslim clerics signal a trend that could facilitate the growth of a constructive alternative to jihadist ideology: peaceful political activism.
This also could lead to the consistent and dynamic participation of broader Muslim communities in rejecting violence, reducing the ability of radicals to capitalize on passive community support.
In this way, the Muslim mainstream emerges as the most powerful weapon in the war on terror.
Countering the spread of the jihadist movement will require co-ordinated multilateral efforts that go well beyond operations to capture or kill terrorist leaders.
If democratic reform efforts in Muslim-majority nations progress over the next five years, political participation probably would drive a wedge between intransigent extremists and groups willing to use the political process to achieve their local objectives.
Nonetheless, attendant reforms and potentially destabilizing transitions will create new opportunities for jihadists to exploit.
Al-Qaeda, now merged with Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s network, is exploiting the situation in Iraq to attract new recruits and donors and to maintain its leadership role.
The loss of main leaders, particularly Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and al-Zarqawi, in rapid succession, probably would cause the group to fracture into smaller groups.
Although like-minded individuals would endeavor to carry on the mission, the loss of these main leaders would exacerbate
strains and disagreements.
We assess that the resulting splinter groups would, at least for a time, pose a less serious threat to US interests than does al-Qaeda.
Should al-Zarqawi continue to evade capture and scale back attacks against Muslims, we assess he could broaden his popular appeal and present a global threat.
The increased role of Iraqis in managing the operations of al-Qaeda in Iraq might lead veteran foreign jihadists to focus their efforts on external operations.
Other affiliated Sunni-extremist organizations, such as Jemaah Islamiya, Ansar al-Sunnah and several North African groups, unless countered, are likely to expand their reach and become more capable of multiple and/or mass-casualty attacks outside their traditional areas of operation.
We assess that such groups pose less of a danger to the homeland than does al-Qaeda, but will pose varying degrees of threat to our allies and to US interests abroad.
The focus of their attacks is likely to ebb and flow between local regime targets and regional or global ones.
We judge that most jihadist groups – both well-known and newly formed – will use improvised explosive devices and suicide attacks, focused primarily on soft targets, to implement their asymmetric warfare strategy, and that they will attempt to conduct sustained terrorist attacks in urban environments.
Fighters with experience in Iraq are a potential source of leadership for jihadists pursuing these tactics.
(Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapon) capabilities will continue to be sought by jihadist groups.
While Iran, and to a lesser extent Syria, remain the most active state sponsors of terrorism, many other states will be unable to prevent territory or resources from being exploited by terrorists.
Anti-US and anti-globalisation sentiment is on the rise and fuelling other radical ideologies.
This could prompt some leftist, nationalist or separatist groups to adopt terrorist methods to attack US interests.
The radicalization process is occurring more quickly, more widely, and more anonymously in the internet age, raising the likelihood of surprise attacks by unknown groups whose members and supporters may be difficult to pinpoint.
We judge that groups of all stripes will increasingly use the internet to communicate, propagandise, recruit, train and obtain logistical and financial support.