All panelist agreed that the leadership losses to the CIA's drone war have exacted a huge toll on al Qaeda, with leaders vastly harder to replace than foot soldiers.
The threat that primarily concerns Pillar is a demonstrated one: home-grown terrorists like alleged extremists Nidal Malik Hasan and Faisal Shahzad, which Pillar and fellow panelists refer to as “like-mindeds” based on their relationship to foreign groups. These types actors make up for their amateurism with their willingness to die carrying out attacks, he said.
Allen, a consultant with the Chertoff Group, noted that radical Muslim-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who communicated from Yemen with Hasan and likely influenced Shahzad and alleged Christmas Day bomber Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab, “Is not giving his regular Friday night Internet lectures. He is on the run.”
But al-Awlaki has made his mark as a recruiter and radicalizer, Allen said, adding, “I can’t overstate the power of the Internet in fueling radicalization.”
Tempering those warnings, Allen said that, “I don’t think we should get overexcited about the state of Muslim-Americans.” Yet he offered another qualifier. Young, second-generation Americans whose families retain familial and social ties overseas bear an elevated, and demonstrated risk of radicalization. Apprehensions of radicals in war zones overseas, and forensic evidence, has found that jihadis abroad had previously been arrested for criminal offenses in the United States, according to a 2008 article in The Washington Post.
Fourth panelist Steven Simon of the Council on Foreign Relations and a professor at Princeton University, warned against viewing the war against terror as solely a fight against religious extremism. The West must also weigh anti-colonialism as a factor, he said.
Pillar said he shares a view with French terrorism scholar Gilles Kepel that society is “on the downhill slope” of the fight against terrorism, but also noted that Keppel made that same assessment shortly before 9-11.
♦ Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force/DefenseLink