George Friedman

For the past six years, Stratfor has published an annual forecast on al Qaeda and the jihadist movement. Since our first forecast in January 2006, we have focused heavily on examining and documenting the change of jihadism from a phenomenon involving primarily the core al Qaeda group to one based primarily on the broader, decentralized jihadist movement -- and the lesser threat the latter poses.

The central theme of last year's forecast was that the al Qaeda core would continue to be marginalized on the physical battlefield and would struggle to remain relevant on the ideological battlefield. While we did not forecast the May 2 killing of Osama bin Laden, his death certainly furthered the downward trend we predicted for the al Qaeda core organization. Due to the al Qaeda core's struggles, we forecast that regional jihadist franchise groups would continue to be at the vanguard of the physical battle and would eclipse the al Qaeda core in the ideological realm. We also noted that grassroots operatives would remain a persistent, albeit low-level, threat for 2011.

The past year saw hundreds of attacks and thwarted plots planned by jihadist actors in places like Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. But in terms of transnational plots and attacks, activity was down considerably compared to 2010. As we forecast, almost all of these plots involved grassroots operatives or militants from regional jihadist groups rather than militants dispatched by the al Qaeda core leadership. For 2012, we anticipate that these trends will continue and, given bin Laden's death, the core al Qaeda group will not only continue to degrade but struggle to survive. Like the past two years, jihadism in 2012 will be defined by the activities of the franchise groups and the persistent grassroots threat.


Contemporary vernacular imbues "al Qaeda" with a number of definitions, and the al Qaeda label is applied, often incorrectly, to several distinct actors. Therefore, we need to define what we refer to as jihadism, al Qaeda and the various agents in the jihadist movement to understand jihadism as a phenomenon.


George Friedman

George Friedman is the CEO and chief intelligence officer of Stratfor, a private intelligence company located in Austin, TX.

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