Two decades after 9/11

Eman Ragab
Thursday 15 Sep 2022

It has been 21 years since the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001. These attacks are remembered by Americans with sadness and sorrow, as they took away the lives of thousands of innocent people who happened to be at the World Trade Centre in New York, in Pennsylvania, or at the Pentagon building in Washington.

A recent visit to Washington DC coincided with the commemoration of the attacks. I had the chance to exchange with people who could recall the day of the attacks and remember where they were during them.

People in Washington spoke of their personal memories of the attacks. I visited the memorial built to honour the 184 people whose lives were lost as result of the attack on the southwest corner of the Pentagon building. "We will forever remember our loved ones, friends, and colleagues,” it reads. 

The 2001 attacks changed the course of history. They also created an interest in the study of terrorism in universities around the world and on the agendas of think tanks and other organisations.

As a result of the attacks, terrorism has been the main threat to national security in many countries around the world over the past two decades, leading to the emergence of counter-terrorism professionals and security practitioners distinguished from their peers working on other types of security threats.
Countries have also become keener to strengthen collective collaboration on the regional and international levels in order to weaken terrorist entities and their transnational networks. 

The outcomes of these developments have been multifaceted. On the one hand, security institutions have become more interested in strengthening their interactions with experts in the field to strengthen the resilience of society against terrorism and to develop multidimensional counterterrorism strategies that include various military, legal, security, socio-economic, and communication policies.  

On the other hand, they have also led to the emergence of capacity building programmes related to counterterrorism that consultancy firms and private security companies have been leading. 

But what about terrorism itself? Have the terrorist organisations themselves been weakened? The threat of terrorism is evolving, and the landscape of active terrorist entities is becoming more diverse and complex. According to the US State Department 2002 report on “Patterns of Global Terrorism,” the 2001 attacks immediately directed international counterterrorism efforts mainly against Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. 

Twenty years later, the threat has become more geographically dispersed in other regions around the world. Apart from the groups in Afghanistan, there are now also Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Al-Qaeda in the Indian subcontinent, the Al-Shabaab Movement in Somalia, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Boko Haram in Nigeria, and the Islamic State (IS) group and its affiliated entities in many parts of the world. There are also new forms of terrorism, including that carried out by “lone wolves,” “black widows,” small terrorist cells and virtual plotters. 

Terrorist organisations also proved their resilience during the Covid-19 pandemic. IS has been taking advantage of the pandemic, especially in Iraq and Syria, to promote its activities, and it remains a threat to regional and global security. It has redefined its strategy in three major directions, during the pandemic itself shifting its priorities to strengthening the loyalty of its remaining members and doing its best ‌‌‌‌‌‌. 

Its operations have also been following a ‌"hit‌‌"‌‌‌, and‌it had been aiming to e its members‌‌‌up in Al-Hol Camp and other prisons in Syria and Iraq. It has introduced new types of jihad, including so-called “second-line‌‌jihad” and “media‌‌jihad.” 

The first has been defined in 24 points in a text in Arabic available on the Akhbar al-Muslimeen platform entitled "Jihad for those who did not attend Jihad.” These points include sharing information with IS, collecting donations for the group in the form of Bitcoins, and supporting those who practice "first-line jihad" on the battlefield.

“Media jihad,” according to IS, means supporting the group using various media tools and technologies. It says that this type of jihad should be practiced with vigilance, in order that it is not detected by enemy governments. It urges "media jihadists" to follow the security procedures published by its "Afaq agency for cyber-security.”

Lastly, IS has been attracting a new‌‌‌from residents ‌of ‌‌‌‌‌‌‌, especially women and children, young people from a low socio-economic background, and European Muslims spending many hours online as a result of ‌restrictions. The latter are thought to have lost their usual ‌s during the pandemic and to have found themselves‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌‌. They have thus become more‌‌‌‌‌group and in some case have developed sympathies for it. 

According to the 2022 Global Terrorism Index, terrorists are also now using more advanced technologies, including drones, GPS systems, and encrypted messaging services, with these developments making countering the threat of terrorism more challenging.  
* The writer is head of the security research unit at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies and a visiting professor of political science at Cairo University.

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