The Evolution Of Terrorism Since 9/11


The pretrial hearings for Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and his four co-defendants resumed in the last few days of May. The accused mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States has been held in Guantanamo Bay’s detention center since March 1, 2003, and he and his fellow detainees have become the focal point of a debate about how the U.S. deals with terrorism suspects in a post-9/11 world.

According to Heras, sophisticated attacks like 9/11 require too much coordination among the attackers at various levels, and so they are more likely to be disrupted by the United States and its allies. Both Heras and another expert we consulted, Kyle Orton, a research fellow with the Henry Jackson Society, agreed that there remains the strong possibility that a bomb could be detonated on an airliner; but 9/11-style hijackings and complex coordinated attacks are likely a thing of the past. Heras also pointed out that blind luck has played a role in thwarting some of these attacks.

Kyle Orton, research fellow with the Henry Jackson Society, agrees. Islamic State (IS) “has been able to inspire true ‘lone wolves’ in a way Al-Qaeda largely failed to do, and IS is happy to claim credit for these attacks by people who are basically fanboys — low-skilled and with no direct connection to the organization,” he told RFE/RL. “This is a microcosm of the differences between Al-Qaeda and IS in their conceptions of jihad: For Al-Qaeda, it is an elitist pursuit of a vanguard; for IS, it is a more ‘democratized’ endeavor.”

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