Jihadi Competition After al Qaeda Hegemony – Part 3 of Smarter Counterterrorism

My third post in the FPRI series Smarter Counterterrorism just posted.  With the help of some friends, I attempted to define the jihadi environment today and explain in narrative and visually the splits in al Qaeda’s ranks.  If interested, please read the entire article “Jihadi Competition After al Qaeda Hegemony – ‘Old Guard’ al Qaeda, Team ISIS and The Battle For Jihadi Hearts and Minds” at this link.  Also, because I cannot make the charts that JM Berger and I put together display as larger versions at FPRI, I am posting them here for people to download.  Please click on the graphics below if you would like the larger versions for easier viewing.

Here is the intro to the post:

Today’s Jihadi Landscape: What does two competing jihadi networks and other freelance jihadi groups look like?

I’ve been wondering since Bin Laden’s death what a world without “One Big al Qaeda” might look like–see this for example.  Only now can we start to see the effects of a generational shift amongst jihadis representing two loosely formed larger networks surrounded by some, or maybe even many, loosely tied or unaffiliated jihadi groups with more regional rather than global orientations.

With the environment changing rapidly and no good way to depict today’s jihadi landscape, I, with input from friends, have put together the following visual estimate of what today’s fractured jihadi landscape might look like.  I tried to avoid the vertical, top-down task organization chart models because I don’t believe these relationships represent command and control as much as communication and collaboration.  Today’s global jihadi landscape looks more like a swarm not a corporation: it is fungible, malleable and evolving.  For the purposes of the charts you see below (Figure 1 and Figure 3), I’ve created three categories, which should not be viewed as definitive or exact as I anticipate much shifting of allegiances in the coming weeks and months.  I put forth a discussion here, not an answer, and I’m open to input.  If a group appears left out, it’s likely because I was uncertain how to assess them.  The amount of overlap represents the degree to which I estimate the groups are interlinked in their communication & efforts.”

Jihadi Competition feb 2014

And here is the chart I worked on with much help from J.M. Berger, Aaron Zelin and some friends.



  1. Clint:
    This is tremendous work that nicely captures the organizational and ideological dysfunction of Al Qaeda’s network that has been ongoing since 9-11. I would argue that the fracturing of jihadi networks goes beyond Al Qaeda and is intimately associated with ideological divisions (near versus far enemy/scope and propriety of takfir/preaching or violence) that have fractured prior movements in Algeria and Egypt before Al Qaeda’s full maturation. This is a subject that I broach in an article to be published by Orbis in its spring 2014 edition that looks at Iraq, Syria and Algeria and the general patterns of jihadi growth, maturation, implosion and rebirth. I have been following your work on this issue for some time. You are making are invaluable contribution to the debate over the Al Qaeda’s Post 9-11 devolution.

    • Tony,
      Thanks for the compliment and for reading. I’m definitely curious in the thesis you propose above. When your article comes out, can you post it here so we know where to access it?

      • Clint:

        Our work on this issue seems to be evolving along the same path. In my book Al Qaeda’s Post 9-11 Devolution beyond Al Qaeda Core I divide the network up into affiliates, associates, insurgents and lone wolves. Since Madrid and London, Al Qaeda command and control over its affiliates has become progressively weaker and fractured. You are correct that the death of bin Laden has accelerated this diffusion of power often mistakenly interpreted as a strengthening of Al Qaeda, I greatly look forward to reading your subsequent posts your work has played an important part in my own research. Keep up the great work.

  2. Clint,

    With today’s news from Syria of the death of Abu Khaled al-Suri, as yet unconfirmed by who, one wonders how AQ-Central, let alone others will respond. It appears to be the responsibility of another Islamist / Jihadist faction.

    What is more interesting is how AQ and its factions will explain this.

    My other interest is whether AQ’s enemies, who are many, can exploit these divisions. To date our record, in the West, has not been good.

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