Here we continue to assess the relative strengths and weaknesses of the Islamist terror groups, along with their overall threat to the Western world. Despite the gains made in counter-terrorism since September 11, 2001, it is clear that the threat from large Islamist terrorist groups has not been eradicated. Indeed, a number of Islamist terrorist organizations continue to aspire to conduct complex attacks against Western countries and interests around the world.
There are a number of Islamist extremist groups currently fighting in the Syrian civil war. Among the most prominent are Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The greatest threat to the West from Syrian linked extremism is currently likely to come from individuals or cells that are fighting (or have fought) in Syria returning to their home countries to launch attacks there.
UK government estimates indicate that around 500 British nationals alone are currently fighting in Syria, with possible access to explosive-building techniques. As the conflict in Syria persists, jihadist groups in the country are likely to pose an increased threat to Western countries as they expand their focus beyond their immediate areas of operation.
Although the presence of NBCR weapons in Syria has raised fears that they could fall into Islamist hands, the United Nations-agreed program for the removal of the country’s NBCR arsenal has reduced the risk of this happening.
Lashkar-e-Tayyiba (LeT) is a Pakistan-based jihadist group best known for its involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks in India. Targets during this attack included Western tourists, the Jewish run Chabad House as well as high-profile government assets to enhance their impact and media coverage.
Although the LeT is not known to have directly launched attacks in the West, it runs a number of training camps in Pakistan that have trained Western nationals who have gone on to carry out such attacks. Indeed, one of the perpetrators of the July 7, 2005 attacks in London (Shehzad Tanweer) was alleged to have been trained at a LeT camp.
Al-Qaeda In The Islamic Maghreb
AQIM is made up of two groups, a northern faction based near the Tunisian border and another group located in southern Algeria, southern Libya and northern Mali. A third faction, commanded by Mokhtar Belmokhtar (the man thought to be responsible for carrying out the attack on the In Aménas gas plant), split from AQIM in 2012.
AQIM has a pan-regional agenda, meaning risks to Western interests are likely to be concentrated in the Maghreb region. Any move to launch attacks outside the area would likely initially focus on US or French targets (given the latter’s involvement in the region).
Boko Haram is a Nigerian militant Islamist group intent on overthrowing the Nigerian government and establishing an Islamic state in the country. It is thought to have been responsible for a number of recent operations in Nigeria, including a bomb attack at a bus station in the capital of Abuja that killed at least 71 people and the abduction of more than 200 girls attending boarding school in the Northeastern Borno state (both in April 2014). Although the group has developed ties with the al-Qaeda network, it has so far focused primarily on its domestic aims. The group’s international reach is therefore believed to be currently limited to neighboring Cameroon and possibly Chad and Niger.