This article examines the current state of the global jihad movement and offers reflections on its likely trajectory in the foreseeable future. It concludes that while the global jihad temporarily has been set back by the relative decline of the Islamic State, the movement overall benefits from al-Qaeda’s regeneration; its ongoing ideological appeal; and its structural decentralization. In the next years, the movement likely will continue to evolve from its current bipolar structure toward an increasingly multipolar entity. Furthermore, it argues that the future jihadi movement will contain a large number of jihadi actors whose relationships will span cooperative, competitive, or mixed engagements, with implications for the movement as a whole. The article highlights several challenges for counterterrorism, including dealing with a complex movement structure; radicalization; socio-political disenfranchisement; the counter-response of societies targeted by jihadist violence; and technological changes. The article concludes with an assessment that in the next two to five years, the global jihad will remain a potent, although not an existential, threat.
This article is part of a special project conducted by the Foreign Policy Research Institute, titled: “After the Caliphate: Reassessing the Jihadi Threat and Stabilizing the Fertile Crescent,” which includes a book, a thematic issue of Orbis: FPRI’s Journal of World Affairs (Summer 2018), and a series of podcasts. Each element of the project can be found here:https://www.fpri.org/research/after-the-caliphate-project/.