But there is an important distinction: most of the newer jihadist groups have local agendas, and very few aspire to strike directly at the United States as Osama bin Laden’s core network did. They may interfere with American interests around the world — as in Syria, where the presence of militant Islamists among the rebels fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad has inhibited American efforts to support the uprising. But that is a far cry from terrorist plots aimed at the United States itself.
“In a lot of ways we’ve gone back to the way the world was before Sept. 11,” said Brian Fishman, a research fellow in counterterrorism at the New America Foundation. “It’s local jihadi groups focused on projects within their own countries, even if they sometimes maintain the rhetorical framework of Al Qaeda and its global struggle.”
While these local groups may have benefited in the short term from the turbulence that followed the Arab Spring uprisings, they have also suffered an ideological blow that could make it far more difficult to recruit young followers. Peaceful protest movements brought down dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt, and there, as in the more violent conflicts in Libya and Yemen, the United States was on the side of change.
The idea of attacking the United States, “the far enemy” in jihadist parlance, was always unpopular for many Islamic radicals, whose chief goal was replacing their own governments with theocracies.