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Barry Cooper, “Homegrown Jihadist and the Evolution of Al-Qaeda”, Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, February 2013.
Accurate assessments of the threat posed by al-Qaeda to Western interests and government have been hampered by imprecise language and an absence of historical memory. Arguably the organization is over thirty years old. Unquestionably the franchises and self-described affiliates of al-Qaeda bear little resemblance to the elite terrorist organization that attacked the United States on 11 September, 2001. This paper describes the evolution of al-Qaeda from being a source of assistance to mujahedeen fighting the Red Army in Afghanistan to the armed insurgents operating today in Africa and the Greater Middle East, on the one hand, and the homegrown, often self-recruited and largely incompetent “jihadists” who are more a nuisance to western police forces than they are a serious military threat. This change in the effectiveness and operational capability of al-Qaeda does not mean that it will disappear, not least of all because the members of that organization think of themselves as fighting an endless war. It does mean that we ought to have a realistic understanding of the reduced nature of the threat that al-Qaeda can make to our interests.