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Many in terrorists’ ‘next generation’ dead

That a significant percentage of the ?next generation? of al-Qaeda -affiliated leaders have been killed should give counterterrorism forces a certain satisfaction that this ?next generation? may be more operationally amateur and sloppy and, thus, more vulnerable to counterterrorism operations. Additionally counterterrorism initiatives are becoming more advantageous in hunting leaders. However, counterterrorism officials should be under no illusion that the threat from al-Qaeda-affiliated groups and cells is any less pronounced, even with the dispatching of key second-generation leaders because the evolution of al-Qaeda since 9/11 indicates that amid its global constellation of atomized and semi-autonomous cells, group hierarchies and leadership may be of diminishing import. As has been noted in these pages for many months, al-Qaeda is evolving into a global jihadist movement comprised of the core leadership and operative nucleus, regional affiliate groups, and, of greatest concern, an emerging front of ?vanguard outpost? cells. These cells, often homegrown from within the target society, are inspired and strategically guided by al-Qaeda leadership communiqu?s and the reservoir of operational and weaponeering resources within cyberspace’s virtual training camp but are largely isolated from the core, conducting instead self-organized entrepreneurial attacks. Examples of notorious vanguard outpost cells include those that operated in Madrid , London , Dahab , and Toronto. While vanguard outpost cells may be more operationally amateur and less capable compared to the larger regional al-Qaeda affiliate groups headed by many of the ?second generation? leaders mentioned above, they still have certain advantageous capabilities and resources that can make their ?amateur? attacks deadly. The confluence of the vanguard outpost cell?s more discrete and subtle operational signature?leveraging homegrown knowledge and connections to blend in and operate clandestinely within their home society?with the ever-expanding lode of lethal ?do-it-yourself? terrorist tradecraft resources found online, potentially make these groups extremely dangerous. Even some of the more rudimentary weapons that these cells construct can have devastating effect when coupled with the cell?s anonymity within the society and ability to gain unfettered access to open, vulnerable, and highly populated targets (i.e. mass transit in the London and Madrid bombings). Thus, the use of group leaders killed as a metric of counterterrorism success, while certainly a useful statistic, may be misleading if it is not placed within a larger global counterterrorism context, as successor leaders often emerge to regenerate the group or network and as vanguard outpost cells continue to emerge around the world.

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