Key takeaways from the Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community Statement, January 2019.
Global jihadist groups in parts of Africa and Asia in the last year have expanded their abilities to strike local US interests, stoke insurgencies, and foster like-minded networks in neighboring countries.
The conflicts in Iraq and Syria have generated a large pool of battle-hardened fighters with the skills to conduct attacks and bolster terrorist groups’ capabilities.
Sunni Violent Extremists Global jihadists in dozens of groups and countries threaten local and regional US interests, despite significant setbacks in recent, some of these groups will remain intent on striking the US encouraged by media platforms.
Threat to the US
Terrorism will continue to be a top threat to US and partner interests worldwide, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and Southeast Asia.
ISIS still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria, and it maintains eight branches, more than a dozen networks, and thousands of dispersed supporters around the world, despite significant leadership and territorial losses.
The group will exploit any reduction in CT pressure to strengthen its clandestine presence and accelerate rebuilding key capabilities, such as media production and external operations. ISIS very likely will continue to pursue external attacks from Iraq and Syria against regional and Western adversaries, including the United States.
ISIS is perpetrating attacks in Iraq and Syria to undermine stabilization efforts and retaliate against its enemies, exploiting sectarian tensions in both countries.
ISIS probably realizes that controlling new territory is not sustainable in the near term. ISIS will seek to exploit Sunni grievances, societal instability, and stretched security forces to regain territory in Iraq and Syria in the long term.
Al-Qa‘ida senior leaders are strengthening the network’s global command structure and continuing to encourage attacks against the West, including the United States, although most al-Qa‘ida affiliates’ attacks to date have been small scale and limited to their regional areas. Al-Qa‘ida’s global network will remain a CT challenge for the United States and its allies during the next year.
Al-Qa‘ida media continues to call for attacks against the US, and inspire attacks in the West.
All al-Qa‘ida affiliates are involved in insurgencies and maintain safe havens, resources, and the intent to strike local and regional US interests in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia.
Al-Qa‘ida affiliates in East and North Africa, the Sahel, and Yemen remain the largest and most capable terrorist groups in their regions. All have maintained a high pace of operations during the past year, despite setbacks in Yemen, and some have expanded their areas of influence. Al-Qa‘ida elements in Syria, meanwhile, continue to undermine efforts to resolve that conflict, while the network’s affiliate in South Asia provides support to the Taliban.
Homegrown Violent Extremists
Homegrown violent extremists (HVEs) are likely to present the most acute Sunni terrorist threat to the United States.
The United States’ well-integrated Muslim population, fragmented HVE population, and high level of vigilance will ensure the United States remains a generally inhospitable operating environment for HVEs compared to many other Western countries. The isolated nature of selfradicalizing individuals, however, poses a continual challenge to law enforcement to identify them before they engage in violence. The frequency of attacks most likely will be very low, but law enforcement efforts remain constant.
Despite territorial losses in Iraq and Syria, ISIS’s past actions and propaganda probably will inspire future HVE attacks, especially if ISIS can retain its prominence among global jihadist movements and continue to promote its violent message via social and mainstream media.
Iran almost certainly will continue to develop and maintain terrorist capabilities as an option to deter or retaliate against its perceived adversaries.
In mid-2018, Belgium and Germany foiled a probable Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) plot to set off an explosive device at an Iranian opposition group gathering in Paris—an event that included prominent European and US attendees.
Hizballah most likely will continue to develop its terrorist capabilities, which the group views as a valuable tool and one it can maintain with plausible deniability.
Hizballah most likely maintains the capability to execute a range of attack options against US interests worldwide.
Violent Ethno-supremacist and Ultranationalist Groups
Some violent ethno-supremacist and ultranationalist groups in Europe will employ violent tactics as they seek ways to cooperate against immigration and the perceived Islamization of Europe, posing a potential threat to US and allied interests.
In the past two years, individuals with ties to violent ethno-supremacist groups in France, Sweden, and the United Kingdom have either carried out attacks on minorities and politicians or had their plots disrupted by authorities.
Foreign cyber criminals will continue to conduct for-profit, cyber-enabled theft and extortion against US networks. Financially motivated cyber criminals very likely will expand their targets in the United States in the next few years. Their actions could increasingly disrupt US critical infrastructure in the health care, financial, government, and emergency service sectors, based on the patterns of activities against these sectors in the last few years.
Terrorists could obtain compromising information through cyber operations, and they may use such disclosures to coerce, extort, or to inspire and enable physical attacks against their victims. Terrorist groups could cause some disruptive effects—defacing websites or executing denial-of-service attacks against poorly protected networks—with little to no warning.
The growing availability and use of publicly and commercially available cyber tools is increasing the overall volume of unattributed cyber activity around the world.
Iraq is facing an increasingly disenchanted public. The underlying political and economic factors that facilitated the rise of ISIS persist, and Iraqi Shia militias’ attempts to further entrench their role in the state increase the threat to US personnel.
ISIS remains a terrorist and insurgent threat and will seek to exploit Sunni grievances with Baghdad and societal instability to eventually regain Iraqi territory against Iraqi security forces that are stretched thin.
Militant groups supported by Pakistan will continue to take advantage of their safe havens in the country to conduct attacks in India and Afghanistan. Islamabad’s narrow approach to counterterrorism cooperation—using some groups as policy tools and confronting only the militant groups that directly threaten Pakistan—almost certainly will frustrate US counterterrorism efforts against the Taliban.
Increasing communal clashes could alienate Indian Muslims and allow Islamist terrorist groups in India to expand their influence.
Several countries and regions in Sub-Saharan Africa are likely to face significant security, counterterrorism, democratization, economic, and humanitarian challenges.
The Sahel Countries in the Sahel—particularly Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger—almost certainly will be vulnerable to an increase in terrorist attacks in 2019 as they struggle to contain terrorist groups and improve governance and security.