A report by US’s Centre for Strategic and International studies constructed a data set of groups and fighters from 1980 to 2018, including from the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. The idea was to find the number of Salafi-Jihadists fighters.
The report concedes that “It finds that the number of Salafi-jihadists in 2018 declined somewhat from a high in 2016, but is still at near-peak levels since 1980. The regions with the largest number of fighters are Syria (between 43,650 and 70,550 fighters), Afghanistan (between 27,000 and 64,060), Pakistan (between 17,900 and 39,540), Iraq (between 10,000 and 15,000), Nigeria (between 3,450 and 6,900), and Somalia (between 3,095 and 7,240).”
It was notes in the report that global breakdown of Salafi-jihadists is ‘decentralized’ among four types: the Islamic State and its provinces, al-Qaeda and its affiliates, other Salafi-jihadist and allied groups, and inspired networks and individuals.
What’s more is that there is intense competition among these groups and networks, and it significant in Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and Yemen.
The report observes that communication technology greatly helps these fighters to facilitate channel of contact as well as carry out their activities and plan them, “[they use]drones (especially armed drones), social media services, arti- ficial intelligence, encrypted communications, virtual currencies, the Dark Web, offensive cyber capabilities, and weapons of mass destruction. Salafi-jihadist net- works will likely try to utilize these evolving platforms and systems to distribute propaganda, raise funds, recruit new members, conduct disinformation cam- paigns, and plan and orchestrate attacks.”
Another suggestion by the report says that “An important—per- haps the most important—component of Western pol- icy should be helping regimes that are facing terrorism improve governance and deal more effectively with economic, sectarian, and other grievances that have been manipulated by Salafi-jihadist groups.”
The report concedes for US policymakers to not divert from the persisting terrorism threat, “Americans should understand that terrorism won’t end, even though the terrorism threat may ebb and flow over time.”