(CNSNews.com) - In a new report released Wednesday afternoon, a security expert said jihadist terrorism currently poses a larger threat than it did before 9/11.
"Measured by the number of terrorist incidents, the jihadist threat is more significant now than it was prior to September 11, 2001," said Bernard Finel, a senior fellow with the liberal-leaning American Security Project. "It is, most notably, significantly worse even than in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks when the American response focused on al Qaeda's infrastructure in Afghanistan."
He called the jihadist terrorists a "vibrant and dynamic movement that has a great deal of strength even to this day. There are more attacks, so certainly they are more effective or more violent."
"In short, the war in Iraq has not noticeably reduced the numbers of jihadists outside of Iraq; rather it has created many more fighters to join the movement," he said. "This finding fundamentally undermines the Bush administration's claim that we are 'fighting them there so we don't have to fight them here.'
"It's been a growing threat for the last couple of decades. The trends were already bad going into the late '90s, and I think we just haven't taken sufficient steps to overturn and to change the trend lines since 9/11," Finel told Cybercast News Service.
Finel also argued that the United States should not focus on Iraq as the central front in the war on terror. The Bush administration's action to reduce state-sponsored terror and gain international cooperation in that effort has worked well, he said.
However, there is a "new kind of threat," one not "based around states," Finel said. "It's really a threat based around an ideology, a movement, and transnational groups. Until we take steps to deal with that kind of a challenge, we're always going to be behind the eight ball."
Finel noted that, instead, U.S. foreign policy should focus on "changing hearts and minds" in the Muslim world.
"On one hand we want people to reject terrorism in the abstract, on the other hand there are a series of beliefs which tend to justify the jihadist movement, just like terrorism -most notably that the United States is supporting these oppressive regimes in the region and that the United States is sort of this aggressive power which is out to attack and harm Islam," he said.
"That's not what American foreign policy is all about," said Finel, "but nonetheless it's a belief that has a lot of credibility in the Muslim world."
But President George W. Bush has often contended that Iraq is central to the war on terror. "The fight in Iraq has a direct impact on the safety of Americans here at home," Bush said in a speech last week.
"We have seen what violent extremists will do when American forces are actively engaged in Iraq, and we can envision what they would do if they were emboldened by American forces in retreat," he said.
"For all those who ask whether the fight in Iraq is worth it, imagine an Iraq where militia groups backed by Iran control large parts of the country, and al Qaeda has established sanctuaries to safely plot future attacks on targets all over the world, including the U.S. Homeland," said Bush, "and they could use billions of dollars in oil revenues to buy weapons and pursue their deadly ambitions."
He added that the most "important and immediate way" to counter terrorist groups is to "win the fight in Iraq."
A victory by "violent extremists" in the Middle East and the region there "could imperil the world," Bush added.
"This administration has really prioritized the issue of international cooperation and ... winning the Iraq War as the central front in the war on terror," said Finel. "They have done some things which are contributory to success in the war on terror. But, that said, it's a question of priorities and what trade-off you're willing to accept.
"I just don't see how you puncture the movement with anything you do in Iraq," he said.
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