Many Western jihadists are not necessarily motivated by a specific group but rather the rhetoric, ideology and activities of the wider global jihadist movement, often referred to as the Salafi-jihadist movement, according to Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, research director of George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, and Sarah Gilkes, a research associate at the program.
Indeed, the findings of a report released today by the George Washington University’s Program on Extremism show that since 2011, 79 people in the United States were convicted of jihadist-related offenses unconnected to the Islamic State. In many of these cases, the individuals displayed a general adherence to the movement more widely, as opposed to an obsession with specific group affiliation, they write for The Washington Post:
Terrorist groups do not emerge in a vacuum. Usually, they represent the most extreme and violent incarnations of a wider milieu or social movement. Global jihadism today is arguably the world’s most widespread and violent social movement, with a countercultural appeal that few can rival. Al-Qaeda, one of the first terrorist groups to emerge from this movement, was the spearhead and standard-bearer of global jihadism, a mantle that, for now at least, has been assumed by the Islamic State.
“Jihadist strategists have been aware of the power of their movement for some time and long ago began to look beyond formal hierarchical networks,” Meleagrou-Hitchens and Gilkes contend. “They sought to encourage the cultivation of a wider movement not overly reliant on groups or individual leaders to survive.”