By Thomas Joscelyn, Senior Fellow, Foundation for the Defense of Democracy
Reviewed by Renate Z. Coleshill, Foreign Service Officer, retired
Thomas Joscelyn testified before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs on November 21, 2013, providing an insightful review of what is happening in Africa vis-a-vis al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. Like most people working in the security world, he has an alarmist view of the strength and ability of terrorist groups. His testimony, however, is interesting in that he details his view of terrorist groups in Africa that are largely ignored by mass media.
He is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and senior editor of The Long War Journal, a publication dealing with counterterrorism and related issues. Mr. Joscelyn was the senior counterterrorism adviser to Mayor Giuliani during the 2008 presidential campaign. He has testified before Congress on several occasions, including before the House Homeland Security Committee, House Foreign Affairs Committee, and House Judiciary Committee. Mr. Joscelyn is also a frequent contributor to The Weekly Standard, a well-known conservative journal. His work has been published by a variety of other publications and he makes regular appearances on television and radio programs. Much of his research focuses on how al Qaeda and its affiliates operate around the globe.
Mr. Joscelyn has also constructed dossiers for hundreds of terrorists during the course of his work, and The Daily Beast has described him as one of “the most trusted authorities on the al Qaeda network because of his encyclopedic knowledge of terrorist biographies.” In 2007, the Claremont Institute published his monograph titled “Iran’s Proxy War Against America,” which details Iran’s decades-long sponsorship of America’s terrorist enemies. In 2008, he completed an exhaustive review of the Guantanamo Bay detainee population, cataloging and analyzing thousands of pages of declassified documents.
He argued that the terrorist threat emanating from North and West Africa is a dynamic problem set with no easy solutions. The Arab uprisings created a unique opportunity for them to proselytize. Al Qaeda has maintained a clandestine global network since its inception. Dismantling this network became the prime objective of American intelligence and counterterrorism officials after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Even so, al Qaeda continues to maintain a covert network whose traces reveal that it operates in conjunction with groups that are quite open about their allegiance to al Qaeda.
Though his testimony did not include specific recommendations on how to counter terrorist threats or comments on the effectiveness of the U.S. security program, it did describe the emergence and activities of new leaders and very dangerous terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Ansar al-Dine, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, Boko Haram, and Ansar al Sharia, which have at least indirect ties with al Qaeda senior leader Mohammed al Zawahiri. Readers seeking an introduction to African Islamist terror groups should regard Joscelyn’s testimony a good place to begin. It contains much food for thought.