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The FP Survey: Terrorism

Author: Peter Bergen
January/ February 2011


This Foreign Policy survey of terrorism experts concludes that nine years after America launched  full-scale war on terror, the nation appears only "marginally more secure."

As we approach the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, FP asked top terrorism experts to take stock of the threat posed by al Qaeda and its allies. And while the majority of respondents believe that al Qaeda is no stronger today than it was a decade ago, they also worry that we are only slightly safer from terrorist attack than we were the day the Twin Towers fell.

The headline finding is surprising: Experts credit nine years of the war on terror with making U.S. soil only marginally more secure -- despite the fact that only 14 Americans have died in jihadist terrorist attacks in the United States since Sept 11. Why the disconnect? Respondents were likely quite cognizant of the numerous serious "near-miss" terrorist operations targeting the homeland, from the Christmas Day 2009 plot to bring down a passenger jet over Detroit to the botched Times Square car bomb attack in May 2010. These plans were devised by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Pakistani Taliban, respectively, and were a powerful reminder that the threat from terrorism is still real.

A strong majority also predicted that there will be another terror attack in the United States or Europe in the next year. Given that a botched terrorist attack took place in Stockholm, a plot was averted to mount a "Mumbai-style" attack in Copenhagen, and a dozen suspected terrorists were arrested in the United Kingdom -- all since the survey was completed -- the experts were, unfortunately, probably right about this. Still, 78 percent of respondents disagreed with the idea that al Qaeda is stronger today than it was on 9/11.

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