Since the fall of the Caliphate, the activities and overall threat posed by Western jihadists has undoubtedly diminished.1 A recent study released by the Program on Extremism, for example, demonstrated a steady decline in jihadist activity in the United States (U.S.) since 2020. In this three-year period, only twenty-nine Americans have been charged, compared to eighty-two in the previous three years.2 Similarly, Europe has experienced a steady annual reduction in jihadist arrests from 718 in 2016 to 260 in 2021.3 This is the second period since 9/11 where there has been a marked decline in the ability to radicalize and mobilize people to support the jihadi movement or conduct attacks in the West.4 Whether or not the cycle of (relative) success and decline will repeat itself depends on a number of factors, some of which are harder to predict than others. What is clear for now is that there remains a pool of committed Western jihadists who are working to keep the movement alive in the U.S. and Europe in hope that future opportunities for mass mobilization may arise. This report investigates how Western jihadists and efforts to radicalize Westerners have adapted to the post-Caliphate reality and the current downward trajectory and complements the Program’s recent quantitative analysis of the Islamic State (IS) threat in the U.S. Some Western jihadi strategies have remained the same, such as the calls to conduct lone actor attacks in the West. However, there have been some marked shifts in strategic communications. For instance, in some cases the discourse about Muslim grievances resembles those that were prevalent during the previous lull in Western jihadist activity, such as a refocusing on Muslim prisoners in the West. The report opens with an overview of how Western jihadists have responded to the online post-Caliphate world in which many of the online platforms popular among jihadists have become increasingly proactive in removing jihadist accounts and content. Here, there is evidence of a reversion to an earlier, pre-Caliphate, era of online jihadism in which much activity and file sharing took place on forums rather than mainstream social media platforms.
Following this, the study introduces the ideologues and propaganda that currently define the state of jihadism in the West. One key development has been recent releases from prison, or removal of communication restrictions, of influential ideologues such as Ahmad Musa Jibril and Anjem Choudary. Finally, the report addresses how jihadist output aimed at Westerners, produced by sympathizers and official jihadist group media wings, has responded to the fall of the Caliphate. This section will analyze the discourse around new or re-emerging themes in the jihadist media, focusing on two prevalent issues – the fight to release imprisoned jihadists, and the response and narrative around the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Meleagrou-Hitchens, Alexander; Bellaiche, Julien; Program on Extremism, The George Washington University; and National Counterterrorism Innovation, Technology, and Education Center, "Maintaining the Movement: ISIS Outreach to Westerners in the Post-Caliphate Era" (2023). Reports, Projects, and Research. 32.
About the Program on Extremism The Program on Extremism at The George Washington University provides analysis on issues related to violent and nonviolent extremism. The Program spearheads innovative and thoughtful academic inquiry, producing empirical work that strengthens extremism research as a distinct field of study. The Program aims to develop pragmatic policy solutions that resonate with policymakers, civic leaders, and the general public. The views and conclusions contained in this document are those of the authors and should not be interpreted as necessarily representing the official policies, either expressed or implied, of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security or The George Washington University. This material is based upon work supported by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security under Grant Award Number 0STTPC00001-03-01.