“We are now in the early stages of a new phase of Islamic militancy. The death of Osama bin Laden in May 2011, and the outbreak of revolts across much of the Arab world, marked the end of a cycle that had commenced with the 9/11 attacks. This cycle had peaked in terms of violence around 2005 and then subsided towards the end of the decade as militant groups found their geographic and ideological space squeezed. It now looks like we are on another upswing with vast tracts of desert and dozens of towns under extremist authority in the Middle East and a new energy flowing through the myriad networks that make up the movement as a whole.
One can, however, identify four categories of militant activity at the moment. There are two main groups battling for pre-eminence: the veteran al-Qaida and the newcomers, the Islamic State or Daesh. There are various organisations affiliated to the former and loyal to the latter. Some are getting strong, some weaker, but most are proving remarkably tenacious. There are other groups that are entirely independent, though they may have some associative links with other militants, like the loathsome Boko Haram in Nigeria. And then there are the freelancers, the self-forming networks, the DIY terrorists who are increasingly responsible for violence on our streets. This picture is depressing, to say the least.”