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Josh Lefkowitz
Chief Executive Officer
Josh Lefkowitz executes the company’s strategic vision to empower organizations with the fastest, most comprehensive coverage of threatening activity on the internet. He has worked extensively with authorities to track and analyze terrorist groups. Mr. Lefkowitz also served as a consultant to the FBI’s senior management team and worked for a top tier, global investment bank. Mr. Lefkowitz holds an MBA from Harvard University and a BA from Williams College.
Evan Kohlmann
Chief Innovation Officer
Evan Kohlmann focuses on product innovation at Flashpoint where he leverages fifteen years’ experience tracking Al-Qaida, ISIS, and other terrorist groups. He has consulted for the US Department of Defense, the US Department of Justice, the Australian Federal Police, and Scotland Yard’s Counter Terrorism Command, among others. Mr. Kohlmann holds a JD from the Univ. of Pennsylvania Law School and a BSFS in International Politics from the Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown Univ.
Josh Devon
Chief Operating Officer / Chief Product Officer
Josh Devon focuses on product vision and strategy at Flashpoint while ensuring the company’s departments function synergistically during its rapid growth. He also works to ensure that customers receive best in class products, services, and support. Previously, Mr. Devon co-founded the SITE Intelligence Group where he served as Assistant Director. He holds an MA from SAIS at Johns Hopkins Univ. At the Univ. of Pennsylvania, he received a BS in Economics from the Wharton School and a BA in English from the College of Arts and Sciences.
Chris Camacho
Chief Revenue Officer
As Chief Revenue Officer, Chris Camacho leads the company’s global sales team, which includes solution architecture, business development, strategic integrations, partnerships, and revenue operations; he is also the architect of Flashpoint’s FPCollab sharing community. With over 15 years of cybersecurity leadership experience, he has spearheaded initiatives across Operational Strategy, Incident Response, Threat Management, and Security Operations to ensure cyber risk postures align with business goals. Most recently as a Senior Vice President of Information Security at Bank of America, Mr. Camacho was responsible for overseeing the Threat Management Program. An entrepreneur, Mr. Camacho also serves as CEO for NinjaJobs: a career-matching community for elite cybersecurity talent. He has a BS in Decision Sciences & Management of Information Systems from George Mason University.
Lisa Iadanza
Chief People Officer
Lisa M. Iadanza leads all functional areas of People Operations at Flashpoint, including human resources, talent acquisition & management, employee engagement, and developing high performance teams. In addition to collaborating with the executive team to drive strategic growth, she plays an integral role in fostering Flashpoint’s culture and mission. Driven by her passions for mentorship, employee advocacy, and talent development, Ms. Iadanza has more than twenty years of experience in building, scaling, and leading human resources functions. Prior to Flashpoint, she held leadership roles at Conde Nast, Terra Technology, and FreeWheel. She is a member of the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) and holds a bachelor’s degree in management with concentrations in human resources and marketing from State University of New York at Binghamton.
Donald Saelinger
President
Donald Saelinger is responsible for driving strategic and operational initiatives to accelerate Flashpoint’s growth and scale. In this role, Donald leads a broad portfolio including Marketing, Customer Success, Revenue Operations, Legal and related functions, and is focused on helping the company execute on a go-to-market approach that maximizes value to our customers. Prior to Flashpoint, Donald served as Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel of Endgame, Inc., an endpoint detection and response company acquired by Elastic N.V. in 2019, and where he led a range of teams focused on growth, scale, and legal and compliance matters. Donald also previously served as the General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer at Opower, Inc. (NYSE: OPWR), a global provider of SaaS solutions to electric and gas utilities that was acquired by Oracle, Inc. in 2016. Donald graduated from Columbia University in 2000 and received his JD from the Georgetown University Law Center in 2006.
Rob Reznick
SVP Finance and Corporate Development
Rob Reznick leads the finance, accounting, and corporate development teams at Flashpoint. Rob previously served as Director of Finance & Accounting for 1010data (acquired by Advance/Newhouse), and Director of Finance for Financial Guard (acquired by Legg Mason) after prior work in forensic accounting and dispute consulting. Mr. Reznick is a Certified Public Accountant and holds an MBA and MAcc from the Fisher College of Business at the Ohio State University, and a BBA from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.
Tom Hofmann
SVP Intelligence
Tom Hofmann leads the intelligence directorate that is responsible for the collection, analysis, production, and dissemination of Deep and Dark Web data. He works closely with clients to prioritize their intelligence requirements and ensures internal Flashpoint operations are aligned to those needs. Mr. Hofmann has been at the forefront of cyber intelligence operations in the commercial, government, and military sectors, and is renowned for his ability to drive effective intelligence operations to support offensive and defensive network operations.
Jake Wells
SVP Solutions Architecture
Jake Wells leads strategic integrations and information sharing as part of the client engagement & development team, which serves as an internal advocate for our government and commercial clients to ensure Flashpoint’s intelligence solutions meet their evolving needs. He leverages a decade of experience running cyber and counterterrorism investigations, most recently with the NYPD Intelligence Bureau, to maximize the value customers generate from our products and services. Mr. Wells holds an MA from Columbia University and a BA from Emory University.
Brian Brown
SVP Strategy and Business Development
Brian Brown is responsible for the overall direction of strategic sales and development supporting Flashpoint’s largest clients. In his role, Mr. Brown focuses on designing and executing growth-oriented sales penetration strategies across multiple vertical markets, including both Government and Commercial, supporting Flashpoint’s Sales and Business Development Teams. An experienced entrepreneur, Mr. Brown also serves as CSO for NinjaJobs, a private community created to match elite cybersecurity talent with top tier global jobs and also advise growth-stage cybersecurity companies.
Justin Rogers
VP Revenue Operations
Justin Rogers leads the Revenue Operations team at Flashpoint, aligning sales, marketing, partnerships, customer success, and finance across vision, planning, process, and goals. He leverages over 15 years of experience in security, strategy, product design, and implementation to drive growth, provide an end-to-end view of the customer journey, and a seamless customer experience. Recently, Justin led Marketing for Centripetal, bringing the first Threat Intelligence Gateway to market. Previously, he managed operations of a Counter IED lab electronics forensics division while forward deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Justin holds a BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of New Hampshire.
Peter Partyka
VP Engineering
Peter Partyka leads Flashpoint’s engineering teams. Peter previously worked in the quantitative hedge fund space in New York City, implementing security and administrative solutions around proprietary trading platforms, high-availability cloud deployments, and hardening of applications and infrastructure. Peter leverages more than 16 years of experience in technology specializing in application security, red-teaming, penetration testing, exploit development, as well as blue-teaming. Peter has a long track record of managing tech teams and implementing engineering security best practices. Recently Peter led Flashpoint toward GDPR and CCPA compliance and has been a key architect of Flashpoint’s robust compliance programs. Peter has taught advanced cybersecurity courses at New York University and consulted at various tech startups during his career.
Paul Farley
VP APAC Sales
Paul Farley is responsible for the Asia-Pacific region of Flashpoint's international business, including Australia, Japan, and Singapore. In his role at Flashpoint, Paul is executing growth-oriented sales strategies across multiple countries and vertical markets, including both Government and Commercial. Paul has extensive experience leading regional sales for both pre-IPO growth businesses and large organizations such as RSA, EMC and DELL.
Steven Cooperman
VP Public Sector Sales
Steven Cooperman is responsible for Flashpoint’s strategy and sales growth of its public sector business. He also supports the development of a robust partner ecosystem for public sector business to deliver value added offerings and innovation focused to the mission of government. Steven has an established and diverse career in the Public Sector, holding leadership positions at a number of successful enterprise software companies and Federal System Integrators, including ServiceNow, HP, Oracle and Northrop Grumman. He holds an MA in Analytic Geography from the State University of New York - Binghamton, and received his BS in Geology from the State University - Oneonta.
Matthew Howell
VP Product
Matthew Howell leads the Product Management and Product Marketing teams for Flashpoint. He is responsible for developing a strong team that drives product adoption and user engagement through outcome based prioritization, continuous process improvement, and metrics driven development. Matthew brings a passion for diverse ideas, experience launching B2B SaaS products, building integration ecosystems, supporting five 9s SLAs, and leading distributed teams. He holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University of Virginia
Glenn Lemons
Executive Director Strategic Accounts Engagement
Glenn Lemons is Executive Director, Strategic Accounts Engagement at Flashpoint. He previously served as the acting Director of Citigroup's Cyber Intelligence Center where he was responsible for analyzing and reacting to intelligence from a variety of threats. These threats ranged from fraudulent activity and attempting to defraud Citi's clients to supporting security operations for the firm's worldwide network presence. He has extensive experience working with multiple clients across the financial services, manufacturing, healthcare, and public sectors. Glenn also has more than 26 years of intelligence experience within the operational and support communities in the U.S. military and federal civilian service; seven of which focused on both defensive and offensive cyber operations. While working for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, he testified numerous times before U.S. Congressional committees and member requested open and closed sessions.
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Steve Leightell
Steve started his career in Internet sales in the early 1990s and was always a top sales rep before transitioning to business development. By the early 2000s, he was the Director of Business Development at DWL, where he managed a team that built partnerships with Accenture, Oracle, Tata Consulting, Wipro, Cognizant and IBM. Steve designed the channel and strategy that ultimately culminated in the acquisition of DWL by IBM in 2005. He went on to lead a global team within IBM that was responsible for major system integrator partnerships. In 2008, he left IBM to found a niche consulting firm focused on business development for SaaS organizations. Steve holds a BA in anthropology and sociology from Carleton University in Ottawa.
Ellie Wheeler
Ellie Wheeler is a Partner at Greycroft and is based in the firm’s New York office. Prior to joining Greycroft, Ellie worked in a similar role evaluating investment opportunities at Lowercase Capital. Ellie also worked at Cisco in Corporate Development doing acquisitions, investments, and strategy within the unified communications, enterprise software, mobile, and video sectors. While at Cisco, she was involved in multiple acquisitions and investments, including PostPath, Jabber, Xobni, and Tandberg. She began her career in growth capital private equity at Summit Partners in Boston. Ellie graduated magna cum laude from Georgetown University with a BA in Psychology and holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.
Glenn McGonnigle
Glenn McGonnigle is a General Partner at TechOperators. Prior to launching TechOperators in 2008, Glenn was CEO of VistaScape Security Systems, a venture-backed provider of enterprise intelligent video surveillance software. He lead the company through its successful sale to Siemens Building Technologies. Previously, Glenn was a co-founder and senior executive of Atlanta-based Internet Security Systems (ISS) where he helped raise initial venture capital and launch the business. For 7 years, he led the business development team in developing sales channels and entering the managed security services market. During his tenure, the company grew from startup to revenues of over $225 million and was later acquired by IBM for $1.3 billion.
Brendan Hannigan
Brendan joined Polaris Partners in 2016 as an entrepreneur partner. In this role, he focuses on funding and founding companies in the technology sector with a concentration in cloud, analytics, and cybersecurity. Brendan is a co-founder of Sonrai Security and chairman of Twistlock, both Polaris investments. He also currently serves on the board of Bitsight Technologies and Flashpoint. A 25 year technology industry veteran, Brendan was most recently the general manager of IBM Security. Under Brendan’s leadership, IBM Security grew significantly faster than the overall security market to become the number one enterprise security provider in the world with almost $2B of annual revenue.
Matt Devost
Currently, Devost serves as CEO & Co-Founder of OODA LLC as well as a review board member for Black Hat. In 2010, he co-founded the cybersecurity consultancy FusionX LLC which was acquired by Accenture in August 2015, where he went on to lead Accenture's Global Cyber Defense practice. Devost also founded the Terrorism Research Center in 1996 where he served as President and CEO until November 2008 and held founding or leadership roles at iDefense, iSIGHT Partners, Total Intel, SDI, Tulco Holdings, and Technical Defense.
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Flashpoint Closes Majority Growth Investment from Audax

20 Years After 9/11: Tracking the Evolution of Jihadism

Blog
September 8, 2021

Strategic Shifts

The jihadist landscape has changed immensely since September 11, 2001—the deadliest terrorist attacks ever to take place on US soil. In the last 20 years, jihadism has evolved from a vanguard movement with the explicit goal of attacking the United States to a franchise model with multiple jihadist insurgencies across the world.

Despite the intent and desire of al-Qaeda and ISIS, Flashpoint analysts assess with moderate to high confidence that the two groups likely do not possess the capabilities to conduct large-scale, 9/11-style attacks in the United States. This is due to increased counterterrorism measures in the West, the decentralization of the movement, and jihadist shift in focus to local conflicts in their respective areas of operation. However, these jihadist groups continue to wield a significant amount of power and influence around the world.

In this article, we examine how jihadists groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS have shifted operations over the last 20 years—from how they communicate and how they’re funded, to where they organize and choose to attack, plus other significant developments.

Focus on Local Conflicts—Not the “Far Enemy”

Unlike in the early days of jihad—when groups had central meeting locations, convened in the real world, and required official membership—today the movement is more decentralized and localized, and groups are more reliant on their affiliates.

Salafi jihadism has transformed from a movement that was primarily focused on targeting the “far enemy”—namely the United States—into multiple decentralized insurgencies concentrated mostly in the Middle East, Africa, and Southeast Asia. The insurgencies are primarily local: They exploit local resources, capitalize on legitimate local grievances by leveraging revolutions and political instability, and embed themselves within native populations to further their cause and increase recruitment.

Related Reading: What the Taliban’s Victory in Afghanistan Means for Al-Qaeda and ISIS

Africa Becoming An Epicenter of Jihadist Gravity

Over the last 20 years, the epicenter of jihadism has moved from Afghanistan to the Middle East, with Iraq and Syria becoming the primary jihadist fields. While the two countries (especially Iraq) remain central to jihadism today, over the last few years Africa has become the new battleground for ISIS and al-Qaeda. More recently, with the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, jihadists are rejoicing and exploiting the security vacuum.

ISIS is increasingly active in Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Niger, and Nigeria, while al-Qaeda’s main affiliates in Africa are in Mali and Somalia. France, which has led the counterterrorism mission in Africa’s Sahel region, announced in July 2021 that it plans to withdraw over 2,000 troops of its current 5,400 by early 2022. The threat in the region will likely increase after this withdrawal.

Inspired Vs. Planned Attacks

As the counterterrorism capabilities of Western countries have improved over the last two decades, jihadists have found it harder to conduct large-scale, coordinated attacks, especially in the West. The last large-scale, coordinated attacks in the West were the November 2015 attacks conducted by ISIS in Paris, where 130 people were killed and 368 others were injured. However, there have been multiple ISIS- and al-Qaeda-inspired attacks, especially in Europe, since then.

Decentralized Communications & The Impact of Social Media

Among the most notable changes in the jihadist landscape over the last 20 years has been the advent of social media and other communication platforms. Jihadists use social media platforms to attract, inspire, coordinate, and disseminate propaganda. Social media has also become a pillar of jihadist communications, allowing groups to enjoy a wide network of online global supporters who amplify their activities and conduct attacks on their behalf, making official membership nearly obsolete.

Telegram remains the primary platform for jihadist communication and propaganda dissemination. However, Telegram’s occasional campaigns against jihadist accounts—along with jihadists’ own calls for digital expansion—have prompted these actors to experiment, expand, and in some cases migrate to alternative platforms, decentralizing the online jihadist ecosystem.

Leadership Woes

Although jihadist groups are structured to withstand leadership losses, the movement today suffers from a lack of well-known and charismatic figures. In the past two decades, leaders including Osama bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and Abu Muhammad al-Adnani were the public faces of these groups, inspiring many to join and many others to support the group’s efforts globally. Some of these figures continue to inspire followers years after their deaths.

Today, the majority of al-Qaeda’s senior leadership are either aging or dead. al-Qaeda’s leaders since 2011—including the uncharismatic Ayman al-Zawahiri, who is highly suspected to be dead—have been less charismatic and well-known than its earlier leaders. Similarly, ISIS failed to secure a leader who garnered the same level of clout and global support following al-Baghdadi’s death. ISIS’s current leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Qurashi (aka Amir al-Mawla), has not appeared in any form since succeeding Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in October 2019.

Al-Qaeda Leadership

Since 2020, the structure and future of al-Qaeda and its senior leadership has become less clear. The status of al-Qaeda’s current leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is unconfirmed, although many experts speculate he is likely dead. According to a United Nations report, al-Zawahiri’s last confirmed appearance was in a February 2020 meeting he held with the Haqqani network. The last audio recording that al-Qaeda released featuring al-Zawahiri was on March 12, 2021, but the video failed to prove that he is alive. Two senior al-Qaeda members, Abu Mohammed al-Masri and Abu Muhsin al-Masri, were killed in August and September 2020, respectively. In January 2020, the leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Qassim al-Raimi, was killed in a US strike.

Despite suffering setbacks and the loss of key personnel, at least as of late 2019 AQAP was still intent on targeting the United States, as evidenced by the December 2019 Pensacola naval base attack. On February 2, 2020, AQAP claimed responsibility for the attack, in which a second lieutenant in the Royal Saudi Air Force—who was training in the United States—killed three people and injured eight.

Al-Qaeda Central continues to focus on the United States, releasing official magazines focused on exploiting US crises and encouraging supporters to attack US economic targets.

Today, al-Qaeda relies mostly on its global affiliates to remain alive and relevant. The group maintains a presence across the world, with affiliates in Yemen and Africa, including al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM).

Al-Qaeda’s best chance for revival is the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, which has elicited various reactions from al-Qaeda and ISIS and their supporters. On August 31, al-Qaeda’s central media unit, al-Sahab, issued a formal statement from the group’s central leadership, celebrating the Taliban’s victory in Afghanistan.

Al-Qaeda supporters have also rejoiced, seeing the Taliban’s takeover as their own victory and a vindication of the al-Qaeda brand of jihad. Demonstrating the emboldening of the community, a prominent pro-al-Qaeda supporter posted that they expected Somalia to be the next country to fall to al-Qaeda via its affiliate al-Shabaab.

ISIS Leadership—a Recent Timeline

Following the collapse of its physical caliphate in March 2019, ISIS has maintained a presence in at least fifteen countries around the world, including Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.

2014–2018

ISIS posed a significant terrorist threat to the West between 2014 and 2018. Over those four years, the group produced and disseminated a high volume of propaganda, including audio statements from key members, online magazines produced in approximately ten languages, and official propaganda videos from various affiliates. It also maintained a global network of supporters.

At its peak in 2015, ISIS produced nearly 200 propaganda items, including documentary-style videos, infographics, and radio bulletins. By 2017, the group’s media arm was producing around 25 propaganda items weekly.

2019–Present

The most recent audio recording from ISIS’s media unit, al-Furqan, was released on June 21, 2021. The recording featured the group’s spokesperson, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, coming after nearly nine months without an appearance from senior leadership in propaganda—one of ISIS’s longest such stretches.

Today, the group continues to conduct attacks and issue threats, though the group and its affiliates themselves no longer conduct the same volume or frequency of materialized terror in the West. Most of its attacks are instead carried out by single actors inspired by the group.

ISIS is the sworn enemy of al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and has wasted no time in capitalizing on the security vacuum amid the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. ISIS has discredited the Taliban, accusing it of doing the United States’ bidding in the region. On August 26, ISIS conducted an attack on the Kabul airport, killing thirteen US service members and injuring eighteen others. At least 170 other people were killed and another 155 injured.

The Role of Afghanistan

In the months following US President Joe Biden’s April 2021 announcement that the United States would withdraw its forces from Afghanistan, the Taliban began swiftly sweeping through the country, seizing large swaths of territory. By August 15, the Afghan president had fled the country and the Taliban were in control after capturing all provincial capitals, including the capital, Kabul.

These developments are of particular concern in part because of the strong relationship between the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda allegedly operates in fifteen Afghan provinces under the protection of the Taliban. On August 16, thousands of prisoners were released by the Taliban from at least two prisons, allegedly including al-Qaeda and ISIS fighters.

The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan will likely revitalize jihadists around the world. For al-Qaeda and its supporters, the Taliban’s victory is seen as a vindication of their methods and a propaganda and recruitment boost, which will likely grow and motivate their affiliates and supporters. For ISIS and its supporters, there is likely an increased will to launch attacks in Afghanistan—and elsewhere—to capitalize on the high-profile situation and damage the Taliban’s projection of security and control.

The Role of Africa

Over the last few years, Africa has emerged as a hotbed of jihadist activity. ISIS and al-Qaeda groups are present in at least a dozen countries, including Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, and Somalia. Both ISIS and al-Qaeda appear to be gaining ground throughout the continent through affiliates including ISIS’s Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP), Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP), and Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) and al-Qaeda’s al-Shabaab and Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM).

In June 2021, ISIS spokesperson Abu Hamza al-Muhajir highlighted the successes of the group’s Africa affiliates and their growing importance to ISIS. He began the speech—his first in nearly nine months—by congratulating ISWAP and ISCAP, informing them that he brought a blessing and salute from ISIS’s leader.

The group Ahl al-Sunnah Wal Jamaah (ASWJ), which operates under ISCAP’s banner, has quickly grown from a few dozen fighters in 2017 to reportedly hundreds of fighters today by exploiting local grievances. In March 2021, ASWJ conducted a multipronged assault in Palma, Mozambique, that led to dozens of deaths, including of foreigners. In 2020 there was a 43 percent increase in jihadist violence in Africa, with 4,958 reported incidents.

In 2020, terrorist attack casualties in Africa reached 13,059, a 35 percent increase from 2019. Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel, noted that attacks have moved from Mali both toward the east, toward Burkina Faso, and toward West African countries along the coast. Chambas said that terrorist attacks are often conducted in the service of other illicit activities, such as capturing weapons and conducting illegal artisanal mining. While many of these attacks were carried out by ISIS fighters, some were carried out by al-Qaeda-linked groups such as JNIM.

Since 2014, France has led counterterrorism operations in the Sahel region of Africa, where it has been focusing on the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) and, to a lesser extent, al-Qaeda affiliates in the region. France has approximately 5,400 troops in the Sahel region, but in July 2021 President Emmanuel Macron announced the country would be reducing its forces to between 2,500 and 3,000 troops by early 2022. France will also close its bases in Kidal, Tessalit, and Timbuktu, Mali, by the end of 2021 and refocus on the borders between Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger. As of this publishing, the United States has approximately 6,000 troops in Africa focused on counterterrorism operations.

ISIS attacks from August 2020 to August 2021, including the lethality of attacks in Africa.
Graphic of ISIS attacks from August 2020 to August 2021, including 505 attacks in West Africa resulting in 3,443 deaths. In comparison, Iraq experienced more attacks (1,304) but fewer 487 deaths. (Image via Flashpoint).

Jihadist Presence on Messaging Platforms

Jihadist communications have significantly changed over the last twenty years from traditional online forums including al-Shamukh, Ansar al-Haqq, and al-Fidaa to a decentralized, multi-platform landscape today. Telegram is currently jihadists’ primary platform for communication and propaganda dissemination. However, the platform’s occasional campaigns against jihadist accounts—along with jihadists’ own calls for digital expansion—have prompted actors to experiment, expand, and in some cases migrate to alternative platforms, making the online jihadist ecosystem more diffuse.

While ISIS and al-Qaeda supporters widely use Telegram and Rocket.Chat, jihadists have also established accounts, albeit in smaller numbers, on many other platforms, including Element, Hoop, Conversations, and TamTam. Jihadists’ success on these platforms largely depends on the platforms’ ease of use and permissibility. Hoop and TamTam have targeted jihadist accounts fairly consistently, forcing jihadists to abandon them as reliable options.

Based on Flashpoint’s research, ISIS supporters—as opposed to al-Qaeda supporters—tend to be more forward leaning and innovative with their online application use, and thus more likely to expand to and experiment with new platforms. A notable exception is ChirpWire, an obscure social media platform that launched in July 2020. Flashpoint analysts noticed an increase in activity in February 2021, likely driven by several online pro-al-Qaeda units promoting their ChirpWire accounts when disseminating propaganda. As of May 2021, out of 126 groups on ChirpWire, at least 70 bore the names of official al-Qaeda or pro-al-Qaeda entities.

Related Reading: Telegram Images Allegedly Show Taliban-Controlled US Military Equipment in Iran

The Role of Cyberattacks

ISIS and al-Qaeda, and their supporters, have repeatedly highlighted the importance of launching cyberattacks. With the exception of a few well-publicized incidents around 2014, which largely rested on ISIS hacker Junaid Hussain, jihadists’ cyber capabilities continue to lack sophistication. Despite their often lofty rhetoric, jihadists have yet to demonstrate any sophisticated cyber skills or conduct damaging cyber operations.

Under Junaid Hussain’s leadership and example—even after his 2015 death in an air strike—ISIS published lists of personally identifiable information (PII), repurposing them as “kill lists,” and called upon attackers to perpetrate violence against the individuals named in them. Despite the repeated calls to violence, there is no evidence to suggest that attacks were actually conducted against any of the individuals named in these lists.

Nonetheless, jihadist chatter and propaganda highlighting the importance and effectiveness of cyberattacks—especially on financial targets—has continued. For example, the June 2020 English-language edition of al-Qaeda’s magazine One Ummah urged supporters to launch cyberattacks against US economic targets, noting how vulnerable the US economy would be to such operations. This continuing focus indicates that actors will very likely seek to acquire the skills necessary to conduct such operations.

Terror Financing Systems

With severe restrictions imposed on terrorist financing following the attacks of 9/11, jihadists have constantly had to adapt, leveraging both old and new technologies. While the informal Hawala system remains a critical method for the transfer of funds among jihadists, they also use traditional methods such as PayPal, Ria, and similar money transfer systems, as well as commercial activities and cryptocurrencies, primarily Bitcoin.

Turkey plays a crucial role in the transfer of funds to a variety of jihadist groups and questionable charities, given its proximity to Syria and the prevalence in the country of supporting networks for both ISIS and al-Qaeda. Additionally, while transactions in or with Syria are banned in the international financial system, Turkey has access to this system, which enables potential donors to send money to couriers in Syria with minimal risk and suspicions.

Entities such as Bitcoin Transfer (BT), an Idlib, Syria-based cryptocurrency exchange office that facilitates the transfer of funds to al-Qaeda-affiliated groups in Syria, play a crucial role. The province of Idlib is largely controlled by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS)—which the US has designated as a terrorist group—and is home to other al-Qaeda-linked groups. BT also appears linked to a commercial entity, Souq Net, that imports goods into Idlib from Turkey for a fee.

Conclusion: The Future of Jihadism

Although the broader jihadist movement has splintered since 2001 and has suffered from infighting, ISIS and al-Qaeda continue to conduct attacks outside their primary areas of operation and capitalize on local conflicts, grievances, and political instability. Expanding their theater of operations beyond Afghanistan and the Middle East has allowed this movement to remain operational. In addition, the movement has expanded its support base, shrewdly wielding the power of social media to its favor. Since 2001, jihadist fighters quadrupled—from between 30,000 to 60,000, to around 230,000 fighters as of 2018.

Afghanistan and Africa are two areas where jihadists will be able to continue to thrive. With the US withdrawal from Afghanistan complete, jihadists appear poised to fill the growing security vacuum. The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan will likely revitalize jihadists around the world. For al-Qaeda and its supporters, the Taliban’s victory is seen as a vindication of their methods and a propaganda and recruitment boost. For ISIS and its supporters, there is likely an increased will to launch attacks in Afghanistan to capitalize on the high-profile situation and damage the Taliban’s image.

Africa provides a fertile battleground from which to recruit, conduct attacks, and enhance jihadists’ capabilities. Although deaths from terrorist attacks decreased from 2014 to 2019 by 59 percent globally, to 13,826, sub-Saharan Africa had the largest increase in terrorism deaths. The victims of terrorist attacks in Burkina Faso increased from 86 in 2018 to 593 in 2019. In addition, 41 percent of all ISIS-related attacks in 2019 took place in sub-Saharan Africa.

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