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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 January 2008, 00:52 GMT
The global terror threat in 2008
By Frank Gardner
BBC security correspondent

The global fight against terrorism has seen mixed results in the last 12 months.

Numerous plots have been stopped, leaders arrested and networks disrupted.

But al-Qaeda's violent worldview still has many followers and plenty of recruits for new attacks.

Ayman al-Zawahiri (16 December 2007)
Al-Qaeda's fortunes are mixed, but it has stepped up its media war
So what should we expect in the coming year?

In this, the seventh year following the attacks of 9/11, al-Qaeda's fortunes are mixed.

Its biggest setback has been in Iraq, where a relatively small number of hardcore jihadist insurgents had hoped to create an Islamist mini-state in the centre and west of the country.

Partly due to US Gen David Petraeus's surge in troop numbers, partly due to the controversial US funding of local citizen militias, and partly due to Iraq's Sunni tribes deciding they were fed up with al-Qaeda's extreme violence coupled with its austere brand of Islam, al-Qaeda in Iraq is, for now, on the defensive.

It remains capable, however, of inflicting high-profile attacks and is unlikely to abandon its cause in a hurry.

But while Iraq has certainly been the front line in the physical conflict between the West and its allies on the one hand, and global jihadism on the other, it is only one of many arenas in which al-Qaeda's affiliates are active.

New targets

If, as some are predicting, the violence in Iraq continues to subside, then retreating non-Iraqi fighters are likely to seek new targets in neighbouring countries, especially Jordan and the Arab Gulf states.

Many analysts are surprised that liberal Dubai, with its high concentration of Western tourists, shoppers and expatriates, has so far escaped attack.

In Pakistan, al-Qaeda's core leadership has spent the last year consolidating its presence in the thinly governed tribal territories next to the Afghan border, cementing its ties to the Taleban and setting up new training camps to teach bomb-making, kidnap and assassination.

The area many might find surprising, but which is alarming counter-terrorism officials, is Europe
Both al-Qaeda and the wider Islamist movement there have benefited from Pakistan's unstable political climate, and any new attempts to exert military control over the tribal areas will most likely be met with fierce resistance.

In Somalia, the defeat of the Islamist militias a year ago has not brought stability, and there are signs al-Qaeda may be tempted to boost its presence in the Horn of Africa.

The area many might find surprising, but which is alarming counter-terrorism officials, is Europe.

Here there have been a number of alleged plots disrupted in 2007 - in Germany, Denmark and Belgium.

Those accused may be behind bars, but European governments and their citizens are firmly in al-Qaeda's sights for their perceived role in Afghanistan and the wider Middle East.

Media war

On the media front, both al-Qaeda and the Taleban have been prolific in broadcasting their messages over the internet, and are likely to continue this part of their campaign against the West and its allies.

Two of the FBI's most wanted fugitives - Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri - have delivered over a dozen audio and video messages in the past 12 months.

The latter, who is effectively al-Qaeda's chief strategist, has taken to appearing against a cosy-looking backdrop of a library of Islamic texts, implying that wherever he is currently in hiding, he is secure and comfortable.

Al-Qaeda's media arm, known as al-Sahab, has increased its annual output of audio and video messages from just 6 in 2002 to a record 94 in 2007, according to the US-based research institute, the IntelCenter.

In the coming months, this media campaign will likely intensify as al-Qaeda tries to reverse its setbacks in Iraq, and the Taleban maintain their campaign to regain territory in Afghanistan.

Quick guide: Al-Qaeda
10 Jul 06 |  Special Reports
Who's who in al-Qaeda
27 Apr 07 |  Special Reports
Profile: Ayman al-Zawahiri
27 Sep 04 |  Middle East
Al-Qaeda deputy sets out strategy
05 Jul 07 |  UK Politics
Trimmed Bin Laden in media-savvy war
08 Sep 07 |  Middle East
Al-Qaeda resurgent six years on?
11 Sep 07 |  Middle East
Al-Qaeda issues Pakistan threat
11 Jul 07 |  South Asia
Zawahiri says UK 'fleeing Basra'
17 Dec 07 |  Middle East

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