Al Qaeda morphs into third generation more dangerous than ever

Bruce Riedel:
While Pentagon lawyers claim al Qaeda’s tipping into defeat, in fact we are seeing the emergence of the third generation of the terrorist movement.

Under siege by drones in Pakistan and Yemen, al Qaeda 3.0 has exploited the Arab Awakening to create its largest safe havens and operational bases in more than a decade across the Arab world. This may prove to be the most deadly al Qaeda yet.

The first generation was the original band in Afghanistan created by Osama bin Laden in the 1990s. The second emerged after 9/11 when the group resurfaced in Pakistan and then across the Muslim world. Now a third iteration can be discerned in the wake of bin Laden’s death and the Arab Awakening.

The fastest-growing new al Qaeda is in Syria. Using the cover name Jabhat al Nusra, al Qaeda has become perhaps the most lethal element of the opposition to Bashar al Assad’s brutal dictatorship. Al Qaeda’s amir, Ayman al-Zawahiri, called for jihadists across the world to flock to Syria this spring to join the uprising against the Assad regime and the Alawite minority that supports it. For al Qaeda, Assad and the Alawis are a perfect target; many Sunnis believe Alawis to be a deviationist sect of Islam that should be suppressed. While al Qaeda is a small part of the opposition in Syria, it nonetheless brings unique skills in bomb-making and suicide operations.

Now jihadist websites are reporting every day that new al Qaeda “martyrs” have died in the fighting in Damascus and Aleppo from Saudi Arabia, Palestine, and Egypt. Reliable reports speak of bands of jihadists operating in the country with a loose affiliation to al Qaeda and composed of Muslim fanatics from as far away as Pakistan and Bangladesh.

The Syrian al Qaeda franchise has sought to learn from the mistakes of its predecessors. It avoids open association with the brand name and seeks to work with other Sunni groups. It is well armed, uses bases in Iraq for support and supply, and benefits from the arms supplied by Qatar and Saudi Arabia to the opposition. Its leader uses the nom de guerre of Abu Mohammad al Golani, a reference to the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights and a signal that the top leader is a Syrian, not a foreign fighter.


In North Africa, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, originally an Algerian franchise of the al Qaeda global terror organization, has successfully aligned itself with a local extremist group in Mali named Ansar al Dine, or Defenders of the Faith; together, they have effectively taken control of the northern two thirds of Mali. Now AQIM controls the fabled city of Timbuktu.
AQIM is also associated with those responsible for the attack on our people in Benghazi.  Mali has been a transit area for their dope business taking drugs brought into West Africa by people from Venezuela and transporting it to North Africa and on into Europe.  It is one of its main sources of finance.

So far Obama has no answer for the expanding AQIM franchise or for the group in Syria that probably grew out of an expanding franchise in Iraq since Obama effected his retreat from that country.  For al Qaeda the war goes on because we have not been able to make them believe their cause is hopeless.  Obama has actually given them hope with his retreats from Iraq and the coming one from Afghanistan..  His bumbling of events in Syria has allowed al Qaeda to take advantage of the chaos that exist there.  That is what al Qaeda does.


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