On the 19th anniversary of the 9/11 assaults within the US, the perpetrator – the then-Afghan based mostly jihadist group al-Qaeda – is in a state of disarray.
Its department in Syria was silenced in June by a rival pressure; in Yemen it suffered a defeat by the hands of rebels shortly after dropping its chief in a US drone strike; and the chief of its North Africa department was killed in a French raid in Mali in June and is but to call a successor.
Meanwhile, al-Qaeda’s chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has been uncharacteristically absent for months, prompting hypothesis that he could be lifeless or incapacitated.
But al-Qaeda’s Africa branches, in Somalia and Mali, stay a potent pressure.
Ideologically, al-Qaeda faces a well-known dilemma for the jihadist motion: to modernise and present flexibility with a view to win over peculiar Muslims, and mainly survive; or persist with strict jihadist ideas and threat alienating Muslims.
Each path has its dangers.
The first may jeopardise the group’s jihadist credentials and result in splits and defections by hardliners, whereas the second may considerably restrict operational capability, even to the purpose of the group’s demise.
In Syria, al-Qaeda – represented by its unannounced department Hurras al-Din – has didn’t make inroads. This is partly the results of jihadist rivalries on the one hand, and the eagle-eyed surveillance of al-Qaeda officers by the US-led coalition on the opposite.
The group can be not common on the bottom as Syrians see the al-Qaeda model as a risk and a magnet for presidency and worldwide motion.
Hurras al-Din has been inactive for over two months now following a crackdown by a extra highly effective jihadist group and the focusing on of a few of its prime officers in suspected US air strikes.
The group’s department in Yemen – al-Qaeda within the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) – was as soon as essentially the most feared of all al-Qaeda chapters, nevertheless it has suffered a variety of blows this 12 months and is at the moment one of many organisation’s least lively branches.
AQAP misplaced its chief in a US drone strike in late January, and lately misplaced its stronghold within the central Bayda province by the hands of the Houthi rebels.
For years spies seem to have infiltrated the group and facilitated the correct focusing on of its management figures.
It can be beset by inner divisions.
But one occasion this 12 months confirmed that AQAP was nonetheless taking part in the position for which it was beforehand most feared: orchestrating “lone wolf” assaults within the West.
In February, the group mentioned it was behind the lethal capturing final December on the Pensacola naval base in Florida that was carried out by Saudi army trainee Mohammed Alshamrani – a hyperlink the US later confirmed.
Al-Qaeda within the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), one of many franchise’s least lively branches, misplaced its Algerian chief in a French raid in Mali in early June.
Three months on, the group has but to call a successor.
It just isn’t clear why, however – regardless of the purpose – a vacant management publish doesn’t replicate nicely on the group.
Algeria and North Africa extra broadly stay powerful for al-Qaeda to make inroads into, given the notorious legacy of jihadists within the 1990s represented by the ultra-extremist Armed Islamic Group (GIA), which was accountable for the deaths of many Algerian civilians.
The Mali-focused Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), which additionally operates in Burkina Faso and sometimes in Niger, was arrange in March 2017.
After al-Shabab – an al-Qaeda affiliate in Somalia – JNIM is the second most lively al-Qaeda department.
JNIM assaults are largely targeted on native troops and overseas forces, largely French, within the Sahel.
But in current months, it seems to have been side-tracked by battles towards the Islamic State (IS) group.
In February, JNIM confirmed readiness to have interaction in talks with the federal government of Mali, however with the overthrow of the federal government in August and the arrival of a brand new one via a coup, JNIM’s fortunes and subsequent steps are unclear.
Focus on Jerusalem
Al-Shabab is undoubtedly al-Qaeda’s strongest and largest risk in the mean time.
The group holds territory and workouts a type of governance throughout most rural areas in central and southern Somalia.
In addition, al-Shabab claims every day assaults and frequent high-profile operations inside Somalia and sometimes in neighbouring Kenya.
Among its huge operations this 12 months is the January assault on the US Manda Bay army base in Kenya, which left three Americans lifeless and destroyed a number of planes. More lately, in August, al-Shabab stormed a seaside resort frequented by authorities officers in Mogadishu, killing greater than a dozen folks.
Capitalising on huge assaults by al-Shabab and JNIM, al-Qaeda launched in 2019 its international Jerusalem-focused army and propaganda marketing campaign, reiterated in 2020, which cites the “liberation of Palestine” as its purported finish purpose and situates the US as its ongoing primary enemy.
Message for the US
Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri has made just one look this 12 months, in a video in May.
A month earlier than that, supporters of IS speculated that al-Zawahiri was both lifeless or had suffered a stroke and develop into incapacitated. They based mostly this on his failure to seem in new movies or personally touch upon key occasions.
Several of al-Qaeda’s central command officers had already died within the Afghanistan-Pakistan area over the previous years or had been killed in US drone strikes in Syria.
The US-Taliban peace deal signed in February, which stipulates that the militant group won’t shelter any international jihadist organisation, may make it trickier for al-Qaeda officers to discover a protected haven there.
Al-Qaeda, in the meantime, has tried to use the worldwide well being disaster and race protests within the US to win help for its anti-US authorities message.
The group addressed Western publics basically and people within the US specifically to inform them that their governments had didn’t help them in the course of the pandemic and that the “racist” therapy of African Americans within the US may solely be reversed via armed wrestle.
But it’s uncertain that such messaging from a gaggle accountable for the biggest terror assault on US soil will resonate with the American public, if it reaches them in any respect.