In January, I surveyed the Middle Eastern scene from the vantage point of the on-going struggle. Later, I noted that the United States had scored an important victory in the demise of Bin Laden, but indicated that Al-Qaeda had proliferated through the spread of spontaneous terrorist groups with similar ideals. In addition, a number of times I have called for a broader view of the struggle as reflecting an on-going war between the Sunnis and Shiites. Let’s take another look at how terrorism continues to operate.
Recently in Iraq, the cities of Fallujah and Ramadi again became a scene of conflict between the government and an Al-Qaeda type group led by Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. Called the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the terrorists took Fallujah, burned all Iraqi flags, and replaced them with the black banner of Al-Qadea. Al-Baghdadi has a Ph.D. in Islamic studies from the Islamic University of Baghdad and a $10 million bounty on his head from the USA. The war in Syria has made ISIS the strongest Al-Qadea franchise in that conflict. Abu Bakr is a target of both the Assad regime and some elements of the rebels. He has even snubbed al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s successor. These conflicts have promoted him to the top of potential leaders in the post-bin Laden era.
Similar terrorism franchises have sprung up across the region. In addition to ISIS, the AQAP in Yemen and Saudi Arabia are thought to have a thousand fighters. AQIM briefly held northern Mali until French forces drove them out. Al-Shabad has been a problem in Somalia. Of course, the original bin Laden group has shrunk to a hundred in the Pakistan and Afghanistan area. While these numbers are not large, they are extremists whose suicide deaths make them more dangerous than the numbers indicate.
While these groups are now focused on local issues, leaders in Washington, D.C., remain concerned about the future. Some of these Al-Qaeda affiliates fighting in Syria are talking about “external operations” aimed at the United States. Internal struggles over leadership have kept these group contained, but that day will eventually pass. While this talk is currently chatter around the camp fire, it does suggest that the West must pay continuing attention to possible problems in the future. Bruce Hoffman, director of security studies at Georgetown University notes these Qaeda types never remain local. Eventually they cross borders.
In a previous blog, I noted that holy wars are the most frightening that history has known. Believing the Almighty is behind the conflicts and on their side has prompted groups to evangelize with the sword. History records how brutal these wars became. Westerners do well to pay attention to these franchises. Their motto might become, “If McDonald’s can do it, so can we!”