Al-Qaida is posturing to merge with eventually degraded elements of the Islamic State, which could pose a major threat to the west, Dr. Bruce Hoffman told The Cipher Brief.
Al-Qaida broke its ties with ISIS in early 2014, after several public spats between al-Qaida leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri and ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al-Bagdadi. The final straw for Zawahiri was ISIS’s repeated targeting of other Muslims, including Muslim minority groups. ISIS publicly rebuked Al-Qaida’s message when it officially declared its caliphate and religious supremacy over al-Qaida in June 2014.
Hoffman described how ISIS’s rise has allowed al-Qaida to “rehabilitate” its image. He continued, “al Qaeda has been able to portray itself as a credible defender of embattled Sunnis everywhere.” As Al-Qaida continues to lie low, the Iraqi Security Forces are engaged in a grinding assault on ISIS’s last Iraqi stronghold in Mosul. While ISIS may lose territory, Hoffman warns the geographical loss will not degrade its global threat.
“ISIS isn’t going to die with its defeats in Mosul or even in Raqqa. It will exist at some level, somewhere if only by reverting to form as a pure terrorist entity. But I think al Qaeda has positioned itself to emerge from ISIS’ ashes with the potentiality, as I have long argued, for a merger or forced amalgamation of the ISIS rumps that survives the current multi-national onslaught,” he said.
Al-Qaida’s long success in planning large scale operations could be particularly dangerous if it gains control over ISIS’s european operations network. Al-Qaida has successfully carried out large scale attacks in major European cities. ISIS reportedly has cells of ready-made terrorists throughout Europe, that will survive the territorial losses of the group in Iraq and Syria.
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