The recent attempts to explode packages aboard U.S.-bound airliners, linked to elements within the terrorist organization al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), underscore the perpetual danger posed by radical Islamists and their ideological brethren.
Not relegated solely to attacks against Western interests, AQAP has leveled a series of regional attacks aimed at local government and civilian populations, most recently an attack aimed at a procession of Shiite worshipers that killed dozens.
These dual attacks, and the divergent nature of their respective targets, illustrates the global threat that now often defines terrorist organizations whose interests once ostensibly revolved around regional disputes.
This blending of objectives can be seen in the realignment of terrorist organizations whose respective goals were once quite separate and distinct. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and al-Shabaab in Somalia, respectively, illustrate this phenomenon and the often deadly implications such realignments can have for the U.S. and its interests both at home and abroad.
Emerging as an offshoot of the radical Islamic Courts Union (ICU) in 2006, al-Shabaab formed under the auspices of countering and repelling the emergent Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in Somalia. The TFG, having assumed control of large swathes of southern Somalia that were previously under the jurisdiction of the militant ICU, was fiercely opposed by al-Shabaab, which aimed to reinstall a government committed to a virulent Islamist ideology.
While al-Shabaab’s undertakings in terrorism initially remained nationalistic, a public collaboration with al-Qaeda quickly both enhanced its regional position in the struggle within Somalia and helped evolve its mission to one more pan-Islamic in nature. Within this shifting alliance and merging of contrasting goals rests the dangers posed to U.S. interests.
Al-Qaeda offered the Somali terror organization a viable name brand and increased its exposure within the often surreptitious and fragmented world of fanaticized Islam. The cause of al-Shabaab thus became inextricably linked to the cause of al-Qaeda, blurring the distinction between regional endeavors and those of a more broad nature.
In the past two years, multiple U.S. residents have been arrested for crimes ranging from providing material support to al-Shabaab to traveling overseas with the intention of joining the terrorist organization as foreign fighters. More recently, a Somali teen in Oregon, Mohamed Osman Mohamud, was arrested for having attempted to detonate a car bomb at a tree-lighting ceremony in Portland. While it remains unclear if the Oregon teen had ties to any larger organizations, it can be reasonably assumed that the romanticized images of jihad that occupied Mohamud’s mind were facilitated in part by the breadth of al-Qaeda’s global clarion call to jihad.
AQIM offers another example of al-Qaeda’s attempt to co-opt the Islamist insurgencies around the world in order to benefit their broader pan-Islamic objectives.
The predecessor to AQIM, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), emerged with the objective of overthrowing the Algerian government and installing an Islamic state. While the actions of the GSPC remained largely confined to Algeria, al-Qaeda did not hesitate to recognize the potential benefits of unifying with the GSPC and thus expanding both entities’ spheres of influence.
When al-Qaeda’s number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, announced that they would be merging with the GSPC and forming a “blessed union” soon to be known as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the once regional aspirations of the GSPC immediately came to encompass a much larger surface of the globe, one with Western interests firmly in its crosshairs.
“All the praise is due to Allah for the blessed union which we ask Allah to be as a bone in the throats of the Americans and French Crusaders and their allies, and inspire distress, concern and dejection in the hearts of the traitorous, apostate sons of France,” Zawahiri said.
AQIM has since been a perpetual threat to U.S. and allied interests, having recently threatened the French government by suggesting that the release of French hostages held by the organization was contingent upon the French government extricating their forces from Afghanistan.
What AQIM and al-Shabaab represent are the face of al-Qaeda’s evolving tactics against the U.S. and Western interests. As the war on terrorism has successfully removed safe havens from which al-Qaeda could operate with impunity, the newly fragmented nature of the al-Qaeda network has necessitated its collaboration with regional partners of a similar ideological disposition.
These unifications have continued to render al-Qaeda a significant threat to the infrastructure of democratic societies around the world. At times, al-Qaeda’s co-opting of regional Islamic disputes has proffered the call of jihad to an ever-expanding coterie of Islamists committed to violence and terror.
Scott Erickson has worked in the field of law enforcement for the past decade and holds both his B.S. and M.S. in Criminal Justice Studies. He is contributor to The Daily Caller.
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