Recently certain experts opined that the war on terrorism is over. This statement is ludicrous. It is true that al-Qaeda Central (AQ) has been badly wounded, but it is not dead. It has grown hydra-like heads with new affiliates, which are cause for significant concern. Below is a primer of the major AQ affiliates.
In the Middle East we find both the most potent “son of AQ” and one of its oldest affiliates:
- Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Al-Qaeda’s Saudi Arabian and Yemeni branches merged in 2009 to form AQAP. It is considered the most dangerous affiliate. AQAP claimed responsibility for the failed “underwear bomber” attack. The group was linked to the Fort Hood shooting in 2009 through its association with Anwar al-Awlaki, who had corresponded with Major Nidal Hasan prior to the attack.
- Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Since 1992, AQIM has been responsible for both terrorist and criminal activities including drug smuggling and kidnapping for ransom. In 2003, the group pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda, and in 2006 their merger was officially recognized. The fall of the Muammar Qadhafi regime in Libya has provided AQIM with opportunities to expand its influence, throughout the region—most notably in northern Mali.
In the Afghanistan–Pakistan region, several groups have links with AQ. While the U.S. may be ready to declare hostilities over in the region, these groups are clearly not:
- Haqqani Network. The Haqqani network is thought to have thousands of insurgent fighters among its ranks. The group has ties with Pakistan’s intelligence agency and the Taliban as well as al-Qaeda. The Haqqani Network has frequently worked alongside al-Qaeda, but the extent of their partnership is somewhat unclear. It has also committed a number of attacks in southeast Afghanistan. Experts believe that because of its close ties with Pakistani intelligence, Haqqani may be to blame for a number of unreported attacks within Pakistan as well.
- Taliban. The Taliban is an Islamist extremist group that took control of Afghanistan in the post–Cold War power vacuum, where it ruled until the U.S. invasion. It provided cover for Al-Qaeda operatives, including Osama bin Laden, after 9/11. The Taliban also has close ties with the Haqqani network. The group has claimed various attacks in the Afghan region, including on U.S. forces. The Taliban is funded externally by extremist groups in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
- Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET). LET is a terrorist group founded in the early 1990s as the militant wing of a major Pakistani Islamist organization. The group’s stated goal is to restore India to Islamic rule, with particular focus on the disputed Kashmir region. It has operated alongside al-Qaeda on numerous occasions. India has also blamed LET for the Mumbai attacks in November 2008, which killed 174 people.
Africa has developed into a new front in the war, albeit with far less headline appeal in the U.S. The lower level of visibility on the continent makes these groups no less dangerous or significant. Given the difficulties with regard to governance in the region, these groups should be watched and countered:
- Al-Shabab. Designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 2008 by the Bush Administration, al-Shabab seeks the overthrow Somalia’s transitional government. Occupying the majority of the country, al-Shabab has claimed affiliation with al-Qaeda since 2007. It wasn’t until last February that the two groups officially merged. While its operations are traditionally focused on Somalia, al-Shabab launched attacks against Ugandan football fans in Kampala during the 2010 World Cup.
- Boko Haram. Based in northern Nigeria, Boko Haram (translation: “Western education is sinful”) is an Islamist sect that seeks the establishment of an Islamist Nigerian state. Boko Haram militants are known to have received training and resources from AQIM and al-Shabab in Somalia. Since the death of its founder, Mohammed Yusuf, in 2009, Boko Haram has escalated its attacks against the Nigerian government and security forces, Christians, and even fellow Muslims. Last August, Boko Haram committed its first transnational attack when it bombed the United Nations headquarters in the capital city of Abuja.
All of these groups are still very actively pursuing AQ’s agenda. They still consider themselves at war with the U.S., the Western nations, and their own governments. It is a nice thought to declare the war on terrorism to be concluded, but someone forgot to inform these organizations.