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Vail Daily column: 13 years later

Matthew Kennedy

I start getting the chills around this time every year. Part of it is due to the seasons’ transition; another element is also due to the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. I was in the Washington, D.C., area during the event. It’s a day I’ll never forget. I will probably reflect where the world is and the status of the al-Qaida and jihadist movement around this time every year for the rest of my life — 2014 is no different.

The period between Sept. 11, 2013, and Sept. 11, 2014, was a transition period for al-Qaida, its affiliates, and the jihadist movement.

• A new more ominous jihadist group emerged that may surpass al-Qaida Central’s lethality.



• Al-Qaida’s core leadership is seeking to reassert itself as the movement’s principle bastion.

• Several al-Qaida affiliates augmented and enhanced their operations.



• The U.S. remains a target among al-Qaida operatives.

The al-Qaida phenomenon witnessed an important metamorphosis within the past year. Perhaps the most significant event is the possible eclipse of al-Qaida Central by former affiliate Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. ISIS was formerly known as al-Qaida in Iraq. The organization’s name changed after a new leadership took over its ranks. Al-Qaida Central severed its ties with ISIS after disapproving of the Islamic State’s brutal interpretation of the sharia. The group is more agile and potentially more dangerous than al-Qaida. It possesses more financial resources and a deeper operational capability than al-Qaida Central. ISIS is also starting to augment its recruiting base.

What remains unknown is its longevity, whether it will attack American and European targets directly and if it will split the al-Qaida movement. The latter is possible considering two of al-Qaida’s affiliates — al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula and al-Qaida in the Islamic Megreb — recently voiced their support for ISIS’ activities. A vital question is whether al-Qaida Central will expel both groups from al-Qaida’s activities given their advocacy for ISIS operations.



ISIS’ challenge isn’t compelling to al-Qaida Central to capitulate. The Afghan and Pakistani based organization recently established an Indian-based affiliate called Qaedat al-Jihad in the Indian subcontinent. The group was probably created to enhance and buttress al-Qaida’s ties with the Indian subcontinent’s various Jihadist organizations. Qaedat al-Jihad in the Indian subcontinent may also have been formed to thwart efforts by ISIS to attract regional recruits. ISIS is producing recruitment videos and distributing related literature throughout South Asia. The Iraq- and Syria- based organization is also attracting various Indians to its ranks. The creation of the newest al-Qaida group may be also be designed to neutralize ISIS’ regional inroads — and to re-establish al-Qaida Central as the principle jihadist group.

Several non-Middle East al-Qaida affiliates augmented their activities within the last year. Boko Haram and Al Shaabab conducted operations catching the world’s attention. Boko Haram kidnapped several hundred girls, arguing that they should not be educated; the group has yet to release them. The other group, Somalia-based Al Shaabab, initiated an attack against a Nairobi, Kenya, mall.

A key concern among many European and U.S. counterterrorism officials are individuals who have joined ISIS or any of al-Qaida’s affiliates returning and initiating operations in either area. Many American, British, German, Dutch and French nationals traveled to Iraq and Syria to participate in various combat operations. A principle worry is those same individuals may return to their home countries to commit similar atrocities.

The U.S. arguably remains the jihadist movement longterm target. The prime al-Qaida group targeting the U.S., al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, continues to probe American anti-terrorism measures for weaknesses. Many counterterrorism officials are concerned the group now understands how to implant explosive devices into mobile phones. They are worried al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is enhancing their shoe-bomb technology. Counterterrorism officials are finally concerned the Yemen-based group may surgically implant explosive devices into potential suicide bombers.

The Sept. 11 attacks permanently etched the al-Qaida phenomenon into the American psyche. It created a terror the country had not witnessed since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. And yet many arguably anticipated the killing of the attack’s prime perpetrator, Osama bin Laden, would see the group’s diminishment shortly thereafter. The last several years have seen an unanticipated resilience from the group and the movement. The al-Qaida phenomenon will probably remain a threat for several years, perhaps decades, to come. Its defeat will ultimately occur by making the movement’s ideology unattractive.

Matthew Kennedy has a master’s degree in diplomatic studies from the University of Westminster in London. He’s lived in Europe, Asia and Russia. Comments or questions can be directed to intl.affairs@yahoo.com.


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