How important for the jihadi movement do you find Al-Qaeda – Islamic state competition? Is the competition from your point of view really visible and where this could lead? Read few comments.
Patrick Johnston, Political Scientist, RAND Corporation
The al-Qaeda-Islamic State competition is very important in general, and may be important in the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris. Although current indications suggest that AQAP was at least partly responsible for the Paris attacks, it is possible that AQAP has been looking for a way both to reassert its position among the most-relevant jihadi players in today’s global arena, and to attack targets on al-Qaeda’s hit list.
The competition is visible and could lead to escalatory measures both by AQ and by ISIS. Watch the ISIS “provinces,” which have popped up in Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere. ISIS is actively working to send operatives worldwide to try to consolidate a broad based following in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Libya, Algeria, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia, the Philippines, and in other countries. Al-Qaeda has done this in the past. The interesting thing is the form that IS’s engagement will take, and how successful the group will be in co-opting existing jihadist factions in countries such as those mentioned above. The global jihadist landscape, and the security risks it poses, could change markedly if previous alliances to shift to ISIS.
Sam Mullins, Professor of Counterterrorism, George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies
The competition between al-Qaeda, ISIS and their respective supporters is very interesting. ISIS really gambled when they split from al-Qaeda and then declared the ‘Caliphate’. Initially, I think they were probably disappointed with the response as there were relatively few pledges of allegiance. Many weren’t convinced that the Caliphate was legitimate and there are still a number of highly influential jihadi ideologues who are opposed to it. But as time has gone on and ISIS has demonstrated its military capability -and also gained sympathy following airstrikes against it- there have been more and more factions around the world making pledges of allegiance to al-Baghdadi. Formal al-Qaeda affiliates have so far stayed loyal to Aymen al-Zawahiri, but within their ranks there are certainly those who support ISIS as well.
There are a number of ways that this competition could play out. Perhaps the worst-case scenario is that it will result in escalating violence around the world as affiliates of each group try to out-do their rivals with ever more spectacular attacks. Al-Qaeda especially may feel the need to reassert itself on the world-stage given that it is in a position of comparative perceived weakness. On the other hand, the more factionalised and disunited jihadists are, ultimately the weaker they are, and as we have seen in Syria, they also now spend significant time and energy attacking each other.
Quite how things will play out is impossible to predict with certainty, but one thing that seems pretty certain is that the rivalry with continue for some time- the leadership of both al-Qaeda and ISIS seem to have little interest now in reconciliation and they continue to swipe at each other in their propaganda. Although their strategies differ, both are also now committed to attacking the United States and its allies wherever they can.
Ramzy Mardini, Nonresident Fellow, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, Atlantic Council
The jihadi movement tends to gravitates towards the front lines. Given that the Islamic State has consolidated so much attention and battlefield success in 2014, many resources have went to them versus other insurgent or terrorist organizations. In order to keep the cause fresh in the minds of potential jihadists, the organization requires some form of advertisement. At this point, the Islamic State is the best at propaganda and has the most material to work with in compelling fighters to join their cause. Hence, we were likely to see rival organizations attempt to gain attention by offering attacks against Western targets. It’s almost like an arms race of out-bidding, except we’re dealing with terrorists.