Last month, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) warned that, “our enemies remain focused on attacking the United States, and they are constantly adapting. DHS and its partners are stepping up efforts to keep terrorists out of America and to prevent terrorist recruitment and radicalization here at home, and we urge the public to remain vigilant and report suspicious activity.”
The DHS also indicated the U.S. is facing a significant, ongoing terror threat and the agency’s website displayed an “Elevated” alert level (second from the most severe), which means a credible threat of terrorism against the U.S. exists.
Guess Who’s Back
Al Qaeda never really went away, of course. The 30-year-old terrorist organization had just, for the most part, receded to the background while the Islamic State took center stage. While ISIS has been driven out of Iraq and Syria, they are alive and well in Africa and Europe. ISIS supporters can be found in the U.S. as well, as evidenced by recent activity by the group’s devotees.
Al Qaeda has reemerged as stronger now than they were when Bin Laden was killed. While the world was focused on ISIS, al Qaeda was quietly amassing power, planning, strengthening alliances and fundraising.
Earlier in the year, Stratfor reported that some are concerned that al Qaeda and ISIS may reunite:
“The idea of the global jihadist movement’s two major poles joining forces is certainly a troubling one. The combined capabilities of the Islamic State and al Qaeda could pose a significant threat to the rest of the world, making them a much more dangerous enemy together than divided.”
Though both groups follow Salafist ideology, it might be difficult to merge the two groups’ divergent goals. The Islamic State seeks global conquest in the establishment of Caliphate, while Al Qaeda is focused on the demise of the United States. Al Qaeda boasts a sophistication gained from years of experience, selectivity in recruiting and an assortment of well-educated scholars, including scientists and engineers.
Viewed as crude, by al Qaeda, ISIS also lacks the restraint exercised by al Qaeda.
Some collaboration, between these two terrorist groups, has already occurred in Syria, where fighters with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), also known as al Qaeda in Syria, and ISIS were found to have a somewhat cooperative relationship. Additionally, al Qaeda emir Ayman al Zawahiri has been attempting to build bridges among groups with similar enemies. And, al Zawahiri reiterated the fact that the U.S. is al Qaeda’s number one priority.
In comparing the two groups, Critical Threats points out that, “while ISIS had used conquest and bombastic proclamations to capture popular support and gain momentum, al Qaeda worked quietly with a softer approach to securing support.”
“The strengthening of al Qaeda is more dangerous than the success of ISIS. Al Qaeda’s softer approach to building popular support at the grassroots level evoked little, if any, reaction from the West. The West bought al Qaeda’s line that its local focus is a local issue. Al Qaeda further managed the reactions of the communities into which it was insinuating itself by permitting outbursts of local resistance and adjusting its time line to avoid generating backlash. ISIS’s conquest, by contrast, resulted in the West mobilizing a military effort against the group and harsh reaction from its conquered communities over time. ISIS’s coerced popular support in the Muslim world will collapse. Al Qaeda is positioned to absorb the remnants of ISIS, benefit from ISIS’s global mobilization, and sustain its own momentum within Sunni communities to strengthen the Salafi-jihadi movement.”
Al Qaeda does have sleeper cells, within the U.S., who are responsible for planning and launching attacks. But, there are also “lone wolf” supporters of Al Qaeda, in addition to ISIS proponents, in the U.S., who are preparing to launch attacks on their own.
There has also been found to be increasing collaboration among various terror groups in the Maghreb- particularly in Libya. They have been exchanging ideas for training, military tactics, PR, recruitment, and financing.
“Libya is a key node for the global Salafi-jihadi movement.7 The Libyan base provides the global movement with a destination for jihad, a transit and training zone, and a key node for global foreign fighter flows. It is already an important enabler for the global Salafi-jihadi threat against the United States, Europe, and American interests.
Al Qaeda and ISIS are consolidating a safe haven in Libya from which they will directly threaten the West over the long term.”
Add to that the fact that al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) has managed to turn a profit of around $100 million through ransom, drug trading, taxing locals and donations from around the world, according to a study by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
The global Salafi-jihadi movement was and remains more than just al Qaeda—or ISIS, however. The American Enterprise Institute cautions that, “the need is urgent. Al Qaeda, the Islamic State, and the global Salafi-jihadi movement together are stronger today than they have ever been.”
Holiday season threats have been issued primarily to Europe, but to New York City, also:
Potential Terror Threats to the U.S. in 2018
The massive cache of Islamic State propaganda videos found on the cellphone of Sayfullo Saipov, the man accused of using a truck to mow down pedestrians and cyclists recently in New York City, provided a glimpse of the vast amount of jihadist content on the internet.
Along with 90 videos and 3,800 images found,were depictions of beheadings and bomb-making instructions.
The amount of jihadist content on the internet is staggering. The efforts of law enforcement, intelligence agents and private intel agencies around the world are not sufficient to thwart every planned attack, though many have been thwarted.
One way individuals can help is by always being aware of their surroundings. People should report any suspicious behavior potentially related to terrorism to law enforcement.
And, since many terror attacks are closely linked to online activity such as planning attacks, garnering materials and instructions on how to carry out attacks, warnings about attacks and gloating immediately following an attack, be sure to also report suspicious behavior you see online.
Written by: CandiceLanier
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(Security Affairs – bioterrorims, ISIS)