Al Qaeda is strong as it has ever been and ISIS threat is spreading
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- Al-Qaeda Al-Qaeda is a global militant Islamist organization founded by Osama bin...[+]
- Islamic State ISIS is an Islamic extremist terrorist organization controlling territory in Iraq...[+]
Al Qaeda and the Islamic State gained strength globally as world powers prioritized the destruction of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, a top U.S. counterterrorism official warns.
“Al Qaeda has been strategic and patient over the past several years. It’s let ISIS absorb the brunt of the world’s counterterrorism efforts while patiently reconstituting itself,” Ambassador Nathan Sales, the State Department’s counterterrorism coordinator, told reporters Thursday.
“And so what we see today is an al Qaeda that is as strong as it has ever been.”
That alert was just part of a sobering assessment, as Sales recited a litany of ISIS affiliates that have taken root even as “the core” of the self-declared caliphate in Iraq and Syria crumbled in the face of a U.S.-led coalition. The coalition is under pressure to develop a plan for “countering ISIS around the world,” Sales said, while other U.S. officials try to broker an end to the Syrian civil war that launched ISIS to international infamy.
“The United States can’t do this alone,” he emphasized. “We are now working closely with our partners to identify focus regions for the coalition, and we expect to have more clarity soon on where we intend to be active.”
Africa is already emerging as a key theater for both ISIS and al Qaeda. “ISIS branches and networks now span the African continent from east to west and north to south,” Sales told reporters. “They’ve increased the lethality of their tactics, they’ve expanded it to new areas, and they’ve repeatedly targeted U.S. interests.”
Islamic State’s tentacles touch an array of U.S. interests. The group in Afghanistan “has become one of the deadliest ISIS affiliates in the world,” Sales said, killing roughly 800 people and injuring 1,400 more over the last year. Those attacks foreshadow a long-term threat to the United States and an immediate danger to the central government in Kabul, U.S. officials worry, at a time President Trump is trying to strike a deal with the Taliban that would allow for a withdrawal of American troops from the country.
Sales played coy when a reporter asked if he has information that North Korea’s military provided training to ISIS fighters in Syria, where the Kim regime has been known to partner with dictator Bashar Assad.
“Nothing that I’m prepared to comment on in public,” Sales said.
But ISIS fighters trained in Syria have undoubtedly reinforced terror cells around the world, especially in Africa, he said.
“In some cases, the ISIS-affiliated fighters that you are seeing in Africa are indigenous militants that have associated themselves with the ISIS brand,” Sales said. “At the other extreme, what you see are battle-hardened ISIS fighters who originated in Africa, traveled to the war zone in Syria and Iraq, gained battlefield experience, and returned home to either found or enrich existing ISIS affiliates.”
Al Qaeda’s franchises are also becoming increasingly lethal.
“We see active and deadly al Qaeda affiliates across the globe, including in Somalia, where al Shabab commits regular attacks inside Somalia and also has begun to attack its neighbors as well, particularly Kenya,” he said. “We see active AQ plotting and activity elsewhere in Africa.”
Sales pointed to the Algeria-based Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and an offshoot in the Sahel region, where France is leading a multinational counterterrorism operation. “Both of those organizations are extremely active,” he said.
And of course, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has long been regarded as “probably the most threatening of the al Qaeda affiliates because of its interest and capabilities in attacking the U.S. homeland,” he noted.
Sales declined to comment on recent reports that Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza has been killed. But he called for the U.S.-led coalition to develop a panoramic strategy to coordinate “law enforcement, border security, terrorist financing, and counter-messaging” against ISIS, without losing sight of al Qaeda.
“No one should mistake the period of relative silence from al Qaeda as an indication that they’ve gotten out of the business,” he said. “They’re very much in this fight, and we need to continue to take the fight to them.”
Source: Washington Examiner