A few days ago it became clear that the Syrian rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra was in fact founded by Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), an al-Qaeda affiliate and that the word is out that al-Nusra is an al-Qaeda fighting group or at least is fighting for the same goals. But what are these goals? Salafi ideology, the ideology on which bases al-Qaeda is operating, strives for the inevitable fall of democratic capitalism, i.e. The West. But in the last few years, maybe since the death of Osama bin Laden, there seems to be shift away from directly attacking western targets towards support for local insurgencies where Islamist groups fight the government.
A few examples:
- Libya: Islamist fighting groups take the city of Misrata in the revolt against Ghaddafi. It is here where the American consulate was attacked.
- Mali: al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) hijacks the revolt of Touareg MNLA against the Milian government.
- Nigeria: Boko Haram is sponsored by al-Qaeda
- Somalia: al-Shabaab came under the wings of al-Qaeda on the Arabic Peninsula (AQAP)
- Iraq: Islamic State of Iraq is an al-Qaeda affiliate
- Syria: Jamaat al-Nusra, fighting the Syrian government, was founded by ISI
What’s the big picture? Global al-Qaeda seems to has changed it’s strategy from disrupting the West with loose attacks to the establishment of the Sixth Caliphate, stretching from Mauritania to Iraq and maybe beyond (i.e. Iran, Pakistan and the Caucasus) by taking over or at least disrupt political power through local groups in restless countries where the government is under attack. It could be that when this desired caliphate is a fact, it could turn against the West in a more powerful way. This would take decades of course but time is not an enemy of the Islamist jihadi’s.
Parallel to this strategy there seems to be another strategy in work that could have more direct impact on the populations of the West and could pose a more imminent threat. Hundreds of youths from western countries are, spurred by local imam’s, conducting Jihad in Syria and Mali. It seems to be no coincidence that most of these fighters are trying to join al-Nusra (in case of Syria) and not, for instance, the Free Syrian Army. They are driven by Salafi ideology and indoctrinated by imam’s that are sponsored by extremist organizations. So what’s the threat?, one could ask. That they will return, is the answer. It is not said that they will conduct terrorist acts immediately after arriving back home, but they’re trained to fight and are probably more radicalised than when they left. Besides this, they probably suffer from PTSS with all the dangerous side effects that could have. There is a chance that some of the Western Islamist fighters in Syria and other countries, one day will turn against their home countries when ordered to do so.
So al-Qaeda (global) is conducting a two sided strategy which contains: 1. the long term strategy of the establishment of the caliphate through political means (after intense and bloody revolutions) which, when it is effectively a state, could start a war against the West; 2. the short term strategy of, on a larger scale than before, recruiting and training young radicalised westerners who can conduct effective and violent attacks in their home countries when that is desired by their bosses.
This will not mean al-Qaeda has completely moved away from the strategy of conducting large scale bombings in European and American cities, that is still an imminent threat. The new strategy is more something like an add-on that takes advantage of the current conflicts that are going on in the realm of the desired caliphate.