WASHINGTON – The recent kidnapping of more than 300 Nigerian women students by Boko Haram with the threat of selling them, the rise of al-Shabaab in Somalia and the sudden prominence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria is symptomatic of a new and disturbing trend, according to analysts.
Along with this rise of new transnational terrorist groups in the Middle East and Africa is the morphing of al-Qaida into new franchises that operate independently from the central leadership in Pakistan under Ayman al-Zawahiri.
They include al-Qaida in the Arab Peninsula, or AQAP, and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM.
AQIM is splitting into two separate operations in its base country, Algeria, in the north and south, making any anti-terrorism effort in an already difficult region more challenging.
ISIS, which originated as al-Qaida in Iraq, under the late terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, believes in strict Islamic law. It is so violent that even al-Qaida central has disassociated itself with it.
Nevertheless, it has been able to attract some 2,100 foreign fighters, including some from the United States.
The prospect has disturbed U.S. security officials, who fear that the Americans who fought and acquired battlefield experience in Syria could return to the U.S. and carry out terrorist attacks.
Recently retired Gen. Keith Alexander, who was director of the National Security Agency from 2005 to March 2014, has warned that the probability of further terror attacks on U.S. soil is increasing.
In a New Yorker magazine interview, Alexander said: “What I saw at NSA is that there is a lot more coming our way.
“We’re at greater risk,” he said. “Look at the way al-Qaida networks. From al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, and now in Syria, the al-Nusra front. Look at the number of jihadists going into Syria and what they want to do. When put all that together, you can say those are distant countries, but a lot of these groups are looking to attack the United States.
“I take that threat very seriously,” he said.
One such foreign fighter, thought to be an American since he called himself Abu Dujana al-Amriki, had been killed in fighting in Syria. Before his death, however, he appeared in an ISIS video.
In the video he says:
This is a message for the people of the West from the jihad fighters in Syria. We have come from all nationalities to defend our land, this Islamic land, to spread the Shariah of Allah on the face of the earth and to sacrifice our lives and souls for jihad.
We have come to kill all those who stand in our way. This flag (of al-Qaida) will yet wave over the capitals of all the countries in the world. With this simple weapon (pointing to his AK-47), we will liberate our lands and our people and bring Islamic law to rule over the entire earth.
North Caucasus Islamic militants threatening Russia and fighting in Syria also have become an al-Qaida franchise that, when joined with other affiliates, pose an international threat. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Taliban has increased its influence beyond what it was before the U.S. attacked the group in Afghanistan in October 2001.
Many of these groups now are beginning to coordinate their activities, stretching from the Middle East into the Arabian Peninsula and into North Africa and across into the Maghreb. The development has shown an even greater al-Qaida threat than when Osama bin Laden led the organization.
It also contradicts past statements by the Obama administration that al-Qaida is “on the ropes.”
What has emerged is a decentralized al-Qaida under no central authority, making their activities more unpredictable and dangerous.
Their rise portends an even greater generational threat that is more brutal and ruthless than what al-Qaida has posed to the world in the past. The problem emerging is that Western powers are tired, lack resources and what appears the commitment to conduct more intense operations against them.
“This extremism transcends borders and language barriers; and affects people across all sectors of society, regardless of religion, class or gender,” according to Middle East expert Mohammed Fahad al-Harthi, who writes on terrorism trends for various Middle East publications.
Besides their brutality, their claim to fame is their extremist ideology and interpretation of Islam that “give fodder to those hate-mongering Islamophobes who want to portray Muslims as narrow-minded and intolerant,” al-Harthi said.
Bringing the world a new generation of fighters, these terrorist groups are using media to their advantage and to communicate with each other.
“They have been able to secretly connect with each other on the Internet and branch out in many locations,” al-Harthi said, adding that they are like a new “mafia” operating in the shadows by using this new media to their advantage.
“Terrorist cells flourish in chaos,” al-Harthi said.
“This is certainly the case in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Somalia,” al-Harti said. “There is also significant evidence that Boko Haram has made contact with so-called jihadist groups in the Maghreb, including al-Shabaab in Somalia.
“The fight against Boko Haram is not a Nigerian problem, but an issue that faces all humanity,” al-Harthi said.
“It would be no exaggeration to say that our future as a nation is going to be determined by the way we deal with this issue,” al-Harthi said. “We face a stark choice – of either having a future of chaos and destruction, or one where moderation prevails.”