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Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Chart: Al Qaeda Fractures, ISIS Gains

It has been many months since I updated the INTELWIRE al Qaeda fractures chart, and a new post by Clint Watts of the Foreign Policy Research Institute provided a good opportunity to revisit. Click the image below for a larger version, or click here for a scalable PDF.

Many of the changes foreshadowed in the last version of the chart have now come to pass. The challenge presented to al Qaeda by ISIS has fully metastasized, and the groups are increasingly on an equal footing, with the momentum clearly in ISIS's corner.

ISIS now has formal presences (organizations that have pledged bayat and had their pledges accepted) in North and West Africa, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, the Af-Pak region, drawing many of its new members from splintered factions of existing al Qaeda branches. Some of al Qaeda affiliates have apparently weakened (notably AQIM and al Shabab, which may not even be affiliated any more), while others are in stronger positions for the moment, including AQAP and Jabhat al Nusra, although rumors are running rampant about the latter's desire to get out from under the al Qaeda umbrella.

Also in the rumor mill: Speculation from important observers of al Qaeda that Ayman al Zawahiri might release the affiliates from their oaths of loyalty. Very tentatively sourced, these rumors should be taken with a large grain of salt, but the idea is not laughable. An al Shabab official who defected from the group and surrendered to the Somali government in December, said al Qaeda had not been in communication with its Somali affiliate for months, reflecting tea leaves that have been visible for some time.

None of this is conclusive, but it is highly suggestive of where things are going. Aside from the pressures of internal competition with ISIS, there are practical reasons for al Qaeda's senior leadership to delegate or devolve more authority to the affiliates, given the apparent difficulties it faces in communicating securely. That said, if al Qaeda Central does not surrender the field, it can certainly remain important, if likely less relevant, for years to come.

Buy the new book ISIS: The State of Terror by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger.

Buy J.M. Berger's seminal book on American jihadists, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam

Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.



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INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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