Ter­ror­ist ‘af­fil­i­ates’ putting down roots

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY ASHISH KU­MAR SEN

A “more ag­gres­sive set” of ter­ror­ist groups af­fil­i­ated with al Qaeda, for­eign fighters in Syria, and Iran’s con­tin­u­ing sup­port for ter­ror­ism are pos­ing both im­me­di­ate and long-term threats to the U.S. and its al­lies, the State Depart­ment said on Wed­nes­day.

The State Depart­ment’s an­nual global ter­ror­ism sur­vey found that while al Qaeda’s Pak­istan-based core has been weak­ened, deadly af­fil­i­ates have put down roots across the Mid­dle East and North Africa. These groups have ex­ploited weak gov­er­nance and in­sta­bil­ity to deepen their op­er­a­tions, par­tic­u­larly in Ye­men, Syria, Iraq, north­west Africa and So­ma­lia.

The degra­da­tion of al Qaeda’s se­nior lead­er­ship in Pak­istan has “ac­cel­er­ated the de­cen­tral­iza­tion of what we re­fer to as al Qaeda core,” said Tina Kaidanow, State Depart­ment co­or­di­na­tor for coun­tert­er­ror­ism. “This has led to the af­fil­i­ates in the AQ net­work be­com­ing more op­er­a­tionally au­ton­o­mous from AQ core and in­creas­ingly fo­cused on lo­cal and re­gional ob­jec­tives.”

Ter­ror­ist at­tacks in the reporting pe­riod rose more than 40 per­cent in com­par­i­son with the pre­vi­ous year, the re­port noted. Al Qaeda af­fil­i­ates pose a dan­ger to U.S. in­ter­ests, but less so to the U.S. home­land.

“Their fo­cus is more lo­cal and re­gional, and they will at­tack U.S. tar­gets and al­lied regimes in their ar­eas of op­er­a­tions,” said Daniel By­man, a pro­fes­sor in the se­cu­rity stud­ies pro­gram at Ge­orge­town Univer­sity.

Iran was again in­cluded in the State Depart­ment’s list of state spon­sors of ter­ror­ism, along­side Cuba, Sudan and Syria.

Iran continues to be a ma­jor spon­sor of ter­ror­ism and defy de­mands to prove that its nu­clear am­bi­tions are peace­ful, the re­port says.

The re­port found a resur­gence of ac­tiv­ity by Iran’s Is­lamic Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard Corps’ Quds Force and Min­istry of In­tel­li­gence and Se­cu­rity is fan­ning un­rest across the Mid­dle East.

Ms. Kaidanow said that even as the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion pur­sues nu­clear ne­go­ti­a­tions with Tehran, it will con­tinue to counter Ira­nian sup­port for ter­ror­ism and “make clear to Iran’s lead­ers that its govern­ment spon­sor­ship of il­licit ac­tions are un­ac­cept­able to the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.”

The re­port also ex­am­ined the ef­fect of the war on ter­ror­ism on al Qaeda.

In 2013, al Qaeda’s lead­er­ship strug­gled to main­tain dis­ci­pline within its net­work and to com­mu­ni­cate guid­ance to its af­fil­i­ates, the re­port said, cit­ing the fact that its leader, Ay­man al-Zawahiri, was re­peat­edly re­buffed in his at­tempts to me­di­ate a dis­pute be­tween al Qaeda af­fil­i­ates op­er­at­ing in Syria. Al Qaeda af­fil­i­ates also ig­nored al-Zawahiri’s 2013 tac­ti­cal guid­ance to avoid civil­ian ca­su­al­ties.

“Al Qaeda-re­lated groups at times ig­nored the core even when [Osama] bin Laden was alive,” said Mr. By­man. “How­ever, the weak­ness of the core due to drone strikes, the ap­peal of some im­por­tant lo­cal groups like those in Syria, and Zawahiri’s lack of charisma all make such chal­lenges more likely.”

Syria, where a civil war is now in its fourth year, has turned into a sig­nif­i­cant breed­ing ground for ter­ror­ists and a mag­net for for­eign fighters, the State Depart­ment re­port said.

U.S. al­lies are wor­ried that their cit­i­zens fight­ing in Syria will re­turn as bat­tle-hard­ened mil­i­tants and pose a se­cu­rity threat to the home­land.

The flow of for­eign fighters to Syria is a “wor­ry­ing trend that will af­fect the [coun­tert­er­ror­ism] land­scape in the years to come,” said Ms. Kaidanow.

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