After the Al-Qaeda attacks of September 2011 on New York and the Pentagon, it was inevitable that emulating them would be harder, nearly impossible. Before that, major Al Qaeda operations were mostly confined to Asia, Yemen and some attacks on residential complexes housing Americans in eastern Saudi Arabia in the 1990s. Those caused some American deaths and casualties, but they were not spectacular.
The September attacks made Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda household names in most of the world. They also attracted new money and volunteers to the Wahhabi terrorist group. Still, there were no further attacks in the West of the kind that was widely expected. With time there was widespread acceptance of such cliches like “Al Qaeda is on the run“, “Al Qaeda is being defeated“. Other versions of “Mission Accomplished“. Which brings us to Iraq and Syria and the wider Arab uprisings that exploded in the spring of 2011.
The Wahhabi terrorists established a foothold, a base of operations in Western Iraq. They were struggling to get traction by 2010, when the Syrian uprising started in 2011. Wahhabis from the Persian Gulf essentially bought and took over the Syrian uprising. They quickly shifted the political uprising in Syria into a sectarian conflict of the kind they have been good at instigating in the Gulf region and across the wider Islamic world. Money and volunteers and weapons quickly found their way into Syria, and Iraq, allowed by a helpful Islamist regime in Turkey. What I once called the Erdogan Trail was started. Money from the Gulf region, volunteer Jihadis from all over the world, and arms continued to flow through Turkey and into Syria.
The sudden availability of big money would spoil anyone and anything. Couple that with weapons and pliable potential volunteers, and you have the makings of an earthly Jihadi paradise, or hell, depending on your point of view. The Wahhabi Jihadis started splitting away from the distant ‘headquarters’ in relatively faraway Pakistan. Even moving the HQ of the Saudi mothership, Al-Qaeda In the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), to nearby Yemen did not seem to stem that trend.
Several years ago we wrote, I and others, of Al-Qaeda franchising its activities to local groups in Africa, the Arab world or the Far East. But apparently the franchises soon started declaring their independence from their distant colleagues. That was strengthened after the death of Bin Laden, the only charismatic leader in the old Al-Qaeda leadership structure. The doddering Egyptian Al-Zawahri is not an inspiring type of person, nor are the few Arab Salafis around him.
Success has spoiled the Wahhabi terrorists, and turned them into a bunch of rival groups. But wait, that has not been bad for the Jihadis. It has been good for the “cause”. Just look at the geography: they now control large swathes of territory in the Arab world, North Africa, and Northwest Africa. For the first time in modern history. They probably have a few small swathes of territory in several major cities outside the Middle East as well.
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum