Al-Qaeda turned 30 over the weekend.
Although the notorious terror group has become a household name, many may think its shelf life passed and it’s merely hanging around our domiciles like a dusty old product surpassed in modernity and efficiency (read: ISIS).
Not so fast, warned the State Department on August 11 as it doubled the bounty on two of al-Qaeda’s top dogs to $10 million. The pair, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah (aka Mohammed al-Masri and Abu Muhammad a-Zayat) and Sayf al-Adl, both had a hand in the deadly bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya 20 years ago this month. (That anniversary passed as well without mention.)
Yet, not only is al-Qaeda still on the CIA’s radar, our intelligence services can confirm it never disappeared. So, why don’t we hear about it? More importantly, is the threat posed by the organization still alive and well in the U.S. and against American interests abroad, not to mention worldwide? And if so, why has the group been so hard to neutralize?
Why we don’t hear about al-Qaeda
When ISIS hit the scene in the summer of 2014, taking over large swaths of Syria and Iraq with lightning bolt speed, the media told us this was the new face of Islamist terror. Gone was the “has-been” al-Qaeda we were told – it had morphed into an even more monstrous version of itself. Even though we couldn’t have imagined that reality in the years after 9/11, ISIS proved to be al-Qaeda on steroids.
Yet ISIS was like the upstart kid on the block. It started with a spectacular display of raw power in Iraq and Syria and, once coalition forces galvanized local armies, was torched almost as fast.
ISIS in Iraq and Syria came on the scene like an impetuous and immature teenager. The group’s raw energy and fearlessness – not to mention its slick use of the generation’s media tools — accounted, in the large part, for its appeal to disaffected young Muslims worldwide.
In addition, its drive for unprecedented action satiated its younger demographic’s need for power, feeding into the nature of that generation – impulsive, entitled and culturally rebellious.
Is the threat posed by al-Qaeda still real?
In contrast to ISIS, al-Qaeda is composed primarily of an older generation of ideologically-committed terrorists. Most importantly, the al-Qaeda leadership is in the fight for the long haul and imparts this message to its members and followers. Part of that message is a “mature” approach to realizing its goals, for example, no attacks on fellow Muslims. Besides violating the group’s morality (if such a word can be used in conjunction with the murderers of thousands of innocent people), the group disproves of burning bridges with Muslim communities.
In other words, al-Qaeda is patient. It is not out to get itself destroyed by establishing a caliphate now, clearly before it has made the world ready for this end goal.
If this strategy sounds familiar, it’s because it is – it’s the same strategy used by the Muslim Brotherhood, the global Islamist organization that laid the roots for al-Qaeda and its brainchild Osama bin Laden.
The connection of al-Qaeda to the Muslim Brotherhood was documented in the cache recovered by the CIA during the raid that killed bin Laden. Those documents show that from the beginning, bin Laden’s ideology was rooted in the Brotherhood.
In reality, the only difference between the Brotherhood and al-Qaeda is methodology – and even those differences are not born out by facts on the ground.
Why it is so hard to neutralize al-Qaeda?
The Brotherhood’s official policy to achieve its end goal of a worldwide caliphate ruled by sharia law is gradualism and non-violence. In the West, that means using democratic principles to integrate themselves into the political system as well as civilization jihad (primarily through settlement and population advancement).
Yet, the group has often resorted to violence. In addition, it has spawned most of the world’s terrorist organizations, from al-Qaeda to ISIS.
What makes the Muslim Brotherhood so insidious is its latest strategy, which is clearly being copied by al-Qaeda worldwide.
In the words of Maher Fargali, an Egyptian and leading expert on the Muslim Brotherhood,
The organization was first like an octopus, with lot of arms reaching out — to students, Muslim societies, charitable organizations, etc. The main drawback of this approach was that it was possible to take off an arm of this octopus and the activities of this “arm” would simply end (for example, if the authorities would ban their activities, then their activities would end right there).
Now, they have changed. In the last seven years, they have moved into a being like a starfish. Using this strategy, when you cut off one of its tentacles, it gets absorbed into the rest of the organism. Basically, this means that it is indestructible.
Meaning, the Muslim Brotherhood became a general ideology that works inside society. They started implementing this strategy in Qatar. In 1995, when Qatar dismantled the Brotherhood, they became an ideology that penetrated society.
For example, you will find that the Association of the Islamic Organization in Paris announces that it is withdrawing from the Brotherhood. Or, that Hamas, for example, announces that they are no longer part of the Brotherhood. Yet in actuality, all of them are part of the Brotherhood because they share the same ideology of the Brotherhood.
While world media still focuses on ISIS, al-Qaeda continues to grow stronger. Al-Qaeda brings in between $20 million and $40m. each month, twice as much as ISIS, according to a Russian government expert.
What most Americans are also unaware of is that al-Qaeda has re-invented itself in recent months, with a new leadership structure, including a central role for Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza.
Al-Qaeda’s current head, Ayman al-Zawahiri, made comments over the last year to indicating he plans on al-Qaeda replacing ISIS at the forefront of global jihad. He recently called on Muslims to attack any U.S. interests.
What we can do
While we may have to leave the capturing of these terrorists to the professionals, we must do what we can to cut them off at their roots by educating others about the Muslim Brotherhood and calling upon our elected officials in Washington to designate the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. That way, its activities and those of its offshoots both in the U.S. and globally will be stifled.
There is currently a bill in Congress to do just that. The bill contains detailed information about how the Brotherhood is connected to al-Qaeda and global jihad.