The nightmare scenario: ISIS and al-Qaeda unite

Al-Qaeda fighters patrol in the Iraqi city of Fallujah in 2014. (AP)

2017/10/01 Issue: 125 Page: 9

The Arab Weekly
Ed Blanche

Beirut- Some analysts say that al- Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS), the two most powerful jihadist organisa­tions, may set aside their violent 2013 schism and reunite, possibly under Osama bin Laden’s son, Hamza, but with al-Qaeda, now greatly empowered and resur­gent, firmly in the driving seat.

“If the Islamic State were once again stateless and a bin Laden were once again at the head of al- Qaeda, ISIS jihadists might return to the fold — and the global form of jihad as originally advocated by Hamza’s revered father,” veteran US intelligence operative Ali Sou­fan observed.

Al-Qaeda’s main strength, he said, is its ability to evolve and adapt to circumstances, even after the US May 2011 assassination of Osama bin Laden.

“Each time, al-Qaeda has seemed doomed to fail but has actually recovered to come back stronger… This new model has not only survived its founder’s death, it has expanded its membership exponentially,” he observed in his book “The Anatomy of Terror: From the Death of Bin Laden to the rise of the Islamic State.”

The rivalry between the two groups, the first and second gener­ations of global jihadists, fostered some hopes “that a power struggle might weaken both groups, mak­ing it easier to defeat both,” ob­served A.J. Caschetta of the Mid­dle East Forum.

“But many Iraqi analysts have always believed the fissure was only temporary.”

Hisham al-Hashimi, who moni­tors terrorist groups and advises the Baghdad government, pre­dicted in October 2014 that “the Islamic State, regardless of how big or small it becomes, will come back to its mother: Al-Qaeda.”

Analyst Abdul Basit warned of a more apocalyptic union in the National Interest recently: “A new jihadi Frankenstein, born from al-Qaeda and ISIS’s marriage of convenience.”

Ed Blanche has covered Middle East affairs since 1967. He is the Arab Weekly analyses section editor.

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