Analysis - Security Studies
Common Features between ISIL and Al-Qaeda
Saturday، May 31، 2014
On May 6, Saudi Arabia announced that it has dismantled a Saudi terrorist group with connection to both Al.Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The group consists of 106 individuals. They planned to attack governmental and foreign institutions within the Kingdom, beside assassinating security and governmental figures, and others work in the field of Al-Da’awah (call to Islam).
The cell has a Saudi as its head, but in name only, in a move to win acceptance among individuals targeted for recruitment. Yet the real leader of the cell, whose name was not revealed by the Saudi authorities, is a Palestinian lives in Saudi Arabia, who previously engaged in terrorist acts with Al-Qaeda outside the Kingdom. On the other hand, more than half of the cell members are Saudis, nearly 59 members. Notably, 35 of those terrorists were released by a judge, following their indictment in security cases, or still face trial.
The small size of the cell indicates that it was unable to perform wide range operations for an extended period. So, it is most likely that its main goal was to stir chaos and cause negative economic impact that does not affect only Saudi Arabia, but the whole international economy, in view of the importance of Saudi Arabia as the biggest oil exporter. Moreover, it seems that the terrorist cell tried to pave the way for the arrival of more terrorists to cause more turbulence.
Saudi Arabia managed to make a preemptive strike against the cell. One source of help was following interactions on social networking sites on the part of terrorist groups, especially as ISIL members appeared in dozens of videos on YouTube, threatening to launch terrorist attacks to liberate the Peninsula, meaning Saudi Arabia. Another source of help was information gained from investigations with some repentant Saudis who fought in Syria, then returned home through Saudi embassies in Turkey and Lebanon. Besides, we cannot rule out the possibility that Saudi Arabia infiltrated terrorist groups within the Kingdom and in Syria.
One positive feature of Saudi fighting against terrorism, is that it followed wider policies in dealing with the Jihadi threat, as reflected on its fighting extremist thought on several fronts, mostly: the formation of the Committee of Consult to guide rogue elements back to the right faith and help them get rid of Al-Qaeda thinking, use sheikhs and Imams in anti Al-Qaeda efforts, and displaying some experiences of deceived youth in Syria in the Saudi TV show “Homomna” (our woes). Those young people chose to return home after they found out the truth. Officially, the Kingdom classified ISIL and Al-Nusra Front as terrorist groups. Also, a royal decree has been declared that punishes any Saudi citizen who engages in foreign conflicts, with 3-20 years in prison. It is noteworthy to mention that the Yemeni government offered support in fighting AQAP.
The Implications of Jihadi Coordination
Such a terrorist cell reveals relations of cooperation among terrorist groups and organized crime organizations, especially trans-border smugglers, whether Yemeni-Saudi or Syrian-Turkish borders, or the borders of Mali with the neighboring countries. Of course, this threat creates challenges to the security of the relevant countries.
Obviously, there is increasing cooperation among the most extremist groups, as seen in the relation between ISIL and the most dangerous Al-Qaeda affiliated group, namely AQAP. Both groups share common characteristics. First, they both seek to launch operations outside their geographical range. In 2009, AQAP tried to explode over Detroit in the US. Thus, its operations have not been limited to Saudi Arabia and Yemen. As for ISIL, and although Ayman Al.Zawahri ordered them to remain within Iraq, the members refused the orders and insisted on extending operation to Syria, in addition to sending fighters to Yemen recently, and cooperating with AQAP to form the Saudi terrorist cell.
Second, ISIL tried to become the chief terrorist organization through its strict application of Sharia. One of the most significant developments is that 9 unknown Jihadists pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, head of ISIL, because he is keen to apply the Sharia strictly, on the contrary of Al-Zawahri. This indicates the possibility of turning allegiance on the part of Al-Qaeda affiliated groups towards Al-Baghdadi. Interestingly, one of the leaders of AQAP pledged allegiance to Al-Baghdadi, instead of Al-Zawahri, in an indication of fading influence of Al.Qaeda, not only because of Al-Zawahri’s lack of charisma, but also because the group’s inability to organize any terrorist attacks against the West in recent years.
Lastly, it is obvious that the real danger threatening regional states comes from those returning from Syria. This was reflected on the several security procedures taken by European states in anticipation of this phenomenon. This is understandable as those returning from Syria gained huge fighting experience, beside their ideological extremism, which make them a potential source of enrichment to Al-Qaeda affiliated groups within the Middle East, while aggravating the failing or inability of some Arab states towards controlling national borders.