Since 2017, al-Qa’ida affiliates have merged with several regional extremist groups to fulfill al-Qa’ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri’s call to unite militants, attack regional enemies, and offset counterterrorism operations. In March 2017, al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) merged with Ansar al-Din and al-Mourabitoun in Africa to form Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin. Additionally, Hurras al-Din became al-Qa’ida’s Syrian affiliate led by Abu Hammam al-Shami following several mergers in 2018.
Since 2011, affiliates have publicly affirmed their allegiance to Zawahiri, who advocated for unification among the mujahideen regardless of their nationality in al-Qa’ida’s inaugural Arabic- language magazine, One Ummah, in April 2019. Rather than remain weak through division, Zawahiri appealed to increase the lines of communication among the mujahideen and unite against infidels and crusaders.
In a 2018 audio message, “How to Confront America,” Zawahiri reiterated a strategy of targeting countries aligned with the United States to weaken the Homeland. When rebranding and merging with local extremists, affiliates have been able to observe Zawahiri’s tactics to garner support among local insurgencies and target governments opposed to al-Qa’ida’s ideology.
In 2017, Abdelmalek Droukdel, the emir of AQIM, acknowledged in al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) Inspire magazine that counterterrorism operations bogged down his forces, resulting in a lack of support in the Algerian front. In June, Hurras al-Din’s leadership and training facility in Syria, near the northern province of Aleppo, were targeted in the first US airstrike in Western Syria since 2017.