Al-Qa’ida is struggling to maintain leadership over affiliates because of the growing appeal of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the impact of military operations in the Middle East and North Africa, and the affiliates’ prioritization of regional rather than global aims. In the next year, we assess al-Qa’ida’s diminished oversight of its affiliate network will reduce the group’s ability to recruit, fundraise, and strike the West, including the United States.
- Al-Qa’ida - led by Bin Ladin’s longtime deputy and Egyptian national, Ayman al-Zawahiri - has not been able to match ISIS’s territorial gains or sophisticated public messaging, which has made ISIS comparatively more attractive to the same potential pool of recruits that al-Qa’ida craves. In addition, Zawahiri rarely communicates directly with regional nodes because of personal security concerns, while ISIS implements a rigid command structure with a top-down communication flow.
- US military actions in Yemen and Syria, as well as foreign-led coalitions in Mali and Somalia, in the past year have put al-Qa’ida nodes on the defensive, reducing their ability to conduct attacks outside local areas of operation. Since last summer, military operations have removed leaders in the al-Qa’ida aligned Nusrah Front in Syria, in al-Shabaab in Somalia, and in al-Qa’ida in the Indian Subcontinent.
- Al-Qa’ida’s affiliates are prioritizing regional objectives. Earlier this month, the Nusrah Front released a public statement justifying a split from al-Qa’ida if such a move benefited Nusrah’s local objectives in Syria. In Yemen, we assess al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula will need to expend more manpower and financial resources to harden local safe havens in the wake of the Shia-led Huthi coup in January