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.
Al-Qa’ida released a video on September 11 of a 30-minute speech with English subtitles called “How to Confront America” through its as-Sahab Media Foundation commemorating the 17th anniversary of the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. In the 14-point speech, al-Qa’ida’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, called for Muslim brothers worldwide to wage jihad against the United States, specifically in the Islamic Maghreb and the Sahara, the Sahel, and West Africa.
Al-Qa’ida supporters are producing and disseminating propaganda targeting women amid losses to al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) leadership.
Terrorist organizations in North Africa—namely al-Shabaab, al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and Boko Haram—continue to kidnap Westerners for political leverage and fundraising, potentially
impacting business operations for New Jersey-based companies with locations in the region. At this time, NJOHSP has no specific or credible information that these groups are explicitly targeting New Jersey companies or their employees.
NJOHSP assesses the recent uptick in propaganda from Hamza bin Ladin is an attempt to inspire sympathizers to execute attacks in the West, secure his position as a future al-Qa’ida leader, and attract supporters. Since Hamza’s public introduction in 2015, he has produced six audio messages—two were released in the past month.
NJOHSP assesses al-Qa’ida is attempting to reform its operations in Syria following a split with its affiliate, the Nusrah Front. Since 2012, al-Qa’ida has maintained an active presence in Syria, taking advantage of the multi-faceted conflict; however, in 2016, the Nusrah Front broke with al-Qa’ida and is focusing its efforts on the Syrian conflict.
Recent attacks in the West and renewed US raids in AQAP-controlled areas have prompted al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to disseminate new propaganda aimed at inspiring and providing tactical guidance to sympathizers in the United States. In January, Nawar al-Aulaqi—the eight-year-old daughter of deceased US-born radical cleric Anwar al-Aulaqi—was killed when US forces raided an AQAP-controlled area in a remote desert region of Yemen. AQAP has since leveraged this operation to spread anti-American rhetoric and motivate supporters in the West.
On February 26, US military forces killed al-Qa’ida deputy leader Abu Khayr al-Masri in northwestern Syria, further undermining the organization’s command structure in Syria. Masri, the global deputy to al-Qa’ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, was a member of the Khorasan Group—a network of senior al-Qa’ida extremists in Syria dedicated to planning operations against the United States and Europe and advising the Nusrah Front, al-Qa’ida’s affiliate in the country.
Al-Qa’ida affiliates, specifically al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), are calling for retaliatory attacks in response to the death of Egyptian cleric Omar Abdel Rahman—often referred to as “the Blind Sheikh.” On Saturday, Rahman died at a federal prison in North Carolina where he was serving a life sentence for his involvement in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, which killed six and injured about 1,000.
Al-Qa’ida lacks the presence and capability to carry out an attack in the United States or New Jersey. Although al-Qa’ida remains intent on attacking the United States and US interests overseas, the group continues to experience a decrease in operational capabilities because of its involvement in regional conflicts, leadership losses, and competition with other terrorist groups.
AQIM lacks the capability and intent to plan and carry out an attack in the United States or New Jersey. AQIM’s operational focus is North and West Africa, and its membership includes few foreign fighters. While AQIM is hostile toward the West, the group’s efforts in targeting Western assets remain largely focused on Europe.
AQIS continues to focus on carrying out small-scale attacks in Bangladesh due to limited external operations capabilities. Although AQIS-directed operations in New Jersey are unlikely, the group has threatened New Jersey-based facilities and persons online.
The Nusrah Front remains focused on overthrowing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and establishing an Islamic state in Syria. The Nusrah Front has not conducted attacks against the United States; however, Nusrah Front leaders have publicly threatened to retaliate against the United States for conducting strikes against the group in Syria.
Since 2015, foreign terrorist organizations, including al-Qa’ida affiliates and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), have directed and inspired attacks against the hotel industry in Africa, with the goal of depleting emergency responder resources and maximizing casualties. Hotels are often open to the public and host tourists, government officials, and entrepreneurs, as well as provide a conducive environment for meetings, conferences, and other special events.
The Nusrah Front—al Qa’ida’s affiliate in Syria—this summer changed its name to the Levant Conquest Front, or Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, as part of a rebranding strategy to improve its image among local Syrians, participate in future Syrian peace talks, and decrease the number of US-led airstrikes against its positions in Syria. In July, Abu Muhammad al-Julani, the head of the Nusrah Front, stated the organization would no longer associate with groups outside Syria, including al-Qa’ida.
This timeline shows important events that have taken place in France since the November attack in Paris.