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.
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.
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.
In May, al-Qa’ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri released an audio message in an effort to reestablish his leadership of the global Salafi-jihadist movement. The statement, Go Forth to the Levant, addresses al-Qa’ida’s Syrian affiliate, the Nusrah Front, mujahidin in the Levant—encompassing Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, and Israel—and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
Senior leadership losses, the limited recruitment of Western operatives, and increased involvement in the Syrian Civil War has diminished the Khorasan Group's ability to attack the United States. Since late 2014, the Khorasan Group—a network of senior al-Qa’ida extremists in Syria dedicated to planning operations against the United States—has not carried out any plots or attacks.
Homegrown Violent Extremists (HVEs) are individuals inspired by foreign terrorist organizations and radicalized in the countries in which they are born, raised, or reside. In 2015, HVEs demonstrated an ability to operate in New Jersey and throughout the United States while connecting with like-minded individuals online and acting independently from organized terrorist groups. Since late 2014, a variety of radical groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) have encouraged HVEs to attack in their home countries.