First Published: 2017-09-12

Analysts say Al-Qaeda rebounding as threat to US
Analysts assessing terror threat against US say Syrian group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham is largest global affiliate of Al-Qaeda and gaining significance as ISIS is pushed back.
Middle East Online

Al-Qaeda a "much stronger" organization than it was during the rise of Islamic State.

WASHINGTON D.C. - Al-Qaeda is on the rise again in the shadow of the Islamic State group in Syria, 16 years after the jihadists shocked the United States in the September 11, 2001 attacks, experts said Monday.

They said that Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the Sunni group that last month seized control of the northern Syrian city of Idlib, is simply a "rebranding" of Al-Qaeda that is positioning itself as more moderate than the Islamic State in hopes of a resurgence.

"ISIS may be today's preeminent terrorist threat, but Al-Qaeda in Syria is worrisome. It is Al-Qaeda's largest global affiliate at this point," said former White House counterterrorism director Joshua Geltzer.

Speaking on the current terror threat against the United States at the New America think tank, Geltzer and other experts said they expect HTS to take center stage among jihadists as the Islamic State group loses ground on the battlefield in Syria and Iraq.

HTS is simply a cosmetic name-change for Al-Qaeda, they said. In consolidating control of much of Idlib province, it has eliminated or absorbed rival groups, and is modernizing its propaganda on the web-savvy model of the Islamic State.

"The organization itself seems to have more lives than a cat," said Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Gartenstein-Ross was speaking with Geltzer at the launch of a report on the current jihadist threat published by the New America think tank.

- 'Moderate jihadists' -

He called Al-Qaeda a "much stronger" organization than in 2010, when its weakness gave way to the rise of Islamic State.

"It has skillfully played itself off of ISIS to portray its organization as being the 'moderate jihadists', people who you might not like but you can do business with."

As such it has more popular support, and some official support in the Gulf States.

"Being more restrained than ISIS has been very helpful," Gartenstein-Ross said.

The New America report stresses the need to focus on Islamic State as the most dangerous external threat at the moment, while noting that since 9/11 all lethal jihadist attacks in the United States have been by US citizens or permanent residents.

But it says Al-Qaeda could resume the role of the foremost threat in the future, gathering followers turned off by the Islamic State's most extreme tactics.

While current leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is turgid and uninspiring, the younger leaders in Idlib are learning from the way that Islamic State mastered the use of social media to attract followers.

"Al-Qaeda in Syria has undergone cosmetic changes to its naming and organizational design, but without truly renouncing its affiliation with its mother organization," the study said.

 

At least 235 killed in Egypt mosque attack

Saudi Crown Prince calls Iran supreme leader 'new Hitler'

Syrian opposition agrees to send united delegation to Geneva talks

Saudi-led coalition clears passenger flights to Sanaa

Baghdad's Shabandar cafe marks century since opening

Turkey says Trump pledged to stop arming Kurds

Turkey president sues main opposition party leader

Lebanon's Hariri brings status quo back with him

Activists say 'everybody knew' about Libya slave trade

Erdogan says no contact 'at the moment' with Assad

Lebanon's Jumblatt criticises Saudi Arabia, Iran

China says it will make efforts on Syria reconstruction

Turkey to detain 79 former teachers in post-coup probe

Hezbollah hails PM's suspension of resignation

Syrian opposition aims for unity at talks in Riyadh

Egypt police kill 3 Islamists in shootout

Turkey unsure if Assad to be part of Syria political transition

Migrant arrivals from Libya down since EU deal

Palestinian factions leave Cairo talks with little progress

Sudan’s Bashir looks to Putin for ‘protection’ from US aggression

China, Djibouti forge 'strategic' ties

IS propaganda channels fall quiet in 'unprecedented' hiatus

Kremlin to create Syria congress despite Turkey ‘reservations’

Netanyahu berates deputy minister for 'offensive' remarks on US Jews

Egypt PM heads to Germany for medical treatment

Egypt destroys 10 SUVs carrying arms on Libya border

Outrage in Iraq over 'child marriage' bill

Iraq launches operation to clear last IS holdouts from desert

Saudi-led coalition to reopen Yemen airport, port to aid

Turkey court rules to keep Amnesty chief in jail

France calls for UN meeting on Libya slave-trading

Egypt detains 29 for allegedly spying for Turkey

WTO panel to hear Qatar’s complaint against UAE blockade

Three dead as diphtheria spreads in Yemen

Lebanon’s Hariri suspends resignation

Israel seizes explosive material at Gaza border

Activists call for release of UK journalist held by IS

Bahrain upholds jail sentence for activist

Iraq attacks at lowest since 2014

Turkey continues crackdown in post-coup probe

Hariri back in Lebanon

Putin to hold Syria peace talks with Erdogan, Rouhani

US carries out air strikes against IS in Libya

Divided Syria opposition meets in Riyadh

Lebanon's Hariri in Egypt ahead of return home