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.

 

Iran's Ahmadinejad calls for immediate free elections

Russia pours cold water on UN bid to condemn Iran over missiles to Yemen

Saudi Arabia to boost entertainment in next decade

Merkel calls for end to 'massacre' in Syria

Saudi Arabia to host first Arab Fashion Week

Russia says Syria rebels rejected offer to evacuate E. Ghouta

UN diplomats press for Syria ceasefire without Russia veto

Iranian minister’s presence at UN rights meeting angers critics

Iran warns it will leave nuke deal if banks cannot do business

Qatar to plant thousands of trees to ‘beautify’ World Cup venues

Pro-Kurdish party says Turkey lying about 'no civilian deaths' in Afrin

African migrants protest Israeli detention policy

Egypt sentences 21 to death for planning attacks

Israeli handball teams in Qatar spark furious outcry from locals

UN report highlights S.Sudan journalist treatment

Palestinian dies after being shot by Israeli soldiers

Gulf states urge Syria to end Ghouta violence

Wanted Bahraini militants die at sea en route to Iran

Iraq urges FIFA to lift ban on hosting internationals

Carnage of Ghouta's bombs breaking families

Blockaded Gaza Strip forced to pump sewage into sea

African migrants start hunger strike over Israel expulsion

UN chief 'deeply alarmed' by Eastern Ghouta violence

Three militiamen killed in Libya car bomb attack

Russia denies ‘groundless’ accusations of role in Ghouta killings

Turkey says whoever helps YPG is 'legitimate target'

Morocco dismantles IS-linked terrorist cell

Turkey urged to end gas standoff with Cyprus

PKK attack near Iraq kills 2 Turkish soldiers

Netanyahu confidant to testify against him

Iran emergency teams recover bodies from plane crash site

Ten dead in more Syrian regime strikes on East Ghouta

Bahrain activist sentenced to 5 years for Yemen tweets

Lebanese president makes landmark visit to Iraq

US declares readiness to talk Mideast peace

Bloodbath in Syria's eastern Ghouta

Abbas calls for peace conference in rare UN speech

Egyptian court adds leading government critic on terror list

Yemen government offensive threatens heritage site

Turkey considering chemical castration for child abusers

45 civilians killed in air strikes on rebel enclave

Cairo sheds Ottoman-era street names amid Egypt-Turkey crisis

New woes for Israeli PM in fresh graft cases

Maghreb countries wary about jihadists relocating from Iraq, Syria

Erdogan says Turkey will besiege Afrin "swiftly"