Cover Story Overview

Syria Proving More Fertile Than Iraq to Al-Qa`ida’s Operations
By Brian Fishman

Al-Qa`ida’s operation in Syria is both its most dangerous and dysfunctional. Al-Qa`ida chief Ayman al-Zawahiri’s rebuke of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), in which he ordered it to focus solely on Iraq and defer authority in Syria to Jabhat al-Nusra (JN), is evidence that terrorist groups can still pose a significant threat even when plagued by internal divisions. Moreover, despite al-Qa`ida’s internal strife in Syria, the context in which it operates is deeply advantageous compared to other environments, including Iraq. This article compares the AQI of 2006-2007 to JN and the ISIL today with the objective of estimating the relative danger of the latter two groups. The article finds that the growth of JN and the ISIL in Syria poses a significantly larger global threat than their precursor, AQI, during the height of its strength in 2006-2007. Compared to AQI’s earlier incarnation, JN and the ISIL are more likely to sustainably control territory, project power around the region, possibly sponsor global terrorist attacks, and catalyze a new generation of jihadist insurrection.

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