Eclipsed by ISIS but Al-Qaeda may be 'in better long-term position'

DUBAI • Five years after the killing of Al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, the network he founded is far from dead even if it has suffered a series of setbacks.

Replaced as the preeminent global militant power by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group, Al-Qaeda nonetheless remains a potent force and dangerous threat, experts said.

With last year's Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris and a wave of shootings in West Africa, Al-Qaeda has shown it can still carry out its trademark spectacular attacks.

And in Syria and Yemen, its militants have seized on chaos to take control of significant territory, even presenting themselves as an alternative to the brutality of ISIS rule.

By the time US special forces killed Osama in Pakistan on May 2, 2011, the group he founded in the late 1980s had been badly damaged, with many of its militants and leaders killed or captured in the US war on terror.

IT'S NOT THE END

The death of Al-Qaeda's founding father in no way meant the end of his progeny... This will last for decades.

FORMER INTELLIGENCE OFFICER ALAIN RODIER, writing in French news website Atlantico in early April.

Dissension grew in the militant ranks as new Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri struggled in Osama's place, until one of its branches, originally Al-Qaeda in Iraq, broke away to form the group that would later be known as ISIS.

ISIS has since eclipsed its former partner, drawing thousands of militants to its cause and claiming responsibility for attacks that have left hundreds dead in Brussels, Paris, Tunisia, Turkey, Lebanon, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and on a Russian airliner over Egypt.

Its self-declared "emir", Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has also won pledges of allegiance from extremist groups across the Middle East and beyond.

The International Crisis Group argues that although ISIS has reshaped the militant landscape, Al-Qaeda "has evolved" and its branches in North Africa, Somalia, Syria and Yemen "remain potent, some stronger than ever".

"Some have grafted themselves onto local insurrections, displaying a degree of pragmatism, caution about killing Muslims and sensitivity to local norms," said the Brussels-based think-tank.

Other analysts said that while ISIS may have stolen the spotlight, Al-Qaeda may be in a better long-term position.

Writing for French news website Atlantico in early April, former intelligence officer Alain Rodier noted that by rushing to declare its caliphate and establish its rule, ISIS has made itself an easier target, with thousands of its supporters killed in air strikes launched by a US-led coalition and by Russia.

"The death of Al-Qaeda's founding father in no way meant the end of his progeny," Mr Rodier wrote.

"This will last for decades."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2016, with the headline 'Eclipsed by ISIS but Al-Qaeda may be 'in better long-term position''. Print Edition | Subscribe