May 31, 2013 – 3:19pm
The US Department of State has released its annual report on global terrorist activity for 2012. The report paints a generally rosy picture of global terror trends, highlighting in particular the effectiveness of operations targeted at al Qaeda (AQ) affiliates around the globe.
The direct targeting of al Qaeda leadership has led to the decentralisation of the terror group, the core cadre of leadership in Pakistan under the leadership of Ayman al-Zawahiri has given up most responsibility for operational planning and target selection to local affiliate leaders. The general goals espoused by al Qaeda have not changed, but this transition to locally-based operations has resulted in less ambitious and more limited activities. Disruption to the sources of funding that al Qaeda formerly relied on has also forced a change in tactics – some AQ affiliates have resorted to kidnapping in hopes of obtaining ransom to finance their operations.
In 2012 there a number of al Qaeda affiliates that attracted attention, namely al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and the former al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI, now operating as “al Nusrah Front”).
AQIM played a significant role in the uprising in Northern Mali that began in January 2012, joining in the fighting to destabilise the Malian government. This outburst was largely contained by the French/African Union intervention that began in January of this year. AQIM also has ties to the home-grown Nigerian terror group Boko Haram, whose operations have been increasing in frequency and sophistication. AQIM’s operations have been aided in part by the influx and dispersal of military-grade weapons to the region as a result of the Libyan civil war that toppled the government of Muammar Qaddafi. The power vacuum left by the Libyan civil war also allowed for increased opportunities for terrorism within Libya itself, as evidenced by the September 11th attacks on the American consulate in Benghazi that left the US ambassador to Libya and three other diplomats dead.
The Yemeni government, with vigorous support from the United States, has been successful in pushing al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula from many of its strongholds in the south of Yemen. AQAP’s operations have increasingly turned from traditional mass-casualty bombing to targeted assassinations of Yemeni government officials.
In Syria the remnants of al Qaeda in Iraq, the AQ affiliate that strongly influenced the worst of the Iraq war, are now fighting alongside the more moderate elements of the Syrian opposition to oust Bashar al-Assad from power in the civil war that has now been raging for over two years. This development is being watched warily in Europe and the United States as those governments contemplate providing more direct assistance to the Syrian opposition.
Keeping in tune with the trend of less sophisticated, more local attacks, so-called “lone wolf” terrorism has become a more serious concern around the globe. Several incidents in Europe highlighted this, including the Burgas bombing in Bulgaria that killed five Israeli tourists and a Bulgarian and the shootings in Toulouse and Mantauban that left seven dead, including three children. The Iran-supported, Lebanese based terror organisation Hezbollah has been linked to the Burgas attack.
The implications of this news are mixed. While the trend of decentralisation means that sophisticated, massive attacks are much less likely to occur it also means that the perpetrators of attacks will be much more difficult to identify and combat.