Will ISIS and al-Qaida Always Be Rivals?

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More than 80, and possibly up to 120, people died Monday in ISIS attacks on regime-controlled territory near Russian bases in Syria. And new reports show that earlier in the month, ISIS took out Russian helicopters working out of a base in central Syria. But Russia and the Syrian regime are hardly ISIS’ only foes. ISIS is engaged in a deadly conflict with al-Qaida in Syria and elsewhere in the Muslim world. Al-Qaida itself sees the threat from the ascendant Islamic State as so serious—and its own position in its base in Pakistan so weak—that it is reportedly moving senior leaders to Syria and considering emulating the Islamic State by establishing its own emirate there.

Understanding the importance, extent, and duration of this rivalry is vital for combating terrorism in the future. Because as dangerous as the groups are separately, it’s frightening to think of what they could accomplish if they were to unite, and the possibility is not as far-fetched as it seems.

than 80, and possibly up to 120, people died Monday in ISIS attacks on regime-controlled territory near Russian bases in Syria. And new reports show that earlier in the month, ISIS took out Russian helicopters working out of a base in central Syria. But Russia and the Syrian regime are hardly ISIS’ only foes. ISIS is engaged in a deadly conflict with al-Qaida in Syria and elsewhere in the Muslim world. Al-Qaida itself sees the threat from the ascendant Islamic State as so serious—and its own position in its base in Pakistan so weak—that it is reportedly moving senior leaders to Syria and considering emulating the Islamic State by establishing its own emirate there.

Understanding the importance, extent, and duration of this rivalry is vital for combating terrorism in the future. Because as dangerous as the groups are separately, it’s frightening to think of what they could accomplish if they were to unite, and the possibility is not as far-fetched as it seems.

In the short-term, however, many jihadists—particularly those not attached to established groups that have declared loyalty to one side or another—are likely to work together or go from one group to another depending on which is more prestigious. The Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, for example, primarily involved gunmen linked to al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, but Amedy Coulibaly—who pledged loyalty to the Islamic State—did simultaneous attacks and was in contact with the core group of shooters. In November in San Bernadino, California, the two perpetrators were radicalized by AQAP ideologue Anwar al-Awlaki and only over time shifted their loyalty to ISIS.

Right now, though, ISIS appears ascendant despite significant recent setbacks on recruiting, and continued al-Qaida inaction combined with possible Islamic State advances could foster crippling defections and a loss of funding for al-Qaida. The death of Zawahiri, who has no obvious successor, would make this even more likely. Conversely, successes by affiliates such as AQAP or al-Nusra might restore the balance between the two groups. Whether unity or division is in the future’s cards, the movement as a whole remains strong—and dangerous.

Source- Slate.com

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