Al-Qaeda down but not out, UN report shows
A Bahraini armored personnel vehicle and personnel reinforce US Embassy security just outside of a gate to the building in Manama, Bahrain. AP photoUsama Bin Laden’s successor as the leader of al-Qaeda has struggled to unite its various factions, a U.N. report said Aug. 7, but the group remains an evolving threat.
The report, delivered to the U.N. Security Council by a group of experts, said al-Qaeda’s Egyptian leader Ayman al-Zawahiri had failed to rebuild the group’s core leadership in Pakistan.
But it said various groups affiliated with al-Qaeda are still adapting their tactics and seeking new targets, while retaining the ability to conduct deadly strikes. And, while the French-led military operation in Mali and an African Union campaign in Somalia have pushed back al-Qaeda militants, the Syrian civil war has seen hundreds of foreign volunteers join the cause there. “Al-Qaeda and its affiliates are more diverse and differentiated than before, united only by a loose ideology and a commitment to terrorist violence,” the report said. “A fragmented and weakened al-Qaeda has not been extinguished,” it said, adding: “the reality of al-Qaeda’s diminished capabilities and limited appeal does not mean that the threat of al-Qaeda attacks has passed.”
The U.N. report tallies with claims made by U.S. officials, including President Barack Obama, that so-called “core al-Qaeda” has been weakened since Bin Laden’s death in May 2011, while its regional wings continue to fight. But it also flies in the face of reports on Aug. 7 that a security alert declared for U.S. missions in the Middle East was triggered when Zawahiri contacted al-Qaeda’s regional commanders and ordered an attack. An intercepted conference call between al-Zawahiri and his top operatives was prompted the United States to close its Middle East diplomatic missions, according to a report.
‘Legion of Doom’
Online journal The Daily Beast, citing U.S. intelligence sources, said more than 20 al-Qaeda operatives from across the militant group’s global network were on the call.
In the call, al-Zawahiri reportedly named the head of the al-Qaeda branch in Yemen, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, as the operational controller of the group’s affiliates throughout the Muslim world. “This was like a meeting of the Legion of Doom,” the Daily Beast quoted a U.S. intelligence officer as saying, referring to a coalition of villains in the cartoon “Super Friends.” Taking part in the call were representatives of Nigeria’s Boko Haram, the Pakistani Taliban, al-Qaeda in Iraq, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and other more obscure affiliates and aspiring affiliates such as al-Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula, the report said.
The United States took the unusual step of closing some 25 diplomatic missions in the Muslim world on Aug. 4, and then extending the closure for a week at 19 of them, in response to what was said was as a credible and imminent threat of a major al-Qaeda attack. Earlier news reports had said the warning had come from a U.S. intercept of a conversation between Zawahiri and al-Wuhayshi. The Daily Beast said that during the conference call the al-Qaeda leaders discussed in vague terms plans for a pending attack, and mentioned that a team or teams were already in place.