Al-Qaeda has succeeded in dealing with the variables of the period since the events of September 11, 2001 in a manner that made it able to survive until now without being eliminated.
Egypt’s Dar al-Iftaa Observatory noted in a recent report on the stages of changes the organization has undergone since the events of September 11, after which al-Qaeda has been presenting itself as the vanguard of extremist organizations. The organization does not seek to establish a caliphate state in the short term; therefore, it has adopted several methods to stay as cohesive as possible, by providing capabilities directed towards the recruitment of fighters.
The report explained that al-Qaeda has worked to divide its methods into several stages that correspond to the requirements of each stage. After the 9/11 attacks, ISIS found it difficult to recruit fighters, making it depend on a network of relations in the regions where it spread, in addition to relying on its supporters abroad to carry out terrorist operations, such as the Madrid and London attacks in 2004 and 2005.
Al-Qaeda has also worked out a plan based on decentralization, with each of its affiliates responsible for a particular region, which indicates that the organization has left these groups to operate individually, while maintaining the idea of ”uniting the Muslim community” by “destroying” existing societies and establishing other alternative societies.
The report said that al-Qaeda worked to change its rhetoric after 2011, where it tried to introduce and use new terms, and abandoned the superstitious rhetoric, because Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda, believes that Muslims should learn “reason first” according to the extremist beliefs of the organization.
Waves of change in the ideas of the organization led it to direct its arrows and focus on the governments and peoples of Muslim countries by intensifying its terrorist operations against security forces and others. This became clear when Zawahiri declared that it was necessary to first mobilize the masses.
The report added that the rise of ISIS in late 2013 led to a partial rivalry between the two organizations. Al-Qaeda focused its operations on the “near enemy,” while ISIS focused its operations on the “distant enemy.” Because al-Qaeda worked to move away from the scene to rearrange itself and its strategies, it relied on not intensifying its foreign operations and avoiding security prosecutions. The organization left the scene to ISIS and its elements to be vulnerable to security targeting, as al-Qaeda follows a strategy based on “ideological” proliferation, not geographic control.
The observatory concluded the report by noting that although al-Qaeda has retreated recently, where ISIS has topped the terrorist scene, especially after the strikes that rocked al-Qaeda, such as the killing of Hamza bin Laden and the struggle between him and Zawahiri over the leadership of the organization. However, the organization may return on the ruins of ISIS, trying to exploit all the loopholes.
Al-Qaeda may also try to invest in fighters fleeing conflict zones and supporters of ISIS, as it may integrate its fighters with ISIS supporters, resulting in new terrorist movements with other names. However, there are similar points that could lead to an escalation of extremism and terrorism, especially since al-Qaeda as an organization has become less centrally active.