Five years after bin Laden, al Qaeda down but far from out

It is linked to groups with thousands more combatants, such as the Afghani and Pakistani Taliban

Afp May 01, 2016

DUBAI: Al Qaeda franchises have emerged on several continents since Osama bin Laden founded the Sunni militant network in 1988.

Although the rival Islamic State group (IS) is considered the main extremist threat at present, groups affiliated with al Qaeda -- whose name means ‘The Base’ in Arabic -- have held their ground.

Here is a recap of al Qaeda's branches:

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was formed in January 2009 through a merger of the Yemeni and Saudi branches of al Qaeda, and is seen by Washington as the most active branch of the militant network, mainly in Yemen.

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The group has exploited conflict between the Yemeni government and Shia rebels who overran the capital Sanaa in September 2014, expanding its control in the country's south.

AQAP in June 2015 said it had appointed Qassem al-Rimi as its leader after his predecessor Nasser al-Wuhayshi was killed in a US drone strike.

Both Rimi and Wuhayshi had tunnelled their way out of a Sanaa prison in 2006 along with 21 others.

AQAP claimed the January 2015 attack against satirical French weekly Charlie Hebdo in Paris, in which 12 were killed, and a botched attack on a US airliner flying to Detroit on Christmas Day in 2009.

Before forming AQAP, al Qaeda in Yemen claimed the October 2000 attack on the destroyer USS Cole in Aden that killed 17 US military personnel.

The al Nusra Front first emerged in January 2012, 10 months after the start of anti-government protests in Syria that were brutally repressed by President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

It was an offshoot of the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI), then an al Qaeda affiliate.

Al Nusra, led by Abu Mohammad al-Jolani, is estimated to have between 7,000 and 8,000 combatants, according to specialist Thomas Pierret.

In April 2013, al Nusra refused to join IS and pledged allegiance to al Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, who later proclaimed al Nusra the only branch of Al Qaeda in Syria.

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After that announcement, IS pushed al Nusra out of its stronghold in the eastern oil-rich province of Deir Ezzor.

AQIM was founded in 2007 when the Algerian Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat pledged allegiance to Bin Laden.

AQIM, which has drawn combatants from all over the Sahara region, set up bases in northern Mali, established drug trafficking networks and kidnapped westerners for ransoms. Some of its hostages were killed.

AQIM withdrew to southern Libya following a January 2013 Franco-African military intervention in Mali.

It is still active in the Maghreb and the Sahel regions where it has committed numerous attacks, notably in Algeria, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Mali.

In September 2014, al Qaeda announced the launch of a South Asian branch, al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), covering its home turf in Afghanistan and Pakistan along with India, Bangladesh and Myanmar.

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Its strength is estimated at 500 to 600 militants, but it is linked to groups with thousands more combatants, such as the Afghani and Pakistani Taliban, according to analyst Amir Rana.

In 2015-16, AQIS claimed several murders in Bangladesh of publishers and bloggers who were critical of Islam.

Stemming from Somalia's Islamic Courts, the Shebab group led an armed insurgency that has plunged Somalia into chaos since 1991, declaring their allegiance to Al Qaeda in 2010.

The group was chased out of the Somali capital Mogadishu in 2011, but remains a threat in both Somalia and neighbouring Kenya where it carries out regular attacks.


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