UN Report on a Changing Al Qaeda

Crowd Fleeing After Attack on Westgate Mall, Nairobi, Kenya, Sept. 2013 (image/ wikimedia)

Crowd Fleeing After Attack on Westgate Mall, Nairobi, Kenya, Sept. 2013 (image/wikimedia)

Feb. 26, 2014 – Al Qaeda’s new leaders are younger, there is growing support for the group in sub-Saharan Africa, and it has become adept at exploiting gaps in governance to launch attacks and find new spaces to operate.

The latest report from the Security Council’s Al Qaeda Sanctions Committee also says that the influence of Ayman al-Zawahiri is rapidly waning and Al Qaeda affiliates mostly ignore his operational instructions.

The new leaders of Al Qaeda affiliates are in their late 30s and 40s whereas previous leaders ranged in age from the late 40s to 70s.

“Growing
sub-Saharan African support for the Al-Qaeda ideology is one of the most significant trends to watch,” the report states, noting that the The Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO)  recruits from the Songhai and Fulani tribes. It also notes “the involvement of sub-Saharan and West Africans in recent attacks in Algeria and the Niger.”

Al Qaeda and its affiliates have increasing capacity to take advantage of internal conflicts, as in Yemen and Syria, as well as becoming adept at exploiting gaps in governance in Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq. The Tibesti Mountains, on the borders between Chad and Libya, are a venue for terrorist training, the report says, and Mount Chaambi in Tunisia, on the border with Algeria, has also become a refuge for terrorists.

Payment of ransom to Al Qaeda and its affiliates is a main source of financing with Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) receiving $120 million between 2011 and 2013, the report says. “A total of 1,283 kidnappings motivated by terrorism were reported in 2012, and a single hostage could deliver a seven-figure ransom into the hands of terrorists.”

Improvised explosive devices are the primary weapon of choice for Al Qaeda affiliates. “These remain a versatile and dangerous weapon and the principal cause of civilian casualties in many terrorist attacks by Al-Qaeda affiliates.”

The full report is here.

– Denis Fitzgerald
On Twitter @denisfitz