BY ANTONINO OCCHIUTO - With all eyes on the emerging threat represented by Daesh, the equally dangerous activities of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) have been largely overlooked. This allowed the terrorist organisation to act relatively undisturbed and to carry out the 2015 Charlie Hebdo massacre in central Paris—the first jihadi terrorist attack in Europe since 2005. These attacks demonstrated the inadequacy of intelligence services in several EU countries and paved the way for other attacks on EU soil later carried out by Daesh.
Despite the long war on terror and that Daesh effectively replaced Al-Qaeda as the global Jihad leader, policymakers and security forces were quick to overlook that, at the time it carried out the Charlie Hebdo attacks, AQAP in Yemen was stronger than ever before and in control of large parts of the country. And, until then, it had been the only organisation able to strike in Europe as evidenced by the 2005 London bombings.
Long before the issue of Deash’s foreign fighters returning to Europe, from the battlefields of Iraq and Syria, became one of the EU’s most pressing security issues, AQAP could already rely on a solid European network and on experienced recruiters to attract young, impressionable and disenfranchised European Muslims into the jihadi trap. Amedy Coulibaly and the Kouachi brothers, who perpetrated the 2015 Paris attacks along with Coulibaly’s companion, were radicalised in prison by Djamel Beghal, who is serving a jail sentence for plotting to attack the US Embassy in Paris in 2001. Beghal's mentor was the Finsbury Park Mosque Cleric, Abu Hamza Al-Masri, and according to France was in direct contact with Al-Qaeda’s current leader, Ayman Al-Zawahiri.
A stronger focus on AQAP—and Al-Qaeda more generally—is crucial for two main reasons. First, following Daesh’s military defeats at the hand of the international coalition and the loss of territory in both Iraq and Syria, AQAP is now the only major terrorist organisation, which controls a substantial amount of territory and the resources it contains. In Yemen, AQAP has also been able to re-absorb the militants who had defected to join Daesh. Combating and gathering intelligence on AQAP is also extremely useful to learn the expertise, which are needed to restrict the possible re-emergence of a larger group such as Daesh in the form of Daesh 2.0 or a powerful successor group. This is because AQAP has already experienced the necessity to disappear underground following setbacks and has successfully managed to change its tactics to re-emerge as an international threat once again.
International jihadi terrorism is in constant evolution. The AQAP example demonstrates that terrorist groups that might appear militarily defeated have been able, in the past, to develop new techniques to maintain or even increase their appeal. It is not time for Europe to let down its guard, it must remain steadfast and resolve the underlying issues favouring the proliferation of terrorism within its borders.
This article is part of a series of publications related to our upcoming event "Once and For All! Strategies to End the Scourge of Isis", that will be held on 02 November 2018, in Prague.
A special EGIC collection of articles and analyses will be distributed during the event.
Click on the link below to sign up to the event and find out more about it.