Terrorists united against Russia and the West?

Al-Qaeda's chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Al-Qaeda's chief Ayman al-Zawahiri.

AFP/East News
Ayman al-Zawahiri, the al-Qaeda supremo, has urged Islamist groups to overcome internal divisions and join forces to fight against the West, Russia, Syria and Iran. This raises the question of whether terrorists can sink their differences and act as a united front.

The al-Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri’s call for militant Islamist forces to unite has raised the question of whether the group is trying to retain relevance in the face of the gathering strength of the ISIS. According to the news agency Reuters, al-Zawahiri’s audio recording was released on November 1, on one of the sites linked to the terrorist organization.

"The Americans, Russians, Iranians, Alawites, and Hezbollah are coordinating their war against us. Are we not capable of stopping the fighting amongst ourselves so we can direct all our efforts against them?" asked Zawahiri.

It was not clear when the recording was made but references to the Russian Federation suggest it was made after Russia launched a military operation in Syria on September 30.

There is no clear answer about how probable the chances are for the terrorists to unite.

On the one hand, the ranks of the terrorist groups in West Asia have been shaken by internal strife in recent years. On the other, al-Qaeda is changing the format of its activities, while maintaining its significant potential and attraction in the eyes of members of other extremist groups. This could contribute to the consolidation of radical Islamists, particularly Sunnis, around its cells.

'Appeal to nowhere'

Unification of the terrorist groups in West Asia is hindered by competition for the control of financial resources, which has particularly intensified in recent years against the backdrop of the economic crisis.

Another factor is that the Islamists also have considerable ideological and religious differences. Speaking to RIR, Yelena Suponina, an expert on the region from the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, described the al-Qaeda leader's call as an "appeal to nowhere" considering the current set of circumstances.

At the same time, the call to fight against the U.S., Russia and the rest of the "infidels" is nothing new. Sergei Demidenko, an expert on West Asia from the Institute for Strategic Studies and Analysis, noted that, according to radical Islamists, Western countries and Russia are so-called lands of war, against which permanent jihad, or a holy war, should be waged. This is the line that Islamists adhere to in relation to all their opponents.

Mobilization of al-Qaeda

There is, however, a view that Zawahiri's call is just another al-Qaeda attempt to "score points" in its competition with the extremists of the Islamic State, and remain relevant. It could be seen as al-Qaeda’s way of reacting to statements by ISIS members who claim they shot down the Russian Metrojet airplane over the Sinai Peninsula.

“Al-Qaeda is trying to mobilize itself, come to the fore of the struggle and earn some points," Alexander Shumilin, director of the Centre for Analysis of Middle East Conflicts at the Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies, told RIR.

The danger for Russia

The concern of experts about the constant adjusting of al-Qaeda's format was seen recently. According to Vladimir Sotnikov, a senior researcher at the Institute for Oriental Studies, the organization has been transformed in recent years into a less centralized structure, with the autonomy of its regional branches growing. This allows these branches to more actively create situational alliances, including with ISIS, making al-Qaeda's regional structures a serious threat to all opponents of extremists, including Russia.

Sotnikov believes that clandestine cells associated with al-Qaeda already exist in Russia.

"Some resources come to radical Islamists in Russia, especially in the North Caucasus, through Afghanistan and Pakistan," Sotnikov said.

He stressed that the attack could be carried out by extremists already in Russia, suggesting that it not be necessary for militants to be sent from somewhere else.

Sotnikov recalled the double attack in Volgograd in December 2013. The perpetrators in that terrorist incident were believed to be linked to an Iraqi terrorist group.

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