Since Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s declaration of a Caliphate in Syria and Iraq on 29 June 2014, numerous jihadist organisations around the world have declared fealty, invigorated by a combination of:
- The oxygen of publicity (amplified by social media)
- Association with an army that has held ground whilst claiming to govern
- The attractions of funding and recruitment
Meanwhile, with Al-Q’aida
Al-Q’aida (AQ), now viewed by many young jihadists as the ‘Old Guard’, has threatened India, Bangladesh and Myanmar with the formation of al-Qa’ida in South Asia (AQSA). Coalition air-strikes in Iraq and Syria are likely to stimulate further recruitment to either cause. Boko Haram in Nigeria (an AQ affiliate) has eschewed specific allegiance to either group declaring a Caliphate of their own—a theological paradox.
Where, then, is this spread and what are the implications for staff and travelers in these places?
Limited space does not allow a comprehensive analysis of each group declaring its loyalty to the Islamic State (IS). Indeed, in the coming days the pattern is likely to change. The map above serves as an indication of the pace and place of allegiances and should act as an alert to future shifts in threat levels.
Tunisia and Libya
Of particular interest is evidence of an AQ splinter group from Al Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), of unknown influence but believed to be connected to Ansar al-Shariah in Tunisia and Libya, which could further stoke the already-inflamed situation in Libya and present further threats southwards to security in the Sahel.
In Algeria, The Jund al-Khilafah (‘The Caliphate’s Soldiers’) were responsible for the murder of Hervé Gourdel.
In Egypt’s militant heartland, the Sinai Peninsula, at least one group shows signs of influence by IS.
There are indications, as yet unconfirmed, of IS groups planning to challenge al-Qa’ida in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP) in the already fragile state of Yemen.
In Afghanistan, IS has been recruiting and may have instigated the attack, today, on Ghazni in which 70 were killed.
In Pakistan, Tehreek-e-Khilafat responsible for attacks in Karachi has vowed to raise the IS flag in Afghanistan, Pakistan and S. Asia.
In Southeast Asia, the long-established Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in the Philippines have declared differing dilutions of loyalty, and in Indonesia Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT) has joined the fold. Reports indicate that Malaysian recruits may have travelled to Syria—along with a number of ‘comfort women’—and that it is developing as a hub for movement between organisations as diverse as JAT and Uighur groups from the autonomous region of Xinjiang, China.
IS vs. AQ Competition
In such a climate, competition between IS and AQ may drive competition to terrorise, new acolytes will wish to prove themselves through violence, and members of the US-led coalition may be targeted by returning or home-based militants.
However, it is emphasised that the capacity of this proliferation to do harm is dependent on a number of factors.
- Firstly, the efficacy of the coalition efforts to degrade and destroy ISIS—this will influence IS credibility, the capacity to direct affiliates, recruit from abroad and to fund terrorist action.
- Secondly, a number of groups are known to the security forces of their home states and will come under pressure. In fragile states such as Libya, Yemen and Afghanistan there is a greater likelihood of a sustained threat emerging.
Recommendation for Travelers
In terms of staff safety it is the exhortation to turn on ‘un-Islamic’ people and organisations that is most likely to threaten foreign travelers or staff. For this reason, in territories or regions where jihadism is undergoing resurgence or change (regardless of whether this is from AQ or IS affiliates), attention should be paid to country updates, information from host governments and a careful monitoring of the conventional and social media.
Mitigating measure in terms of travel, meeting points, residences and behaviours in-country should be reviewed. In isolated areas of the Sahel, Libya and the Sinai in particular it is recommended that contingency plans are updated or created.