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American Enterprise hosts Al Qaeda analyst

| Thursday, November 6, 2014

Katherine Zimmerman, the lead analyst on Al Qaeda for the American Enterprise Institute’s (AEI) Critical Threats Project, gave a live Skype interview hosted by the AEI Executive Council Wednesday evening on Al Qaeda, ISIS and the threat they pose to the United States both short and long term.

“To understand the question of what kind of threat ISIS poses to the United States, you actually have to go back and understand where ISIS comes from,” Zimmerman said. “It’s not a group that just appeared around 2013 or 2014. This is a group that traces back to the early 2000’s and even back to Al Qaeda leadership in the 1990’s.

“ISIS is really the realization of the vision of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi,” Zimmerman said. “He believed in an even more radical form of Islam than the leaders of Al-Qaeda such as Osama Bin Laden. This included believing that if you don’t subscribe to the grand Sharia that he did, then you were not a Muslim and you could be killed.”

Zimmerman said Al Qaeda and ISIS are two very different organizations in different locations with different leadership.

“Because of the difference in ideology, Al Qaeda in Iraq has always been on a slightly different trajectory than the broader Al Qaeda network,” she said. “Because of the War on Terror prompted by the 9/11 attacks, Al Qaeda was on the run by 2002, and this led to an opportunity for a new group in Iraq to rise.

“The two groups began to compete for leadership of the global Jihad and in spring 2013, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announces the beginning of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. This caused a schism that yielded two self-sustaining groups, ISIS and Al Qaeda, in which neither had authority over the other.”

While some may be tempted to think the emergence of two rival groups of radical Muslims may seem to be a good thing for the United States, Zimmerman said this is simply not the case.

“Both of these groups have the same goal, which is to develop the global caliphate,” she said. “This won’t be an all-out war between the two groups that will divert their attention from the United States.”

Zimmerman said we need to be prepared for a lengthy fight and any strategy that we use must address the tricky nature of neutralizing a dangerous ideology.

“Not to sound too pessimistic, but, let’s say tomorrow we defeat ISIS, and Iraq and Syria go back to two functioning states with legitimate governments in place that respect human rights,” Zimmerman said. “Now we have to think about the foreign fighters that were in those countries returning home. I don’t think it’s a huge step to say that we’ll see a wave of jihadis that return back to their own countries and continue the fight for that same ideology.

“We need to have a broad strategy that incorporates the short term by stopping terrorist attacks here in America and abroad, but also eventually defeating Al-Qaeda and preventing the cancer that is the ideology from taking hold and growing.


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  • Arafat

    Within 300 years of Mohammed’s birth Muslim jihadists (think ISIS) had violently conquered the Middle East, North Africa, Spain, Portugal, southern France and huge swaths of Asia.
    Tell me again, what are the origins of ISIS? Gee, you think it might not be from the core tenets of Islam???

    • João Pedro Santos

      Christians have violently conquered most of the world. Coherence much?

      • Arafat

        I do not entirely disagree with you, although generally speaking Christians did use gentler persuasion than Muslims. Please note – because I know you have a hard time hearing me – I used the word “generally” in describing the difference.
        But despite these horrors committed by both major religions, you miss my point entirely, and it is that when Christians commit sins like forcing others to convert they are SINNING. They are behaving in ways that Christ would have found terrible and unchristian. When Muslims forcibly convert infidels to Islam they are doing the exact same thing Mohammed did and they are not sinning. Quite the opposite they are acting in accordance with all of Islam’s core principles.
        Why is it you cannot comprehend this vital difference or acknowledge this vital difference? Are you really that dense or are you simply a Muslim or a Muslim apologist?

        • João Pedro Santos

          “are you simply a Muslim”
          What if I was a Muslim? Discrimination on basis of religion is illegal.

          • Arafat

            And what if the religion is a violent, supremacist religion determined to subjugate all other religions?
            Tolerance of intolerance is intolerable. I will discriminate against Islam all day long, all night long, as long as it is a threat to America and my individual freedoms. That is not discrimination. Islam is discrimination. I am for freedom of religion not subjugation as is Islam.
            You are such a dim light bulb you cannot understand this simple but profound difference. You are fighting for discrimination, not me.

          • João Pedro Santos

            “And what if the religion is a violent, supremacist religion determined to subjugate all other religions?”
            Like all religions? And keep using insults, that’s what people without arguments do.

          • Arafat

            Go ahead, play the liberal relativistic game: all religions are the same.
            Problem is, Muslim apologist, they are not. Not all religions emphasize the same things. Not even close.
            It is clear you will avoid this issue because you cannot do so without seeing your entire rationale destroyed. The bottom line is Islam is unique among all religions in its emphasis on embracing violent jihad in the goal of building a worldwide caliphate where all infidels are subject to their Muslim overlords.
            While the west yawns this is what is happening in Africa (Nigeria, Kenya, Mali, etc…) and in Asia (Pakistan, Bangladesh and Malaysia and Kshmir, etc..) and Israel is on the frontline.

          • João Pedro Santos

            But again, you insist on the ignorance of saying that only one religion promotes terrorism while using terms such as “liberal relativistic” and “Muslim apologist”. But in case you don’t know, my opinion about Islam is the same as about Christianism. The difference is that Christian terrorism is more predominant in the US than Muslim terrorism. If you were smart enough, you’d understand that most victims of Muslim terrorism are in fact Muslim. People like you, writing hateful comments anonymously, are disgusting.