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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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