Officials Study Cooperation Among Terrorist Groups

WASHINGTON, Sept. 14, 2011 — As U.S. and allied forces dis­man­tle the core of al-Qai­da in Afghanistan and Pak­istan, intel­li­gence offi­cials are study­ing the degree to which ter­ror­ist splin­ter groups are work­ing togeth­er, Defense Depart­ment offi­cials said today.

“They’ll remain a con­cern,” one of three Defense Depart­ment offi­cials told Pen­ta­gon reporters dur­ing an after­noon back­ground brief­ing to explain the nature of region­al­ized, rad­i­cal Islamist groups that have pro­lif­er­at­ed in the Mid­dle East and North Africa. “There is an ele­ment of defeat­ing the orga­ni­za­tion … that is sep­a­rate from the ide­o­log­i­cal com­po­nent. You can get them to be oper­a­tional­ly inca­pable, but that doesn’t destroy the idea of al-Qai­da.”

Al-Qai­da main­tains a reduced fund­ing stream, still pro­vides train­ing, and is “intent on transna­tion­al attacks,” an offi­cial said. “They’ll remain a con­cern, but these region­al nodes are the way of the future.”

In a con­gres­sion­al hear­ing yes­ter­day, CIA Direc­tor David H. Petreaus called al-Qai­da in the Ara­bi­an Penin­su­la “the most dan­ger­ous region­al node in the glob­al jihad.”

The group has strength­ened in Yemen, but so, too, has the nation­al gov­ern­ment in its coun­tert­er­ror­ism mea­sures, an offi­cial in today’s back­ground brief­ing said. Al-Qai­da in the Ara­bi­an Penin­su­la secured a foothold in the south­ern province of Abyan when a polit­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion took hold in the coun­try last spring. The nation­al gov­ern­ment, in recent weeks, has refo­cused its mil­i­tary forces away from domes­tic tur­moil to lead a strong coun­terof­fen­sive against the ter­ror­ist group in Abyan.

“That’s a good sign,” the offi­cial said, not­ing that al-Qai­da in the Ara­bi­an Penin­su­la has plot­ted sophis­ti­cat­ed attacks against the Unit­ed States. “They’re intent on exter­nal oper­a­tions and brag about it,” he added, not­ing that an Eng­lish-lan­guage mag­a­zine the group pub­lish­es con­tains arti­cles that teach bomb-mak­ing skills and encour­age ter­ror­ism against the Unit­ed States.

The offi­cials con­firmed that ter­ror­ist groups also are try­ing to gain hold in Libya, where the Libyan Tran­si­tion Nation­al Coun­cil recent­ly drove Moam­mar Gad­hafi from pow­er. “They’re always look­ing for a tar­get of oppor­tu­ni­ty,” one offi­cial said.

So far, how­ev­er, the coun­cil has reject­ed them, the offi­cials said. “It cer­tain­ly seems that they have gone to great lengths to dis­as­so­ci­ate them­selves,” one offi­cial said of the coun­cil.

Ter­ror­ist groups have expand­ed in oth­er parts of North Africa, though, includ­ing al Shabaab in Soma­lia, Boko Haram in Nige­ria, and al-Qai­da in the Islam­ic Maghreb, an Alger­ian-based group believed to be work­ing with Tehrik-e Tal­iban Pak­istan. “We’ve def­i­nite­ly seen the cross-pol­li­na­tion of TTP and AQIM,” an offi­cial said.

These groups form tem­po­rary alliances, but most­ly are focused on their own region­al issues and have not formed large merg­ers, the offi­cials said.

“These groups have more dif­fer­ences in their foun­da­tions and ide­olo­gies than com­mon­al­i­ties,” the senior offi­cial said. “But they do make these tem­po­rary alliances of con­ve­nience, and they have com­mon ene­mies.”

He said he is opti­mistic it will stay that way.

“I wouldn’t go down this ‘Legion of Doom’ the­o­ry, where they’re all going to sort of join hands,” the senior offi­cial said. “The tim­ing doesn’t work for them, and they go back on their own.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)