DUBAI — Five years after the killing of al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden, the network he established is far from dead even if it has suffered a series of setbacks.
Supplanted as the pre-prominent worldwide jihadi force by the Islamic State bunch, al-Qaida nonetheless remains a potent force and dangerous threat, experts say.
With last year’s Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris and a wave of shootings in West Africa, al-Qaida has shown it can still carry out its trademark spectacular attacks.
And in Syria and Yemen its militants have seized on chaos to take control of significant amounts of territory, even presenting themselves as an alternative to the brutality of IS rule.
By the time US Special Forces personnel killed bin Laden in Pakistan on May 2, 2011, the group he founded in the late 1980s had been badly damaged, with many of its militants and leaders killed or captured in the U.S. ‘war on terror.’
Dissension grew in the jihadi ranks as new al-Qaida chief Ayman al-Zawahiri struggled in bin Laden’s place, until one of its branches, originally al-Qaida in Iraq, broke away to form the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
After seizing large parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014, the group declared an Islamic “caliphate” in areas under its control, calling itself simply Islamic State.
Islamic State has since eclipsed its former partner, drawing thousands of jihadis to its cause and claiming responsibility for attacks that have left hundreds dead in Brussels, Paris, Tunisia, Turkey, Lebanon, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and on a Russian airliner over Egypt.
Its self-declared ‘emir,’ Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has won pledges of allegiance from extremist groups across the Middle East and beyond, with especially powerful Islamic State affiliates operating in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and in Libya.
Jean-Pierre Filiu, a Paris-based expert on Islam and jihadi groups, said Islamic State has been especially effective at using new technology to surpass its less tech-savvy rival.
“Al-Qaida propaganda has become invisible on social networks thanks to the media war machine that Daesh has managed to successfully create,” Filiu said, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.
“Al-Qaida has lost everywhere to Daesh, except in the Sahel” desert region of northern Africa, he said.
William McCants, of the Brookings Institution in Washington, agreed that al-Qaida has lost some ground to Islamic State, but said the organization has recovered.
“Al-Qaida has a strong showing in Syria and in Yemen,” he said.
In Syria the group’s local affiliate, the Nusra Front, is one of the strongest forces fighting President Bashar Assad’s regime, holding large parts of the northern province of Idlib.
The local branch in Yemen, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), has, meanwhile, seized significant territory in the south and southeast as the government struggles against Iran-backed Shiite insurgents who have taken the capital, Sanaa, and other areas.
AQAP suffered a setback last week when Yemeni troops recaptured the key port city of Mukalla it occupied for more than a year.
AQAP, considered by Washington to be al-Qaida’s most well-established and dangerous branch, has also claimed responsibility for one of the group’s most important attacks abroad in recent years.
In January 2015 gunmen stormed the Paris offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo with assault rifles and other weapons, killing 12 people in an attack claimed by AQAP.
Another branch, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), has carried out assaults on hotels and restaurants in Mali, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast since November that have left dozens dead, including many foreigners.
The attacks in west Africa “have reasserted the regional presence of AQIM and shown its expanding reach,” New York-based intelligence consultancy The Soufan Group said in March.
“AQIM has used the attacks to challenge the influence of the Islamic State, to demonstrate and build its local support and to show that it is united after earlier damaging divisions,” it said.
Al-Qaida chiefs in Yemen and elsewhere have condemned Islamic State for some of its actions, including bombings of Shiite mosques.
The United States clearly still sees al-Qaida as a key threat, pursuing a vigorous drone war against the group in Yemen.
Writing for French news website Atlantico in early April, former intelligence officer Alain Rodier said that while Islamic State may have stolen the spotlight, al-Qaida may be in a better long-term position.
PM congratulates Nepali national cricket team
KATHMANDU— Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has congratulated Nepali national cricket team for being able to clinch the International T20 series.
PM Oli in a tweet extended best wishes and congratulations saying he was very happy to know Nepal’s win over the UAE by 14 runs in the third match of the series.
Winning T20 series is another landmark success for Nepali cricket, he said, adding, “It is big achievement for Nepal’s cricket. I would like to heartily congratulate entire members of Nepali cricket squad”.