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5 years after bin Laden’s killing, al-Qaida is down — but not out

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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.

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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.

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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.

AFP

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Over 70% of deep-sea fish of Atlantic Ocean have ingested plastic : Study

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Fragments of plastic are found throughout the world, from nearly every continent to nearly every body of water. But, researchers recently have found 73 percent of Northwest Atlantic deep-sea fish are also eating it — the highest reported frequency of plastic-eating fish in the world.

Plastic particles were found in some of the most remote parts of the Atlantic Ocean with almost three quarters of a sample of more than 230 deep-water fish collected by NUI Galway scientists having ingested plastic particles.

The contamination level among the fish species, located in the northwest Atlantic thousands of kilometres from land and 600m down in the ocean, is one of the highest reported frequencies of microplastic occurrence in fish worldwide, according to the study published in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science.

The NUIG scientists, as part of the study, participated in a transatlantic crossing onboard the marine institute’s Celtic Explorer vessel.

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PhD candidate and lead author Alina Wieczorek said, “Deep-water fish migrate to the surface at night to feed on plankton [microscopic animals] and this is likely when they are exposed to the microplastics.”

During this research cruise they took dead deep-sea fish from midwater trawls such as the spotted lanternfish, rakery beaconlamp, stout saw-palate and scaly dragonfish.

Microplastics are small plastic fragments that commonly originate from the breakdown of larger plastic items entering the ocean. Other sources may be waste water effluents carrying plastic fibres from clothing and microbeads from personal care products. Due to their low density, most of these microplastics float at the sea surface.

The fish ranged in size from the smallest species the Glacier Lantern at 3.5cm to the largest species, the stout saw-palate at 59cm.

Agencies

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