With all the recent news concerning the killing of Hamza bin Laden, the son of Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden and the heir-apparent of that terrorist group, and the rush to negotiate an end to the war in Afghanistan, one might suspect that we are on the verge of ending the global war on Islamist terror. Unfortunately, that would be wishful thinking.
There is no doubt that Al-Qaeda is on its back foot in much of the world. The loss of Hamza deprives the group of a fresh, charismatic face with blood ties to Osama. The continued pressure on AQ has kept it from regularly publishing its glitzy online magazine, Inspire that is primarily aimed at recruiting disaffected, Western, would-be jihadists. But it still has a core of hardline supporters in places where it controls territory, like Yemen, who ultimately still seek to reestablish the primacy of the group’s brand over ISIS. It will only take one, successful, terrorist event to put them front-and-center into the news cycle.
As for ISIS, they may also be down but they are definitely not out. Just days ago, American Airlines mechanic Abdul-Majeed Marouf Ahmed Alani was taken into custody for allegedly tampering with an aircraft’s control equipment. Subsequent news of alleged violent content on Alani’s phone has hinted at possible ties to ISIS. And what receives almost no news coverage in our press is that ISIS is reemerging in the Sunni heartland of Iraq even as numerous reports of its leader’s death have proven premature. This group has a very strong network of supporters in Iraq and Syria even as it quietly grows its presence in Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, Indonesia, and elsewhere in the Muslim world.
Both ISIS and AQ have a very long history of existing as underground organizations. They have suffered battlefield defeats but have all the tradecraft, operational security, and core supporters to survive – and even thrive – as clandestine terrorist organizations. We have not defeated them, nor have we heard the last of them, either. Moreover, we have done nothing to attack and defeat their Islamist ideology.
Since 2020 is an election year, it’s quite possible that one or the other of these groups will do their best to stage a comeback just to send the message that they still have the capability to harm us.