THE BLOG

Remember Us?

08/09/2014 11:38 BST | Updated 08/11/2014 10:59 GMT

There has been understandable focus in recent months on events in Iraq and the rise of the Islamic State. Yet we must not forget that al-Qaeda - still the most prominent terrorist network out there - also has the West in its sights.

On Wednesday, al-Qaeda emir Ayman al-Zawahiri announced the creation of a new al-Qaeda group in the Indian subcontinent. He claimed that efforts to create this group had been underway for over two years and it would protect "vulnerable [Muslims] in the Indian subcontinent, in Burma, Bangladesh, Assam, Gujurat, Ahmedabad and Kashmir." However, there will inevitably be a virulently anti-Western focus to its operations. The Long War Journal points out how the newly appointed emir of this group, Asim Umar, has previously attempted to persuade Indian Muslims to join the "global jihad to give a final push to the collapsing edifice of America" and stated "lives are being sacrificed in this jihad to defeat America and its allies everywhere."

There is a constant temptation to write al-Qaeda off. It happened after they haemorrhaged support across the world due to the brutality of its violence in the 2004 - 06 period in Iraq; after Osama bin Laden's death coincided with the Arab Spring, which it was hoped would supposedly expose the bankruptcy of its ideology; and now again with the rise of the Islamic State.

Unfortunately this optimism is not warranted. Despite the degradation of its leadership inflicted by the US and its allies, al-Qaeda is still going strong. Outside of its base in AfPak, the network has six formally recognised affiliates: in Yemen, the Sahel region, Somalia, the North Caucasus, Syria and now the Indian subcontinent. Yet its connections to terrorism across the Middle East and Africa run far beyond its formal affiliates. Al-Qaeda is also a player (to varying degrees) in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Nigeria and Kenya. That is some geographical reach, even before you factor in possible recruits returning to the West from the Syrian conflict. It also means that al-Qaeda's ranks go beyond the 10,000 or so members that the Islamic State is thought to possess.

Al-Qaeda will continue to carry out attacks, fundraise, kidnap Westerners and recruit more followers. Underestimating them is a sure-fire way to ensure that the group gets even stronger - and the threat to our national security gets even higher.