U.S. Department Officials Study Cooperation Among Terrorist Groups

By Dialogo
September 16, 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.

“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, 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. 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 (AQIM), an Algerian-based group believed to be working with Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP). “We’ve definitely seen the cross-pollination of TTP and AQIM,” an official said.