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Scholar Explains What Lures Jihadists From Daesh to al-Qaeda

© AFP 2023A picture taken with a mobile phone early on May 24, 2014 shows Al-Qaeda militants posing with Al-Qaeda flags in front of a museum in Seiyun, second Yemeni city of Hadramawt province, after launching a massive pre-dawn assault that killed at least 15 soldiers and police
A picture taken with a mobile phone early on May 24, 2014 shows Al-Qaeda militants posing with Al-Qaeda flags in front of a museum in Seiyun, second Yemeni city of Hadramawt province, after launching a massive pre-dawn assault that killed at least 15 soldiers and police - Sputnik International
With many Daesh fighters, disillusioned by their leaders’ violently hardline vision of Islam, now breaking ranks and joining al-Qaeda, Radio Sputnik has discussed al-Qaeda and its future with David Cook, an assistant professor of religious studies at Rice University in Houston, Texas.

Sputnik: How likely are Daesh fighters in Iraq and Syria to switch their allegiance to Al-Qaeda?

David Cook: This is something that, basically, has been going on since the break between ISIS [Daesh] and al-Qaeda. The constant attempts to gain followers are something that can be easily documented, and I think that it’s pretty likely that there will be significant defection. The fact is that many members have ties, either socially or in some cases, otherwise, to al-Qaeda. They are going to go with the group that is tending to win. The major thing that holds them back is that they swore an oath of allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and that oath of allegiance is not taken lightly by the jihadists, so they have to have a religious dispensation to break it.

Sputnik: What are the differences in goals and otherwise between Daesh and Al-Qaeda?

Fighters from the Al-Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda's Syria branch, hold a position as they fight against forces loyal to the regime - Sputnik International
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David Cook: ISIS [Daesh] basically was trying for a territorial realization of a caliphal state. Al-Qaeda essentially believed this was kind of premature. ISIS [Daesh] tended to maximize attacks on Muslims in an effort to purify what they view as corrupt Islam. Al-Qaeda has definitely pulled back from that and I think that one of the reasons why fighters could be attracted back to al-Qaeda could simply be the fact that realization of the caliphal state was indeed premature and, in fact, it failed. Effectively the events have more or less proved al-Qaeda’s approach, at least for now.

Sputnik: What are Al-Qaeda’s goals now and how do they attract people? 

David Cook: The basic paradigm that has been established by terrorists is that people are attracted through networks. Usually they have some sort of familial connection or social connection. Many may be recruited, for example, through football. Obviously there is also the religious aspect with preachers and so forth. Going back to the issue of the goal of al-Qaeda, I don’t think there is any doubt that al-Qaeda’s goals are grand in nature, in other words, it has similar long-term goals with ISIS [Daesh], but it doesn’t claim a caliphate and their leaders do not claim that level of religious authority. I think that one of the reasons why people may be attracted at this particular point is because of that long-term goal, the willingness to work with a number of different groups. Another difference is that ISIS has tried to subsume groups inside of it and oftentimes has done it by force.This is essentially cannibalizing for groups all over Syria and a lot of other different places, whereas al-Qaeda tended to work with the larger Salafi-jihadi field rather than trying to direct its violence against them.

Sputnik: How unified is al-Qaeda these days and who are its leaders?

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David Cook: After the assassination of [Osama] bin Laden in 2011, the leadership went to Ayman Zawahiri, who is well known for having been the leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad in the 1990s. This is not a charismatic figure the same way as Bin Laden was. A lot of people did leave al-Qaeda after the fall of Bin Laden simply because Zawahiri did not inspire the same level of attraction. He is much more of a dogmatist. The rise of Bin Laden’s son, Hamza, I would compare this to the similar paradigm that happened to Boko Haram with the rise of Mohammed Yusuf’s son Abu Musab Al-Barnawi. It is very interesting that a charismatic authority seems to continue within the family line, which is what you could also see in Bin Laden’s family. I don’t know whether there will be some sort of a leadership crisis there because Zawahiri has been well-known on the jihadi scene since the early 1990s and so he has all the prestige. He just doesn’t have very much of a charismatic presence.

Al-Qaeda has been trying to attract Daesh members in a recruitment campaign that started last summer. A second cell was launched in Syria in September and a pro-al-Qaeda news service in Yemen has reported that many Daesh fighters have recently joined it.

While Al-Qaeda vies to recruit fleeing Daesh fighters, there are also growing concerns that Daesh affiliates, known as “governorates of the caliphate”, will offer refuge to Daesh fighters leaving Iraq and Syria.

READ MORE: Swiss Islamic Group Members Face Criminal Charges for Al-Qaeda Propaganda Videos

The views expressed in this article are solely those of David Cook and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Sputnik. 


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