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It's No Longer About Al Qaeda

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Al-Qaeda Is Dead, Long Live Al-Qaeda by Jean-Pierre Filiu

As Ukraine increasingly takes center stage, it's important to continue to follow and understand events in Syria, as the two conflicts are related.

Jean-Pierre Filiu is professor of Middle East studies at Sciences Po, Paris School of International Affairs. A historian and an arabist, he has also been visiting professor at Columbia University (New York, NY) and Georgetown University (Washington, DC). He was a career-diplomat serving as a junior officer in Jordan and the USA before becoming the French Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) in Syria (1996--99) and in Tunisia (2002-2006). This article first appeared on Syria Comment, the website of Professor Joshua Landis, Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma

Since the May 2011 death of Osama bin Laden, his al-Qaeda group--which is now led by bin Laden's successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri--typically has been seen as a complex of overlapping "franchises" that together make up the core of a global jihadi movement.[tag]

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But this is no longer true. The former Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda has now superseded bin Laden's network to become the more important driving force behind the global jihad in its current guise as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL. The key to understanding current jihadi dynamics is not which group Zawahiri is prepared to bless or banish but which forces tolerate or fight the ISIL.

It is time to forget about Zawahiri, because it is now the ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who is the most important inspiration for global jihad. "

" The UN estimates the number of foreign fighters in Syria at a minimum of 7,000. Not all of them join the ISIL, but its recruiters are roaming the Turkish borders to catch inexperienced volunteers and use them as cannon fodder for their global propaganda and suicide attacks. Syria is far more accessible than any jihadi battlefield in the past, and the ISIL is now bracing for a sustained global campaign from the core of the Middle East.

The foreign recruits will not significantly enhance the ISIL's fighting force in the current battles in Syria. Instead, they are basically a trump card to magnify the international outreach of Baghdadi's networks--first in the jihadi diaspora and later as potential operatives in their home countries. The Sinai-based jihadi faction known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, which is presently the most active jihadi group in Egypt, has already endorsed the ISIL, and many others are also tempted to switch publicly their allegiance from Zawahiri to Baghdadi. The clock is ticking--and it is no longer only about Syria.

(Article changed on April 28, 2014 at 15:20)

Born in Philadelphia, I spent most of my adolescent and adult years in Europe. I began my journalistic career at the French News Agency in Rome, spent two years in Cuba finding out whether the Barbados were Communists before they made the (more...)

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