What unites Isis and al-Qaeda? Blowing up American planes
By Con Coughlin World Last updated: July 3rd, 2014
Ever since Islamist militants emerged as the dominant force in the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, much has been written about how groups such Isis, which is currently in the process of establishing an Islamic Caliphate in northern Iraq, should be distinguished from the mainstream al-Qaeda movement. Isis fighters are so extreme, or so the argument goes, that even al-Qaeda is appalled at their barbarous treatment of their fellow Muslims, to the extent that Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's somewhat isolated leader, has attempted to disown them.
But as transportation chiefs on both sides of the Atlantic are now giving active consideration to bringing in a security measures on flights to the US, it is clear that militant Islamist groups such as Isis and al-Qaeda have much more in common than was previously thought. And nothing is more guaranteed to forge a spirit of unity among these disparate Islamist groups than the tempting prospect of blowing up US-bound civilian airliners.
Tracking the movements of Islamist terrorists is a challenging task at the best of times, particularly when they can move easily through the desert wilderness from one ungoverned space to another. It is not known how many of the Islamist militants currently fighting with Isis have previously fought in Yemen with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), another radical Islamist group which, among many other exploits, gave us the underpants bomber and the ink cartridge bomb discovered at East Midlands airport in 2010.
But during their time fighting with AQAP, there is a every possibility that they will have met up with Ibrahim al-Asiri, the AQAP terrorist mastermind responsible for developing these ingenious devices. Indeed, Asiri is said to be working on a new explosive device that would avoid detection by the current generation of airport scanning devices. He tried one such device out on his younger brother Abdullah in 2009, when he sent him to blow up a senior Saudi security official with an explosive device concealed in his rectum. The device exploded, killing Abdullah instantly, although the Saudi managed to escape unharmed.
As Asiri's main obsession is blowing up US-bound aircraft, it is entirely conceivable that he has passed on his expertise to visiting Islamist jihadists, who then move on to new conflicts in Syria and Iraq where they, in turn, instruct other jihadis on how to conduct terrorist operations against the West.
This is certainly the scenario that Western intelligence officials are working on when they warn that there is now a strong possibility that Islamist terrorists will attempt to bomb flights heading to America this summer. They are particularly concerned about the ability of foreign jihadists – and that includes the estimated 500 British Muslims who are currently said to be fighting in Syria and Iraq – to learn new terror techniques, which they can then use once they return to their home countries.
It is a truly alarming picture, and one that Western governments need to take seriously. The attitude of most politicians in Britain and America is that they want to avoid becoming involved in the violent conflicts in Iraq and Syria at any cost. But when you have radical Islamist groups like Isis and al-Qaeda united in their desire to commit atrocities in America and Europe, simply trying to ignore the problem is no longer an option they can afford.