Islamist terrorist groups may try to “out-jihad” each other with spectacular attacks on the West, according to an article by Quilliam think-tank member Charlie Cooper.
Writing for the Left Foot Forward website, Cooper – who works for the counter-extremism think tank Quilliam – said that the leaders of Al Qaeda and ISIS respectively may enter into a dangerous game of terrorism oneupmanship to be played out in the form of attacks on Western targets.
The recent declaration by the ‘Islamic State’ (IS, as it’s now known) of the restoration of the ‘caliphate’ further distils the level of risk we face.
It was effectively a declaration of war by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi against Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaeda. More likely than one group attacking the other, though, is the emergence of a competition between IS and AQ in which they will attempt to ‘out-jihad’ each other with a high-profile attack on a Western target.
This is because, as it stands now, IS is trying to drive al-Qaeda into obscurity. An IS attack on the West would be the last nail in al-Zawahiri’s coffin, because it would show the world that, not only is al-Baghdadi financially, ideologically, militarily and territorially more powerful than al-Zawahiri, but that he is also the new standard-bearer of international terrorism.
Certainly, his first announcement as ‘caliph’ suggests this is the direction he’d like to go in. On the other side of the same coin, we could well see an attempted attack by al-Qaeda, one that would come in an attempt to boost the group’s dwindling legitimacy.
Cooper used his piece to warn against the introduction of “draconian counter-terrorism measures” but hit out at left-wing journalists such as George Monbiot who Cooper accused of “playing down” the terrorism threat to the UK.
“So yes, there is a credible terrorist threat facing the UK, and yes, it has been heightened by the foreign fighter phenomenon. It is ludicrous to think otherwise,” he wrote.
“If someone radicalised in the UK decides to go abroad to fight for a group that summarily crucifies people whom it considers to be dissidents, then of course they will present a threat if they manage to return home undetected.
“In particular, fighters for IS and its affiliates pose a threat, largely because they are exposed to a refined and rejectionist strand of jihadism too extreme for al-Qaeda. This, coupled with the advanced level of military training they receive, makes for a troubling combination.”