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Event Summary

In the past three years, a number of terrorist groups claiming affiliation to al Qaeda have emerged, despite having different targets and origins. On Thursday, AEI and the Foreign Policy Research Institute hosted an event to discuss the impact of splintering al Qaeda–affiliated groups and whether these groups signify al Qaeda’s growing influence throughout the globe.

Clint Watts of the Foreign Policy Research Institute claimed that the emergence of new al Qaeda–affiliated groups resulted from the splintering and fracturing of new terrorist threats from the “old-guard al Qaeda.” He also stressed that the US should defend its intelligence capabilities and focus its analysis on regions rather than on the al Qaeda network as a whole.

Mary Habeck, of the Foreign Policy Research Institute and AEI, disagreed with Watts, arguing that the emergence of different groups elucidates the extent to which al Qaeda has spread in the past three years and the strength of its ideology and methodology. She also emphasized that the growing al Qaeda network represents an imminent threat requiring US action.

Despite presenting differing opinions on the impact of infighting on al Qaeda as whole, panelists agreed that al Qaeda’s objectives have surpassed plotting attacks on the United States; al Qaeda strives for insurgencies rather than individual international attacks.
–Zoe Newberg

Event Description

Since Osama bin Laden’s death in 2011, the Obama administration has maintained that al Qaeda is “on the run.” But al Qaeda and related groups are increasingly spreading violence in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and elsewhere in the Muslim world. Some experts point to the splintering of al Qaeda groups as the key to dismantling the larger network and as a sign of success in the broader effort against Islamist extremism; others doubt that intraterrorist friction signals any real change in the strength and reach of the global organization.

Please join AEI and the Foreign Policy Research Institute as they cohost a discussion unraveling different perspectives on the al Qaeda challenge, assessing the success of current policies, and, in particular, focusing on the implications of growing factionalism among groups.

Click to view the event’s infographic: Spotlight May 2014: Al Qaeda-linked attacks.


1:45 PM

2:00 PM
Mary Habeck, AEI
Clint Watts, Foreign Policy Research Institute

Katherine Zimmerman, AEI

3:00 PM

3:30 PM

Event Contact Information

For more information, please contact Heather Malacaria at [email protected], 202.862.5942.

Media Contact Information

For media inquiries, please contact [email protected], 202.862.5829.

Speaker Biographies

Mary Habeck is a visiting scholar at AEI and a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. Previously, she was an associate professor of strategic studies at the Johns Hopkins Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), where she taught courses on military history and strategic thought. Before joining SAIS, Habeck taught American and European military history at Yale University. From 2008 to 2009, she was the special adviser for strategic planning on the National Security Council staff. Appointed by former president George W. Bush, she served on the National Council on the Humanities from 2006 to 2013. In addition to books and articles on World War I, the Spanish Civil War, and al Qaeda, Habeck’s publications include “Knowing the Enemy: Jihadist Ideology and the War on Terror” (Yale University Press, 2005) and three forthcoming sequels: “Attacking America: Al Qaeda’s Grand Strategy” (Basic Books, 2015), “Managing Savagery: Al Qaeda’s Military and Political Strategies” (2016), and “Fighting the Enemy: The US and Its War against al Qaeda” (2017).

Clint Watts is a senior fellow with the program on national security at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and president of Miburo Solutions Inc. Before starting Miburo Solutions, Watts served as a US Army infantry officer, a FBI special agent on a Joint Terrorism Task Force, and as the executive officer of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. He has published a variety of pieces on transnational threat groups for the Combatting Terrorism Center, Small Wars Journal, and Studies in Intelligence — Central Intelligence Agency, among other publications. Watts is also editor of the Selected Wisdom blog.

Katherine Zimmerman is a senior analyst and the al Qaeda and associated movements team lead for AEI’s Critical Threats Project. Her work has focused on al Qaeda’s affiliates in the Gulf of Aden region and associated movements in western and northern Africa. She specializes in the Yemen-based group, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, and al Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia, al Shabaab. Zimmerman has testified in front of Congress and briefed members of Congress and congressional staff, as well as members of the defense community. She has written analyses of US national security interests related to the threat from the al Qaeda network for The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, CNN Global Public Square, and the Huffington Post, among others.

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