Al-Qaeda is back, counter-terror experts say

In several speeches at the ICT-IDC Herzliya counter-terrorism conference, made it clear that the group has supplanted ISIS as the number one global terrorism threat.

By
September 9, 2019 22:13
2 minute read.
Protesters carry Al-Qaeda flags during an anti-government protest after Friday prayers

Protesters carry Al-Qaeda flags during an anti-government protest after Friday prayers in the town of Marat Numan in Idlib province, Syria. (photo credit: KHALIL ASHAWI / REUTERS)

A range of top global counter-terror experts warned on Monday that al-Qaeda is back, has reached a new high in followers worldwide and may pose an escalating cyber terrorism threat.

In several speeches at the ICT-IDC Herzliya counter-terrorism conference, the officials repeatedly returned to the theme of the threat of al-Qaeda, making it clear that the group has supplanted ISIS as the number one global terrorism threat.

Jay Tabb, the executive assistant director of the FBI’s National Security Branch, told the conference that al-Qaeda and its affiliates now have 20,000 followers worldwide – a high for the group which carried out the 9/11 attacks, but was upstaged in recent years by ISIS.

Following ISIS’s physical defeat in Syria and Iraq (ISIS still has small units in other countries and an active online presence), al-Qaeda has been on the rise.

Former US cyber command deputy chief Lt. Gen. (res.) Vincent Stewart warned the conference that the West was underestimating the dangers of cyber terrorism posed by al-Qaeda and even still potentially by ISIS.

He said that the West was finally getting serious about defending itself from state-sponsored cyber attacks from Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.

However, he said the West had a false sense of security that because al-Qaeda had not pulled off a massive cyber terrorism strike to date, that it could not tomorrow.

He noted that al-Qaeda is highly creative and that until it used airplanes  as a form of a missile to topple the Twin Towers in New York on September 11, 2001, no one in the counter-terrorism world had imagined such an attack was possible either.

He said that all al-Qaeda needed to do was hire outside cyber hackers or purchase outside hackers’ cyber weapons, and it could potentially take down a country’s entire infrastructure with the click of a mouse.

EUROPOL deputy executive director and operations directorate head Wil Van Gemert echoed the cyber threat from al-Qaeda and ISIS, emphasizing their creation of an entire alternate network online to pursue their purposes.

Assistant secretary general and executive director of the Counter-Terrorism Committee of the UN Security Council Michele Coninsx warned that foreign fighters who had fought for ISIS and had returned or were returning to the West could pose a long-term threat.

Although relatively few of these fighters have returned to the West to date, she said that even if they returned later, they could pose a sleeper-cell threat for decades.


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