Coordinated or Competing, AQAP & AQIM

Recent AQIM related reporting suggests that there is far more than AQAP going on in the terrorism world.  The MoorNextDoor posted last week (Nov 5) on the Mauritanian military move into Mali as a pre-emptive attack on AQIM. Then on November 10, the French arrested 5 individuals tied to AQIM that were allegedly prepared for a suicide operation in France.  This correlates with Bin Laden’s recent statements calling for an attack on France.  Also, Italy arrested 16 members of a terrorist facilitation network consisting of Algerians, Moroccans, Tunisians and a couple Italians.  These three counterterrorism actions appear to represent a well-coordinated disruption strategy against AQIM.  Within a week, the Mauritanians disrupted AQIM’s safe haven in the Sahel, Italy broke up a facilitation network and France may have stopped an operational cell prepping a Western target.

U.S. coverage of these CT efforts has been slim.  Compared with AQAP’s attempts on the U.S., AQIM’s infiltration into Europe, should this prove to be a serious plot, represents a complex operation requiring significant planning and resources.  AQAP has not shown this type of operational reach choosing instead to pursue solo and unaccompanied bombings that were sophisticated but still long shots.

While the growth of these two groups was foreshadowed by the foreign fighters to Iraq from 2004 to 2007, the larger question is whether these two affiliates (AQIM and AQAP) are coordinating their efforts for maximum effect or competing with each other to emerge as the next big terror group.

While the senior leadership gets droned to near extinction in Pakistan, is AQ Central still training, coordinating and directing efforts to strike at the West? Or is the latest surge in AQIM and AQAP action the result of two emerging groups trying to outshine the other in an effort to attract more prestige, recruits and resources?

I’m curious what will emerge in the near future in both North Africa and Yemen.  Both of these groups seem determined to raise their stature through successful attacks on the West.  Thus far, the West and its Middle East/North African partners have shown major progress in CT.  I can quickly think of a half-dozen coordinated CT successes in the past two months.

Looking forward from a CT perspective, terror group competition may be worse than terror group coordination in the near term.  Competition is more likely to increase the pace of terrorist action, incite further terrorist risk-taking, and inspire a pattern of groups one-upping each other to reach the top rung of AQ Global’s helm.