Al Qaeda’s Unsurprising Merger
These are just a few examples, chosen from many. You may be wondering: How could anyone deny that Shabaab was part of al Qaeda’s international terror network? Well, great emphasis has been placed on al Qaeda’s formal acceptance of Shabaab. That is, because al Qaeda did not come right out and say that Shabaab is part of its network, some analysts concluded the two were not really all that tight. This is, in a word, nonsense.
Al Qaeda, of course, does not advertise all of its business publicly. While al Qaeda is prolific in issuing propaganda statements, it is still a clandestine organization intent on keeping some secrets. There is little to no transparency, for example, concerning how al Qaeda decides to formally or publicly accept an organization such as Shabaab as an affiliate.
Moreover, in 2010, a well-informed senior U.S. intelligence official told my colleague Bill Roggio that al Qaeda's senior leadership “instructed Shabaab to maintain a low profile on al Qaeda links.”
“Al Qaeda has accepted Shabaab into the fold, and any additional statements would only serve to draw international scrutiny,” the official told Roggio. “Al Qaeda is applying lessons learned from Iraq, that an overexposure of the links between al Qaeda central leadership and its affiliates can cause some unwanted attention.”
Al Qaeda’s calculation has changed. But Zawahiri’s previous decision to avoid publicly accepting Shabaab as an al Qaeda affiliate was apparently enough to fool many in the West. Now that Zawahiri has formally announced Shabaab’s membership in al Qaeda there is absolutely no good reason to pretend the two are not in bed together. In reality, there was no good reason in the first place.
Thomas Joscelyn is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.