Eli Lake and Josh Rogin’s Daily Beast scoop on the big al-Qaeda conference call that shut down 22 American embassies contains an important little detail that shouldn’t go unnoticed:
Also on the call were representatives of aspiring al Qaeda affiliates such as al Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula, according to a U.S. intelligence official.
So much for that sophisticated distinction between big-time terror networks and what people like to downplay as “al-Qaeda inspired groups.” If you’ve got a bomb and a dream you’re halfway in the club. Al-Qaeda in the Sinai Peninsula doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry and they’re doing transnational deals with Ayman al-Zawahiri, the global CEO of terror. According to Lake and Rogin, they weren’t the only “aspiring al Qaeda” types on the call.
After the Tsarnaev brothers bombed the Boston Marathon, the American vice president referred to them as “knock-off jihadis.” Never mind the real bombs, the real deaths, and the real Islamic radicalism—they were wannabe terrorists because only two confused posers could elude the sophisticated security apparatuses of at least two countries and successfully execute a deadly double bomb plot in broad daylight. The point is this: the knock-off-real-deal jihad distinction is one we make for political reasons—acknowledging the scope of the threat would mean expanding the scope of the fight. This distinction is wholly nonsensical to our enemy. Al-Zawahiri doesn’t use the Joe Biden jihad legitimacy test. Give a little, give a lot; the important thing is that you give.
It’s very enterprising of al-Qaeda proper to support and utilize lesser affiliates. It’s also likely to increase as the organization comes to see that Americans won’t wage war on mere knock-offs.