2013 Marked a Comeback for al-Qaida

Image: 2013 Marked a Comeback for al-Qaida Al-Qaida claimed responsibility for a Dec. 5 attack on the Yemeni defense ministry that killed 52 people, saying the complex hosted U.S. personnel behind drone strikes against its militants.

Tuesday, 31 Dec 2013 11:17 AM

By Lisa Barron

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As controversy continues to swirl around the New York Times' report claiming al-Qaida was not behind the Benghazi attacks, there is plenty of evidence to suggest the terrorist organization and its affiliates were responsible for some of the deadliest violence of 2013.

The resurgence of the group founded by Osama bin Laden was so pronounced that the Obama administration stepped back from its assertions that his death spelled the end of it, saying instead that only the core leadership in Pakistan had been contained, reports Politico Magazine.

The year started with a jihadist retaliation for France's military intervention in northern Mali, an operation that led to the death of at least 39 foreign hostages at Algeria's In Amenas gas complex, notes the publication.

The following day, Jan. 17, a series of explosions on buses in predominantly Shiite areas of Iraq killed 19 people and injured more than 100.

Al-Qaida in Iraq has in fact accelerated the pace of its attacks since the pullout of U.S. troops at the end of 2011, culminating in a surge of violence in mid-2013 that has led to roughly 800 civilian deaths a month, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

At the same time, the group has spread into neighboring Syria, where it calls itself the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, fighting against both the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and other opposition factions, according to the council.

And a report published this month by the International Center for the Study of Radicalism indicates there are up to 11,000 foreign fighters from 74 nations involved in the Syrian conflict.

"The concern is that the al-Qaida networks of the future are being created in this jihadist melting pot," Paul Cruickshank, a terrorism analyst who has specialized in studying al-Qaida, told CNN.

Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, headquartered in Yemen, is thriving as well, reports the network, which said it has learned about recent intercepts of messages between senior operatives in that country.

"There are multiple indications that al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is plotting attacks both within Yemen, against U.S. and Western structures, and overseas," Seth Jones, an analyst at Rand Corp., told CNN.

The al-Qaida faction in Somalia, al-Shabab, also had a prolific year, most notably carrying out a bloody assault in September on Nairobi's Westgate Mall that killed 67 and injured at least 175.

Al-Qaida's future capabilities have been helped in part by a series of jailbreaks in three different countries, the most significant one taking place on July 21 at Iraq's notorious Abu Ghraib prison that freed about 500 jihadist prisoners, reports Politico magazine.

A week later, prison riots and an outside attack freed more than 1,100 inmates from Benghazi's Kuafiya prison, while some 250 prisoners escaped during a jailbreak in Pakistan on July 30.

As for the implications for Americans, the leaders of both the House and Senate intelligence panels maintained earlier this month that the country is not as safe as it was a year ago.

Speaking on CNN's "State of the Nation," Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein said, "I think terror is up worldwide, the statistics indicate that, the fatalities are way up.

"The numbers are way up. There are new bombs, very big bombs, trucks being reinforced for those bombs. There are more groups than ever and there's huge malevolence out there."

Asked whether he thought so as well, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, said, "Oh, I absolutely agree that we're not safer today for the same very reasons."

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