Under siege by drones in Pakistan and Yemen, al Qaeda 3.0 has exploited the Arab Awakening to create its largest safe havens and operational bases in more than a decade across the Arab world. This may prove to be the most deadly al Qaeda yet.
The first generation was the original band in Afghanistan created by Osama bin Laden in the 1990s. The second emerged after 9/11 when the group resurfaced in Pakistan and then across the Muslim world. Now a third iteration can be discerned in the wake of bin Laden’s death and the Arab Awakening.
The fastest-growing new al Qaeda is in Syria. Using the cover name Jabhat al Nusra, al Qaeda has become perhaps the most lethal element of the opposition to Bashar al Assad’s brutal dictatorship. Al Qaeda’s amir, Ayman al-Zawahiri, called for jihadists across the world to flock to Syria this spring to join the uprising against the Assad regime and the Alawite minority that supports it. For al Qaeda, Assad and the Alawis are a perfect target; many Sunnis believe Alawis to be a deviationist sect of Islam that should be suppressed. While al Qaeda is a small part of the opposition in Syria, it nonetheless brings unique skills in bomb-making and suicide operations.