So far this month al Qaeda terrorist attacks have killed over 500 in Iraq. Its leader today, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, promises many more deaths.
At the same time, al Qaeda in Iraq has been the moving force behind the birth and growth of al Qaeda’s franchise in Syria. One of Zarqawi’s protégés, Muhammad al Golani, was sent by al Qaeda in Iraq to set up the al Nusra Front in 2011. By mid-2012 it had become one of the most effective groups in the Syrian opposition movement to Bashar al-Assad’s government. It got considerable support in money, arms, and men from the Iraqi front.
Now al Qaeda in Syria is getting hundreds of volunteer fighters from across the Islamic world, all coming to join the struggle. This week Dutch police arrested a 19-year-old Muslim girl in The Hague who was helping to organize the recruitment and movement of Dutch Muslim citizens to Syria to join the al Nusra Front. Dutch sources say over a hundred have already gone. In Pakistan, the al Qaeda–affiliated Taliban says it is sending fighters to join the battle in Syria and support al Qaeda. Syria has become what Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Iraq were to earlier generations of jihadists: the epicenter of the global jihad. From Western Europe to Southeast Asia, the networks that shipped fighters to Iraq a decade ago are now sending them to Syria.
The al Qaeda group has also begun spreading its influence into Lebanon as well. One well-informed observer reports that “from Tripoli to Akkar, and from Sidon to the heart of Beirut, black Salafi-jihadi flags and banners have been spotted in increasing numbers, a picture unseen before in Lebanon’s history.”