For a year now, there has been a civil war within the civil war in Syria, one that pitted jihadi against jihadi, al Qaeda against the upstart group that calls itself Islamic State run by the self-proclaimed “caliph” known as Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.
One week ago, all that seemed to be turned on its head during the bloody terror attacks around Paris. Two men who slaughtered journalists at the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo claimed they owed their allegiance, and were assigned their mission, by the most militant heirs of Osama bin Laden: the Yemen-based leaders of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). But a third killer, who murdered a policewoman and then four Jewish shoppers in a kosher grocery, and who claimed he “synchronized” his attacks with the others after helping them fund their operations, announced he owed his allegiance to Islamic State, widely known as ISIS.
Do the Paris attacks signal some sort of rapprochement or coordination between the two bitterly opposed branches of the same jihadi lineage? Could they augur a new wave of attacks throughout Europe or, indeed, the West?
On Thursday night, a series of counterterror raids in Belgium targeting fighters returning to Europe from Syria seemed a further confirmation of the risks ahead. Two suspects were killed and one wounded in a shootout in the normally placid little Belgian town of Verviers.