Given all the media coverage of Islamic State, the terrorist group Al Qaeda has become increasingly marginalized in public discourse, seeming almost passé. Indeed, Al Qaeda has lagged far behind IS in attempting to gain territory in Syria, possibly explaining why its Syria branch officially spun off in July and became Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. However, Al Qaeda is very much still in existence, and has sharply condemned IS, which at one point was under the Al Qaeda banner before a falling out.
But Al Qaeda must strive to continue being relevant. In fact, Al Qaeda representative Ahmed Al-Hamdan actually acknowledged that Islamic State is doing much better in attracting the younger generation of jihadists. Al-Hamdan did so in the third of a multi-part interview with JFS outlet Al Muwahideen Media. The interview was published on WordPress, the same website hosting Thought Front.
In Part III, entitled “The Generational Divide,” Al-Hamdan discusses some reasons why IS is attracting the youth. One major reason? Young men are attracted to violence, and IS is much more violent than Al-Qaeda:
Yes, the majority of the youth are inclined towards the ISIS, and that is because the majority of the young people have a strong impulse and are drawn towards violence, and towards rushing for maximum revenge and killing and torture without carefully considering the benefits and harms which will come as a result of their actions. And these actions of theirs in many cases are not in accordance with the Shariah, rather they stem from that which satisfies them.
He also says that Al-Qaeda leadership specifically warned against letting young men’s zeal get the better of them when waging jihad:
Hence [Al Qaeda leader] Dr. Ayman al Zawahiri warned [Al Qaeda-linked militant in Iraq] Shaykh al Zarqawi about that and he said in his letter to him that “One of the most dangerous matters for the leaders is the enthusiasm of their supporters, especially the youth who are excited and burning to support the religion of Allah. So it is important that this enthusiasm is moulded with wisdom” .
And Shaykh Usamah bin Ladin illustrated this point in a letter to [leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] Shaykh Abu Baseer al Wuhayshi saying “The enthusiasm of the youth is a necessary element to win the battles. However it should never be what determines the course of the war by making the leadership to run behind the enthusiasm of the youth. It is as the poet Al Mutanabi has said: “Thoughtfulness comes before the courage of the brave -This (thoughtfulness) comes first and that second“.
So according to Al Qaeda, the matters are not measured by enthusiasm but rather by looking at what they result into.
You see? Al Qaeda exercises restraint when carrying out violence. They do not just go around willy-nilly engaging in “maximum revenge and killing and torture.” Only after “carefully considering the benefits and harms” did Al Qaeda coordinate the 9/11 terror attacks that killed 2,996 people; or launch attacks on the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam that resulted in 224 deaths; or kill 202 people by bombing a Bali nightclub.
Can you imagine how many more might have happened if Al Qaeda were excessively violent, like IS?