Jihadist network Al-Qaeda is positioned to overtake Daesh as the pre-eminent terrorist group threatening international security, according to a new report published on Tuesday by the UN.
Citing intelligence shared by UN member states, the report says that Al-Qaeda is experiencing a surge, in part due to the successful Taliban takeover of Afghanistan last summer amid the US withdrawal from the country. "The international context is favourable to Al-Qaida, which intends to be recognised again as the leader of global jihad," it explains.
"Al-Qaida propaganda is now better developed to compete with [Daesh] as the key actor in inspiring the international threat environment, and it may ultimately become a greater source of directed threat," the report adds. It notes that Daesh "has suffered a rapid succession of leadership losses since October 2019, with an as yet unknown impact on its operational health."
Experts believe that threats from both terrorist groups remain high, especially in conflict zones in Africa, Central and South Asia and the Levant, which are said to be the most vulnerable.
Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the former deputy and current leader of Al-Qaeda is "alive and communicating freely," the report notes in a conclusion based on his regular video messages. However, the group is not seen as an immediate global threat.
"Al-Qaida is not viewed as posing an immediate international threat from its safe haven in Afghanistan because it lacks an external operational capability and does not currently wish to cause the Taliban international difficulty or embarrassment."
Despite being defeated territorially by the combined forces of the Iraqi army, Iranian-backed paramilitaries and a US-led coalition in 2017, the UN experts say that, "[Daesh] remains a resilient and persistent threat owing to its decentralised structure and ability to organise complex attacks."
The extremist group still maintains two distinct organisational structures in Iraq and Syria, in addition to regional networks across Turkey, Afghanistan, Somalia, Africa's Lake Chad Basin, Libya, Yemen and Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, so that it can "sustain the group's global capability and reputation."