UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Al-Qaida's recruitment of foreign fighters has expanded the terrorist network's global reach and could lead to new pan-Arab and pan-European networks of extremists, the chair of the U.N. committee monitoring sanctions against al-Qaida said Wednesday.
Australia's U.N. Ambassador Gary Quinlan told the U.N. Security Council that countries in North Africa, the Middle East and Europe are already grappling with the reality of returning "battle hardened foreign fighters."
He said there is a "trend towards ever-increasing recruitment of foreign fighters" by al-Qaida and its affiliates in "a number of theaters of operation," particularly in Syria.
A recent report by U.N. experts monitoring sanctions against al-Qaida pointed to large numbers of foreigners who have joined Jabhat al-Nusra, an affiliate of al-Qaida in Iraq that has been fighting against Syrian President Bashar Assad's government.
"As thousands of foreign fighters engage in conflict alongside local militants," Quinlan said, "ties are established that the monitoring team predicts could lead to new pan-Arab and pan-European networks of extremists."
His report to the council follows last week's Security Council decision officially declaring Boko Haram a terrorist group linked to al-Qaida. It imposed sanctions against the Islamic extremists who have carried out a wave of deadly attacks and the recent abduction of nearly 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria.
President Barack Obama told West Point graduates Wednesday that as the threat of terrorism has shifted from a centralized al-Qaida to an array of affiliates, the U.S. must adapt.
Quinlan said al-Qaida and its affiliates have become adept at taking advantage of shifting political situations and opportunities to bolster their activities.
As an example of al-Qaida's adaptability, Quinlan pointed to the movement of militant members of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb away from Mali and Algeria to southern Libya where they have regrouped.
The recent report by U.N. experts also highlighted the generational shift in al-Qaida's leaders, with top posts being taken up by men in their late 30s and 40s who come to the job with new philosophical perspectives and techniques to reach out to potential followers, he said.
In northern Nigeria, for example, a new generation of younger Boko Haram militants "has resulted in increased propensity for violence and less tolerance for local religious leadership," Quinlan said.
He said mid-level commanders with al-Qaida affiliates in Africa and Asia are bringing "technological knowledge and a focus on innovative attack planning."
While the al-Qaida network is more splintered, he said, its diverse and localized recruitment means the organization "is more durable than before."