By Peter Bergen & Emily Schneider
(Re-published from CNN Opinion, November 19, 2014)
In the many media stories about the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, much of the focus has rightly been on the thousands of foreign fighters ISIS has attracted, its brutal tactics and its robust social media presence.
But an arguably even more important development has not received the attention it deserves: the group’s widening influence across the Muslim world, driven by the numerous terrorist and insurgent organizations that have recently sworn loyalty to it.
In the past six months, ISIS has drawn into its fold some dozen groups from Algeria to Pakistan. Al Qaeda, in contrast, had been in existence for a decade before it recruited its first affiliate, Egypt’s Jihad Group, in 1998.[pullquoteright]Three other groups—al-Mujahidin in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Mujahidin in Libya and al-Mujahidin in Yemen—also recorded statements of allegiance to ISIS in November.”[/pullquoteright]And, in its 2½-decade existence, al Qaeda has only manged to add some half dozen affiliates, one of which was al Qaeda in Iraq, the parent organization of ISIS that has now split off from the core al Qaeda organization.
Indeed, just this week, an ISIS delegation met with leaders of a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban to talk about how to unify Pakistani militants, The Associated Press reported.
Also this month, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, one of the most violent militant groups in Egypt, pledged allegiance to ISIS, The New York Times reported. ABM is believed to have been responsible for an attack on a police checkpoint near Gaza last month that killed 30 Egyptian soldiers.
And ISIS has continued to expand its geographical reach. Three other groups—al-Mujahidin in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Mujahidin in Libya and al-Mujahidin in Yemen—also recorded statements of allegiance to ISIS in November, which ISIS broadcast online. Meanwhile, ISIS now controls the eastern Libyan city of Derna, not far from the Egyptian border.
And last month, six Pakistani Taliban leaders reportedly swore allegiance to ISIS in an audio message, although Shahidullah Shahid, the Pakistani Taliban’s official spokesman, said he was speaking for himself and five other Taliban leaders in the message, not for the rest of the Pakistani Taliban.
The Taliban reacted by firing Shahid, but a senior Taliban official told the BBC that “he was the most important of the five who have left us” and said that the leaders had defected because they were unhappy with senior Taliban leaders …
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Peter Bergen is CNN’s National Security Analyst, Vice President at New America Foundation, and Professor of Practice at Arizona State University. He is the author of Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for bin Laden—From 9/11 to Abbottabad. Emily Schneider (LAW ’13) is a Research Associate at New America and a 2013 INSCT graduate.