After years of hardship and decline for al-Qaeda, which was rebuked by Iraqis and isolated by a U.S. campaign in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the group appears to be making some potentially significant inroads. It is exploiting the chaos and militancy in Syria and in the Western Sahel, a region of West Africa that includes Mali and Algeria that is difficult to govern.
The Washington Post's Greg Miller and Joby Warrick reported Sunday on these larger changes, how they're happening and what they might mean. They also worked with The Post's graphics team on a map of al-Qaeda's global network of alliances and proxies, indicating their best assessment of where the group's reach is expanding and where it's receding. Here's the map:
The map tells two big, important stories: First, there's al-Qaeda's global decline, apparently accelerated by an aggressive U.S.-led campaign against them and by popular Muslim-world repudiation of the group's violence. Second, the map shows the terrorist group's ability to still build connections in new regions. That doesn't contradict the larger narrative of decline, but it is an important reminder of al-Qaeda's persistence and its knack for exploiting turmoil in a part of the world that has plenty of it.
Here's the capsule information on the areas that show the group's rising influence: Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the West African branch, took that name in 2007 and has its roots in local conflicts; it's still not clear how highly it prioritizes al-Qaeda's global mission. In Syria, some rebel groups are thought to be exchanging messages with tribal areas of Pakistan where the al-Qaeda central leadership is thought to be hiding out. As the conflict wears on, extremists within the rebellion seem to be rising.
There's much more in the second half of the al-Qaeda infographic, which briefly and authoritatively discusses the background and recent trends in al-Qaeda's relationships in Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan-Pakistan and some parts of Southeast Asia.
So is this map good news or bad news? It all depends on what happens in those green-colored regions. Read the Sunday story in full here.