Experts say the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is spreading to other countries and inspiring terrorist groups toward greater acts of brutality.
ISIS gained global attention in August by beheading two American journalists and is quickly gaining new followers, including al Qaeda's most dangerous affiliate.
Jalal Baleedi, an influential field commander in the group who supports ISIS, ordered the executions on Aug. 9.
Experts said the public beheadings are unprecedented for AQAP and provide a clear indication that ISIS’s tactics have spread to Yemen.
“This has not happened in Yemen before. There have been isolated cases of beheadings, but to have it in this structured way, this is only after ISIS came to existence. So definitely, Yemeni AQAP is taking lessons from ISIS,” said Abdul Ghani, a Yemeni political analyst and advisory board member of Human Rights Watch for the Middle East and North Africa region.
U.S. officials have said they are extremely concerned about the prospect of the two groups linking up and trading information.
“It would be dangerous to ignore the potential of a deadly merging of AQAP’s capabilities and ISIL’s Western-documented personnel, safe haven, and freedom of travel,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) told The Hill on Monday, using an alternate acronym for the group.
National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew Olsen last week said the possibility of the groups teaming up is a “grave concern” for the administration.
“We're watching that situation very closely,” he said at the Brookings Institution.
An alliance between the groups could have far-reaching consequences, according to Attorney General Eric HolderEric H. HolderTop Dem signals likely opposition to Sessions nomination Instead of 'hope and change' Obama gave progressives Trump Republicans want to grease tracks for Trump MORE.
“That’s a deadly combination, where you have people who have the technical know-how along with the people who have this kind of fervor to give their lines in support of a cause that is directed at the United States and directed at its allies,” Holder said this summer on ABC.
Experts say the debate about whether to pledge allegiance to ISIS or to Al Qaeda is playing out among jihadists around the world.
While AQAP’s chief, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, has stayed noticeably silent on ISIS, a top spiritual AQAP leader, Abdul Majid Al-Raymi, recently issued allegiance to ISIS’s leader, Abu Bakir al-Baghdadi, and asked all his Yemeni followers to follow suit, Ghani said.
That declaration could be a trial balloon for AQAP, he said.
Several other AQAP leaders in Yemen and around the world have also pledged support to ISIS since it captured Mosul in Northern Iraq in June and declared the establishment of a caliphate.
According to analysis by The Long War Journal, run by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, ISIS now has active supporters in at least 32 countries around the world, including Canada, Australia, 11 countries in Europe, five countries in the Middle East, six countries in Africa and eight countries in Asia.
On Aug. 23, the founder of the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada Syed Soharwardy said ISIS was recruiting in Canada, and at least 130 Canadians were fighting with extremist groups abroad.
According to FOX News, Texas law enforcement sent out a recent bulletin warning that ISIS militants were expressing an interest in crossing into the U.S. from Mexico.
The deadliest attack so far in Europe involved French national Mehdi Nemmouche, who killed three people at a Jewish museum in Belgium on May 24.
In Norway on July 24, security police in Norway warned of a "credible" threat of an imminent terrorist attack against targets in Norway by people connected with Islamic extremists in Syria.
There have been multiple arrests in Denmark, France, Germany, Kosovo, Luxembourg, Spain, the United Kingdom, and Bosnia related to support of ISIS or extremist groups in Iraq and Syria.
“What we have seen so far, not necessarily an alignment of other groups wholesale. We have seen individuals, including influential individuals within some of these groups that state their either alliance with ISIL, [or in] some cases, more affinity for the successes that ISIL has had and their tactics,” said Olsen.
“It’s a very dynamic situation,” he said.