A fighter of the Syrian Islamist rebel group Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, the former al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, rides in an armoured vehicle southwestern Aleppo, Syria, August 2016. 
Ammar Abdullah / REUTERS

Although the United States has focused its efforts on defeating the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), al Qaeda has quietly lingered on and is attempting to make a comeback. But whether it will succeed is up for debate. Assessments about its future vary between two broad camps. Some, such as Georgetown University’s Daniel Byman, maintain that the group has been in decline because of limited popular support, effective counterterrorism efforts by the United States and other countries, and al Qaeda’s killing of Muslim civilians. He concludes that there is “good reason to be optimistic that al Qaeda’s decline is for real and might even be permanent.”

Others, such as former FBI agent Ali Soufan, disagree. Soufan contends that al Qaeda is transitioning from a small terrorist outfit with struggling affiliates to a potent transnational network of branches that has gained in numbers and fighting strength and

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