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Magnus Ranstorp of the Swedish National Defense College said the two terrorist groups joined because they need one another. He said it is possible al-Shabab would change its focus to meet al Qaeda’s broader agenda.

“This is a way for al-Zawahri to maintain his relevance,” he said. “It’s obvious that they [al Qaeda] are putting more efforts into North Africa, with AQIM, but also in the belt of instability and insecurity - Yemen and Somalia.”