Bin Laden wanted poster 311 R.
(photo credit: Reuters)
Even without its infamous leader, al-Qaida continues to operate.
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Osama bin Laden
did not only establish al-Qaida. He took the idea of a global Islamic caliphate
and turned it into an operational plan. He became a role model, the
representative of a Jihadist vision shared by millions of
Above all, bin Laden established a global Jihad terror
network. The organization, of which al-Qaida serves as its epicenter, is
bolstered by other regional Jihadist terrorist groups including those throughout
the Arabian Peninsula, headquartered in Yemen and headed by the Awlaaki, the
Maghreb organization created on the basis of the Algerian GSPC, and in
Notably, these organizations were more active in recent years and
are perhaps more dangerous than the core al-Qaida group whose leadership was
busy worrying about self-preservation, issuing false threats and inciting Muslim
extremists around the world to carry out terrorist attacks.
includes, for example, the recent attempted attack on passenger and freight
aircraft using explosives hidden in printers, the attempted bombing of an
in Detroit and a car bomb in New York’s Times Square. All of these
attempts were designed and planned by al-Qaida based in Yemen.
Laden's assassination does not affect the capabilities of these organizations
and, in fact, only raises their motivation to perpetrate revenge
Beyond the core circle of al-Qaida and its proxies, there exists
throughout the Western world, a vast network of independent and local Jihadists
operating in Muslim communities. Inspired by al-Qaida leaders, independent
homegrown terrorists personally incite and initiate suicide operations but do so
without direction from or operational connection to al-Qaida.
complex Jihad terrorist network has now lost its global leader and symbol but
not its terrorist capability. Therefore, it must be considered that terrorist
elements will try to avenge the death of their leader in three ways. In the near
future, home-grown terrorists will likely try to carry out shooting attacks,
plant explosive devices and perhaps even attempt suicide attacks. These attempts
target American sites and symbols in Arab and Muslim countries such as
embassies, tourists and companies such as McDonalds or Coca Cola. Alternatively,
attacks might be carried out in the West by radical Islamic elements stemming
from within the local Muslim community.
Another possibility is that
Jihadist organizations maintaining operational relations with al-Qaida will try
to perpetrate more complex and serious attacks against American and Western
targets across the globe, especially within the United States.
long term, it is more than likely that core al-Qaida elements, led by bin
Laden's successor and deputy, Ayman al Zawahiri, likely the organization's
strategic ideologue, will try to carry out a mega-attack based on the September
11 model to avenge bin Laden’s assassination.
This "boomerang effect"
occurs when terrorist organizations are more motivated to take revenge in
response to counter-terrorism activities or the targeted killing of a leader. In
this case, the motivation of al Qaida’s core group to carry out a mega terrorist
attack is at its peak. It is assumed that leaders of the organization and
possibly bin Laden himself had prepared contingency plans to avenge their death
if and when eliminated. But whether al-Qaida has the operational capability
required to carry out an attack is questionable. If we judge by the gap between
the threats made by bin Laden and Zawahiri and their inability to perpetrate
them in recent years, it is possible that despite their high motivation,
al-Qaida will face difficulty carrying out attacks.
Another question is
whether bin Laden’s assassination highlights the Obama administration’s
successful counter-terrorism strategy. There can be no doubt that the elimination
of al-Qaida’s leader in Pakistan reflects high US intelligence and operational
capabilities. Such operations require accurate, timely intelligence and close
coordination between intelligence agencies and operations forces. For this
alone, US security officials should be commended.
But it took the
US 10 long years since September 11 to locate bin Laden and execute this
successful operation. And the fact that bin Laden was probably in a suburb near
Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, for a lengthy period of time and under the nose
of US intelligence deployed in Pakistan, indicates both the limits of US
intelligence and Pakistan’s dual policy of dealing with terrorism.
plausible to believe that if Pakistan was a true US ally and had made every
effort to help locate bin Laden, this operation would not only now have taken
place. President Obama is trying to paint this operational success as proof of
his administration's counter-terrorism policy.
This policy is justifiable,
according to the White House’s adviser on terrorism. He claimed the US is not
fighting Islamists and Jihadists, but rather, al-Qaida terrorists. This policy
could possibly “crush the serpent's head” but it will not kill its body. The
body will simply grow new heads and will continue to multiply.
correctly insists, America and the West are not at war with Islam, but must
recognize that they are engaged in a long and exhaustive battle against a broad
group of organizations, political movements, radical activists and sympathizers
who seek the establishment of an Islamist caliphate throughout the world and who
are not shy to engage in violence and terror to achieve these goals. Ultimately,
the outcome of this war of attrition remains uncertain.
The writer is the founder and Executive Director of the International Policy
Institute for Counter-Terrorism. He also serves as Deputy Dean, Lauder School of
Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center