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. That organization, of which al-Qaida forms the epicenter, is bolstered
by regional jihadist terrorist groups including those throughout the Arabian
Peninsula, headquartered in Yemen and headed by the US-born Anwar al-Awlaki, the
North African organization created on the basis of the Algerian-based Al-Qaida
Organization in the Islamic Maghreb, and in Iraq.
US will aim to 'destroy' al-Qaida post-bin Laden
The symbol is dead, but the global network lives on
How will Al-Qaida plan attacks without bin Laden?
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.
This includes, for example, the
attempted bombing of an airliner over Detroit on December 25, 2009, the car bomb
in New York’s Times Square that failed to explode on May 1, 2010, and last
October’s attempted attacks on passenger and freight aircraft using explosives
hidden in printers.
All of these were designed and planned by al-Qaida
based in Yemen.
Bin Laden’s assassination does not affect the
capabilities of these organizations and, in fact, only raises their motivation
to perpetrate revenge attacks.
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 incite and initiate suicide
operations, but do so without direction from, or operational connection to,
This complex jihad terrorist network has now lost its global
leader and symbol, but not its operational capability. Therefore one must
consider that terrorist elements will try to avenge the death of their leader in
In the near future, homegrown terrorists will likely try to
carry out shooting attacks, plant bombs and perhaps even attempt suicide
attacks. These attacks will target American sites and symbols in Arab and Muslim
countries such as embassies, foreign tourists and companies such as McDonald’s
or Coca-Cola. Alternatively, attacks might be carried out in the West by radical
Islamic elements stemming from within the local Muslim community.
possibility is that jihadist organizations maintaining operational relations
with al-Qaida will try to carry out more complex and serious attacks against
American and Western targets across the globe, especially within the United
In the 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.
“boomerang effects” occur when terrorist organizations become 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 deaths if and when they were eliminated.
al-Qaida has the operational capability required to carry out such 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 its high motivation, al- Qaida will face difficulty carrying out
Another question is whether bin Laden’s assassination highlights
the Obama administration’s successful counter-terrorism strategy.
can be no doubt that the elimination in Pakistan of al-Qaida’s leader reflects
high US intelligence and operational capabilities.
require accurate, timely intelligence and close coordination between
intelligence agencies and operations forces. For this alone, American 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 and under the nose of US intelligence deployed in the
country, indicates both the limits of US intelligence and Pakistan’s dual policy
of dealing with terrorism.
It is 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 have taken place only now.
President Obama is trying
to paint this operational success as proof of his administration’s
counterterrorism policy. This policy is justified, according to the White
House’s advisor on terrorism. He claimed the US is not fighting Islamists and
jihadists, but rather al-Qaida terrorists.
But while this policy could
possibly “crush the serpent’s head,” it will not kill its body.
will simply grow new heads and continue to multiply.
As Obama correctly
insists, America and the West are not at war with Islam, but they must recognize
that they are engaged in a long and exhausting 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 about engaging in violence and terror to achieve these goals. Ultimately,
the outcome of this war of attrition remains uncertain.Dr. Boaz Ganor is
the founder and executive director of the International Policy Institute for
Counter-Terrorism. He also serves as deputy dean of the Lauder School of
Government, Diplomacy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.