There is no question that Osama bin Laden’s death has dealt a big blow to the global terrorist network that he created. But more than that, Osama bin Laden came to symbolize, for thousands of committed jihadis and the global anti-US community, an irresistible force that brought the world’s most powerful nation to its knees. To that extent, the inspirational quality of al-Qaida could be diminished.
It is expected that Ayman al Zawahiri will take over officially, though he has effectively been the operations head of al-Qaida for some time.
Bin Laden’s death, for all the jihadis that worked under him and those that sprang up inspired by him, is likely to spur them to undertake violent reprisal attacks against US and Pakistan targets in the immediate future. Bill Roggio , counter-terrorism analyst and editor of The Long War Journal said, “I expect al-Qaida and allied terror groups to strike at both US and Pakistani targets for the death of bin Laden. We should expect these attacks to occur as soon as possible as al-Qaida will want to exact revenge and change the narrative of a strategic setback due to the death of their leader.”
Roggio says these attacks can ideally happen anywhere in the world, given al-Qaida’s global reach, and strong networks. “While ideally al-Qaida would like to strike in the US, this has proven difficult for the terror group in the recent past. It is more likely that US interests overseas, as well as the Pakistani government , will be the primary targets. Expect attacks where al-Qaida and its allied and affiliates maintain a strong presence and can strike quickly: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yemen may be the primary location of these revenge attacks.”
The general expectation is that the decapitation strike on al-Qaida will not cripple it. Al-Qaida has evolved from being an organization to an ideology and has become decentralized. For instance Al Shabaab in Somalia may not be led by Bin Laden, but it has declared its allegiance to al-Qaida and operates on a more local level. The same is true in Yemen, although the leader of the AQAP (al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula) Anwar Awlaki has global leadership aspirations. Over the years, therefore, many regional and local terror groups have sprouted, with al-Qaida as their ruling ideology. These will likely continue, and could become more virulent in the coming days.
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, expert in terrorist radicalization, said to TOI, “al-Qaida would certainly like to retaliate for this; the key question is how potent their capabilities to do so are. It’s worth noting that never before has the group successfully carried out an immediate retaliatory strike. If they attempt something significant, it’s more likely to occur in Europe, Africa or the Middle East than in the continental US.”
The Taliban, which has become much closer to al-Qaida has vowed revenge in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In the past couple of years, as US and Pakistani actions have intensified in the FATA regions in Pakistan, terror groups with different foundational agendas have come together and there have been reports of joint training, resources and even operations. Therefore, Haqqani network of the Afghan Taliban has had close ties with some of the Pakistan Taliban groups, while groups like LeT, which has never attacked Pakistani interests have been seen to be getting closer to the Taliban and al-Qaida. They could take up revenge attacks in support of al-Qaida.
In the Palestinian territories, Hamas , the militant organization supported by Iran has condemned the killing of bin Laden, calling it a “murder” and describing him as a “hero.” If they engage in revenge attacks, Israel would be the most obvious victim. Agencies