In the wake of the killing of Osama Bin Laden, there is a debate as to the extent that Bin Laden was operationally in charge of Al Qaeda.
It seems apparent that Bin Laden was actively communicating with Al Qaeda elements, but it wasn’t in real time. He used a system of couriers to relay messages via email and the internet, but went to great pains to securely communicate. This means no direct internet connection and no phones, cellular, satellite or landline.
This would preclude any real dialogue with operators and cells. It seems as if Bin Laden was able to communicate in general terms about his “commander’s intent,” but was in no position to take part in detailed planning. Bin Laden wanted his followers to carry out mass casualty attacks, he wanted the attacks to occur on important anniversaries and holidays, and he was especially interested in attacks on trains, which is not hard to believe given that Jihadists have been targeting trains in the UK, Spain, France, Germany and India in recent years.
Unfortunately, what this probably means is that the loss of Bin Laden will not operationally hinder Al Qaeda. It may hurt the group’s morale and it may erode some of the group’s financial and moral support, but it might also energize those who seek to avenge Bin Laden’s death at the hands of US special operations forces.
Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri still lives and he has been by far more active in communicating in recent years than Bin Laden was. Anwar Al-Awlaki is still at large in Yemen and he has been the one who has successfully trained and inspired Jihadi attacks on US targets in recent years, such as the Fort Hood Jihadi murderer, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the Underwear Bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, Little Rock Jihadist murderer, Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad (aka Carlos Bledsoe) and the unsuccessful plot to send bombs embedded in printer cartridges from Yemen to the US on board cargo and passenger airliners.
Muslim Brotherhood apologist Peter Bergen maintains that Awlaki is a small player and that the war on terror should end with the killing of Bin Laden, but this is hardly surprising given that Bergen essentially built a career around Bin Laden, including perpetuating the illusion that Bergen himself was some sort of expert on Jihad because he had managed to spend a few hours with Bin Laden in a tent 13 years ago or so.
On top of all this, there is the additional issue of groups and organizations sympathetic to Al Qaeda and allied with Al Qaeda, but not actually part of Al Qaeda. Two significant organizations fall into this category: the Taliban and Lashkar e Taiba.
The Taliban need no introduction, but many people do not realize two things about the Taliban: Taliban leader Mullah Omar specifically declined to merge with Al Qaeda and refused to take an oath of loyalty to Bin Laden. Because of this, Bin Laden exercised no operational control over the Taliban. Second, the failed Times Square bomb plot appears to have been a Taliban operation, vice an Al Qaeda operation.
The significance of this is that the Taliban are willing and able to attempt terrorist attacks here in America. Adding to this worry is the recent news that six American Muslims, including Imams at a Florida mosque, appear to have been raising money for the Taliban. Moreover, there is no ignoring the Taliban’s recent bombing attack against a Pakistani paramilitary training facility in northern Pakistan, which was declared as vengeance for Bin Laden’s death–with the promise of more to come.
Unfortunately, the slaying of Osama Bin Laden will have no operational impact on Taliban operations.
Then there is Lashkar e Taiba, the Pakistani Jihadi terrorist group which carried out the horrific Mumbai attacks. Again, this is a group that is often misidentified as an Al Qaeda affiliate, but, like the Taliban, LeT is a separate, standalone organization that declined to pledge any oath to Osama Bin Laden.
What does LeT have to do with America? Two things:
1. The Jihadist who conducted recon ahead of the Mumbai attacks was an American from Chicago named David Coleman Headley.
In fact, Headley also conducted recon on an Indian nuclear power plant as well.
2. LeT is known to be active in America.
Members of the group fought against US forces in Iraq back in 2004. The group is known to have a presence in Germany and the UK as well.
These are just two examples of Jihadi organizations that pose a threat to America that will not be impacted at all by the death of Bin Laden.
Then there is the “lone wolf” threat, the so-called “sudden jihad syndrome” threat in which enraged Muslims commit acts of violence because they were inspired by organizations like Al Qaeda and people like Osama Bin Laden. There have been examples of this, the most recent being the case of a Yemeni-American who tried to storm the cockpit door of an American Airlines flight whilst screaming “AllahuAkbar!” Fortunately, the reinforced door was securely locked and there were a retired Secret Service agent and retired police officer on board who subdued the subject.
Officials have issued warnings about such “lone wolf” attacks in the wake of Bin Laden getting his brains blown out.
What of Al Qaeda itself? At least four Al Qaeda affiliates have either declared their intent to avenge Bin Laden’s death or issued veiled threats to carry on with the Jihad:
Somalia’s Al Shabaab, including Daphne, Alabama-born Jihadist, Abu Mansur Al-Amriki, mourned Bin Laden’s passing in a radio communication, confirming, incidentally, Al Qaeda’s role in fighting US forces in Somalia way back in 1993.
In Indonesia, Jemmaah Islamiyah leader Abu Bakar Bashir, mourned Bin Laden and issued a veiled threat.
And, finally, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (which has been especially active in hostage taking in recent months and years) and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, both vowed to carry on with Jihad after Bin Laden’s death.
None of this takes two other significant Jihadi terrorist threats into account: Hezbollah and HAMAS.
Hezbollah has not issued any comments on Bin Laden’s death, but a former Hezbollah leader mourned Bin Laden as a hero who defended Islam.
Hezbollah has not targeted Americans with terrorism in recent years, but they did take an active combat and advisory role against US forces in Iraq and they are believed to have a substantial presence inside the USA. Most recently, reports have once again surfaced of the group’s presence along the American-Mexico border.
What could touch off renewed attacks by Hezbollah? A confrontation with Iran for one.
The same can be said for the Palestinian Jihadist terrorist group HAMAS. Like Hezbollah, HAMAS is greatly dependent on Iran for financing, arms and training. Any confrontation with Iran carries with it the danger of HAMAS terror attacks. Many Americans do not remember that Palestinian terrorists used to target Americans with regularity. They stopped, not out of love for America, but to avoid being targeted by American power. HAMAS has the same basic goals as Al Qaeda and issued a eulogy honoring Bin Laden in which they bestowed upon him the honorific title “Sheikh.”
HAMAS is known to have conducted extensive fundraising inside America and, like Hezbollah, is believed to have a major presence inside our country.
So, we have no answers but certainly some educated guesses:
- Bin Laden was unlikely to have played an active operational role in Al Qaeda in recent times; most likely he was limited to expressing “commander’s intent” via intermediaries with little or no direct contact with operatives around the globe.
- The Jihad will continue. Al Qaeda and its affiliates have pledged to continue the Jihad and allied Jihadist groups still pose an independent threat above and beyond Al Qaeda. In fact Bin Laden’s death may ironically spur them to action. This says nothing of the threat from Jihadists that were not aligned with Bin Laden, such as Hezbollah and HAMAS, who pose an ongoing, if dormant, threat to Americans.
Now is no time to rest or become complacent. Just the opposite.