Paris: Officials, experts and Islamist extremists warned Monday that the Western powers should brace themselves for revenge attacks by supporters of slain Al-Qaeda kingpin Osama bin Laden.
International police agency Interpol alerted national forces to “a heightened terror risk from Al-Qaeda affiliated or Al-Qaeda inspired terrorists as a result of bin Laden’s death.”
Several countries announced they were stepping up security measures in the wake of Sunday’s US military operation, in which commandos shot dead bin Laden in an assault on his Pakistani villa hideout.
Britain confirmed it was taking extra precautions at its embassies around the world, and Japan that its military bases were on heightened alert.
British foreign secretary William Hague said: “This is a very serious blow to Al-Qaeda but, like any organisation that has suffered a serious blow, they will want to show in some way that they are still able to operate.”
Hague’s French counterpart, Alain Juppe, also warned against “excessive optimism” in the wake of the killing, saying: “Al-Qaeda still exists. There are deputies. There are structures.”
Meanwhile, supporters of bin Laden’s violent campaign took to militant Internet sites to vow revenge.
“The lions will remain lions and will continue moving in the footsteps of Osama. O Allah, America will not enjoy safety and security until we live it in Palestine,” one user wrote on the Shumukh al-Islam forum.
“The celebrations are amusing. Cheer all you want infidel, you only have a limited amount of time in this life in which to do it,” another wrote.
While some experts said that bin Laden’s death would damage Al-Qaeda’s brand image, and perhaps lead the organisation to fracture still further along geographical lines, most predicted attacks would continue.
“The United States will unfortunately suffer, because Jihadists have a tendency to avenge their slain chiefs,” warned Matthieu Guidere, a French academic who specialises in the Arab world.
After the death of the leader of Al-Qaeda’s group in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarkawi, in April 2006, his successor launched a wave of suicide attacks against US and Iraqi targets, Guidere noted.
And although the figurehead of the operation has died in a plush Pakistani mountain resort and garrison town north of Islamabad, Al-Qaeda militants in the field have long been acting independently.
“On a tactical level, the death of bin Laden is not a decisive victory, as for many years he has not been an operational leader and the power has been in the hands of local commanders,” Guidere said.
Jean-Pierre Filiu, a professor at the Sciences-Po school in Paris and author of a book on Al-Qaeda, said bin Laden’s death would accelerate the group’s existing division into separate fighting entities.
“His number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is Egyptian and won’t be able to impose his will in a comparable way,” he explained.
The group now has a Pakistani “centre” more divorced than before from Arab concerns, an Iraqi branch identified with the Sunni side in a sectarian war against Shiites and a Yemeni-dominated “Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula”.
In North Africa, “Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb” boasts of its ties to the slain Saudi militant, but was already seen as a largely independent group born out of an existing regional armed Islamist movement.
“Osama bin Laden’s leadership was in truth ideological. He was the only one able to unite all the disparate groups around the world,” said anti-terrorist judge Marc Trevidic, saying Al-Qaeda had lost a brand label.
Nevertheless, Frank Faulkner, a senior lecturer in sociology and terrorism studies at the University of Derby in Britain, told the Press Association that revenge attacks were inevitable.
“It’s just a case of when and where,” he said.