Washington: With the killing of Osama bin Laden on Sunday, Al-Qaeda has suffered a body blow but US officials and analysts said the damaged terror network could still stage a devastating attack.
In announcing the US operation that killed Al-Qaeda’s architect at a Pakistan compound, President Barack Obama said “no doubt that Al-Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us” and vowed to remain “vigilant.”
US officials acknowledged that the terror threat against the United States could increase in the raid’s aftermath, with Al-Qaeda seeking to retaliate.
“Al Qaeda operatives and sympathizers may try to respond violently to avenge bin Laden’s death, and other terrorist leaders may try to accelerate their efforts to strike the United States,” a senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told reporters.
Al-Qaeda has not managed to pull off a strike on targets inside the United States since the attacks of 11 September 2001, with analysts describing the organization as under increasing pressure and seriously weakened.
Before Sunday’s raid, numerous senior figures in Al-Qaeda had been killed amid a relentless bombing campaign by US drone aircraft in northwest Afghanistan.
“It’s a significant killing, especially because the trend has been so heavily against Al-Qaeda in the last couple of years,” said Seth Jones, a former Pentagon official who advised special forces in Afghanistan.
But it does not mean that “plotting is not still going on,” said Jones, a senior fellow at Rand Corporation, a US think tank.
“None of this means that terrorism will end against the United States,” he said.
But the role of Al-Qaeda’s headquarters in Pakistan may begin to recede, he added.
“The role of Pakistan as the central hub may decrease,” Jones said, with branches in Yemen or elsewhere operating “more autonomously.”
Al-Qaeda’s affiliates, including its outfit in Yemen, along with allied groups such as Laskha-e-Taiba and the Pakistani Taliban have emerged as growing threats and have been linked to recent failed plots against the United States.
Al-Qaeda enjoyed more recruits after 9/11 and the US invasion of Iraq, but bin Laden’s successors will be anxious to stage an attack to rally extremist sympathizers and counter any perception of weakness, Jones said.
“With a blow like this, it will cause them to desperately search for efforts to boost their recruitment base. One of the ways is to stage an attack,” said Jones.
Author Peter Bergen, who has written and reported extensively about Bin Laden, said Al-Qaeda would be hard-pressed to replace him with someone of sufficient influence.
“The big question is whether or not he will end up being the martyr he desired to be,” Bergen said in an interview on CNN.