In the wake of Osama bin Laden’s death yesterday in Pakistan, there are lingering questions about what remains of his Al Qaeda network, and whether the terrorist group maintains sufficient strength to retaliate against the United States.
The Observer spoke with a few national security and terrorism experts, who posited that while remaining Al Qaeda forces may attempt to retaliate, the death of the terrorist leader may indeed have “cut the head off the snake.”
“The world is indeed a better place without Osama bin Laden,” said terrorism expert Dr. Hassan Abbas, who is a Bernard Schwartz fellow at the New York-based Asia Society. “There may be a brief upsurge in terrorist activity around the world as a reaction from members of Al Qaeda and its affiliates, but overall his death will prove demoralizing for the terrorist group.”
Others said that bin Laden’s death will likely have a decentralizing effect on remaining Al Qaeda forces and allies. Bin Laden was an extraordinarily charismatic leader who had the power to unite different factions, and he will be difficult–perhaps impossible–to replace. This may well lead to the demise of bin Laden’s movement, but it may also motivate remaining forces to retaliate.
“I would expect that whoever replaces bin Laden will not really be able to be as effective a leader as bin Laden was,” said Dr. Vanda Felbab-Brown, a foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Institute. “I don’t think that we can at all conclude that the demise of bin Laden means the end of Salafi or Al Qaeda activity around the world, including against the United States.”
She added, “In fact, they will be very highly motivated to show that they aren’t finished.”
Dr. Felbab-Brown has noted, however, that the death of bin Laden may lead to a severance between Al Qaeda and the Taliban, which has been a goal for the U.S. Other experts aren’t so sure that remaining Al Qaeda forces will have the capabilities to carry out the attacks.
“Al Qaeda has been trying for some time now to mount attacks,” said Dr. Angel Rabasa, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation. “They have, I think, an added motivation with bin Laden’s killing, but I don’t know that they have any enhanced capabilities to do that.”
There was general agreement that the Obama administration should release the photos of bin Laden’s body–to disprove conspiracy theorists, and to drive home the reality of the situation with the American public.
“At the end of the day, this is a moment of justice in the world,” said Dr. Felbab-Brown. “And people should be allowed to express the catharsis.”