The Future of Al Qaeda

With the death of the Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in the May 2, 2011, there have been mixed reactions over the possible effects on the future of Al Qaeda and the Jihadist terrorism and counterterrorism. With this contrasting and even conflicting understanding of the nature of Al Qaeda itself, there has been little agreement on exactly the kind of security threat the group and its affiliate movements are likely to continue posing to the world. However, there is an agreement that the killing of bin Laden is not likely to have much effect on the future of Al Qaeda and its affiliate movements.

Scholars like Fawaz Gerges have argued that irrespective of its form and capabilities, Al Qaeda was already weakened by then and that Osama’s death would only work to render the force more irrelevant. He based his argument on the fact that the group has not been able to carry out even a single major attack for many years. Additionally, its present leaders like Abdul Farouk have suffered what is seen as the political marginalization and are thus unable to bring different movements together. Moreover, based on the fact that Al Qaeda has never been organized into a hierarchy, the death of Osama affects only one of its functional nodal points. It will thus not have much influence on the future of the broader network as its impact on the Al Qaeda affiliates in such countries as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia is minimal.

It is also believed that even if the group was organized in a hierarchy, another leader would simply be picked to take over from him. This has been seen through attempts to endorse Ayman al-Zawahiri as the new group leader. Moreover, even if Al Qaeda is viewed as a section of the pan-Islamist movement, this can only imply that its future is more dependent on this group and not Osama. However, it is feared that his death may trigger terrorist attacks specifically against the citizens of the US by the various groups of the affiliated jihadists. With these perspectives, the paper proposes that bin Laden’s death is likely to have no significant impact on Al Qaeda’s future.

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