After nine-and-a-half years of pursuit, one of the world’s most dangerous men reaped what he sowed, early yesterday morning. Osama bin Laden, the exiled Saudi millionaire who left a trail of death and devastation behind him, is dead.
Despite what is already being hailed as a victory for embattled US President Barack Obama, the death of the al-Qaeda leader will not bring an end to the threat of international terrorism for several reasons — some of which were probably foreseen by bin Laden himself.
Since the devastating Sept. 11 terror attacks on the US, which reinvigorated the hunt for a man who had already been sought by the US for about a decade, bin Laden’s organization has become increasingly decentralized, so much so that terrorism experts and intelligence agencies are often at a loss to determine whether certain terrorist organizations are part of bin Laden’s network or not.
In many instances, despite the fact that some members of terror organizations received training at al-Qaeda terror camps in the 1990s, many of the organizations they formed have proven themselves to be financially and tactically independent, meaning that they have not relied on bin Laden for financial support or operational planning.
As such, despite bin Laden’s death, those terrorist organizations that belong to the “al-Qaeda” franchise only inasmuch as they share certain aspects of its ideology, will continue to exist and threaten mayhem.
What this means is that as long as the conditions that motivate groups to resort to terrorism are not addressed, the slaying of one man, however influential a rallying figure he may have been, or indeed still proves to be, the instrument of terror will not go away.
Despite claims by former US president George W. Bush’s administration and others that al-Qaeda was targeting the West because it abhorred its democracy and freedom, there is ample evidence that for the great majority of those who support Islamic extremist organizations, the real reasons for that support are far more pragmatic and localized than ideological. Among these factors are opposition to repressive regimes propped up by the West and wars of national liberation pitting weak oppositions against a modern military (again often funded by the West).
The widening gap between rich and poor that is now occurring on a global scale, which is often, if somewhat unfairly, blamed on US-style capitalism, also remains an object of hatred for many have-nots, pushing some to adopt violence as a last, desperate resort. Unless that iniquity is resolved, poverty will continue to feed the sense of injustice that, for some, apparently makes commiting violence against civilians a just cause.
Terrorist organizations often vow revenge following the death of their leader and there is no reason to believe that al-Qaeda will be an exception.
Aside from the need for the new leadership to prove its mettle, in order to remain relevant such organizations must prove to their “audience” that they remain a threat. For terrorist groups, nothing signals relevance more than turning rhetoric into action.
Already, Interpol has warned of a “heightened terror risk” amid the high likelihood of reprisals.
Undoubtedly, al-Qaeda has been struck a serious blow with the killing of bin Laden and this will likely have an impact on its finances. However, this development by no means diminishes the threat posed by global terror.