Bin Ladin Killed: Snap Threat Assessment

From the OSAC Global Security Unit

Overview Usama Bin Ladin (UBL) was killed yesterday in a raid by U.S. special operations forces on a fortified mansion approximately 30 miles north of Islamabad, Pakistan. Forensic testing of the remains confirmed his identity. The body was buried at sea within 24 hours of death, in accordance with Islamic traditions. In the immediate aftermath, many OSAC constituents have expressed relief in the knowledge of the death of the world’s foremost terrorist. At the same time, there has been a significant call for continued vigilance and recognition that this event does not diminish the overall worldwide terrorist threat. Outlook As President Obama stated in his address last night: The death of Bin Ladin marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s effort to defeat al-Qa’ida. But his death does not mark the end of our effort. There’s no doubt that al-Qa’ida will continue to pursue attacks against us. We must and we will remain vigilant at home and abroad. The historical significance of UBL’s death is certain, but it does not mean the end to al-Qa’ida (AQ) nor an end to the group’s affiliated networks. Most terrorism experts agree that for many years UBL has acted mostly as a symbolic and inspirational figurehead for global Islamic extremists, and has not been centrally involved in operational planning for AQ. Accordingly, his death does not represent a significant tactical blow to the organization; however, it is unclear how AQ Central will be able to replace his iconic charisma and leadership. Near-term Threat of Reprisal Attacks In response to the news of UBL’s death, leaders in Europe have quickly issued statements calling for increased vigilance for what they characterized as a heightened terrorist risk from AQ and its affiliated groups. However, one must note that European leaders have issued much more dire warnings of terrorist threats across the continent in the past year, thus this does not currently mark an exceptionally acute threat. The U.S. private sector’s greatest risk at this time is likely to be potential wrong place-wrong time exposure of staff to attacks aimed at soft targets in countries already associated with elevated terrorist threats. Pakistan is likely to face the most significant near-term threat of reprisal attacks by AQ. Following media reports of Pakistan’s possible complicity or participation with the U.S. in locating, monitoring, and killing UBL, that country’s political and security leadership are likely facing the most immediate and tangible threat of near-term attack by AQ elements. Cooperation with the U.S. may enrage militants and promote anti-American sentiments, especially following President Zardari statement that “this is a good and historic day for both of our nations.” Further Erosion of Ideological Support for AQ UBL’s death creates an important leadership vacuum at a time when the AQ ideology, or “brand,” is already suffering according to some analysts as a result of the popular uprisings across the Middle East and North Africa. Protests and activists in these uprisings have called for radical change in their countries


not in the name of AQ or radical Islam, but in the name of freedom, opportunity, and democracy. Demonstrators have almost without exception ignored AQ’s ideological call to use violence in opposition to secular or “apostate” regimes in Muslim lands.


While AQ has been calling for violent overthrow of regimes for more than two decades without success, largely peaceful demonstrators have already toppled regimes in Tunisia and Egypt in a matter of weeks and are currently threatening the rule of unpopular leaders in Libya, Syria, and Yemen. As a result of these successes, observers have noted an apparent decline in popular support for AQ in Arab and Muslim countries as the organization has been largely sidelined by local activism in the Arab revolutions and protest movements. Even regional media such as


al-Jazeera have noted that the “Arab Spring” has also gone far in invalidating the AQ ideology of violence in rebellion.


Possible Rise of AQ Affiliates


The jihadist community has vowed to exact revenge, describing UBL as “the number one martyr for AQ because he is stronger dead than alive.” However, attention should be paid to the activities of franchise groups, primarily al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), as they have been the most successful AQ offshoot of late. One of AQAP’s most notable leaders,


Anwar al-Aulaqi, has been the most public face of any AQ-affiliated group in recent years and stands to possibly rise to greater prominence in assuming a more notable leadership mantle for the global terrorist movement following the death of UBL.


Al-Aulaqi, in conjunction with AQAP’s media campaign through its Inspire magazine, has been a strong advocate in favor of small-cell and lone wolf “do-it-yourself” terrorism. This tactical ideology may rise in prominence along with al-Aulaqi’s greater stature


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