May 02, 2011

Al Qaeda Network Lives on after bin Laden

Originally published in The Enterprise Blog

The United States and the rest of the world are better off with Osama bin Laden dead. This welcome development in the effort to defeat militant Islamism is a testament to the sacrifice and bravery of countless numbers of American men and women who work to keep the United States and our allies safe.

The successful mission that killed bin Laden, however, does not necessarily spell defeat for the al Qaeda network. Al Qaeda’s evolution since 9/11 has resulted in the rise of largely independent franchises that pose a serious threat. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), for instance, has an established leadership core in Yemen that has coordinated multiple attacks on the United States in the last few years. Indeed, amid the unrest in Yemen that has allowed AQAP to operate more freely, U.S. signals intelligence picked up on information that pointed to a possible AQAP attack on the United States, beyond the chatter that is typically picked up.

Within Pakistan, the al Qaeda network’s capacity to coordinate attacks is not confined to a single compound in Abbottabad. On Friday, I wrote about the al Qaeda cell detained by German authorities who described the three operatives as posing a concrete, immediate threat. The leader of that cell had traveled to Waziristan, Pakistan, for training and coordination and reportedly took orders from al Qaeda leaders there. As this case demonstrated, the broader al Qaeda network’s safe havens, not individual leaders like bin Laden, serve as the most important asset for terrorists who pose a threat to the West.

In short: justice has been rightly meted out, but the fight goes on.

Maseh Zarif is research manager for AEI’s Critical Threats Project.

Thumbnail image of Osama bin Laden from