Weaker al-Qaida still poses security threat

FILE - This image made from video released by Al-Jazeera television on Friday, Oct. 5, 2001 is said to show Osama bin Laden at an undisclosed location on Sept. 11, 2001. (AP Photo/Al-Jazeera via APTN)
September 9, 2011 5:29:21 PM PDT
Even though Osama bin Laden is dead and al-Qaida's central organization is unraveling, it's clear that the danger posed by offshoots remain.

When Navy SEALs killed bin Laden in May, they severely affected the al-Qaida terrorist group. Counter-terrorism officials couldn't celebrate for long: Those officials had to continue preparing for an emerging kind of danger.

Within days of the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil, the U.S. had a new public enemy number one: Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida organization.

"I want justice," former President George W. Bush said at the time. "There's an old poster out west as I recall that said 'Wanted: Dead or Alive.'"

It took almost a decade, but the pursuit paid off. In May, Navy SEALs killed bin Laden when they stormed his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Al-Qaida was dealt a serious blow.

"It's probably been a bigger blow than we thought it would be," said Daniel Benjamin with the U.S. State Department. "He was more engaged in the running of the organization than we had thought he might be."

A trove of information recovered from bin Laden's compound revealed an organization already on the ropes and in disarray.

CIA drone strikes in Pakistan have killed over a thousand militant groups in recent years, including the organization's second-in-command Atiyah Abd Al-Rahman last month.

Bin Laden's successor, Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, is currently in hiding and is presiding over what many intelligence analysts believe is a less-effective, less-cohesive organization.

"We've eliminated, or captured, scores of senior leaders," said former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. "We've driven the more and more to be more worried about their own safety than to attack us."

Military and intelligence leaders feel so confident about the fight against al-Qaida, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that with the killing or capture of 10 to 20 key leaders, the collapse of al-Qaida could be within reach.

"If we can go after them, I think we really can strategically defeat al-Qaida," Panetta said.

Others warn, even if al-Qaida is dismantled, there's a growing threat from so-called "al-Qaida 2.0," dangerous spinoff groups like al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula based in Yemen and Al-Shabaab in Somalia.

Strategies that involve recruiting more westerners for jihad and settling for smaller-scale attacks, perhaps with chemical or biological weapons, that still yield massive results.

"Their goals have not changed," said former CIA official Charlie Allen said. "Attacks will be smaller, but they will still create a great psychological damage to the population of this country and other countries."

There's still plenty of terrorists out there," Benjamin said, "and we continue to have plenty to do in that regard. I think we've made important progress, but the story is not over."

Counter-terrorism officials are saying that, so far, there is no reason to believe there is a direct connection between documents found in bin Laden's compound and the latest terror threat.


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