What does the death of Osama bin Laden mean for Al Qaeda? A sampling of early reactions:
NYU terrorism expert Paul Cruikshank: “The threat of al Qaeda won’t go away anytime soon, as the thwarting of a serious al Qaeda plot against Germany last week demonstrated. Bin Laden’s ideology has been spread too wide for that. But without the guiding hand of its founder, the al Qaeda organization may now begin to unravel.” [CNN]
Counter-terrorism expert Daveed Gartenstein-Ross: “Bin Laden’s death does not close this chapter in history. Two points are worth bearing in mind. First, bin Laden’s strategic ideas for beating a superpower (which U.S. planners never fully understood) have permeated his organization, and are widely shared by al Qaeda’s affiliates. Second, one critical lesson of 2001 is that we should not allow bin Laden’s death to cause us to lose sight of the continued threat that al Qaeda poses.” [Foreign Policy]
NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof: “[I]t is good for the United States reputation, power and influence that we finally got bin Laden. … That said, killing bin Laden does not end Al Qaeda. Ayman al-Zawahri, the Egyptian No. 2, has long played a crucial role as Al Qaeda’s COO. And Al Qaeda is more of a loose network than a tightly structured organization, and that has become even more true in recent years.
“It’s also true that bin Laden’s killing might have mattered more in 2002 or 2003. Over time … popular opinion has moved more against him, and you no longer see Osama t-shirts for sale in the markets.” [NYT]
New Yorker writer John Lee Anderson: “Whatever else happens, and whatever baleful challenge will now be issued by Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s Egyptian deputy and presumed successor, Al Qaeda will have been weakened, perhaps terminally. With the death of their leader, the will of the many bin Laden wannabees out there in Pakistan and Yemen and Nottingham and wherever should be diminished—because one of the things that fueled them in the first place was his notional invincibility. Such vertical, quasi-religious death cults always rely upon the leader, because the leader’s survival is the key to perpetuating the belief that utopia is possible. … Everyone will know, from now on, that Al Qaeda is probably ultimately doomed. It may continue to cause trouble, and even a great deal of it—the forces of jihadism are not finished in Pakistan, in Afghanistan, or in places like Yemen. But with bin Laden dead, it may be easier to see the way ahead; the end is, if not in sight, at least discernible, somewhere down the road.” [New Yorker]
Foreign Correspondent Lara Logan: “The group’s core leaders in and around Pakistan will likely seek to maintain a lower profile in the wake of their leader’s death, officials suggest. The rest will likely try to use the event to raise more money and recruit more followers. The danger … is that bin Laden’s death may actually speed up the trend of recent years which has seen al Qaeda become increasingly decentralized, and therefore even harder to stop.” [CBS]