Al-Qaeda down, but not out!
June 15, 2012
Al-Qaeda’s downfall in the Pakistani tribal areas began in May last year with the killing of Al-Qaeda’s founder Osama Bin Laden in a US Navy Seals’ Operation in Abbotabad. Ever since, seven high profile Al-Qaeda leaders have been killed in a sustained campaign of US-led drone strikes. Those killed in these operations include Ilyas Kashmiri, the head of al Qaeda's military and a member of the external operations council; Atiyah abd al Rahman, bin Laden's former chief of staff and Zawahiri's previous deputy; Abu Miqdad al Masri, a member of al Qaeda's Shura Majlis who also was involved in Al-Qaeda's external operations; Badr Mansoor, al Qaeda's leader in Pakistan and a key link to the Taliban and Pakistani jihadist groups; Aslam Awan, a deputy to the leader of al Qaeda's external operations; and Abu Hafs al Shahri, a senior leader who served as the operations chief for Pakistan.
Al-Qaeda has not conducted a successful attack in the West since the bombings on London's transportation system on 7 July 2005. Also, the group has not succeeded in attacking the United States for more than a decade. Most of Al-Qaeda’s attacks in the West are characterized by “Lone Wolf Style” attacks involving one gunmen or inept bombers. Several of these attempted terrorist attacks have either failed or foiled by the security and law-enforcement agencies.
Two years ago, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan emerged as the global headquarters of Al-Qaeda. The 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate declared FATA as the most dangerous place on earth. However, the terrorist group’s most dreaded franchise Al-Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Somalia-based Al-Shbaba have emerged as the new faces of Al-Qaeda in last few years. Most of the terror attacks against the West have been planned and executed from Yemen and Somalia. So with the elimination of Al-Qaeda’s top cadre from FATA, the focus is now shifting towards Yemen and the Horn of Africa.
Does the inability of Al-Qaeda to successfully strike inside the West and loss of its top leadership -- except Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the current chief of Al-Qaeda -- herald a downfall of the transnational terror group? Has Al-Libi’s death left a big leadership vacuum within the terror group? Has it put Al-Qaeda out of business in Pakistan?
Some of the terrorist organizations are built around a cult of personality like Peru’s the Shining Path or the Turkish Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which were virtually crippled after the loss of their top brass. The arrest of the Shining Path’s head Abimael Guzman in 1992 by the Peruvian authorities and the PKK leader Abdullah Oclan in 1999 by the Turkish authorities led to the demise of the two groups.
However, insurgent groups like Hammas and Hezbollah which have hierarchical organizational structures and a devout affiliation with their cause, have survived the loss of their top leaders. In 2004, Israel eliminated Shiekh Ahmed Yaseen, Hmas’s founder and then his successor Abdul Aziz Rantisi through helicopter fired missiles. Similarly in 1992, Israel killed Secretary General of Hezbollah, Abbas Mussawi, in a helicopter strike and its director military operations, Imad Mughniyeh, in a car bomb in 2008. However, both organizations are intact and fully active. Like Hammas and Hezollah, Al-Qaeda has survived the loss of its top leaders.
Undoubtedly, Al-Libi was an influential religious figurehead within Al-Qaeda, but it did not rely on him alone to provide religious guidance and approval of fatwas. The group has an established religious committee to which Libi was an important member, but not the only one. There are other prominent names that are in Al-Qaeda’s religious committee like Khalid Bin Abdul Rahman Al-Husssainan who is also known as Abu Zaid Al-Kuwaiti.
Al-Qaeda has a collective leadership which has remained united and ideologically motivated to forward its cause of global jihad, despite suffering enormous losses and losing its key leaders. So the elimination of Al-Libi will not do much damage to the organizational structure of Al-Qaeda. In fact, today ideologically, Al-Qaeda’s is stronger than ever and its influence is also expanding beyond the Af-Pak region. It is spreading its wings in Yemen, Iraq and the Horn of Africa.
Al-Qaeda is down, but not out in Pakistan. Killing the top leadership harms Al-Qaeda, but it will not defeat them until and unless steps are taken to weaken its ideological propaganda and its ability to exploit ungoverned spaces like the tribal areas of Pakistan, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.