Is al Qaeda stronger a year after bin Laden's death?
One year after al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden was killed in a US raid, analysts say the global terror threat is far from eradicated. FRANCE 24 spoke with Anne Giudicelli, an expert in international terrorism, for further insight.
One year ago, US commandos killed al Qaeda head Osama bin Laden in Pakistan during a high-risk operation ordered by President Barack Obama. The milestone was rich in symbolism for a 9/11-scarred America finally poised to close a painful chapter of its recent history.
But many experts say that bin Laden’s death has not done much to weaken the threat of terrorism in the world, with al Qaeda continuing to evolve over the past year. Anne Giudicelli, a international terrorism expert and founder of Terrorisc, a consultancy firm specialised in security risks, answered FRANCE 24’s questions.
France24.com: Has bin Laden’s death helped diminish the threat of terrorism in the world?
Anne Giudicelli: No, no one can say that the terrorist risk is lower now. Furthermore, Western countries have remained on high alert. In reality, the very conditions in which the killing of bin Laden was carried out by the US have turned the man, already an icon while alive, into a martyr. He is now more than ever a model to emulate for certain people.
In terms of al Qaeda, bin Laden’s death did not weaken the organisation; at best, it did not really alter the group’s operations. Before his death, bin Laden was already no longer a decision-maker on the ground, and the network functioned without him. Moreover, a new distribution of leadership positions in the organisation was already underway when he was alive. Al Qaeda had indeed begun appointing several new leaders in an effort to organise its activities around strategic zones like the Sahel and the Arabian Peninsula.
F24: Has bin Laden’s death had an impact on al Qaeda’s global strategy?
A.G.: You need to remember that bin Laden was killed in the middle of the Arab Spring. One year later, we can safely say that these revolutions had a greater impact on al Qaeda than bin Laden’s death, despite the fact that he was such a symbolically significant figure for Islamist extremists. Because ultimately, the Arab people behind these movements did what al Qaeda had dreamt of doing: toppling regimes considered too close to Western powers. I’m referring especially to countries like Egypt, whose authorities al Qaeda despised. Egyptians were able to strip al Qaeda of one if its fundamental objectives. After a period of shock, al Qaeda decided to regroup and take advantage of the new context. In Yemen, for example: al Qaeda was already a strong presence, but the organisation took advantage of the chaos of the popular uprising against the regime to expand and grow while the authorities were busy cracking down on the protests.
F24: What has been the impact of bin Laden’s death on US counterterrorism policies?
A.G.: Bin Laden represented a decade of war for the US. After September 11, 2001, Americans were involved in two costly military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, both in the name of the fight against terror. Bin Laden was the main target, an obsession for former President George W. Bush. Even his successor Barack Obama promised to kill bin Laden, both during his presidential campaign and once he was in office. His re-election campaign is currently promoting this accomplishment as one of the biggest successes of his first term. Celebrated as a victory in the US, bin Laden’s death above all justified a shift in regional strategy for the US, as illustrated by their withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama would not have been able to do that if bin Laden had lived.