Friday, September 9, 2011

Ten years after 9/11, is al-Qaida still a threat?

The 10th anniversary of 9/11 is an appropriate time to reflect on whether al-Qaida, the terrorist organization responsible for the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, is still a serious threat to the United States. With the deaths of Osama bin Laden in May and Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, al-Qaida's second-ranking figure, in August, U.S. officials feel they have seriously weakened the group. However, others caution that al-Qaida has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to bounce back and should not be taken lightly. 

A leading terrorism expert, James Forest, recently addressed the question of al-Qaida's future in a commentary on the Praeger Security International database.

In the long run . . . al-Qaida will cease to be a threat. No terrorist organization of any kind has been around forever. Their attacks have already alienated an overwhelming majority of the Muslim world, which is al-Qaida’s primary audience. They’re constantly appealing for support, and trying to justify their actions to the Muslim world, but at the same time al-Qaida attacks over the last decade have killed 8 Muslims for every 1 non-Muslim. That kind of hypocrisy undermines their ability to sustain the movement over the long term.
It may take a generation before al-Qaida loses all hope of financial support, recruitment, and safe haven. When the day comes that some al-Qaida figurehead releases a video statement, and absolutely nobody in the world is the least bit concerned, that day will make the final strategic victory. Osama bin Laden's "vision of the future", a future which (according to him and his colleagues) requires the murder of countless innocent people around the world, will someday meet the fate of bin Laden himself. When al-Qaida's ideology fails to resonate with anyone, and nobody anywhere in the world is inspired or motivated to murder on behalf of al-Qaida, the strategic victory that begins with the death of bin Laden will be complete.

JAMES J.F. FOREST, PhD is an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, where he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and contemporary security studies. He was the Director of Terrorism Studies at the United States Military Academy from 2001 to 2010. Dr. Forest was selected by the Center for American Progress and Foreign Policy as one of “America’s most esteemed terrorism and national security experts” and participated in their annual Terrorism Index studies 2006 through 2010. 

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