By Jalal Ghazi—New America Media
Soon after the killing of Osama Bin Laden hit the news, thousands of Americans were celebrating outside the White House and at Ground Zero in New York. Arab experts warn, however, that while Bin Laden’s death makes Americans feel better, it will not necessarily make them safer.
Samir Allawi, head of Al Jazeera’s bureau in Kabul, noted that Ayman al-Zawahiri, Bin Laden’s second-in-command and Al Qaeda’s presumed new leader, “is more dangerous than Bin Laden. Bin Laden is a symbolic leader of an international organization, but Ayman al-Zawahiri, who is most likely in Afghanistan or in the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan, is leading military operations and giving his commands to Al Qaeda members and local leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan directly.”
“Al-Zawahiri is also more active and travels more than Bin Laden,” Allawi continued, “but there has been no information about the places that [he] goes to along the borders between Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
Allawi added that intelligence agents who had been tracking al-Zawahiri reached a dead end after the killing of eight CIA officers in the American military base in Khust last year.
Killing Bin Laden is likely to have little impact on the war in Afghanistan, Washington-based journalist Ali Yones told Al Jazeera. “Al Qaeda in 2011 is not what is used to be in 2001. The American military [does] not consider Al Qaeda as the primary threat; rather they consider Taliban movements as the primary threat. There are 11 Taliban movements in Pakistan that have been fighting the U.S.”
Arab media also raised questions about the timing of the hit, especially after Obama went on television Sunday night to claim full credit. Dr. Diaa Rashwan, an analyst at the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, told Al Jazeera, “In reality, this is not an achievement for President Obama. It is a big achievement for the Pakistani security authorities. They [Pakistani authorities] have given this big gift to President Obama, and now he is claiming an achievement that he did not make.”
No doubt it is a gift that will have “extremely positive effects” on Obama’s image at home, Rashwan added. “The American public does not remember anything as clearly and specifically as the attacks on Washington and New York,” and now Obama “has managed to establish himself as a tough man fighting terrorism.”
Dr. Munzer Suleiman, a national security expert in Washington. D.C., raised questions about the circumstances of the killing: “Why wasn’t Bin Laden arrested? And why weren’t the Pakistani forces asked to carry out this operation on its on territory? How can the U.S. carry out the operation on the territory of a sovereign country, especially when considering that it knew Bin Laden was hiding out and have been watching him for some time.”
“U.S. desire for vengeance is bigger than its desire for justice despite all the talk about justice,” Suleiman added. He believes the killing will compel the Taliban in Pakistan and Al Qaeda sympathizers in Arab countries to avenge bin Laden’s death. The U.S. State Department has already issued a warning for Americans living and traveling abroad.
By allowing American forces to enter Pakistan and carry out the attack in a house just an a hour from the capital of Islamabad, the Pakistani authorities have allowed Obama to claim credit for the killing of Al Qaeda’s spiritual leader. But the Pakistani government will pay the price. Ahmad Zaidan, Al Jazeera’s bureau chief in Islamabad, predicted that the primary target of Al Qaeda retaliation will be Pakistani intelligence.
“Al Qaeda can’t carry out attacks in Arab countries because it will lose popularity,” Zaidan explained. “Al Qaeda will rather retaliate in areas ... such as Pakistan and the U.S.”
Bin Laden’s death may actually lead to an increase in suicide attacks.
Yassera Zaatrah, an Amman-based expert on Islamic groups, told Al Jazeera: “Al Qaeda’s organization has lost ground, especially after the Arab uprisings. Ordinary Arabs no longer believe that an organization can defeat large or even small countries as security agencies have expanded and become stronger.”
Zaatrah believes, however, that Al Qaeda has achieved success on two levels. First, it has exhausted the U.S. financially by dragging it into costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—where a war of attrition was one of Bin Laden’s primary objectives. Second, Al Qaeda’s model of suicide operations against American targets may become more prevalent because Bin Laden will be seen as a martyr.
Zaatrah noted that Al Qaeda members, and Bin Laden himself, view death as a natural consequence of their fight. Still, vengence is to be expected.
Zaatrah predicted attempted attacks in a number of Western and Arab countries: “Perhaps Taliban will carry out a number of operations inside Afghanistan… because he had strong ties with them.”
What’s more, Muammar Gaddafi wants to avenge the death of his son and grandchildren, who were killed in a NATO air strike just a day before Bin Laden was hit. Some experts think this could lead to a marriage of convenience between Gaddafi and Al Qaeda, which he has long opposed.