By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON – Core al-Qaida – the group led by Osama bin Laden – has been surpassed by its affiliates as the biggest terrorist threat to the United States, a senior intelligence official said.
“With bin Laden’s death, the global jihadist movement lost its most iconic, most effective and most inspirational leader,” Robert T. Cardillo, deputy director for intelligence integration with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, told reporters in an April 27 conference call.
Bin Laden’s death allowed al-Qaida second-in-command Ayman al Zawahiri to move up, but he has not changed the group’s strategic direction and does not have the charisma to appeal to new recruits, Cardillo said.
Navy SEALs killed bin Laden in Pakistan during an intelligence-driven operation on May 2, 2011.
The al-Qaida offshoots – al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Shabob in Somalia, al-Qaida in the Mahgreb – “will surpass the core al-Qaida remaining in Pakistan,” Cardillo said. “Each group will seek opportunities to strike Western interests in its operating area, but each group will have different intent and opportunity to execute those plans.”
The “Arab Spring” uprisings that began last year have influenced the jihadist movement, the deputy director said. “The unrest and reduced security provides terrorists inspired by that movement more operating space as security services focus more on internal security and regime stability,” he said.
As new Middle East leaders address public demands for their participation in government, “we assess that core al-Qaida and the jihadist movement will suffer a strategic setback in that the Arab Spring strikes at the very core of their jihadist narrative,” he said.
Al-Qaida believes in progress by violence, but the elections in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and the up-coming election in Libya rebuke that assertion, Cardillo said.
“However, prolonged instability or unmet promises by these new governments … would give al-Qaida, its affiliates and its allies more time to establish networks, gain support and potentially engage in operations,” he said.