Al-Qaeda still a threat whether the leader is dead or alive
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Affected Countries: afghanistan;
The killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by American special forces at his Pakistani hideout in May 2011 was quickly announced by then US president Barack Obama and acknowledged by the Islamist terrorist group. But reports that his son, being groomed for leadership, is dead, are not being so promptly confirmed.
The details being circulated by anonymous American officials are scant and the abundant questions mean scepticism is rife. But whether true or not, such an event, while symbolically important, would have little impact on the extremists’ operational capabilities.
The accounts being circulated by American intelligence sources claim Hamza bin Laden was killed in an air strike during US President Donald Trump’s first two years in office. They are not more specific as to timing, nor do they say where or how he died.
Al-Qaeda is usually upfront about such claims and has been silent; the US Federal Bureau of Investigation still has his name on a “most wanted” list that offers a US$1 million reward for information on him. But there has been no public communication from him since May last year, when he called in an article in an Afghan al-Qaeda publication for the avenging of his father’s killing.
Being aged under 30, Hamza’s worth to al-Qaeda has been as a fresh face to attract young recruits. Current leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is 68 and has been ridiculed by the rival Islamic State as being out of touch and old-fashioned. The Islamic State’s use of social media and slick recruitment techniques pried away some of al-Qaeda’s supporters; the older group’s hours-long videos featuring lectures by ageing radicals staring at cameras lacked flair and appeal.
But now that Islamic State has been defeated in Iraq and Syria and its fighters have been scattered across the Middle East and Muslim parts of Asia, the traditional extremist groups are trying to woo them back.
Hamza, using the bin Laden brand, would have been a useful tool for such recruitment. His silence suggests that the US claims he has been killed should not be outright dismissed.
But the US-led war on extremists has taught groups like al-Qaeda to adapt and they have strategies to withstand the death of high-profile figures. Whether Hamza is dead or alive, al-Qaeda and its terrorists are still a threat to the world.