Assessment of Al-Qaeda’s Enduring Threat Seven Years After Osama bin Laden’s Death

Assessment of Al-Qaeda’s Enduring Threat Seven Years After Osama bin Laden’s Death
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Tucker Berry is a rising graduate student at the Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University.  He has conducted and briefed research on counterterrorism methods to the U.S. and three partner nations.  He has also spent time learning about the Arabic speaking Islamic world from within, in locations such as Oman, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, and Morocco.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


Title:  Assessment of Al-Qaeda’s Enduring Threat Seven Years After Osama Bin Laden’s Death 

Date Originally Written:  April 26, 2018. 

Date Originally Published:  June 25, 2018. 

Summary:  A comparative analysis of al-Qaeda messaging from the Osama bin Laden-era to today demonstrates continuity. Such messaging indicates that al-Qaeda continues in the well-worn path of bin Ladenism, even with the seventh anniversary of his death, still adamantly focusing on the United States as enemy number one.

Text:  In 1996, bin Laden faxed an Arabic message from Afghanistan to newspapers titled in part, “Expel the Jews and Christians from the Arabian Peninsula[1].” Included in this message was a call for all Muslims to defend the Ummah, or the global Islamic community, from the United States. Bin Laden commanded, “Clearly after Belief there is no more important duty than pushing the American enemy out of the Holy land[2]…” Then, in 1998, bin Laden co-authored a fatwa, or Islamic legal ruling. This message demonstrates al-Qaeda’s anti-United States point of view, thereby framing the killing of Americans under bin Laden’s leadership as a legitimate strategic goal. 

Killing the Americans and their allies – civilians and military – is an individual duty for every Muslim who can carry it out in any country where it proves possible, in order to liberate Al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy sanctuary [Mecca] from their grip[3]…

A comparative analysis of messaging from the bin Laden era to that of the current al-Qaeda leadership demonstrates continuity. Just days after the death of bin Laden, al-Qaeda issued a formal response, which contained a steadfast reference to planning, plotting, and spilling the blood of Americans. Further fostering the analytical judgment that al-Qaeda maintains the strategic goal of striking any target deemed “American” is language pertaining to both temporality and endurance. If one listens to al-Qaeda, recognizing that in the past they told the world what they meant and meant what they said, this language demonstrates that al-Qaeda has absolutely no intention of replacing their black banner of terror with the white flag of surrender. Aiding analysis is a translated segment[4] of al-Qaeda’s 2011 Arabic response[5], released after the death of bin Laden.

[The death of bin Laden] will remain…a curse that haunts the Americans and their collaborators and pursues them outside and inside their country…their joy will turn to sorrow and their tears will mix with blood, and we will [realize] Sheikh Osama’s oath: America, and those who live in America, will not enjoy security until our people in Palestine do. The soldiers of Islam, together or as individuals, will continue to plot tirelessly and without desperation…until they are struck with a calamity that will make the hair of children turn white.

Reacting to bin Laden’s death, al-Qaeda wanted to demonstrate its perseverance. The tone and language of the response indicated that the death of bin Laden would not impede al-Qaeda. Furthermore, other sections highlight bin Laden’s “martyrdom.” Such language may inspire members to engage in martyrdom operations, paying a posthumous homage to their former leader. Though the death of bin Laden eliminated an unquestionably charismatic leader, the organization has demonstrated a patient commitment to continue harming the so-called far enemy, the United States. Bin Laden’s strong message still resonates loudly with his followers and the new leadership. 

Seven years after the death of bin Laden, the challenging question is now whether the new messengers can carry the same influence. Such a messenger is one of bin Laden’s sons, Hamza. Introduced as “the lion of jihad[6],” Hamza is following in the steps of his father, calling al-Qaeda adherents to attack the United States. In a message from Hamza, he orders, “Know that inflicting punishment on Jews and Crusaders where you are present is more vexing and severe for the enemy[7].” Hamza is calling for attacks wherever a fighter is. Such a call maintains, if not escalates, the threat to the United States in the form of inspired and low-intensity terrorist attacks. Therefore, even with the seventh anniversary of bin Laden’s death, Hamza continues in the well-worn path of his father. Hamza and al-Qaeda continue to perpetuate the legacy of bin Ladenism as first established in the 1996 and 1998 messaging, adamantly focusing on the United States as enemy number one.


This article appeared originally at Divergent Options.

Endnotes:

[1] Declaration of Jihad against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holiest Sites, Arabic – Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://ctc.usma.edu/harmony-program/declaration-of-jihad-against-the-americans-occupying-the-land-of-the-two-holiest-sites-original-language-2/

[2] Declaration of Jihad against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holiest Sites, English – Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://ctc.usma.edu/app/uploads/2013/10/Declaration-of-Jihad-against-the-Americans-Occupying-the-Land-of-the-Two-Holiest-Sites-Translation.pdf

[3] Usamah Bin-Muhammad Bin-Ladin, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abu-Yasir Rifa’i Ahmad Taha, Shaykh Mir Hamzah, & Fazlur Rahman. (1998, February 23). Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders World Islamic Front Statement. Retrieved from https://fas.org/irp/world/para/docs/980223-fatwa.htm

[4] Al Qaeda statement confirming bin Laden’s death, English. (2011, May 6). Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-binladen-qaeda-confirmation-text/text-al-qaeda-statement-confirming-bin-ladens-death-idUSTRE74563U20110506

[5] Al Qaeda statement confirming bin Laden’s death, Arabic. (2011, May 6). Retrieved from http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2011/images/05/06/aq_binladenmessage.pdf

[6] Riedel, B. (2016, July 29). The son speaks: Al-Qaida’s new face. Retrieved from https://www.brookings.edu/blog/markaz/2015/08/19/the-son-speaks-al-qaidas-new-face/

[7] Joscelyn, T. (2017, May 15). Hamza bin Laden offers ‘advice for martyrdom seekers in the West’. Retrieved from https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2017/05/hamza-bin-laden-offers-advice-for-martyrdom-seekers-in-the-west.php



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