Think Al Qaeda Is Dead? Think Again

Elisabeth Meinecke

1/9/2013 7:45:00 AM - Elisabeth Meinecke

Excerpted from Townhall Magazine's January feature, "Think Al Qaeda's Dead? Think Again," by Peter Brookes:

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President Obama’s stump speeches last fall, which often featured phrases like al Qaeda “is on the run” or “on the path to defeat,” were—like much of his overheated campaign rhetoric—prone to wishful thinking.

Yes, al Qaeda’s founder and leader Osama bin Laden is dead, but from the looks of it, al Qaeda is very much alive.

It’s true that over the years the American military and intelligence agencies have done a fabulous job of taking down “al Qaeda’s core,” those who planned, plotted, and trained in Afghanistan for the 9/11 attacks, and later found refuge in the Pakistani tribal areas. But the terrorist movement bin Laden led and the ideology he continues to inspire even after his death will likely remain relevant for a while.

According to a series of articles penned in November 2012 for The Washington Post and titled “The Permanent War,” among senior government officials at that time, there was “broad consensus that such [kill or capture counterterror] operations are likely to be extended at least another decade. Given the way al Qaeda continues to metastasize, some officials said no clear end is in sight.”

That is not good news.

Based on the above, the notion held by some that the U.S. is standing squarely in a post-al Qaeda era in light of bin Laden’s death appears rooted in hopeful—even convenient political— thinking.

Americans will need to re-familiarize themselves with an al Qaeda organization that still poses a near-global challenge 10- plus years after 9/11. Perhaps nowhere is the recent spread of the terror group’s influence more alarming than in Africa.

African Al Qaeda Allies

When one thinks of security challenges in Africa, one does not usually think of terrorism, particularly al Qaeda. But the group’s affiliates are putting down roots in places like Somalia, Mali and Nigeria, making this large continent the source of new worries.

From a review of the situation in Africa, counterterrorism officials are right to be anxious.

In fact, an article last summer in The Washington Post noted that the rise of radical Islamist groups in Africa has “raised alarm that an explosive cocktail of rebellion, terrorism, and religious extremism could spill across borders.”

Perhaps the best known of these evil terror triplets is AQIM, due to its likely involvement in the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya last fall, which resulted in the death of four brave Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya.

More specifically, it is likely that a pro-al Qaeda group associated with AQIM, Ansar al Sharia, is the perpetrator behind the terror attack that destroyed the American consulate and the annex with automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars.

AQIM and its al Qaeda allies operate in the northern regions of Africa, where they seek to take advantage of instability and governance issues not only in Libya, but in Mali, too.

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Homegrown Horror

Unfortunately, while Americans may like to think of al Qaeda as a far-away danger in places like Africa, the Middle East and South Asia, in truth, the terror threat can be very close to home, too.

Arguably, nothing worries American counterterrorism officials more than the violent extremists that are already in the country as opposed to those which come from places outside the U.S. Imported terrorists must at least navigate U.S. immigration, often at a border entry point, where a red flag can possibly be raised.

Read the rest of Brookes' feature by ordering the January issue of Townhall Magazine.