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The Death of Osama bin Laden: What it Means for the War on Terror

Q&A with UAlbany Associate Professor of Political Science Victor Asal

Terror mastermind Osama bin Laden

Terror mastermind Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. Special Forces in a raid on a Pakistani compound in the early morning hours of May 2, 2011. The impact of the al-Qaeda leader's death may be the most significant development in the ongoing 'War on Terror' since President George Bush vowed the U.S. would respond to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Terrorism expert Victor Asal is an associate professor of Political Science and the director of the Center for Policy Research at UAlbany's Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy. He discusses what's in store for al-Qaeda, U.S. security and the 'War on Terror.'

Q. What is the direct impact on al-Qaeda following the death of Osama bin Laden?

A: The death of bin Laden is likely to have an initial negative effect on al-Qaeda, given the central place he had in its network as well as the symbolic position he held in the organization.

On the other hand there is likely to be a surge of support given the attack by the U.S. In the long run the impact on al-Qaeda is likely to be determined by larger U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and the Middle East, how the popular uprisings in the Middle East resolve, and who takes leadership after bin Laden.

UAlbany associate professor Victor Asal

Associate Professor Victor Asal

Q. What is the likelihood for retaliation against the United States and U.S. interests overseas?

A: The probability of attacks against U.S. interests overseas is likely to be very high and efforts at attacking the U.S. at home are likely to rise as well. However the scope and potential for success of these activities is unclear. 

Q. Where does the 'War on Terror' go from here?

A: The killing has symbolic importance and some operational importance but it has been a number of years since al-Qaeda has been alone at the core of anti-American extremism.

The invasion of Iraq and to a lesser extent Afghanistan have changed the playing field in such a way that unfortunately there are many other organizations out there in addition to al-Qaeda affiliates who will not be affected in a major way by this attack.

Q. There is also continued unrest in the Middle East, with uprisings in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and other nations. How will bin Laden's death impact the events currently unfolding in the Middle East?

A: I think this will have very little impact on the popular uprisings in the Middle East that seem driven by much more local concerns than the kind of Pan Islamic viewpoint that is related to al-Qaeda's regional ideology.

Q. Who is next in line to head al-Qaeda?

A: It is possible and even likely that in the short run Ayman al-Zawahiri will be the head of al-Qaeda, at least in name. But how this will shake out in the long run is very unclear.

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