WASHINGTON – More than two-and-a-half years after US commandos shot dead Al-Qaeda figurehead Osama bin Laden, the global extremist network is more dangerous than ever, American experts and counterterrorism officials warned this week.
Thanks notably to a flood of recruits flowing to join Al-Qaeda-linked jihadist forces fighting in Syria’s civil war, the group is back on its feet, and securing territory from which it could once more threaten Europe and the United States.
Bin Laden’s former lieutenants in Al-Qaeda’s historic leadership have been killed by US Special Forces or in drone strikes, or else are isolated and on the run in the tribal badlands on the Afghan-Pakistan border.
But armed groups in Syria, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, and West Africa have flocked to his banner and Al-Qaeda is rebuilding its influence and recruiting fighters across the region.
‘’Their leadership has been hit very hard, but this brand is still growing. And it’s growing from an increased number of safe havens,’’ said retired US Marine Corps General James Mattis.
Between 2010 and earlier this year, Mattis led US Central Command, in charge of prosecuting Washington’s long war against extremists in the Middle East, Southwest Asia, and the Horn of Africa.
Now he has hung up his uniform, but admits the war is far from over, warning: ‘’The congratulations that we heard two years ago on the demise of Al-Qaeda were premature and are now discredited.’’
Speaking at the Jamestown Foundation’s annual conference on terrorism in Washington, Mattis said: “Al-Qaeda is resilient, they adapted. We have to think strategically before we act, not only act tactically.’’
Bin Laden’s death in May 2011 triggered a wave of optimism that the United States and its allies might have broken the back of the jihadist threat, but today officials here are under no illusions.
Since the audacious commando strike that took out Al-Qaeda’s apparently largely symbolic chieftain, the black banner of his movement has been raised more widely than ever.
Militants inspired by or linked to Bin Laden’s brand of armed jihad have sacked a US consulate in Libya and stormed a shopping mall in Kenya.
Attacks are on the rise once again in Iraq, Al-Qaeda has reportedly begun operating in Egypt’s Sinai desert, and violent extremist groups are now the most powerful elements in the rebel coalition fighting in the Syrian civil war. (AFP)