Thursday, September 8, 2011

Al-Qaeda still A Danger in Yemen, Somalia: Experts

September 8, 2011, Xinhua

By Matthew Rusling

A decade after launching the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington DC, al-Qaeda has been hobbled in Pakistan but remains a danger in Yemen and Somalia, U.S. experts said.

John Brennan, adviser on homeland security and anti-terrorism to President Barack Obama, said in a recent interview with the U.S. media that he thinks the terrorist organization has been severely weakened. As evidence, al-Qaeda's No. 2 leader was killed in Pakistan in late August, another major U.S. victory after U.S. forces killed al-Qaeda kingpin Osama bin Laden in May.

Brennan billed the death of Atiyah Abd al-Rahman -- allegedly by drone strike -- in Pakistan's tribal region as a major blow to al-Qaeda, sending the group scrambling to hide and rendering it unable to plan new operations. He also credited the absence of terror plots in the lead up to the 10th 9/11 anniversary to aggressive U.S. action against radicals.

Many U.S. experts, however, warned against complacency on the U. S. anti-terrorism campaign, noting that while al-Qaeda may be weakened in Pakistan, the group's splinter organizations are still alive and well in Yemen and Somalia.

"Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen is very dangerous. We've had a number of plots hatched out of there against the United States," said Peter Brookes, senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation who previously served in the Central Intelligence Agency.

Al-Shabaab in Somalia is a capable terror group, and al-Qaeda in Iraq has also set off a number of bombings recently, he added. "There's a lot of places still to be concerned about," he said in a recent interview with U.S. TV news network Fox News.

"So when he (Brennan) says 'al-Qaeda', I really think he's got to parse that down a little bit," he said. "He was talking about al-Qaeda in Pakistan but there's a lot of dangerous affiliates out there that are threats not only regionally but also globally and including to the United States."

He added that he is concerned that the United States could become complacent in fighting radicalism, noting that there have been three terror plots hatched out of Yemen in the last 18 months.


Other analysts echoed Brennan's words, saying that al-Qaeda is crippled and unlikely to mount any major attacks on the United States.

Scott Stewart, analyst at global intelligence company Stratfor, argued on the organization's Web site that the core group of al- Qaeda is "off balance and concerned for its security -- especially in light of the intelligence gathered in the raid on bin Laden's hideout."

In May, U.S. Navy Seals special forces stormed bin Laden's compound in Pakistan in an operation that resulted in the terrorist mastermind's death in a firefight and the uncovering of a wealth of intelligence on al-Qaeda.

Al-Qaeda's leaders do not have the same freedom of movement they did prior to September 2001, and no longer have the same operational capability in terms of international travel and the ability to transfer money that it had prior to 9/11 attacks, Stewart contended.

Some fear that militants would like to plan an attack on the United States as a symbolic statement to commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and others fret that the group's new leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, may feel pressure to conduct an attack in order to prove his credibility as al-Qaeda's new leader.

Stewart argued, however, that while radicals are doing their utmost to launch an attack, they are unlikely to meet that goal.

Moreover, the group has for some time been under considerable pressure to prove itself relevant for several years but has been unable to deliver. That means that the pressure to conduct a successful attack is no heavier now than it was prior to bin Laden' s death, he contended.

Finally, if the group had the capability to launch a major attack, it would have done so as soon as it could, instead of waiting for a symbolic date, as security near the 9/11 anniversary is likely to be tightened, Stewart argued.

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