The Death of bin Laden, and the Future of Al-Qaeda

Publication Type:

Book Chapter


The Dangerous Landscape, p.221-222 (2013)


On May 2nd, 2011, an elite team of U.S. Navy SEALs operating under CIA command, attacked a residential compound in Abbotabad, Pakistan and in an operation lasting a matter of minutes killed Osama bin Laden, the creator, initial financier, and active chief of al Qaeda. The man who had masterminded the first instance of “four-digit” terrorism in history was unceremoniously buried at sea; no monument would mark his grave. The targeted killing of bin Laden did not end the life of al Qaeda, as the above chapters concede. But the events of 2011 may have signaled that al Qaeda, measured as a terrorist organization, was, if nothing else, degraded to the extent that it could only exist in a half-life; an example of violent extremism on terminal care. Arguably, perhaps, this sort of systemic degradation should have been anticipated. The United States, enjoying unprecedented global military power, struck back at its al Qaeda adversaries in a display of patient efficiency and political will. The drone strikes that had decimated the al Qaeda leadership ranks had started years before the Abbotabad raid, and continued thereafter. By the time of the Abbotabad incursion, al Qaeda, by most accounts, was in disarray. As of the time of this publication, al Qaeda has simply not recovered. There has, as some measure, been no successful attack upon the United States since 9/11, and there have been only a handful of significant terrorist strikes elsewhere in the Western world, such as London and Madrid. More importantly, both bin Laden and al Qaeda failed to serve as a match which would set aflame the Muslim world to do battle with the forces of modernity, which was translated as the infidel West and its allies (the so-called “Near Enemy”) in the Middle East. While seething resentment and conspiracy-theory-fueled suspicion of the West is commonplace, the vast majority of Muslims did not take the bait. The Arab Spring has had a real impact on some of the rulers in the Middle East, and is importantly and perhaps disturbingly Islamist, but it is not al Qaeda.