Osama Bin Laden Death Leaves U.S. in the Same Stance Against Terrorism

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Osama bin Laden's death has been greeted with much fanfare in the West but is viewed by his followers as nothing more than a symbolic victory for the United States with little strategic implication for their movement.

Bin Laden crafted the worldwide terror organization that has spurred an entire movement of jihadis, but his role had evolved in recent years from that of an operational leader to an ideological figurehead, experts say.

Key al Qaeda figures who are thought to be behind recent attacks remain on the loose, including its new leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and U.S.-born Anwar al-Awlaki.

Still, while his death will do little to change the strategies of terrorists or the United States, some experts believe, it was crucial to erase him from the picture.

"Capturing or killing bin Laden was never going to bring about the end of al Qaeda, but you couldn't bring about the end of al Qaeda without capturing and killing him," said Rick Nelson, director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former White House National Security Council member. "Now, we're going to have to see what bin Laden's legacy is.

"Did he do enough in the last two decades to establish what he always wanted, which is a thousand bin Ladens to carry on the al Qaeda message and the larger narrative?"

Bin Laden's supporters took to jihadi web sites Monday to vow revenge and retaliation as they mourned his death.

Some people linked to al Qaeda say bin Laden's death will do little to dent their resolve.

"Al-Qaeda is not a person, it is an institution," Aboud al-Zumur, a friend of al-Zawahiri and founding member of Egypt's Islamic Jihad, told AFP news agency.

Echoing a similar tone, a Pakistani lawmaker associated with a hardline Islamic group warned, "Osama was the name of an ideology and an ideology does not die with the death of a person."

U.S. officials say they are fully aware of the threat of increased terror activities, especially in the short term. Authorities beefed up security at key points in New York City and Washington, D.C., Monday, and at its embassies worldwide.

"We cannot become complacent. The fight is far from over," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a congressional hearing today. "Just yesterday, I ordered the department's prosecutors and law enforcement agencies to be mindful that bin Laden's death could result in retaliatory attacks in the U.S. or against our interests overseas."

Al Qaeda was formed more than two decades ago. It reached its peak in the late 1990s and was alleged to be behind such attacks as those against U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

Always on the run and harbored by various rogue regimes, bin Laden was difficult to trace even as the threat from his organization became increasingly imminent.

It was the Sept. 11 attacks that really put the power of al Qaeda into perspective for ordinary Americans. Bin Laden escaped to Afghanistan, where he found refuge in the Taliban regime. Since then, U.S. counterterrorism policies in Afghanistan and Pakistan helped fracture al Qaeda's central command structure and send its leaders scurrying in different directions, including Pakistan.

"While bin Laden's death is a significant victory for the United States, al Qaeda is no longer a potent organization," Fawaz A. Gerges, author and director of the Middle East Center at the London School of Economics, wrote in an op-ed today in the Washington Post. "Bin Laden had become merely a symbol of hatred and violence."

But while al Qaeda itself may be fractured, it has inspired a number of offshoot groups in the Middle East, from Morocco to Iraq, that have been blamed for attacks such as last week's bombing of a popular tourist spot in Marrakesh, Morocco.

Such a threat will continue to haunt the United States and its allies. And experts believe the United States will continue the same strategy it has employed against terrorism and the war in Afghanistan to root out terror threats.

"We've killed a man but we haven't killed a movement," said James M. Lindsay, senior vice president at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former director at the National Security Council. "It is not the final chapter in the story but it could lead to more chapters closing."