Osama bin Laden may be dead but the splinter terror groups created out of Al-Qaeda, the group that the 9/11 mastermind formed, are giving sleepless nights to U.S. policymakers and their law enforcement agencies (LEAs), who feel that Al-Qaeda’s ideology was fuelling homegrown terrorists that are often referred to as “lone wolves”. It is the “decentralisation” of al-Qaeda that has led to emergence of several potent groups in the last two years in various parts of the world besides inspiring “homegrown terrorists” who are planning to carry out attacks in the U.S.
Describing Osama’s death as a “significant step in the war against terror,” Justin Siberell, Deputy Coordinator of Regional Affairs and Programmes in the State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism, said since the Arab uprising, dozens of terror groups having affiliation with Al-Qaeda have emerged.
“Though the U.S. might have been able to eliminate several top leaders of the Al-Qaeda in the past two years, splinters groups have gained greater autonomy since the Al-Qaeda shifted base from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border,” he told a group of visiting South Asian journalists.
“Now, the Al-Qaeda is more decentralised, with like-minded groups drawing inspiration from its ideology are operating in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and other countries in North Africa and Asia. These splinter groups of Al-Qaeda are not the only challenge, but other groups [operating in Pakistan, Afghanistan and India] like the Haqqani Network, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and Lashkar-e-Taiba [LeT] are also there [to be tackled]. U.S. is concerned over the fact that regional conflicts are fuelling these groups,” he observed.
Though LEA officers and think tank functionaries believe that these off-shoots of Al-Qaeda no longer have capabilities to carry out 9/11-type spectacular attacks, their major concern is homegrown terrorists or the “lone wolves” who through their amateurish ways are trying to carry out attacks against American interests, like the Boston marathon bombings and Fort Hood (Texas) cantonment attack.
“Homegrown terror suspects are difficult to find… It is the biggest challenge today for intelligence and LEA officials,” a senior Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) official told The Hindu .
“The U.S. has seen 43 terror plots since 9/11 of which majority were inspired by the Al-Qaeda’s ideology. Though only three such attempts were successful, almost all, except for the failed Times Square bombing attempt in New York by a Pakistani-American, were by homegrown terrorists who were not sent [by Al-Qaeda or its affiliates to carry out attacks],” said Brian Michael Jenkins, a senior adviser to president of Santa Monica (California)-based RAND Corporation that works closely with the U.S. policymakers and the U.S. army.
Conceding that disintegration of the Al-Qaeda has made the work of U.S. intelligence and LEAs more difficult, Paul Pillar, senior fellow at the Centre for 21st Century Security and Intelligence at Brookings Institution, said: “It is hard to find out whether the next attack would come from top, middle or lower level terrorists from Al-Qaeda affiliated groups that are active in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Algeria and Yemen…Threat from homegrown terrorists influenced by Al-Qaeda philosophy and ideology is also growing.”