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What next after bin Laden death?


Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s death is politically momentous for US president Barack Obama - witness the cheering crowds which gathered outside the White House even before his speech on Sunday night.

Its impact on al-Qaeda, though, is harder to measure.

Peter Bergen, an American journalist, said on CNN that bin Laden’s death marked “the end of the war on terror". But many other analysts would disagree: Al-Qaeda, after all, is a very different organisation in 2011 than in 2001, with a new cadre of leaders and a wider range of affiliate groups.

Analysts have long debated the extent to which bin Laden - and his deputy, Egyptian-born Ayman al-Zawahiri - direct al-Qaeda’s operations. The two men have largely been in hiding since September 11, 2001, attacks on the US, leaving their subordinates to handle many of the group’s day-to-day operations. Affiliate groups, like al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, already operate with relatively little direction from the “leadership” on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

“It is often assumed that their principal roles, particularly in bin Laden’s case, are as propaganda leaders or even mere figureheads,” said Barbara Sude, a former CIA al-Qaeda analyst, in a policy paper released last year.


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