There can be no doubt that the capture and death of America’s most wanted man is a significant political triumph for Barack Obama. But what future for al Qaeda, now without a leader?
The organisation has fundamentally weakened recently. With no successful attacks on the West since 2005, this weakness is also undermining the organisation’s ideology.
The Arab Spring with its emphasis on human rights and democracy suggest these are the beliefs that have popular support, not violence and extremism.
The populations of Arab nations seem more focused on living in up-to-date, civil societies, rather than the Islamic caliphate proposed by bin Laden. And this was a grass-roots movement. The people decided for themselves.
But al Qaeda remains a threat, mainly thanks to its network-style organisation. Al Qaeda in Iraq began in 2004, followed by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (North Africa) in 2007 and the branch seen by some as the most threatening, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in 2009.
The Yemeni branch is the most active in the al Qaeda web, even if there has been no significant attack since the beginning of the protests against the country’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh. This is the group which causes most concern in Washington.
It is already suspected of being behind several attempted attacks on Western targets. In October 2010, explosives were discovered on cargo planes in the United Arab Emirates and the UK. Their destination? The United States.