Al-Qaida Offshoots Are Biggest Terror Threat, Official Says

WASHINGTON, April 29, 2012 — Core Al-Qai­da the group led by Osama bin Laden has been sur­passed by its affil­i­ates as the biggest ter­ror­ist threat to the Unit­ed States, a senior intel­li­gence offi­cial said.

“With bin Laden’s death, the glob­al jihadist move­ment lost its most icon­ic, most effec­tive and most inspi­ra­tional leader,” Robert T. Cardil­lo, deputy direc­tor for intel­li­gence inte­gra­tion with the Office of the Direc­tor of Nation­al Intel­li­gence, told reporters in an April 27 con­fer­ence call.

Bin Laden’s death allowed al-Qai­da sec­ond-in-com­mand Ayman al Zawahiri to move up, but he has not changed the group’s strate­gic direc­tion and does not have the charis­ma to appeal to new recruits, Cardil­lo said.

Navy SEALs killed bin Laden in Pak­istan dur­ing an intel­li­gence-dri­ven oper­a­tion on May 2, 2011.

The al-Qai­da off­shoots al-Qai­da in the Ara­bi­an Penin­su­la, al-Shabob in Soma­lia, al-Qai­da in the Mah­greb “will sur­pass the core al-Qai­da remain­ing in Pak­istan,” Cardil­lo said. “Each group will seek oppor­tu­ni­ties to strike West­ern inter­ests in its oper­at­ing area, but each group will have dif­fer­ent intent and oppor­tu­ni­ty to exe­cute those plans.”

The “Arab Spring” upris­ings that began last year have influ­enced the jihadist move­ment, the deputy direc­tor said. “The unrest and reduced secu­ri­ty pro­vides ter­ror­ists inspired by that move­ment more oper­at­ing space as secu­ri­ty ser­vices focus more on inter­nal secu­ri­ty and regime sta­bil­i­ty,” he said.

As new Mid­dle East lead­ers address pub­lic demands for their par­tic­i­pa­tion in gov­ern­ment, “we assess that core al-Qai­da and the jihadist move­ment will suf­fer a strate­gic set­back in that the Arab Spring strikes at the very core of their jihadist nar­ra­tive,” he said.

Al-Qai­da believes in progress by vio­lence, but the elec­tions in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and the up-com­ing elec­tion in Libya rebuke that asser­tion, Cardil­lo said.

“How­ev­er, pro­longed insta­bil­i­ty or unmet promis­es by these new gov­ern­ments … would give al-Qai­da, its affil­i­ates and its allies more time to estab­lish net­works, gain sup­port and poten­tial­ly engage in oper­a­tions,” he said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)