Ter­ror re­mains

Cecil Whig - - OPINION -

The fifth an­niver­sary of a mo­men­tous day in Amer­i­can his­tory came and went Mon­day with lit­tle recog­ni­tion or fan­fare.

In fact, it was noth­ing like the night of May 2, 2011, when thou­sands took to the streets in Amer­i­can ci­ties cel­e­brat­ing like we’d won the world’s World Se­ries and singing the “Star-Span­gled Ban­ner” un­til hoarse from en­thu­si­asm.

It’s been five years since U.S. Navy SEALS re­ported they’d found Osama bin Laden, and shot and killed the al-Qaeda leader while he hid in a Pak­istani safe house.

We don’t feel like cel­e­brat­ing in 2016 be­cause there is lit­tle to cel­e­brate.

In many ways, the killing of bin Laden was the clo­sure that many Amer­i­cans sought fol­low­ing the heinous vi­o­lence that he planned in the 9/11 at­tacks. Un­for­tu­nately, while his death sat­is­fied our blood­lust it did lit­tle to bring a more peace­ful world into view.

While the al-Qaeda that Amer­i­cans grew to un­der­stand af­ter 2001 is only a shell of its for­mer self – in­creased Amer­i­can drone strikes have killed more than 60 top lead­ers since 2004 – it has mor­phed into smaller forms. When in­tel­li­gence ex­perts warned that cut­ting the head of the snake would only re­sult in many more snakes, they couldn’t have been more ac­cu­rate.

Farhan Zahid, an in­de­pen­dent counter ter­ror­ism ex­pert, told The Huffington Post in an in­ter­view Tues­day that ter­ror­ist cells pledg­ing al­le­giance to al-Qaeda con­tinue to ex­ist in at least 60 coun­tries. Although they may not train in desert boot camps like the videos Amer­i­cans grew used to see­ing fol­low­ing 9/11, they have gone un­der­ground and con­nect on the in­ter­net.

“At times, Al-Qaeda has es­tab­lished it­self as a mother-ship or­ga­ni­za­tion, in ef­fect fran­chis­ing to smaller lo­cal groups,” Zahid said. “In this way, Al-Qaeda has man­aged to keep it­self afloat amid a sig­nif­i­cant ef­fort from the US and its al­lies to pul­ver­ize the or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

Per­haps even more dis­gruntling on this an­niver­sary is learn­ing how bin Laden’s death may have ex­ac­er­bated the growth of the ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion to­day known as the Is­lamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. That group be­gan as an al-Qaeda fran­chise founded fol­low­ing the U.S. in­va­sion of Iraq, but af­ter bin Laden’s death, ISIS’ leader Abu Bakr al-Bagh­dadi sought more in­de­pen­dence.

He clashed with other al-Qaeda fac­tions, tar­geted Shia Mus­lims and en­tered the Syr­ian civil war, seek­ing to cap­i­tal­ize on the di­lap­i­dat­ing state. The more he went rogue against al-Qaeda, the more is­sues between col­lab­o­ra­tors arose, un­til ISIS was even­tu­ally de-fran­chised.

Now out on its own, ISIS sought to make a name for it­self and put down a strong­hold in Syria, draw­ing sup­port from Iraqi war vet­er­ans and Sunni tribes. As its num­bers grew, so too did ISIS’ ter­ri­tory un­til it swal­lowed up the north­ern Iraqi city of Mo­sul and its nearby oil fields. Af­ter it claimed an Is­lamic caliphate, es­sen­tially a re­li­gious king­dom, its power grew even fur­ther with new fran­chises con­nect­ing to ISIS rather than alQaeda.

Now Is­lamic ex­trem­ists are more dan­ger­ous and preva­lent than ever, with re­cent at­tacks in Brus­sels, Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., hap­pen­ing in just the last six months. The in­ter­net of­fers an easy way for sleeper cells to com­mu­ni­cate at­tacks of mass ter­ror­ism, which can be per­pe­trated by just a hand­ful of in­di­vid­u­als. More ter­ri­fy­ing yet is the fact the Brus­sels and Paris at­tacks have been di­rectly con­nected back to ISIS op­er­a­tives, and the San Bernardino at­tack is be­lieved to be only in­flu­enced by ISIS ide­ol­ogy but not di­rectly backed by the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

The growth of rogue ter­ror­ists like the San Bernardino shoot­ers may be the un­for­tu­nate byprod­uct from the death of bin Laden five years ago. While it felt good to achieve some mea­sure of jus­tice in the al-Qaeda leader’s death, we only worry what else came from Pan­dora’s box along with it.

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