Al Qaeda still dangerous
CIA Director Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden told Congress last week that the al Qaeda terrorist group is still planning attacks on the United States, despite “significant losses” since 2001.
Even though a major portion of the leaders of the group have been killed or captured, “the group’s cadre of seasoned, committed leadershasallowedittoremainfairlycohesiveandstayfocusedonitsstrategic objectives,” Gen. Hayden said.
“Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri continue to play a crucial role in inspiring jihadists and promoting unity,” he said. “Their demise would not spell the end of the threat, but probably would contribute to the unraveling of the central al Qaeda organization.”
The loss of leaders such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh has been “mitigated” by the terrorist group’s “deep bench” of lower-level leaders who are assuming leadership roles.
“Although a number of individuals are new to senior management in al Qaeda, they are not new to jihad: They average over 40 years of age and nearly two decades of involvement in jihad,” Gen. Hayden said.
The group still has a safe haven in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, which provides “physical and psychological space needed to meet, train, expand its networks and prepare new attacks.”
Locals in the region have ties to al Qaeda dating back to the 1980s. Findingandrootingoutgroupmembershavebeenmadedifficultbythe rough terrain and the local culture, which is opposed to outsiders.
“The safe haven not only gives al Qaeda and the Taliban a venue for terrorist plotting, but also serves as a jumpoff point for its guerrilla forays into Afghanistan,” he said.
“Our open society presents an almost endless source of targets, and the enemy has demonstrated its ruthlessness through a willing- ness to attack civilians — including other Muslims — a preference for spectacular, high-casualty operations, and its own adherents’ desire for martyrdom,” Gen. Hayden said.