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Killing of OBL: Payback time for al-Qaida?

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Killing of OBL: Payback time for al-Qaida?
The compound where al -Qaida chief Osama bin Laden was hiding is shown surrounded by hills in Abbottabad, Pakistan on May 2, 2011. Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. special forces in a firefight it was announced by U.S. President Barack Obama on May 1, 2011. UPI/Sajjad Ali Qureshi | License Photo

BEIRUT, Lebanon, May 2 (UPI) -- With Osama bin Laden killed in a U.S. Special Forces raid in Pakistan, it's likely that a cadre of battle-hardened field commanders and planners will direct al-Qaida's loose-knit global network against the United States to avenge him.

But they will pick the time and the place.

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It is, as always, difficult to predict what a terrorist organization such as al-Qaida in its multiple manifestations, primarily in the Middle East and Asia, will do.

The implications of bin Laden's death at the hands of the Americans are far from clear so soon after the U.S. strike against his Pakistani hideout.

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Bin Laden and his deputy, veteran Egyptian militant Ayman al-Zawahiri, have long been isolated from al-Qaida's operational forces in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere because of the U.S. manhunt for them since 2001.

So bin Laden's sudden demise will likely have little impact on al-Qaida's operational affairs, since he has become an inspirational rather than a hands-on leader.

His assassination, while a massive symbolic and emotional victory for the Americans who vowed to avenge 9/11, is unlikely to change how al-Qaida now functions, except that it could mean its field commanders and planners will have greater control over the organization's operations.

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While killing bin Laden was "among the most significant operational successes for U.S. intelligence in the past decade," observed the U.S. security think tank Stratfor, "bin Laden's elimination will have very little effect on al-Qaida as a whole and the wider jihadist movement …

"The reality of the situation is that the al-Qaida core -- the central group including leaders like bin Laden and al-Zawahiri -- has been eclipsed by other jihadist actors on the physical battlefield."

Stratfor and others see the al-Qaida affiliates in Yemen and North Africa as the main threats. They are certainly the most active.

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The Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula has mounted two abortive attacks on the continental United States since December 2009.

But there has emerged in Pakistan's North Waziristan region, a jihadist stronghold where even the Pakistani army fears to tread, a collection of veterans of al-Qaida and other militant Islamist groups that should be giving the Americans and their friends nightmares.

Al-Qaida's current operational leadership, despite heavy losses from U.S. airstrikes, has been built around two groups of veterans, longtime al-Qaida veterans and battle-hardened Pakistani or Asian veterans of the two-decade-old Islamist campaign in Indian-administered Kashmir who now fight alongside al-Qaida.

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These men include Mohammed Ilyas Kashmiri, who heads al-Qaida's

Lashkar-e Zil, or the Shadow Army; Saif al-Adel, a top al-Qaida military chieftain who is a former Egyptian Special Forces colonel; Mahfouz Ould Walid, aka Abu Hafs the Mauritanian, a seasoned field commander.

There are others, like Adnan Shukrijumah, Saudi-born but raised in the United States where he lived for 15 years and is believed to be heading al-Qaida's global operations with the United States firmly in his sights.

There's Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, a will-o'-the-wisp organizer from the Comoros Islands whose operational career included the simultaneous bombings of two U.S. embassies East Africa in August 1998 that killed 200 people.

Kashmiri is considered one of al-Qaida's top strategists and his worldview, as articulated in the few interviews he has given, indicate he has moved away from a wholly regional focus, as in Kashmir, to center firmly on hitting the West.

"Analyzing the situation in any narrow regional political perspective was an incorrect approach," he told an interviewer in 2009.

"This is a different ball game altogether … The defeat of American global hegemony is a must if I want the liberation of my homeland, Kashmir."

The Shadow Army now appears to be a central node of al-Qaida's global operations. In the last few years, these seasoned leaders have, as bin Laden's command authority waned, displayed operational ferocity, innovative adaptability and meticulous planning that makes them dangerous.

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They all want to hit the Americans hard -- possibly not on the scale of 9/11, because that kind of surprise attack is hard to replicate, but with enormous casualties in one or more U.S. cities.

Kashmiri, Asian intelligence sources say, is training Western converts to Islam and European-born Arabs to carry out suicide bombings in Europe.

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