Threats persist in al-Qaida power struggle

May 25, 2011 at 7:30 PM
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WASHINGTON, May 25 (UPI) -- While the death of Osama bin Laden dealt a blow to al-Qaida, the United States must up its game against ever-evolving threats, experts told Congress Wednesday.

Speaking at a hearing of the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security, Lee Hamilton, a member of the U.S. Homeland Security Advisory Council, said the treasure trove of intelligence found during the May 2 raid of bin Laden's Pakistan hideout was a major coup but not necessarily a turning point in the so-called war on terror.

"I think it's likely that the information that we get is even more important than the death of Osama bin Laden himself," Hamilton said. "Whether his death is a turning point in our fight against terrorism remains to be seen. You can kill a man; you cannot kill a symbol."

Testifying alongside Frances Townsend, former homeland security adviser to President George W. Bush, and CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen, Hamilton said al-Qaida "will almost certainly attempt to avenge his death; however, that attack will not necessarily occur soon. …"

"We cannot let our guard down. We will see new attempts and likely successful attacks," Hamilton said.

"America is safer because he [bin Laden] is dead," Townsend told the hearing, called by committee Chairman Peter King, R-N.Y. But she cautioned al-Qaida's internal power struggle is no reason to pull resources from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"The greatest threat to our security is a terrorist group like the Pakistan Taliban with a nuclear weapon," Townsend said, noting recent events indicate Pakistan's military is "weaker and more humiliated" than previously thought.

"The fight continues because our enemies continue," Townsend said.

Bergen added a note of optimism to the hearing, pointing out the so-called Arab Spring in the Middle East has shown next to no support for the slain al-Qaida leader and his murderous agenda.

"The Arab Spring is a massive nail in the coffin of al-Qaida, the ideology," Bergen said. "Support for bin Laden, al-Qaida and suicide bombing has been cratering around the Muslim world, for the very good reason that Muslims have noticed that most of the victims of the al-Qaida allies have been Muslims themselves, which is not impressive for groups to position themselves as the defender of Islam. …

"We haven't seen a single picture of bin Laden being carried … in Cairo or Benghazi or any other city in the Middle East. We haven't seen a single American flag burning, which was so pro forma in that part of the world. We haven't seen a single Israeli flag burning. Al-Qaida's foot soldiers' ideas and their hope for outcomes are just not part of the conversation."

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