Clapper: Arab Spring concerned bin Laden

April 27, 2012 at 8:24 AM
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WASHINGTON, April 27 (UPI) -- At the time of his death in 2011, Osama bin Laden was concerned about the Arab Spring's effect on his al-Qaida terror network, the U.S. intelligence chief said.

The Arab Spring protests across the Middle East and northern Africa last year "weren't fomented or inspired," Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Voice of America in an interview published Thursday. "They weren't a global jihadist sort of thing. They had other aspirations, other motivations. And so I think there was some concern to the extent that he was aware of all this -- again, given his isolation -- that would cause him and his movement to be marginalized."

Bin Laden was killed May 2, 2011, when U.S. commandos raided his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. His body was buried at sea. Officials said an intelligence bonanza of documents and computer drives was discovered in the compound, providing intelligence officers insights into bin Laden and al-Qaida.

Despite his isolation, bin Laden still plotted ways to follow up the Sept. 22, 2001, terror attacks on the United States. But, analysts say, the original al-Qaida had slipped in importance.

"He used to commission or swear-in new members, he proselytized personally, he engaged," Clapper told VOA. "[His] value, his importance, I believe, was his iconic identification and the ideology he represented. And so he was still issuing at least philosophical guidance -- some of it operational, some of it aspirational, and frankly, in my mind, some of it delusional."

Clapper said today's al-Qaida Core-- as the original organization is known -- no longer carries the same threat because bin Laden's lieutenants also have been targeted.

"Al-Qaida Core is, of course, profoundly weakened, but it's not gone," he said. "And that, I think, underscores the necessity of sustaining the pressure on al-Qaida Core."

The intelligence director said al-Qaida has units in Yemen and elsewhere.

"It has created franchises," Clapper said. "But for the most part, with one exception, they are essentially locally focused and not so much consumed with attacking the [U.S.] homeland."

Clapper said Al-Qaida on the Arabian Peninsula is the group he views "as the most dangerous and most threatening to both Europe and the United States."

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