After bin Laden: questions, conspiracies and Al Qaeda today

A year after the killing of Osama bin Laden, some Pakistanis say they are as confused about the circumstances of his death as they were then, while Al Qaeda groups still continue militant activities throughout Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

ISLAMABAD // A year after the killing of Osama bin Laden, some Pakistanis say they are as confused about the circumstances of his death as they were then.

The world's most wanted man was killed in a dramatic night-time raid by US Navy Seals on May 2 last year in his hideout in the town of Abbottabad, home to Pakistan's main military academy.

The killing raised questions at home and abroad about whether Pakistani military and intelligence service were too incompetent to catch the Al Qaeda leader or knew all along where was hiding.

Pakistani authorities set up a commission to look into how bin Laden could have lived for several years undetected at a house a few kilometres from its military academy and how the United States was able to conduct the raid without the military's knowledge.

But Pakistanis are still waiting for the commission's findings.

"It was a shame that Osama was living among us. But the American attack was a bigger shame because our army did not know when foreigners intruded into our country," Nighat Anees, a retired college professor said yesterday.

"But so far we don't know who was responsible for this. No one has been punished so far. I doubt that anyone will be ever punished for this shame."

Analysts say the mystery surrounding the bin Laden saga is unlikely to be resolved given the country's turbulent history in which investigations into national security issues have never yielded results mainly because of army interference.

"Pakistani security establishment would like to forget this event because an investigation would expose either failure or some sort of connivance and it would like to avoid it," Hasan Askari Rizvi, an independent security and political analyst based in Lahore said.

"The military holds sway in these matters … and from the military point of view, Osama bin Laden's killing is a closed chapter and they won't like to reopen it," he said.

The military has directly ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 65 years of independence.

In what is seen by many as ignominious end to one of the embarrassing events in the country's history, Pakistani security forces in February demolished the fortresslike house in Abbottabad. This month they deported to Saudi Arabia bin Laden's three wives and 11 children who had been living with him.

That bin Laden was living in Abbottabad as well as the US military's disposal of his body at sea and its decision not to release photographs of it gave rise to conspiracy theories in Pakistan.

"It was all drama staged by America. There was no Osama in Abbottabad. It is a conspiracy against Islam," said Ahmed Jan, an Islamabad fruit-seller in his 30s.

Bin Laden's killing also sparked mistrust between the military and the government of President Asif Ali Zardari and led to speculation that the army might try to topple the civilian leadership. The controversy eased after the army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, said he had no plans to stage a coup.

The killing of bin Laden dealt a major blow to Al Qaeda, but the threat of Islamic militancy inspired by him is far from over.

Hundreds of militants loyal to Al Qaeda and the Taliban have been killed in a series of military offensives in their strongholds along the Afghan border in recent years but they still manage to stage major attacks across Pakistan.

This month, scores of militants stormed a high-security prison in the town of Bannu and freed more than 350 prisoners, including many dangerous militants, in the largest jailbreak in country's history.

Yesterday, the Islamabad edition of The News said Al Qaeda had appointed a tribal militant, Farman Shinwari, as the new chief of the terror group's operations in Pakistan.

"Al Qaeda has weakened but it still exists. It still has a network, which is a major threat to Pakistan and the world," Mahmood Shah, a former security chief of Pakistan's tribal belt.

‘Disaster after disaster’ for Al Qaeda under siege

WASHINGTON // Osama bin Laden bemoaned “disaster after disaster” inflicted by United States drone strikes on Al Qaeda before he was killed and even mulled changing his terror group’s name.

The US president Barack Obama’s top counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan said Al Qaeda was losing “badly” under a huge US assault, was a “shadow” of its former self and that its core leadership would soon be “no longer relevant”.

Mr Brennan said in a speech in Washington that the Al Qaeda leader’s frustration poured out in documents seized from his compound by the US Navy Seals who killed him a year ago.

“He confessed to ‘disaster after disaster,’” Mr Brennan said, adding that some of the captured material would be published online this week by the Combating Terrorism Center at the US Military Academy at West Point.

Mr Brennan argued that a relentless US drone campaign and other pressure had left Al Qaeda weakened and unable to replace wiped-out leaders.

“Under intense pressure in the tribal regions of Pakistan, they have fewer places to train and groom the next generation of operatives. They’re struggling to attract new recruits,” Mr Brennan said in a speech at the Woodrow Wilson Centre for International Scholars. “Morale is low.”

He said that the documents gathered at bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad showed that he urged his subordinates to flee Pakistani tribal regions for places “away from aircraft photography and bombardment”.

Things got so bad that bin Laden considered changing the group’s name, Mr Brennan said.

“In short, Al Qaeda is losing, badly. And bin Laden knew it,” he said, adding that bin Laden had complained about the Obama administration’s decision to stop using the phrase “war on terror”.

Mr Brennan also said that the administration’s tactics against Al Qaeda had made it harder than ever for “core” Al Qaeda leaders to plan and execute large-scale attacks.

“Today, it is increasingly clear that compared to 9/11, the core Al Qaeda leadership is a shadow of its former self,” Mr Brennan said.

“For the first time since this fight began, we can look ahead and envision a world in which the Al Qaeda core is simply no longer relevant.”

* Agence France-Presse

Al Qaeda today

Boko Haram

Base Northern Nigeria
Origin 2002 Started by cleric Mohammed Yusef 2009 Group began shoot-outs with police; Yusef captured, killed in detention
Stated goals Bring Islamic law to Nigeria; name means "Western Education is Forbidden"
Tactics Suicide bombs, vehicle-borne IEDs to attack churches, police, government
Connections Claims support from Al Qaeda in Islamic Magreb, Taliban; hints of training from Al Shabab
High-profile attacks Aug 26, 2011 Attack on UN offices in Abuja, Nigeria; about 20 killed Dec 25, 2011 Nigerian churches hit by bombs, 40 die

Al Qaeda in Islamic Magreb

Base Algeria, Mali
Origin 1992 After Algerian elections were cancelled at the point when Islamists had chance to win
Stated goals Oust Algerian rulers; shares Al Qaeda's goals; has added US as target
Tactics Well armed; raises money through kidnapping
Connections Osama bin Laden was early supporter, 2006 Merged with Al Qaeda
High-profile attacks April 11, 2007 Car bombs outside prime minister's office, police stations in Algiers; at least 23 killed; 160 injured

Al Shabab

Base Somalia
Origin 2006 Began as militant wing of an Islamist group that controlled most of southern Somalia
Stated goals Establish Sharia in Somalia, drive out African Union peacekeepers
Tactics Suicide attacks; insurgency against government
Connections Claimed an affiliation with Al Qaeda since 2007
High-profile attacks July 11, 2010 Bombings in Kampala, Uganda during World Cup; killed at least 70

Al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula

Base Yemen
Origin 2009 Merger of Yemeni and Saudi Al Qaeda branches
Stated goals Establish safe haven in Yemen; inspire others to attack international targets
Tactics Suicide bombs, kidnapping in Sudan
Connections One of the founders was close to bin Laden
High-profile attacks Oct 12, 2000 Attack on USS Cole; 13 killed Dec 25, 2009 Failed underwear bomb plot on flight 253 to Detroit


Base Northwest Pakistan
Origin 1993 Began as military wing of Islamist group Markaz-ad-Dawa-wal-Irshad; recruited fighters for Taliban
Stated goals Islamic rule in India; unite Muslim-majority regions that surround Pakistan
Tactics Machine guns, rocket- propelled grenades, explosives
Connections Was in contact with bin Laden; operates in India, Afghanistan, Chechnya
High-profile attacks Nov 26, 2008 Ten armed terrorists launch three days of coordinated attacks in Mumbai, India; kill 164, injured 308