The Power & Policy Fellows’ Forum
By Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, Senior Fellow, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
We must remain especially vigilant over the next weeks and months. There is likely to be a global spike in terrorist threats as al-Qaeda digs deep in increasingly desperate attempts to avenge their leader’s death and reestablish their relevance on the world stage.
Of most concern, Ayman al-Zawahiri, the presumptive new leader of the group, may try to make good on his 2008 promise to mount a mass casualty attack on US soil. Al-Qaeda’s ability to do so will depend on what concrete plans, if any, that they already have in motion; the group’s capacity is likely to continue diminishing over time.
In recent comments on the Arab Spring, al-Zawahiri betrayed his deeper concerns that al-Qaeda’s influence is waning and that the movement’s narrative may have been overtaken by events. Al-Zawahiri pleaded with his readers to give al-Qaeda credit for weakening the US. He launched into his usual diatribe against the United States, studiously ignoring the more optimistic reality that people seem more interested in addressing their grievances, rather than blaming others for their problems.
It is perhaps an apt twist of history that Osama bin Laden’s passing marks a time of great change and a new beginning in the Middle East. As people take destiny in their own hands, this hopeful future does not appear to include al-Qaeda’s ideology of violence.
Before joining the Belfer Center as a senior fellow, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen served for three years as the Director of Intelligence and Counterintelligence at the U.S. Department of Energy, and before that spent 23 years as a CIA intelligence officer in domestic and international posts, including Deputy Associate Director of Central Intelligence for Military Support.