After Bin Laden, Al-Qaida Still Present As Movement A year after the Navy SEAL operation in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that killed Osama bin Laden, the CIA is stepping up drone attacks in Yemen and has broadened its targeting of al-Qaida's arm there. It is clear that al-Qaida isn't dead yet, and counterterrorism officials say the group is diminished. But its ideology, a kind of al-Qaida-ism, will take longer to die.
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After Bin Laden, Al-Qaida Still Present As Movement

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After Bin Laden, Al-Qaida Still Present As Movement

After Bin Laden, Al-Qaida Still Present As Movement

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Renee Montagne is on assignment in Afghanistan. I'm David Greene.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

One year ago today, only a few people knew the truth. Navy SEALS were boarding helicopters and heading for Pakistan. Across the border was a compound U.S. intelligence had been watching. Inside that compound, they thought the world's most famous terrorist was hiding.

GREENE: One year later, Osama bin Laden is dead. And U.S. intelligence agencies are still listening to phone calls or peering at distant houses. They want to know how bin Laden's group, al-Qaida, has changed.

President Obama's counterterrorism chief is John Brennan.

JOHN BRENNAN: The death of bin Laden was our most strategic blow yet against al-Qaida. And for the first time since this fight began, we can look ahead and envision a world in which the al-Qaida core is simply no longer relevant.

INSKEEP: Note that he said al-Qaida's core could become irrelevant. The group's ideas may well go on, as NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Ever since the death of bin Laden, the intelligence community has changed the way it looks at al-Qaida. Officials now divide their analysis of the group into two distinct categories. The first is al-Qaida as an organization - how the group's core is faring. And the second is al-Qaida as a movement, whether it continues to attract followers to its ideology.

Officials say that a year after bin Laden's death, the organization is almost dead. It's the movement that worries them.

DANIEL BYMAN: The mother al-Qaida is a couple hundred people. And it's certainly shown it's capable, it's lethal. But its real army, if you will, are these affiliate groups.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Daniel Byman is a fellow at the Brookings Institution. And he explains the metamorphosis of al-Qaida and how the threat has shifted from the core group to its affiliates.

BYMAN: A number of groups around the globe have taken on the al-Qaida label and this trend actually seems to be accelerating. And so we see groups that primarily had a local agenda, a local focus, local fighters having somewhat of an al-Qaida flavor to them.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Yemen is the example that gets the most attention, but there are others. Consider a group in Nigeria called Boko Haram. It's been in the headlines recently for attacking Christian targets in Nigeria, mostly churches and schools. Right now the Boko Haram attacks are local and they target non-Muslims.

What intelligence officials are watching for is whether that changes, whether al-Qaida's new leadership can take groups like that and get them to embrace a global agenda and attack Western targets.

Phil Mudd is a former top counterterrorism official from the CIA and the FBI. And he says the battle against al-Qaida is far from over.

PHIL MUDD: We know it's over when we see people who don't cite al-Qaida ideology for attempting to acquire weapons and conduct attacks. There are still kids out there who say, I want to be a member.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The gunman who was responsible for France's worst terror attacks in years would fall into that category. He'd never been trained by al-Qaida but he embraced the group's ideology. He claimed to be an al-Qaida member and in March killed three Jewish children, a rabbi, and three paratroopers.

Mudd says that's the kind of terrorism we should expect from al-Qaida now that bin Laden is dead.

MUDD: But ideology has a slow death. Ideas have a half life of years or decades. And this idea was quite deeply rooted, I think, in extremist circles. For an idea to be uprooted to me takes not a year, not a couple of years. We're only 10 years into this - operationally that's a long time. Ideologically it's not. Another 10 years, maybe, and we ought to be done.

TEMPLE-RASTON: In the meantime, intelligence officials are continuing to keep a close eye on the group's core operation. And they are focused on three things: whether al-Qaida is able to recruit new members, whether it can raise money, and whether Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's successor, has any command or control over the people who are killing in the name of al-Qaida.

Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News.

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