Obama: ‘I could not be prouder’

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Added New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg: “The killing of Osama bin Laden does not lessen the suffering that New Yorkers and Americans experienced at his hands, but it is a critically important victory for our nation — and a tribute to the millions of men and women in our armed forces and elsewhere who have fought so hard for our nation.”

But the State Department issued a sobering reminder that the war on terrorism continues just after the speech was over, putting U.S. embassies on alert and warning Americans traveling worldwide of the possibility of reprisal attacks from al Qaeda.

Bin Laden had been in hiding for most of the last decade after apparently escaping from American forces in the battle of Tora Bora in late 2001, and hiding out along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

The wealthy, Saudi-born bin Laden founded al Qaeda and helped finance the organization’s repeated terrorist attacks. It has been blamed for the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen; the 2005 London bus and subway bombings; and a series of other attacks.

Offshoot groups have also conducted attacks in al Qaeda’s name, and the killing of bin Laden raises the question of who will be the future leaders of the organization.

Regional leaders of terrorist groups affiliated with al Qaeda that could provide future leadership include U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki and Nasir al Wuhayshi in Yemen and Sirajuddin Haqqani in Pakistan.

U.S. intelligence thought it killed bin Laden’s son, Saad bin Laden, in 2010, though reports have surfaced that he may still be alive. He had traveled to Pakistan from Iran in 2009

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, director of the Center for the Study of Terrorist Radicalization at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, said the death of bin Laden would hurt al Qaeda operationally, even beyond the obvious symbolic value.

“Osama bin Laden was more operationally relevant to al Qaeda, even in recent years, than many analysts understood. This is an enormous blow to the jihadi network in multiple ways,” he said.

Still, Mr. Gartenstein-Ross cautioned, the death of bin Laden “does not kill al Qaeda.”

“The jihadi group possesses other rather prominent leaders who can step in to serve as figureheads for the group, along with pairing militant skill sets with operatives, financing and other essentials in order to execute terrorist plots and undertake other militant activities,” he said.

He also warned about the precedent from the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, which quickly overthrew the Taliban regime that had sheltered bin Laden and let al Qaeda set up bases and a network. However, bin Laden himself slipped away.

“Al Qaeda also has numerous affiliate groups that will remain alive and relevant. So this development is highly significant, full stop. But we took our eye off the ball in 2001, thinking al Qaeda was functionally dead when it was anything but. Let’s not make the same mistake again,” he said.

Mr. Szrom agreed, adding that “the war on terror will not be won until the U.S. and its allies decrease the control al Qaeda and its affiliates have in safe havens around the world. The networks and individuals that operate in these territories will continue to plot terror attacks against the West.”

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