10 years after his death, al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden still mobilizes jihadists, South Asia News


A decade after being hunted down and killed in Pakistan by US special forces, Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden retains the ability to mobilize extremists even in a polarized jihadist scene that has changed dramatically in recent years.

Even though Bin Laden’s body was buried in the Arabian Sea from the deck of an American aircraft carrier hours after his death, to avoid the creation of any place of pilgrimage on earth, it remains an example and a symbol for many radical Islamists.

The Saudi national shrewdly understood the importance of propaganda that helped project his charismatic image long after his death. In the videos, he began to appear with an assault rifle by his side, although he rarely saw direct combat himself.

“Osama bin Laden has carefully organized his public figure to cultivate a dedicated following,” said Katherine Zimmerman, advisor for the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute.

“His image – that of a devout Muslim in more traditional dress, but always with his AK-74 handy and often in his camouflage jacket – was designed to portray himself as a leader of the jihad, both spiritually. and militarily, “she said.

War impossible to win”
This calculated image projection was a success, especially for recruiting fighters, said Colin Clarke, research director at the Soufan Center, a U.S.-based risk consultancy.

“Although he has at times been criticized for his love of the media, he was savvy enough to understand the importance of pushing Al Qaeda’s message forward on major platforms,” ​​Clarke told AFP.

After the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States by an al-Qaeda cell under bin Laden‘s orders, the West spent billions of dollars trying to defeat radical Islamist extremists.

But there are undoubtedly more jihadists in the world than they were two decades ago.

And President Joe Biden, who plans to mark the 20th anniversary of 9/11 by withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan by September, will not be able to claim any decisive victory in the operation.

Bin Laden effectively turned war zones into training arenas for jihadists, with the conflicts from Bosnia to Chechnya to Somalia proving fertile ground for extremists who would wreak havoc outside their home country. ‘origin.

“Not only did he threaten to attack the West, but he succeeded and he succeeded in dragging the United States into an impossible war of attrition in Afghanistan, as he had planned,” Clarke said. .

“Yesterday’s news”
Islamic extremism mutated following the death of Bin Laden, with Al-Qaeda losing its status as the world’s leading jihadist network to the Islamic State group, which at its peak controlled entire swathes of Iraq and the United States. Syria.

The two groups, despite shared brutality and extremist ideological zeal, never joined forces and instead became sworn enemies, fighting especially on the battlefield in Syria and in the vast Sahel region of Africa.

But Bin Laden died before this schism occurred, which means his legacy among Islamist extremists is not marred by the disunity that followed.

“Ever since he was killed before 2014 and the split between IS and AQ, he is still well regarded among IS executives,” said Aaron Zelin, a researcher who runs the Jihadology website, which analyzes videos and other extremist content.

“In some ways IS sees itself as the true successor to Bin Laden’s path,” Zelin said, unlike his successor Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian with a much lower global profile.

Over time, bin Laden became above all a myth, with few living jihadists who would have met him in person.

“For many it is the news of yesterday and no longer relevant to today’s concerns,” said Glenn Robinson, author of the recent “Global Jihad: A Brief History”.

“Lionized in the jihadist media”
But within jihadist circles, his strategy is also controversial, including his decision to attack the United States, which for some extremists was a counterproductive move.

“It is still widely seen as a major strategic mistake. Part of the evidence is that very few jihadists still follow this strategy – and most never have,” said Robinson.

Importantly, Al-Qaida is now a brand and a franchise rather than a cohesive organization with a decision-making center. Its branches are active in the Sahel, Somalia, Yemen and Syria but much less in the West.

Bin Laden’s face is always emblazoned on T-shirts, his name appears painted on the backs of cars, and his effigy is often brandished at protests.

Osama bin Laden has been praised by the jihadist media and still appears in the propaganda,” Zimmerman said.

She pointed to a video of Al-Shabaab militants in Somalia after an attack last December, showing them watching a video of bin Laden.

It was an “image placement meant to demonstrate their connection to her heritage,” she said.

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