Al-Qaida is much stronger than it was on 9/11 despite the death of Osama bin Laden and it's a virtual certainty that the growing terrorist group will launch a major revenge attack, according to author and former CIA bin Laden-expert Michael Scheuer.
In an exclusive Newsmax.TV interview, Scheuer predicted that bin Laden will have “an enduring resonance among Muslims for hundreds of years,” because he hurt the United States and survived for a decade afterward.
“It’s a bigger organization geographically, it’s a bigger organization in numbers, and on a whole there are more mujahedeen in the field against us today than there were on 9/11,” Scheuer told Newsmax. “So this is a problem that America hasn’t come to grips with yet.”
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A revenge attack from al-Qaida against American or Western targets is “certain.” He adds: “They will counterpunch. I’m not sure it’s going to be in the near term though. If they have something they can do that’s on the shelf, they’ll do it. Otherwise, they’ll plan and execute an operation that is of significant size.”
Don't be fooled by the rosily optimistic scenarios of democratic revolution spreading across the Arab landscape, Scheuer advises. Already, Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups are moving to exploit the turmoil in Egypt. Al-Qaida, too, will seek to move in and fill the power vacuum in places like Libya and Syria.
“Islam is on the rise across the Middle East at the moment, despite BBC and CNN singing the praises of so-called democrats in Egypt,” Scheuer said.
From 1996 to 1999, Scheuer led the CIA unit hunting bin Laden, and he also helped the CIA search for the al-Qaida chief following the 9/11 attacks. His book “Osama bin Laden” was published in February.
According to Scheuer, bin Laden always envisioned that the Islamic struggle with the West would take decades.
“He had long argued that this was a generational war, that he wouldn’t be around to see the end of it,” Scheuer said. “And certainly over the past four or five years he has dispersed his organization in order to survive just what happened on Sunday, the killing of the head of the snake.”
He said there is little doubt al-Qaida has gained strength. On 9/11, al-Qaida was primarily based in Afghanistan, with just a few other peripheral locations.
“Now it is still in parts of Afghanistan, it’s well established in Pakistan, it’s in Yemen, it’s in Iraq, it’s in the Levant in Gaza, it’s in Somalia, and it’s in northern Africa,” he said.
Although Scheuer predicts bin Laden’s stature in the Muslim world will endure, he added that “It’s much preferable to have a dead martyr than to have a live, smart guy. And he was a very smart, very modern manager in many ways. So the United States certainly is better off with him dead.”
Bin Laden’s death clearly is a blow to al-Qaida, he said. “But to think that his influence is now going to recede in the near term, or even in the distant term, is a mistake,” he added.
Scheuer predicts that Obama’s lieutenant, Ayman al-Zawahiri, will rise to become the temporary head of al-Qaida. But he warns regional al-Qaida commanders in Yemen and Afghanistan actually may pose the greater threat to the United States.
Other highlights from the exclusive Newsmax interview:
• The intelligence gathered during the raid on bin Laden’s compound near Islamabad is “perishable information.” Terror operatives will soon begin covering their tracks, so the information must be translated and acted upon as soon as possible.
• It is naïve to think the United States has the “whip hand” in its dealings with nuclear-armed Pakistan due to its $1.5 billion in aid. “We’re trying to keep together a country that’s falling apart because of the help they’ve given us,” he said. “They have a civil war in their own country at the moment, in order to make sure those nuclear weapons remain safe. So it’s a relationship where we really don’t have the whip hand. We want those nuclear weapons safe. We also want to use Pakistan as a platform for Afghanistan. So in many ways we don’t have any choice.”
• Publishing still pictures won’t quell rumors bin Laden is still alive, he said. “You can do almost anything with Photoshop these days to create a picture that you want,” he said. “You would have to have video, or something more than just simply snapshots of a man shot in the head twice.”
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