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Al Qaeda set for a bleak future

Terror expert:?Group will never be the same again. Immediate priority for leaders is just to stay alive.

Evading capture will be the overwhelming priority for al Qaeda’s central leadership in the Afghan-Pakistan border area after the U.S. seized potentially vital intelligence during the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

The delicate task of agreeing on a replacement for the group’s founder and inspirational figurehead, let alone avenging his death, are challenges that may have to wait.

If and when the 20 or so core commanders feel their physical security has been adequately safeguarded, the group can start to assess bin Laden’s loss, agree on a new chief and renew ties to the group’s allies and affiliates.

The view, from their perspective, will be bleak: Even before bin Laden’s death, mainly peaceful revolts against Arab despots had made al Qaeda’s path of violence seem ever more irrelevant.

“Al Qaeda Central will continue, zombie-like, to wreak havoc, but it will never be the same,” wrote Thomas Hegghammer, a scholar at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment.

“Bin Laden ... was the driving force of the organization and much has died with him.”

And avenging his death, in the short term, will be a job best delegated to the tiny but passionate global community of al Qaeda sympathizers, counterterrorism experts say.

But the immediate task will simply be to protect life and liberty, assessing what new dangers have been created by the seizure of intelligence during the raid on bin Laden’s house.

Who will be the new face of al Qaeda?

Leah Farrall, a former senior counterterrorism analyst with the Australian Federal Police, said security would dominate the thinking of al Qaeda’s South Asia-based core in the short term.

“Al Qaeda is unlikely to waste operatives on hasty retaliation. It will incite others to, but its own efforts will come later.”

Richard Barrett, a United Nations official who monitors al Qaeda and the Taliban said al Qaeda knew it had to show relevance at a period of great change in the Arab world.

“The timing is not good for them.

“They will also need to ensure that they are not left behind by some deal-making with the Pakistanis, or even with the Afghans/U.S. in Afghanistan.”

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