By B. Raman
It used to be said that Osama bin Laden moved around with a large number of bodyguards to protect him. They had instructions to kill him to prevent his being captured. It would be difficult for him to remain undetected in urban areas because of the presence of a large number of bodyguards with him. So it was said. When his hide-out was raided by the US Navy Seals on the night between May 1 and 2, 2011, there were hardly any bodyguards in his house. He was killed with hardly any attempt being made by anybody to protect him.
He took only trusted Arabs — mainly from his tribe in Yemen and Saudi Arabia — into his entourage. He did not take non-Arabs. This was to thwart the attempts of the CIA to penetrate his entourage. So it used to be said. At his Abbottabad house, the only Arabs with him were his three wives, a grown-up son and some other children, much younger in age. The two persons most trusted by him in his entourage were not Arabs, but two Kuwaitis of Pakistani origin, who were possibly brothers or cousins. They seemed to have engaged in an exchange of fire with the Navy SEALS to protect OBL. Both of them were killed. In Al Qaeda, next to Arabs, the most trusted members of his entourage used to be Kuwaitis of Pakistani origin and Yemeni Balochs (of mixed Yemeni Baloch parentage). Ramzi Yousef, who co-ordinated the 1993 explosion in the World Trade Centre at New York, was a Kuwaiti of Pakistani origin. So was Khalid Sheikh Mohammad (KSM), who co-ordinated the 9/11 terrorist strikes in the US. So were the two brothers or cousins on whom OBL was dependent as couriers and for ensuring his security in his Abbottabad house.
OBL would put up a brave fight and kill himself instead of letting himself be captured by the Americans. Similar things used to be said of V. Prabakaran, the leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) of Sri Lanka. Prabakaran used to ask his followers to commit suicide rather than fall into the hands of the security forces by consuming pottasium cyanide. Prabakaran died a pathetic death at the hands of the SL security forces without putting up a fight or without consuming the cyanide. Like Prabakaran, OBL too seems to have died a pathetic death at the hands of the SEALS without putting up a fight.
OBL used to be described as the ideological head of Al Qaeda, who provided ideological guidance and inspiration to his followers leaving the responsibility for co-ordinating individual operations to his lieutenants such as KSM. The documents and other details recovered so far show that he was mainly concentrating on PSYWAR in the form of audio and video messages and providing ideas for individual operations. His focus was on mass casualty strikes, mainly directed against Americans and American cities. His operational diary and computer records reportedly give more details of past operations than of planned strikes in future. He used to give general instructions regarding the future such as the need for attacks on railway trains in the US, but beyond that, the evidence collected so far does not reportedly give any inkling of what Al Qaeda was planning in terms of individual strikes in future.
Many terrorist strikes such as the London explosions of July 2005 do not reportedly figure in his records examined so far. This could show that Al Qaeda might not have had a direct hand in these strikes.
There has so far been no public outburst over the death of OBL — either in Pakistan or in the Arab countries. This would indicate that public support in the Islamic world for OBL might have been over-estimated. It would seem that Al Qaeda was an elitist movement of educated Muslim youth who nursed intense anger against the US and Israel for various reasons, but it was probably not a mass movement enjoying the support of large sections of the Muslims. However, the hard core of motivated and well-trained cadres raised by Al Qaeda and OBL remains largely intact. So long as they remain intact and their motivation and anger remain strong, Al Qaeda and its affiliates would continue to pose the same threat as before the death of OBL. Al Qaeda would not collapse as a result of the death of OBL. It would gradually wither away over a period of five to 10 years. The threat from Al Qaeda remains strong. But, could it reach a new crescendo? It would be difficult to answer this question till more details of the impact of OBL’s death on its hard core become available.