Al-Qaeda still poses a threat, says expert

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Al-Qaeda still poses a threat, says expert
Former US Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) special agent Robert McFadden.

With Osama bin Laden killed and Al-Qaeda members denied sanctuary in a post-Taleban Afghanistan, the terror group seems a spent force today compared with 12 years ago when it launched the Sept 11 attacks on the United States.

Former US Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) special agent Robert McFadden, however, thinks that is far from the truth.

He believes Al-Qaeda, formed 25 years ago, still poses a threat. And despite the decimation of its core group of leaders - including the death of Osama at the hands of US Navy Seals in May 2011 - Al-Qaeda's message of a purported war against Islam by the West still resonates in a very potent way around the world.

"Cutting off the head of the snake does have its effectiveness - just look at core Al-Qaeda, it really doesn't exist in the sense that it did 10 years ago," said Mr McFadden in an interview with The Sunday Times in Singapore last week.

"The big 'however' is that its philosophy of violence as the only solution is still out there and it has proliferated at an alarming rate."

This phenomenon of "Bin Ladenism", he said, is not limited to countries in the Arabian peninsula or Africa. Dangerous offshoots exist in central and South-east Asia, including Jemaah Islamiah (JI), which had plans to attack Singapore targets and some of whose members have been detained here.

Other observers such as Critical Threats Project senior analyst Katherine Zimmerman agree. She wrote in a report released last week that Al-Qaeda affiliates have evolved and now threaten the US as much, if not more so, than the core group. "The affiliates have also developed relationships with local militant Islamist groups... and they have supported the establishment of like-minded local groups," she said.

A similar scenario could play out in Syria, according to a report by the US-based Bipartisan Policy Centre think-tank, which said a "weakened Al-Qaeda has the potential for resurgence in Syria, where the turmoil of civil war could help revive one of the group's close affiliates".

Ayman al-Zawahiri, who succeeded Osama as Al-Qaeda's leader, marked the anniversary of the Sept11 attacks by calling on Muslims to strike inside the US to "bleed" America financially.

In an audio message released last Friday, Zawahiri also warned jihadi fighters involved in the uprising in Syria not to "compromise" with more secular or moderate factions as they would eventually turn against Al-Qaeda-linked groups.

Mr McFadden, now a senior vice-president at The Soufan Group, a strategic consultancy, was in Singapore for a conference on countering violent extremism.

He has held several high-profile positions in the NCIS, including deputy assistant director for counter-intelligence operations, and has served in Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, among other locations in the Middle East and South-west Asia.

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