Political analysts were split Monday over the likelihood of revenge attacks on American interests in the Middle East after the death of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a US-led operation in Pakistan.
The death of the mastermind of the September 11 terror attacks could serve to incite extremist groups in the Middle East, security experts said, as Islamic militants took to online forums to hint at revenge.
"Osama may be killed but his message of Jihad will never die. Brothers and sisters, wait and see, his death will be a blessing in disguise," said one poster on an Islamist forum.
The US has warned its citizens overseas to be on high alert against “anti-American violence”, a warning that Political Capital analyst Ghanem Nuseibeh said was well-founded.
“AQAP [Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula] will present a greater threat to Yemen and the Gulf in the coming weeks,” Nuseibeh said. “AQAP out of Yemen and out of Saudi in particular will be looking to take revenge.
“Prime interests will be American interests, whether it’s American businesses or American citizens. We suspect that they may also even look at soft targets... such as hotels and public places. Americans will need to be vigilant.”
Bin Laden was killed in Islamabad in a firefight with a team of US operatives who raided the compound where he had been hiding. After 40 minutes of fighting, bin Laden and an adult son, one unidentified woman and two men were dead.
Theodore Karasik of the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis said al Qaeda would likely have established plans in place for retaliation.
“I think we need to be vigilant against a possible attack,” he said in an interview Monday. “Al Qaeda is the kind of organisation that has prepared plans for retribution in the case that bin Laden was killed or captured. The question is: are these plans still valid?”
America and its citizens will need to be on high alert against possible attacks, particularly on memorable anniversaries or dates, Karasik said.
“Dates to watch for are 40 days from now… at the end of the grieving period and September 11,” he told Arabian Business.
News of bin Laden’s death was greeted with cheers on America’s streets. Crowds gathered in Times Square and outside the White House to mark the end of a decade-long manhunt, chanting slogans and singing songs.
Former US President George W. Bush, who was in office during the 9/11 terror attacks, said the death of the world’s most-wanted terrorist sent “an unmistakable message.”
“No matter how long it takes, justice will be done,” he said.
Marie Bos of Control Risks Middle East, however, said the death of al Qaeda’s leader was largely symbolic and would be unlikely to spark a wave of retaliatory attacks.
“Al Qaeda is extremely decentralised and the groups currently operating in the Middle East and North Africa have quite a high level of autonomy from the core,” she said. “We don’t feel that the death of Bin Laden is going to necessarily impact on their activities.
“However, we must monitor the situation very closely. His death could motivate self-radicalized militants and established groups to carry out attacks against foreign interests.”