Does Bin Laden still control Al Qaeda?

Osama Bin Laden a Saudi Arabia subject of Yemen descent has become the top international villain and a well-known household name across the globe, due to its leadership to the fearsome Al Queda international terrorist network. In this paper I will argue in favor that Osama Bin Laden doesn’t control Al Qaeda nowadays; at least not in the way the international media are presenting him as a commander in chief, but he has become a sort of an icon of the cause that this terrorist group is portraying to struggle for.

 First of all in order to examine a terrorist organization that by its nature it operates in a secretive mode, the most illuminating arguments should be based on its modus operative and the complexity of its attacks. Thus demonstrations of its command& control system could be revealed and the role of Bin Laden on them. Since the attack on the twin towers on 9/11 a series of attacks, albeit outside the USA, occurred coupled with appearances of Bin Laden who congratulated the terrorist acts and gave at times guidelines for more. On a first glances his role as the main culprit and organizer can be of a safe assumption. Nevertheless the complexity of 9/11 has not been achieved and the following attacks demonstrated a local, loose and much less centralized method of execution. For instance the last large scale attack-successful- was in London at 7/7/2005 that was planned and performed by a group of young Brits of Pakistani descent mostly, that were obviously not well trained and they didn’t have a specific target at mind but rather a mass murderous attack anywhere was in their plans. In comparison the 9/11 was a special operations plan par excellence that required years of rigid preparations, an iron discipline to its executors and of course enough resources that only a well formed leadership with a wide spectrum of international connections and a commanding-respectful personality like Bin Laden’s could have dominated. Actually after the Attacks in the USA no other operation by Al Qaeda has showed the previous elements of a centralized and highly specialized operation that would require long term planning by the authorization of Bin Laden. It is fair to speculate that after the “Triumph” for Bin Laden in his major battle against the USA he has withdrawn and all the other attacks are planned and executed by individual and autonomous Al Qaeda cells and possibly aspiring new Bin Laden’s.
 A second assumption that ultimately leads to diminishing role of Bin Laden in Al Quaeda’s operations is the existence of  “The war against terror” campaign launched by the USA and many other nations all over the world. Secret services and law enforcement authorities have as their main target the capture of Bin Laden, who is presumably hiding in the intractable mountainous areas of North Western Pakistan. To the aforementioned the increased SIGINT surveillance in any electronic signals that could be send or received by Bin Laden, severely handicaps his ability to form comprehensible attack strategies and most importantly being able to communicate effectively with his followers that are spread throughout the world. Therefore there could not be any leadership without the vital tool of communication and the ability to overview the cells of the terrorist organization. The followers of Al Qaeda are mostly of Middle Eastern origins and people coming from these cultural environments have the tendency of closely adhering to centralized directions  and pyramid like leadership(i). In simple words Bin Laden given the fact that he is retreated in an isolated area and lacking the capability of directing his organization has lost his leadership posture, at least as in the Western notion leadership can be acknowledged.

 Another detail that adds to the assumption that Bin Laden is no longer the “Capo di Capo” of Al Qaeda is the current nature of attacks by the terrorist network. They resemble a kind of world – wide urban guerilla warfare, a clear Eastern view of the way a war should be conducted vs the Western way of war(ii) . The guerilla warfare when conducted in such a wide geographical terrain from Madrid to Amman and to Bali, does not require a centralized structure with an all-encompassing leader like Bin Laden, because that would impair the ability to be flexible, adaptive and in general become an asymmetric threat to the well organized and heavily prepared state infrastructures of the Western states. Therefore Bin Laden’s control and command posture would simply be useless in this kind of war and instead his spiritual guidance is of importance especially when considering the nature of this 21st century war.
 All the above bring to consideration the hypothesis that Bin Laden is not a leader of Al Qaeda, but he is a figurehead that acts as a sentimental leverage for a variety of terrorist group-Al Qaeda included of course- and is steadily becoming in a frightening-distorted way a kind of a modern age “Prophet”, alluring for the hopeless masses of the Muslim world. Historically this is not a unique development. During the Middle Ages  the Ismael sect of the “Assassinos” culminated terror with its continuous terrorist acts all over the Middle East and with the terror laden figure of the “Old man in the mountain” as its leader(iii). Modern historical research hasn’t revealed the identity of that leader, but that little mattered since various groups in the then world claimed to represent him and exercised a series of attacks against their enemies. Apart from all these it is a well known fact that the Prophet image is still a strong collective archetype in the Muslim world and in that sense Bin Laden’s leadership in the Al Qaeda maybe of a more subtle, intriguing and perhaps of more solid nature, rather than just being the operative head of the terrorist network.

(i) Derived from Prof. Geert Hofstede theories&principles on intercultural communication. “Culture& Communication”, McGraw Hill International(
London, 1991.ISBN 0 00 637740 8


(ii) “The

Western Way

of war”, by Victor Davis Hanson, Alfred A. Knopg inc,
New York, 1989. ISBN 960-86839-7-1 and the “History of war fare”, by John Keegan, Livanis publ.
Athens, 1997, Greek Ed. ISBN 960-236-788-1

(iii) Derived from Bernarnd’s Luis “The Assassins: Aradical sect in Islam”,
London, 1967. Greek edition by the Trohalias publ.
Athens, 2000. ISBN 960-7809-67-X. All Rights Reserved & Ioannis Michaletos 


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