Since the killing of Osama bin Laden, counterterrorism officials have been speculating about who will replace him and debating whether Al-Qaeda can continue without its charismatic leader. Al-Qaeda websites and forums, representing different branches and segments of the terror organization as well as its global affiliates, were at first quiet. Soon, however, came demands for proof that bin Laden was indeed dead, followed by calls for congratulating the sheikh on his “martyrdom.” Following that came online statements promising attacks on America.
American celebrations of the assassination in front of the White House, at Ground Zero and Times Square in New York, and across the U.S. were denounced in the Arab media, as well as by Al-Qaeda, which in return promised to have the last laugh: “…We grieved when we saw the Americans take to the streets, singing and dancing in joy over his death. [But] we are glad when we remember that if these miserable people knew the large reward, high stature, comfort, and happiness [of the afterlife] Allah has prepared for those close to him and for the martyrs, their celebration would turn to mourning, their laughter to tears, and their joy to sorrow… Today, we are a nation denied vengeance, and it is a time for vengeance and anger, not for crying… America did not know what risk it took and what disaster it [would face],” wrote Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, on May 8, 2011.
“That swine Obama does not know that you [bin Laden] have raised a generation of [true] faith and monotheism, which will shake the very foundations of Washington and pulverize the pillars of the White House. O Obama, wait for the lions of jihad,” warned the Ansar Al-Mujahideen website on May 6, 2011.
The Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Fajr media center, which publishes Al-Qaeda propaganda, said in a May 10, 2011 statement: “To the American people … killing bin Laden was a major mistake, which will bring many disasters…” It went on to warn that it is the American people who will “pay the price for Obama’s mistake,” because they elected him.
In a May 11, 2011 statement, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed that although the Americans have killed bin Laden, they have not killed the idea of jihad which he promoted: “Do not portray the battle in such a superficial manner and believe the fools among you [who say] that if you killed Osama the matter is over. What is coming is worse and more painful, and what awaits you is harsher and more destructive. When it comes, you will feel remorse and miss the days [when] Sheikh [Osama bin Laden] was alive…”
At a rally held by the Somali Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Shabab Al-Mujahideen in memory of bin Laden on May 11, 2011, American jihadist Abu Mansour Al-Amriki was among the speakers threatening American interests and comparing the fall of the Roman Empire to the U.S. He said: “Today, we remind Obama and the rest of his cronies that they have entered the long war, the war of hearts and minds, the war of blood, sweat, and tears, the war of will and determination … May Allah accept our dear beloved Sheikh [Osama bin Laden] and cause our swords to be instruments of his avengement…”
The Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF) also threatened the American people, on May 13, 2011, pledging that an American Al-Qaeda operative, Rakan ben Williams, will launch a terror attack. It should be noted that the name “Rakan ben Williams” has been used by various Islamist propaganda outlets since 2006, to identify a supposed Westerner who converted to Islam and joined Al-Qaeda; some speculate that he is not a real person.
Many of the most prominent writers on Al-Qaeda’s main online jihadi forum Shumoukh Al-Islam have also been discussing revenge attacks. “Abu Suleiman Al-Nasser” released a two-minute audio recording on May 4, 2011 calling for a general enlistment of jihad supporters throughout the world and for immediate attacks against Americans and against U.S. and NATO targets. Abu Suleiman also warned Muslims in the U.S. and Europe to avoid certain areas and promised, “Let us show the nations of unbelief that even if they killed Osama, we have thousands of Osamas.”
In a May 5, 2011 post, “Abu Shadia” addressed all those who engage in “media jihad,” urging them to launch a media campaign in response to bin Laden’s death and promised: “… We urge the nation [to internalize] the following [fact]: Any American or European, regardless of nationality, man or woman, military officer or civilian, on Muslim soil or in [the West], is a legitimate target for us to kill…”
One of the most notable responses came on May 5, 2011; “Abu Al-Fadl Al-Madi” authored a post suggesting that Al-Qaeda not respond impulsively to the assassination of bin Laden, but that it focus its efforts on retaliatory operations. Al-Madi called on Al-Qaeda to establish a special unit to prepare a list of wanted individuals, to include everyone connected to the assassination, and to pursue them, even after they leave their positions in government or the military. The post said this list should even include “their names and addresses and those of anyone who is in contact with them… The [U.S.] special unit that is responsible for the killing of the commanders of the mujahedeen must be first among the military targets [of the mujahedeen]…”
More reactions and threats can be expected to come from Al-Qaeda’s many affiliates. For more on this subject and on the subject of online jihad, visit MEMRI’s Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor Project.
Steven Stalinsky is the Executive Director of The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).