Professor doubts impact of leader’s death on al-Qaida

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Despite the initial enthusiastic reaction across the nation, a UT professor warned that al-Qaida remains a threat despite the death of Osama bin Laden.

Ami Pedahzur, a government and Middle Eastern studies professor, said bin Laden’s death could bring closure to families of 9/11 victims, but the organization responsible for the attacks is still at large. He said Ayman al-Zawahiri, the man considered to be second in command in al-Qaida, is still free.

“So I think it’s mostly the psychological impact on the American people that is most important and it is probably a psychological blow for al-Qaida,” Pedahzur said.

In the immediate aftermath of bin Laden’s death, Democratic and Republican leaders in Austin and Washington voiced their support for Obama’s mission. Pedahzur said this praise will be short-lived. The success of this mission will not last all the way until the 2012 election, he said.

“Bin Laden is a more of a symbol than anything,” Pedahzur said. “Most of the Arab world rejected him. Clearly there are some people that support him, but I think that it showed that the United States was committed to its goal of taking him out. In terms of their international reputation, it’s going to serve its purpose.”

He said the United States’ relationship with Middle Eastern countries will not change significantly. The Middle East is already in turmoil because of a string of uprisings beginning in Tunisia and spreading to Egypt, Libya and Syria, and bin Laden’s death will not have much of an impact.

Since the invasion of Afghanistan, bin Laden’s role in al-Qaida was greatly diminished because he was on the run from U.S. and coalition forces, Pedahzur said.

“Al-Qaida still represents a threat, and today it is in other places,” Pedahzur said. “You can find them in Yemen and Africa. Those are much more important areas. The individuals that lead them there are much more important than bin Laden.”

Government professor Zoltan Barany said there will be an upset in the al-Qaida organization in the short term, and revenge against the U.S. is a definite possibility. But the lack of a central leader will cause hestitation in the organization.

“In the longer term it is obviously very beneficial for us and it is going to be a major hindrance for al-Qaida because [bin Laden] was its founder and leader,” Barany said. “It will not paralyze al-Qaida.”