It’s been a year since Osama bin Laden was killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Newly released documents obtained from his compound indicate that the former al Qaeda leader was fearful of other terror groups. He wanted to focus exclusively on the United States, and especially wanted to take down planes carrying Gen. David Petraeus and President Obama.
Bin Laden dreamed of blowing up oil tankers, hoping to devastate the global economy. He was not informed in advance of the attempted bombing of Times Square in May 2010, and was skeptical of Anwar al-Awlaki’s work to inspire jihadists in the English-speaking world. He was frustrated that the Iranians “do not wish to appear to be negotiating with us or responding to our pressures.” And he worried that the Arab Spring would be a “danger” for the future of al Qaeda.
On a personal level, bin Laden appears to have had an extensive collection of pornography, a direct violation of Islamic law. And he complained that al Qaeda had not been given proper credit for America’s economic downturn.
What do these facts tell us about the future of Islamic terrorism?
One: terror groups are disparate and widely scattered, making a single strategy against them difficult. Unlike conventional armies led by rulers and generals, jihadists follow no single leader or organization. In the year since bin Laden’s death, al Qaeda has expanded into Afghanistan, parts of Africa, Yemen, and Pakistan.
In addition, a number of jihadist groups are operating around the world independent of al Qaeda. Among them: Islamic Jihad in Egypt; al Ummah in India; the Abu Nidal organization in Iraq; Hizbullah in Lebanon; the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade in the West Bank; Hamas in the Gaza Strip; and the Abu Sayyaf Group in the Philippines. Each group has its own goals and strategies; what works in countering one may not work with another.
Two: terrorism is continuing. The death of bin Laden did not lessen the threat of jihadists. A Gallup poll, the largest ever conducted in the Islamic world, indicated that seven percent of the Muslim population have been “radicalized.” This does not mean that seven of every 100 Muslims you know is a jihadist—the percentage would be much higher in Yemen, much lower in America or Indonesia.
What the poll does indicate is that we are fighting the largest enemy we’ve ever faced. Seven percent of 1.6 billion Muslims is 112 million jihadists—three times the forces we faced in World War II and the Cold War, combined. Even worse: the Gallup poll indicated that half of the world’s radicalized Muslims are willing to die in defense of Islam. This fact would indicate 56 million potential suicide bombers. If this number is ten times too high, we would still be facing five million potential jihadists who believe that killing us is a defense of Islam required by the Qur’an.
If Allied forces had captured or killed Hitler earlier in the war effort, World War II would have ended in Europe. Killing bin Laden, while a significant step, did not do the same in the War on Terror.
Three: Americans are still at risk. Bin Laden continued to exhort his followers to attack the United States and our leaders; presumably, his successors are doing the same. “Lone wolf” operators are difficult to find and stop, especially those with American passports. In the years since 9-11, every publicized threat against Americans has been attempted by individual terrorists. There is no reason to believe this trend will change.
The good news is that more Muslims have come to Christ in the last 15 years than in the last 15 centuries. While the “Arab Spring” was born from of a desire for democracy, the “Arab Awakening” has been birthed by visions and dreams of Jesus. It is vital that we pray daily for this awakening to continue across the Muslim world, and especially that we intercede for jihadist leaders to come to Christ.
Osama bin Laden worried about his legacy. “He who does not make known his own history,” he wrote, runs the risk that “some in the media and among historians will construct a history for him.”
Christians can help write the legacy that matters most.