Five years since Osama’s death, his ghost lives on

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The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency on Monday thought it was being clever by “live tweeting” the Navy SEAL raid that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, in an ostensible attempt to mark the fifth anniversary of the event.

Yet, it was a testament to persisting insecurities fuelled by global jihadist extremism that, instead of being positively received, the @CIA Twitter handle was broadly panned on social media for the stunt.

The agency ought not to have been surprised. Half a decade after U.S. President Barack Obama made the dramatic announcement that the most-feared terror kingpin was no more, Osama’s philosophy of violent jihad continues to influence attacks against Western interests across the world.

Targeting Africa

In many ways, al-Qaeda has been overwhelmingly replaced by the Islamic State (IS) both as a hub for aspiring terrorists and as the preeminent global jihadist power. Yet, led by Egyptian cleric Ayman al-Zawahiri since June 16, 2011, the terror group has either directly conducted or more tangentially influenced multiple terror attacks the world over.

Notable among them was the September 11, 2012 strike against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in which four Americans were killed, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

That attack came in the wake of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) systematically issuing calls for more attacks against U.S. diplomatic missions.

About four months later, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) retaliated against French strikes in Mali as al- Mourabitoun, an AQIM affiliate, attacked an Algerian natural gas complex at In Amenas, killing at least 39 hostages. When France persisted with its operations in the region, AQIM carried out attacks killing “dozens” in Mali, Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso, reports noted.

Al-Qaeda continues to play a role under the very nose of the splinter group that has apparently cannibalised the parent — the IS. In Syria, al-Nusra Front made an early pledge of allegiance to al-Qaeda, and has now emerged as a major force in the Syrian conflict — a force that neither Western powers nor Russia can ignore as they scramble for a solution on the ground.

South Asian presence

Osama’s legacy was also resurrected for South Asia when, in September 2014, Zawahiri announced the formation of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, a group that has since been linked to several attacks in the region.

Meanwhile, the IS has metastasised and swallowed up a major portion of the foreign fighter recruits, financing and combat materials earlier flowing to al-Qaeda. It has also overshadowed al-Qaeda in terms of attacks and claimed responsibility for strikes in Brussels, Paris, Tunisia, Turkey, Lebanon, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and on a Russian airliner over Egypt, according to analysts.

However, both in terms of the conception of the idea of violent jihad and the continuing threat posed by its regional affiliates, al-Qaeda remains as dangerous a force as its Saudi founder would have ever dreamed it to be.