Terrorism: What Is Al-Qaeda Without Its Boss?

The answer: no matter what happens to bin Laden, the group still has many tentacles

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Might al-Qaeda refocus its fury closer to home? Possibly, yet working against Arab regimes from within their restrictive confines is tricky. Bin Laden's No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, served three years in an Egyptian prison in connection with the 1981 murder of President Anwar Sadat and afterward decided it would be better to be a terrorist outside his native land. He eventually moved to Afghanistan with bin Laden. The Egyptian government's unforgiving policies on terrorism, though decried by human rights groups, have brought a relative calm over the past four years.

Other Middle Eastern countries, particularly Lebanon and Yemen, aren't as thoroughly policed. Jordanian and Israeli intelligence officials have told TIME that there are al-Qaeda operatives from the Philippines, Egypt, Afghanistan and Lebanon at Lebanon's Ein al-Hilweh camp for Palestinian refugees. Al-Qaeda appears to be using the camp as a Middle East base, having cemented ties with the camp's extremist Palestinian Islamist group, Usbat al-Ansar, a year ago. Thanks to Usbat al-Ansar, the camp is a virtually autonomous area where the government has no authority.

Similarly, the Yemeni government lacks control over large patches of its country, which is home to many bin Laden followers. Like Afghanistan, Yemen has remote, mountainous regions that provide ideal havens for terrorists. The attack on the U.S.S. Cole in 2000 was carried out by Saudi citizens of Yemeni origin as well as some Yemeni nationals (including Mohammed Omar al-Harazi, the suspected organizer of the bombing, who is being sought by the FBI and Yemeni authorities). Yemen has powerful tribal warlords and government officials whose sympathies and connections with bin Laden run deep.

Still, the Yemeni government has tried hard in recent weeks to keep its borders closed so that its Islamic extremists can't fight alongside the Taliban. Across the Middle East, hundreds of jihad organizers used to help send such fighters abroad with government approval. Thousands of Yemenis, Saudis and Gulf state nationals joined the Afghan mujahedin battling the Soviets in the 1980s and the Bosnian Muslims fighting Serbia in the '90s. But now many of those same jihad organizers have been detained by their governments. Officials learned the hard way that encouraging jihad can mean fomenting dissent at home when the radicalized fighters return from their battles.

Arab crackdowns could eventually just drive Islamic extremists to nations more respectful of civil liberties. Most countries in Europe--particularly France, Spain and Italy--are aggressively pursuing any suspected al-Qaeda members or sympathizers. But the British and Canadians have always been more squeamish about police tactics that require some religious and ethnic profiling. "London, all on its own, is home to probably more dangerous extremist leaders than Afghanistan," snipes a French terrorism expert. "These people and their intimates are the European command [of al-Qaeda]. There's no reason to imagine they'd stop simply if al-Qaeda or its leaders took a blow in Afghanistan."

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