Experts: Al-Qaida, offshoots remain threats

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Peter King, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. presides over the committee's hearing to examine the threat implications of the killing of Osama Bin Laden on Capitol Hill in Washington. (May 25, 2011) Photo Credit: AP

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WASHINGTON -- Experts on terrorism Wednesday warned against complacency in the aftermath of the death of Osama bin Laden, even though the core members of al-Qaida are finding it hard to replace their slain charismatic leader.

The terrorist threat remains, largely from regional and affiliated groups such as al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, the experts said.

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"The global war on terror is by no means over," Francis Townsend, a former White House counterterrorism adviser, told a House Homeland Security Committee hearing.

Bin Laden's death dealt a serious blow to al-Qaida, said author Peter Bergen, who met bin Laden in the 1990s. "You cannot overestimate how important this is," he said.

And al-Qaida ideology is being rejected in popular protests against Middle East dictators, he said. "You haven't seen a single picture of bin Laden being carried by protesters."

But terrorism consultant Evan Kohlmann said that since 9/11, "regional al-Qaida leaderships have emerged in crucial locations such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and North Africa," along with "a new generation of homegrown jihadists." And there's evidence al-Qaida in Yemen is in touch with the terrorist group al-Shabab in Somalia, he said. "The underlying threat is in some ways unchanged."

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Bergen said a recent study found terrorist attacks involving U.S. citizens spiked in 2009-10, accounting for 76 of 180 since 9/11. This year, the number has plummeted to six. "The question for the committee, and frankly for the nation: Was 2009 and 2010 sort of an outlier or was it part of a pattern?" he said. "I think that is still very much an open question."

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