Al Qaeda peaked on 9/11. We didn’t know it at the time, as we nervously waited for the next attack, just as the West Coast of the United States feared a Japanese attack after Pearl Harbor.
The terrorist group had been on a rising curve. The 1993 World Trade Center Bombing, the embassy bombings in Nairobi and Das es Salaam, Black Hawk Down in Somalia, and the attack on the U.S. Cole, preceded 9/11.
Think of our fears:
The Bomb in a major city
A Briefcase Bomb
Bioterrorism – anthrax, ricin, sarin, et al
Poisoning the water supply
Smuggling the Bomb or terrorists through our ports in container ships
Smuggling the Bomb or terrorists across our porous southern border
“Crop dusting” toxics
Subway, bridge and tunnel bombings
Even rural America was scared.
Osama Bin-Laden and Al Qaeda were emulated in the Mideast. He was a hero to many Moslems. Bin-Laden became the face of militant Islam, but Al Qaeda was simply the most successful of the Islamic terrorist organization, if you exclude Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran. Militant Islam will survive the death of Bin-Laden and the decline of Al Qaeda since the militancy, fed and funded by Iran continues. Bin-Laden also stood out as an anti-American success story.
The aggressive response of the Bush Administration, the driving of the Taliban and Al Qaeda out of Afghanistan removed their sanctuary, a population conscious of terrorism, the killing and capture of most of Al Qaeda’s leadership, tightened security at airports and critical infrastructure, the cooperation of friendly governments in the Mideast and Pakistan, enhanced interrogation, the diversion of Al Qaeda’s efforts to fight the U.S. in Iraq, kept Al Qaeda on the run. Planning for a 9/11 takes time. Al Qaeda lacked the time.
New York City, always a prime target, established its own, large, and to date largely successful, anti-terrorism taskforce. London showed the value of cameras.
Agencies, federal, state, local, and international, started working together, sharing info and resources. The international War on Terror racked up successes even before May 2.
Al Qaeda did not have a second act in the United States.
Attacks by Al Qaeda, its affiliates, and wannabes followed, as in Madrid, London, Tunisia, Istanbul, Mumbai, Amman , and Fort Hood. Al Zarqawi unleashed the Sunni fury of Al Qaeda in Iraq on Iraqi Shia in 2005, but he was killed by an American bomb in 2006. Attacks in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan were frequent. The militant Chechens engaged in a series of terrorist acts against Russia. These successful attacks were tragic, but none could have the impact of 9/11.
And yet the recruitment of hapless terrorists, such as the shoe bomber (Richard Reid), the underwear bomber, and the Times Square Bomber illustrate the desperation of Al Qaeda to accomplish more terror in the United States.
Bin Laden's goal was an Islamic Caliphate throughout the Mideast. Rebellion is sweeping the Islamic countries in the Mideast, but Al Qaeda is nowhere to be found. The freedom seeking are not rebelling in the name of Al Qaeda or Ben Laden. His time had passed.
Terrorism did not end on May 2, 2011. The War on Terror is not over. The Islamic terrorists may still achieve an epic attack in Europe, the Americas, Asia or the Mideast, but the world is safer. Virulent anti-Semitism gives rise to terrorist acts, especially in the Mideast and against synagogues everywhere.
Risks will increase, absent total elimination of the terrorist threat, as we become more complacent and let up our guard. The terrorists will keep probing for weakness.
After all, who could have imagined bringing down the Twin Towers with box cutters?