PARIS, AP – The killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi deprives Islamic terrorism of one of its most high-profile and violent poster boys. But it leaves largely intact the threat of attacks from small, independent cells — the “100 bin Ladens” that Egypt’s president once said could be spawned by the U.S.-led war on terrorism.
Once they absorb the psychological blow of his death, al-Zarqawi’s followers and other militants outside of Iraq not directly associated with him could regroup and continue with their bomb plots and killings.
Al-Qaida has shown great resilience, and its network of networks and followers has continued even as top leaders have been killed or captured. Even with Osama bin Laden in hiding, other militants have stepped forward to make good on his calls for terror attacks. Hundreds of arrests in France, Britain, and elsewhere in Europe have thwarted plots but did not stop the attacks on transport systems in Madrid, Spain, and London.
But for Western intelligence agencies and troops on the front lines, al-Zarqawi’s killing is an undoubted boost, proof that even terrorism’s most visible leaders can be gotten to.
With his horror videos — including the beheading of American hostage Nicholas Berg — the Jordanian-born militant seemed to revel in taunting those seeking catch or eradicate him. His bloodshed made the U.S.-led war on terrorism look impotent to some extent, an impression that the air strike that killed him helped to dispel.
“It indicates that the intelligence services and police are now more capable of infiltrating the terror groups,” said Italian expert Stefano Silvestri, president of the Institute of International Affairs in Rome.
Experts say that because al-Zarqawi was such a thug, he does not seem likely to now become a widely respected martyr for Islamic militants. He was not respected as an ideologist or as a thinker, having made his name through brutality.
“He was a particularly ruthless and malignant force, responsible for the death of hundreds of Iraqi civilians,” said Paul Wilkinson of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
“He’s killed so many of his fellow Muslims that I think there will be a general sigh of relief in the Middle East.”