Retaliation for the operation that took out Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is a threat the U.S. must guard against, national and foreign security experts said Sunday.
The death of al-Baghdadi could become a battle cry for his followers who “see this as demanding retaliatory measures,” said Amarnath Amarasingam of Queens University.
“I think it is entirely possible that there may be a small uptick in inspired attacks, but this is not a given,” he said Sunday.
Retaliatory attacks are always a concern after the death of a terrorist leader like al-Baghdadi, said former Boston Police commissioner Ed Davis, who’s now a top security consultant.
“History will tell us that when there’s the elimination of a leader like this, it takes the organization some time to regroup and get into attack mode,” Davis said. “For the first days and weeks, they get pretty turned upside down by losing a leader like this.”
Lone wolves are also a concern.
“An attack is more likely to be done by an individual who will take claim on behalf of ISIS,” said Alex Vatanka of the Middle East Institute. “ISIS is clearly on the defensive.”
Al-Baghdadi’s death “degrades” ISIS leadership but by no means spells the end for the terrorist organization, said Howard J. Shatz of the RAND Corp.
Shatz said ISIS predecessor organizations have survived leadership shake ups before, and said there will be people ready to step in and take over operations.
“It’s a question of who is waiting in the wings, how respected are they, how well organized is that person, and what other pressure can be kept on the rest of the organization,” Shatz said.
The death of al-Baghdadi marks the demise of one of the most brutally effective jihadist leaders of modern times — a man who commanded tens of thousands of fighters from around the world. His death is a major blow, but the extremist group has survived the loss of previous leaders and military setbacks going back to the aftermath of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
“It’s just not clear what the leadership structure will look like going forward,” Amarasingam said. “There are names being floated around as potential successors, but there are also rumors that these very people may have been killed in the raid. So, we will have to wait until the dust settles to see who is left standing, and how ISIS might structure itself next.”
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