Osama bin Laden is isolated from the day-to-day operations of Al Qaeda but the terrorist organisation he built is spreading its influence in Africa and the Middle East, CIA director Michael Hayden said on Thursday.
Al Qaeda remains the single greatest threat to the United States, Hayden said in remarks prepared for delivery at the Atlantic Council. “If there is a major strike on this country, it will bear the fingerprints of Al Qaeda,” the director of the Central Intelligence Agency said.
But Hayden said that bin Laden, hiding in the lawless tribal border area of Pakistan, “appears to be largely isolated from the day-to-day operations of the organisation he leads.” The hunt for bin Laden remains at the top of the CIA’s priority list. “His death or capture clearly would have a significant impact on the confidence of his followers-both core Al Qaeda and unaffiliated extremists throughout the world,” Hayden said.
Al Qaeda-affiliated groups in the Phillipines and Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Iraq have been degraded, but Al Qaeda cells are surfacing elsewhere, Hayden said.
“In East Africa, Al Qaeda is engaging Somali extremists to revitalise operations,” Hayden said. “The recent bombings in Somalia may have been meant, at least in part, to strengthen bona fides with Al Qaeda’s senior leaders. A merger between al-Shabaab and Al Qaeda could give Somali extremists much-needed funding, while Al Qaeda could claim to be reestablishing its operations base in East Africa.”