The demise of Osama bin Ladin in 2011 did not end al-Qaida. Nor will the apparent demise of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi end the terror of the Islamic State. Al-Baghdadi’s death is a major psychological blow to the so-called Islamic State, but it does not spell the end of global terrorism under its black banner.
The biggest quandary facing Western intelligence services has always been the leadership succession of terrorist organizations. It’s much easier to track the leaders next in line. Tracking the third and fourth tier of potential leaders in these organizations poses a serious challenge for scholars, policy and intelligence analysts.
Despite the massive loss of the “Caliphate” territory in Syria and Iraq, the Islamic State has been able to metastasize into a virtual caliphate and spread its bloody message across many parts of the Islamic world. Jihadists and others have come to realize that the extremist ideology and violent jihad are primarily an idea that transcends geography and people.
Following Bin Ladin’s demise, al-Qaida has morphed into regional and local networks. The Islamic State already moved from the Syrian-Iraqi heartland to the global arena even before al-Baghdadi’s death.