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What Lies Ahead for bin Laden, al-Qaida?

More than six years after the terrorist attacks on the United States, and billions of dollars spent and thousands of lives lost in the war on terror, two questions in particular go unanswered in the public mind: Where is Osama bin-Laden and what lies ahead for al-Qaida? VOA'S Ravi Khanna has the story.

Even with the United States committing vast resources to the war on terror since the September 11 attacks in 2001, and other nations joining the worldwide fight against terrorism following strikes on their countries, al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden remains free and his terrorist organization far from defeated.

Bin Laden is believed to be holed up in the border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and has not been seen in public in years. But messages attributed to him occasionally surface to taunt the West.

Bruce Hoffman is a terrorism analyst at the U.S. Military Academy. He says there is a simple reason why bin Laden and al-Qaida are still going strong. "[In al-Qaida] Something of a corporate succession plan seems to exist where even when we take out key al-Qaida commanders and operatives there is always someone waiting in the wings to replace them," he says.

Hoffman says al-Qaida is always recruiting new militants. He says the terrorist group moved into Iraq because Iraq is fertile ground for recruitment with a large number of teens without jobs. "Precisely those countries across North Africa, the Middle East, South Asia and Southeast Asia where the al-Qaida message has had greatest resonance are the same countries that today have overwhelmingly large, disproportionately large, population that is young, under the age of 17," he adds.

Al-Qaida also is not an easy target. It is evasive, like past revolutionary movements, but it is not based in a particular country nor is it trying to seize power in any nation.

"But they will help other organizations in their attempt to take control of a country, as they did with Taliban in Afghanistan, and later with other groups in Somalia and in Iraq," said Zuhair Humadi, a senior adviser to Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi

Humadi says al-Qaida's success lies in its sophistication in using and manipulating the international media, and that without the Internet, al-Qaida would be just another band of local terrorists.

Terrorism analyst Bruce Hoffman says he is concerned that al-Qaida might try to attack in the U.S. in the next 10 months because of the upcoming presidential election. "We have been enormously successful, enormously lucky as well, in not having any terrorist incident in the past six years," he says. "But I would argue that in the next 10 months we are entering into a dangerous period in the lead up to the elections."

Another analyst, Peter Bergen at the New America Foundation, is not as concerned about that. He says if al-Qaida were capable of such an attack, it would have done it to mark the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks last year. He says he is worried more about possible attacks in Europe, and al-Qaida becoming established elsewhere.

"In the future, al-Qaida strategy would be to create more safe havens not only in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border but extending that in Iraq, in Somalia and perhaps also in Darfur. [Osama] Bin laden has mentioned Darfur quite a lot recently, and I will anticipate that as the United Nations gets more involved, al-Qaida will be drawn there, just as they were drawn to Somalia," Bergen said.

But Bergen says al-Qaida is not without weakness. He says the terrorist group has made a strategic mistake in carrying out attacks that have killed Muslim civilians, and now many Muslims have a different view of al-Qaida and bin-Laden. He says al-Qaida never had the support of the masses, only of the militants and extremists, and these killings have further damaged its image.