Opportunity Costs or Costly Opportunities? The Arab Spring, Osama Bin Laden, and Al-Qaeda’s African Affiliates

Alex S. Wilner


 There is little doubt that Al-Qaeda faces twin challenges in the “Arab Spring” sweeping North Africa and the Middle East (MENA) and in the death of Osama bin Laden in May 2011. Al-Qaeda’s violent narrative has come under immense pressure following the toppling of Arab regimes by largely secular and peaceful protest movements while the removal of bin Laden robs the organization of a charismatic and unifying figure. Yet for Al-Qaeda’s most prominent African affiliates — Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Somalia’s Al-Shabaab — the political upheaval sweeping the MENA region also creates opportunities for growth. And while the elimination of Al-Qaeda’s founding leader will certainly sting, bin Laden’s exit is unlikely to greatly influence AQIM’s or Al-Shabaab’s aspirations, tactics, or strategies. This paper offers a critical overview of the costs and opportunities to Al-Qaeda’s African allies in light of the Arab Spring and bin Laden’s death.

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Perspectives on Terrorism is  a journal of the Terrorism Research Initiative and the Center for Terrorism and Security Studies

ISSN  2334-3745 (Online)

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