Relatively “low-tech” Mumbai -style attacks are the most likely form of revenge against western countries for the death of Osama Bin Laden in the short-term, says insurgency and terrorism expert Charles Knight from Queensland University of Technology’s (QUT) School of Justice.
Mr Knight said preparing major attacks took time and risked discovery.
“If Al-Qaeda or any of its franchises had had the capacity to do ‘something big’ in Australia they would have used it rather than sat on it,” Mr Knight said.
“A spontaneous terrorist attack is more likely, but probably less destructive. However, if somewhere in the western world there happened to be a major attack in the pipeline, then that would be billed as a revenge attack.
“In Australia, there are people who we expect might want to avenge his death but they are being closely watched. The foiling of the alleged Holsworthy Barracks terrorist attack shows that.
“But four or five people who have done nothing to draw attention to themselves might take hostages or go on a rampage with hand-held weapons, which could be as available as machetes, and there’s not much you can do to prevent it.
“Bigger attacks on western buildings or gatherings in Indonesia, Malaysia and other regional countries with a larger radical Muslim population are more likely but here in Australia, Bin Laden’s death only increases slightly an already small risk.”
Mr Knight said Bin Laden had become a symbolic figure.
“He had the credentials – he was pious and charismatic and highly regarded by a lot of the Moslem world as the only figure standing up to so-called American moral, cultural and physical invasions,” he said.
“I don’t think there is anyone coming behind him who’s got his stature. But his role was what a US expert called ‘inciter-in-chief’ – he was not a tactical commander and it is now Al-Qaeda franchises that carry out attacks.”
Mr Knight said it was a strategic moment for US president Barack Obama because of the symbolism of the defeat of Bin Laden and the mood of euphoria in the US.
“There is a political opportunity to make a dramatic shift like initiating talks with the Taliban. It is politically more saleable in the US for the next week or so to do that,” he said.
“The already planned reduction of US troop numbers in Afghanistan in two months’ time will probably now be more significant.
“But it’s unlikely that this will translate to Australia withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan any time soon unless President Obama can manage some unexpected political moves that allow an accommodation between Hamid Karzai (Afghani president) and factions sympathetic to the Taliban.
“Our presence pays our alliance dues on our national security insurance policy: the US want us there and it does not make sense to waste the credit we have built up by withdrawing prematurely.
“Anyway, I think the US might have learned the lessons of twice ‘dropping the ball’ on Afghanistan – the first time after the Soviets left – and then again by switching its effort to Iraq in 2003.”
Mr Knight said Bin Laden had died having begun what he had set out to do, which was to destroy America economically.
“Bin Laden saw that the Soviet Union destroyed itself economically by the protracted war in Afghanistan and he set out to draw the Americans into a protracted war,” he said.
“That is Bin Laden’s legacy: the trillions of American dollars spent on the war in Afghanistan and in Iraq and it is now clear the US is having major economic problems.”
Mr Knight said we should put our attention not on the rubbery issue of whether there would be an attack, rather how we should respond to attacks when they happened.
“Our response must heed the lessons of terrorist campaigns throughout the world and not do the terrorists’ work for them by overreacting,” he said.
Mr Knight also said President Obama was in a politically complex situation with a potential political groundswell in America to “punish” Pakistan for harbouring Bin Laden. But if he moved against the relatively ‘pro-US’ government he would just strengthen those in Pakistan sympathetic to the Taliban.
“There is a lot of interest in the US at the moment and Pakistani “duplicity” will finally be transparent to the American man in the street, who might find it difficult to imagine that the Pakistani government did not have a clue: even if that was true,” Mr Knight said.
“And in Pakistan the masses who admired bin Laden will rage and the politicians who resent the US will portray the killing of the popular figure as an affront to their national sovereignty to generate political pressure, whilst the mainstream military faction will desperately manoeuvre to keep US funds flowing.”