Pakistani Taliban threaten revenge attack after bin Laden death; CIA says retaliation is likely

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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Pakistani Taliban has threatened a revenge attack on the U.S. and senior Pakistani politicians after the killing of Osama bin Laden as Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, warns al-Qaeda will "almost certainly" attempt an attack on the U.S. to avenge their leader.

Though bin Laden is dead, al-Qaeda is not. The terrorists almost certainly will attempt to avenge him, and we must—and will—remain vigilant and resolute.

Leon Panetta, director, CIA

U.S. officials warned Americans to ensure they were careful in traveling to unspecified countries where there could be violent retaliatory attacks. "Though bin Laden is dead, al-Qaeda is not," Panetta said. "The terrorists almost certainly will attempt to avenge him, and we must—and will—remain vigilant and resolute."

A notice from the U.S. State Department advised travelers that, "given the uncertainty and volatility of the current situation", they should try to stay inside homes or hotels and avoid large crowds in countries where there is "the enhanced potential for anti-American violence." White House officials have not yet raised the homeland terrorism threat level, but an anonymous source at the Department of Homeland Security said the agency was maintaining a "heightened state of vigilance".

U.S. President Barack Obama announced bin Laden had been killed in a television address last night; shortly afterwards, crowds began celebrating outside the White House and Ground Zero, where the twin towers of World Trade Center collapsed after the attacks of September 11, 2001 which have been attributed to bin Laden. However, analysts warned al-Qaeda will "undoubtedly" launch a retaliatory attack.

Michael Scheuer, a former CIA intelligence agent, has warned it is likely al-Qaeda has the resources to mount an attack as deadly as 9/11 again because U.S. officials have done "very little" to prevent terrorist groups carrying weapons across its borders. "I think it's very likely that over time we will see an al-Qaeda counter-punch, not specifically to avenge bin Laden, but to show that al-Qaeda still is on the ground and still can hurt the United States," Scheuer said. "I'm not sure if it's gonna be in the near term or a year from now or two years from now, but it'll come."

The warning from Scheuer and the CIA came shortly after the Pakistani Taliban said they would attack Pakistani and American targets. "Now Pakistani rulers, President Zardari and the army will be our first targets. America will be our second target," a spokesman for Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan said.

Bin Laden was killed during a raid on a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan near the capital Islamabad. Four others in the compound were reportedly killed in the raid; although a U.S. helicopter crashed, no U.S. forces were killed. His body was buried at sea, in accordance with Islamic scriptures and because no other country would accept his body.

John Gearson, director of the Centre for Defence Studies at King's College London, also said the killing of bin Laden was very significant, and a retaliatory strike is likely. "There will be concerns that there could be some sort of retaliation, that al-Qaeda may well want to demonstrate that they are still strong and still in the game," he said, and warned that U.S. officials may "lose their focus" after such a major victory, "and that will provide an opportunity for the remnants of al-Qaeda to reform and grow stronger."