Newswise — LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Now that al-Qaida founder Osama bin Laden has gone to his reward, counter terrorism expert Dr. Jeffery T. Walker said the war on terrorism is far from over. But he said the “Arab Spring” offers the prospect of change.
Walker is a criminal justice professor at UALR – University of Arkansas at Little Rock – with an international reputation as an expert on terrorist organizations and counterintelligence.
He left his college classroom just hours after the World Trade Center towers fell and the war in Afghanistan began, called up by the Air Force to rejoin Office of Special Investigations. The 474-member division of the Air Force oversees criminal and counterintelligence operations.
With bin Laden dead, the criminal justice professor said groups of terrorists claiming to be al-Qaida – some not much more than street thugs; others more sophisticated – will want the world know the terror organization didn’t die with its leader.
“They will be trying to come up with some action to show they are still alive,” Walker said.
But he said the popular uprisings by the people of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and others this spring are creating a sea change in the Middle East that some say may be the beginning of the end of the terrorists’ jihad against the west.
The resulting new governments might not look like western democracies, but Walker said they appear to be anti-terrorist.
“At least the movements have largely pro-democracy sentiments, but the key is they are anti-terrorist,” he said. “They are tired of it. The ‘Arab Spring’ is putting a new face on the Arab world. But there is one danger – once a country is unstable, worse elements can take over.”
Before the spring uprisings, citizens of repressive Middle Eastern regimes risked death to complain about their government.
“If you were a citizen in Saudi Arabia or Syria, for example, you could not rail against your government or you would be killed,” Walker said. “But you could go after all the other groups that are seen as supporting your repressive government – like the U.S. That’s what Arab terrorism is all about.”
As the graduate coordinator of UALR’s criminal justice program, Walker’s body of research runs the gamut from juvenile hooligans to international terrorism. He has published 27 peer-reviewed articles in top-ranking journals, 28 book chapters, and five books.
He has been a featured speaker at international conferences dealing with counter-terrorism and global security, including the Istanbul Conference on Democracy and Global Security organized by the Turkish National Police under the auspices of prime minister of Turkey.
Walker said al-Qaida, the terrorist organization bin Laden created, is not a tight-knit global organization.
“It’s not an organization like the IRA – the Irish Republican Army,” he said. “It’s not a hierarchy, where a second-in-command will take when the leader dies. It’s a philosophy.”
Bin Laden had control over terrorist cells, but most groups calling themselves al-Qaida didn’t have bin Laden’s financial support or planning expertize.
“Al-Qaida means ‘the Base’,” Walker said. “It picks up other groups with the same philosophy, but there is no established organization. There are some links between bin Laden’s ‘base’ and the group al Qaida in Iraq and some evidence of links with the group al-Qaida in Yemen, but most of the al-Qaida groups are in name only.”
Walker agreed with President Obama’s decision to seal from public view photographs of bin Laden’s dead body.
“Releasing the photos are not going to calm disbelievers and conspiracy theories, but will tend to incite reactions in the Arab world,” he said.
He said he expected some kind of response to bin Laden’s death, but said a comment made after the terrorist’s demise may be another sign that times are changing.
“There was a man on the street reaction on an Al Jazzeera broadcast the other day after bin Laden was killed, who said, ‘Maybe now we won’t be profiled at the airport anymore’.”