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May 5, 2011 Volume 32, No. 30

MU experts: Bin Laden death is symbolic

Two professors say the death of Osama Bin Laden, May 2, after a decade-long manhunt will not make much difference in the war on terrorism.

“Osama bin Laden, the major icon, is gone, but he remains a martyr,” said Paul Wallace, professor emeritus of political science. “The big questions center on the effects within the Taliban’s franchise operations. Will there be further loss of radical legitimacy within the region? Al Qaeda already has been decentralized.”

Members of a Navy Seals team killed Bin Laden on May 1 during a raid on the compound where he was hiding.

Wallace has traveled to Abbottabad, the Pakistan city where bin Laden was killed. He teaches a class on terrorism and conflict resolution and is the author of a chapter on counterterrorism in India in “Democracy and Counterterrorism: Lessons from the Past,” published by the U.S. Institute of Peace.

“In a city of more than one million people, it is absolutely unlikely that a 3,000 foot compound, many times the size of neighboring houses, could be inconspicuous,” Wallace said. “There are similar safe houses in Karachi and Quetta, where the Afghanistan Taliban is headquartered. I think reprisals for the killing will primarily take place in Pakistan as the Taliban’s resources are centered there.”

Katharine Floros, an assistant professor of political science, says the U.S. intelligence community scored a major victory with bin Laden’s death. But, she added, the safety of Americans is still unclear.

“As far as the day-to-day operations, I think the threat levels will be similar to what they were before bin Laden was killed,” Floros said. “Symbolically, bin Laden’s death is important, but I don’t think the terrorism threat is lessened. In the short term, the threat level may be raised.”

While the future is uncertain, Floros said the decision to bury bin Laden at sea was a wise one.

“Funerals tend to be to be really dangerous in these types of situations,” Floros said.