Jaipur, Jan 28 : It's been over half a decade since its founder Osama bin Laden was traced and eliminated but it is too soon to write off his Al Qaeda which has regrouped in a number of places spanning the middle of the Arab heartlands to its periphery as well as north Africa and trying to wrest a hold in the South Asian subcontinent, says an eminent American counter-terrorism expert..
"It's too soon to write off the Al Qaeda..it is present in Syria where it has 10,000 followers and is seen as a legitimate force... it is there in Yemen, in the Maghreb...," Peter L. Bergen, who is CNN's national security analyst as well as author of several books on Islamist terrorism, including "Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden-from 9/11 to Abbottabad" and "The Longest War" which traces the conflict since 9/11 to bin Laden's killing, said at the Jaipur Literature Festival on Sunday.
On the reason for Al Qaeda's persistence, Bergen, who is a panelist in several discussions at the JLF, said this owes to the terrorist group avoiding the mistakes the Islamic State made in Iraq and Syria.
"Al Qaeda has a long-term plan..they are avoiding the mistakes that the IS did and made a lot of enemies," he said.
However, Bergen ruled out any possibility of the Al Qaeda accomplishing another 9/11-type attack on the US, since the Americans now have much stricter security and the group now lacked the necessary wherewithal, though revealing that bin Laden had dreamt of assassinating US President Barack Obama and CIA chief Gen David Petraeus to mark 9/11's 10th anniversary.
Any further terror outrage in the US could be only on the "lone-wolf" model of the IS, he added.
Bergen opined that the new prospective leader of the Al Qaeda could be bin Laden's son Hamza, 28, who is certainly being groomed for the role and has already appeared in an Al Qaeda video.
"Mostly importantly he has a surname and people here certainly know the importance of that."
He also ruled out the possibility of the Al Qaeda and the IS joining forces, since there were too many differences between the two groups even though the latter considers bin Laden an important influence.
On bin Laden, he said the Al Qaeda chief was not naturally an enemy of the US, preferring first to fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan but gradually became one following the arrival of US forces in his homeland in the wake of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.
Bergen, who produced bin Laden's first television interview, in which he declared war against the US to a Western audience for the first time, recalled that he was "very tall and thin, carried himself like a cleric, spoke quietly even though his words were filled with anger for the US" and despite knowing English, preferred Arabic so he could be "precise".
The only journalist given access to bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad before the Pakistani government demolished it, Bergen said that the fugitive Al Qaeda chief spent the last five and a half years of his life hiding there, never leaving the compound, barely stepping out of the building and his presence known only to a handful of trusted aides.
To a question on whether the Pakistani regime was aware of bin Laden's presence in Abbottabad, he said this seemed unlikely and there was no evidence of its complicity.
(Vikas Datta can be contacted at email@example.com)