Washington: The killing of ``al Qaeda No 2``Abu Yahya al Libi - the latest blow to the group’s leadership - is likely to result in a continuation of the decentralisation that US officials and experts have already witnessed.
The chief threat was already shifting to al Qaeda affiliates in other countries such as Yemen when Osama bin Laden was killed last year, reports the Los Angeles Times.
The death of Libi, second only to al Qaeda leader Ayman Zawahiri, is likely to continue that trend as the rattled central organisation tries to replace him, experts said.
"Someone can always move into a No 2 spot. That`s not the issue. But his skills are hard to replace. And the disruption pushes their heads even lower," said Brian Michael Jenkins, senior advisor to the president of RAND Corp.
The shift in al Qaeda toward regional groups, in turn, could change the focus of global terrorism, leaving local groups to attack local governments, said Daniel L Byman, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
The al Qaeda core in Pakistan has strong connections to nearby groups such as the Pakistan Taliban, but lacks the numbers and capacity to manage its far-flung affiliates in Somalia or Yemen, said Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Centre at the Atlantic Council.
With a crippled core, the al Qaeda branches are still dangerous. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the Yemen affiliate that claimed responsibility for training the underwear bomber who tried to down a jet near Detroit three years ago, is now seen as the greatest threat to the US.
But those different, distant branches of al Qaeda may not mobilise as easily behind complex, coordinated attacks on the West, experts said. RAND Corp terrorism researcher Brian Jackson said the result could be sporadic "popcorn violence" that lacks a greater strategy.
"It`s an organisation that has very big aspirations. That doesn`t get achieved by a lot of little pieces of the group acting on their own," Jackson said.