The death of Sept. 11 mastermind Osama bin Laden represents a significant milestone in the war against al Qaeda, but officials say it's far from the end of the fight. They are warning of the risk posed by potential retaliation for bin Laden's killing.
"We have to make it clear, this is going to be a long, hard war," Republican Rep. Peter King of New York said on CBS' "The Early Show" this morning. "We won a very significant victory in the last several days by killing bin Laden, and this will put al Qaeda on defense for a while... But the fact is that al Qaeda has morphed, it's all around the world."
King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said the terrorist network that claimed bin Laden as its figurehead has spread its influence to various countries, including Yemen, and is recruiting potential terrorists within the United States.
"So, no, this war goes on," he said. "We scored a victory. We have to make as much of it as we possibly can, and move forward. But no, we can never let our guard down. Al Qaeda, Islamic terrorism, they are committed to destroying our nation, our culture and our way of life."
President Obama indicated as much when he announced bin Laden's death on Sunday night.
"The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation's effort to defeat al Qaeda," Mr. Obama said. "Yet his death does not mark the end of our effort. There's no doubt that al Qaeda will continue to pursue attacks against us."
Immediate retaliation for bin Laden's death could come on U.S. soil or against U.S. installations overseas, King said.
"We know that al Qaeda will try to avenge the death of bin Laden," he said. "And I can assure you that the American intelligence agencies, the counter-terrorism agencies here in New York, the NYPD and Joint Terrorism Task Force are all monitoring this extremely carefully trying to anticipate what could happen next -- anticipate what, in fact, al Qaeda might try to carry out and how we can head that off, how we can stop it, how we can prevent it."
The Homeland Security Department issued an alert on Sunday, obtained by the Associated Press, that says bin Laden's death could inspire retaliatory attacks from members of al Qaeda's core branch in the tribal areas of Pakistan, al Qaeda franchises in other countries or radicalized individuals in the U.S. with al Qaeda sympathies.
CBS News Homeland Security correspondent Bob Orr said this morning on "The Early Show" that the terror threat level is not being raised in the traditional sense - there are no color-coded terror threat levels any more - but that "significant portions of the U.S. government and military installations, and law enforcement agencies are kind of raising their guard."
Several other political leaders, both Democrat and Republican, have given similar warnings that the fight against al Qaeda continues.
"We must be mindful that al Qaeda and its terrorist allies are still lethal and determined enemies," Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) added, "Because bin Laden's evil dogma has poisoned the minds of so many others, we cannot let up in the war on terror."
On "The Early Show," King said this morning that Mr. Obama deserves "tremendous credit" for an "amazingly successful military operation."
He added that those directly impacted by the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks -- many of whom are his constituents -- have a "sense of closure" now.
"Nothing will ever erase the torment or the agony which they went through, but, no, they feel that they've definitely turned a corner, and the country, hopefully the country can now come together," he said.