The U.S. dealt a blow to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) this week by killing its leader, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, in a drone strike. But the strike won't reduce the threat from the group as much as it might have, had it taken place earlier.
"This strike, though significant, [is] certainly not sufficient to stem that momentum and certainly doesn't have the resonance that it once would have given the nature of the terrorist threat and organization as it currently sits," said CBS News Senior National Security Analyst Juan Zarate, pointing to the growth in regional al Qaeda groups and the spread of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the region.
Wuhayshi was a longtime al Qaeda leader who was once a secretary to Osama bin Laden. He pioneered the use of al Qaeda affiliate groups like AQAP, Zarate said, and in doing so, "began to animate a more global sense of what the group could do out of Yemen." AQAP was responsible for the 2009 "underwear bomber" attack in which a Nigerian man, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, tried to detonate a bomb aboard a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. More recently, the group claimed responsibility for the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris.
"This was really a long-in-the-tooth jihadi with deep ties to al Qaeda core, and his absence not only decapitates AQAP but robs al Qaeda of one of its deep and longstanding leaders globally," Zarate said.
The group has already named a new leader, Qassim al-Rimi, who has been at Wuhayshi's side since AQAP was created in 2007.
"AQAP itself isn't going to miss much of a beat," Zarate explained. "They're still going to be committed to attacking the West, they're still going to be committed to expanding their reach in Yemen," he said. Further, Zarate added, AQAP is growing stronger and recently claimed control of al-Mukalla, a city in eastern Yemen which has been able to establish a safe haven and fund AQAP operations by robbing banks.
CBS News National Security Contributor Michael Morell, the former deputy director of the CIA, said that al-Rimi may not actually be the next target for the U.S. Instead, he said that al Qaeda bomb maker Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri could be the next most significant player.
"I think he's the most important target because he is the guy responsible for producing these very sophisticated explosive devices: the one that the underwear bomber used, the one that was in the printer cartridge and the one that was in that non-metallic suicide vest," Morell, also a CBS News contributor, said Tuesday on "CBS This Morning."