Is Al Qaeda really losing its power?

Osama bin Laden (AFP Photo / Site Intelligence Group)
Whilst the images of 9/11 still haunt Western civilizations, many experts are of the view that Al Qaeda's appeal is sinking. As the doctrine of global jihad wavers, is the terrorist threat also diminishing?

Many specialists and students of Islamic extrimism are professing that there are signs that Al Qaeda's attractiveness in the Muslim world is gradually becoming discredited. Although those who are not experts of contemporary terrorism and who are mere 'consumers of the media' may find the proclamation that mass carnage produced by suicide bombers is on the wane hard to believe.

According to several surveys conducted by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, polling citizens’ opinions about extrimism in several Muslim countries, since 2002 the number of Muslims holding the view that extreme terrorism is “often or sometimes justified” has been significantly and consistently reduced. Further evidence the polls revealed was that support of Osama Bin Laden has dropped by more than half. According to a report from the Pew Global Attitudes Project:

“A large and growing number of Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere [are] rejecting Islamic extremism.”

Whilst the polls are undeniable and evidence of Al Qaeda's credibility slipping amongst Muslims, the reasons behind its disesteem are more ambiguous. Whether or not the terrorist network's growing discredit has also tapered the terrorism threat, is more widely-disputed still.

Increased global security, Muslims left alienated through brutal strategies of intimidation, and the most prominent of the perpetrators being slowly picked off, are the alleged reasons for Al Qaeda's limited recent success. But are these 'facts', really enough evidence to substantiate some experts' claims that al Qaeda's threat is weakening?

Brian Michael Jenkins, an advisor to the president of the US Rand Corporation think-tank, refers to today's terrorists as 'bungling home-grown plotters'. In Germany, a German-Turkish citizen suspected of preparing bombs and posting Islamic fundamentalism propaganda on the Internet was arrested. In the US, a Jordanian man was also apprehended after he attempted to blow up a skyscraper in Dallas. Federal Bureau Investigation agents have frantically been trying to solve the case of a shuttle driver at Denver airport accused of purchasing chemicals to make the explosives he had been trained to make in Pakistan. Whilst the latest acts of terrorism may substantiate Jenkins's “bungling home grown plotters” definition, the popular revelations that Al Qaeda is losing credibility throughout the Muslim world and subsequently lessening the threat of terrorism, is less definite.

Jenkins said on Adnorkronos International:

“Al Qaeda is no longer capable of carrying out a big attack. Its capability appears to have been degraded over the years. It has had great difficulty in sustaining a global campaign of terrorism.”

This belief is being echoed by 26-year-old Eddie, a native New Yorker and student of the phenomenon of Islamic extrimism. He’s of the opinion that because groups such as Al Qaeda are increasingly alienated from society, the threat of terrorism is less profound. He told RT:

“Al Qaeda is not as attractive as it once was and less and less [sic] Muslims are supporting Islamic fundamentalism. As a result of this desertion the specter of terrorism has certainly declined from the 24/7 scaremongering that was going on during the Bush regime.”

Thomas W. Lippman, specialist in Middle Eastern affairs, and Adjunct Senior Fellow for Middle East Studies, Council on Foreign Relations, talked exclusively to RT. Although Mr Lippman acknowledges that Al Qaeda is falling from popular favor and failing to attract recruits, disputing Jenkins statement, he says that this “wavering in popularity” is no reason to believe that terrorism is no longer a real threat.

“Its program is violence and opposition, but it offers nothing positive. It also has an unbroken record of failure. Yes, there have been tactical successes, such as 9/11, but no strategic successes. It has alienated people through brutality and excess, as we saw in Anbar,” said Lippman.

“But the threat of terrorism has not receded: the more desperate these people become, the more desperately they will act, as we saw in the attempted assassination of Prince Muhammad bin Nayef. But the ability of security forces to interdict them has increased greatly, in the US, in Europe, and in Saudi Arabia,” he continued.

Many “average” American citizens are also not so convinced that Islamic extremism has peaked and is on the slide. It is what is happening every day and being reported in the media every day, that makes it difficult for non-experts of Islamic extremism to digest that terrorism is in decline, and to this extent Al Qaeda is far from losing its power. Ben Cohen, a resident of New York for fifteen years, is not confident a similar attack to 9/11 will not happen again on American soil. Admitting he was “no expert” on the subject, Cohen told RT:

“Of course it has been made more difficult for extremists to carry out mass destruction in America since 9/11, but to believe that just because the ‘big guys’ have been found that others involved in Al Qaeda radicalism are not capable of plotting and carrying out similar massacres and to say it is in decline is, I believe, a little naive.”

The revelations that Al Qaeda's appeal is deteriorating within Muslim communities does reveal that the fight against terrorism is, at least, 'bending' in the right direction. As the mass hysteria that followed the 9/11 attacks in America and the 7/7 assaults on London has eased with time, the subsequent alienation of innocent Muslims still exists and it is as prevalent as ever. Whilst Pew's surveys provide evidence that the extremist network is losing the power to attract internally, the ghost of terrorism is still very much at the heart of civilians’ fears. Al Qaeda may be losing its power amongst its own, but its capacity to evoke fear and intimidate its enemy, lives on. Bin Laden and his jihad jackals’ aspirations for global hegemony may have languished but have they have far from vanished.

Gabrielle Pickard for RT