Skip to main content

Is al-Qaeda on its Last Legs?

By James Carafano

Danish authorities have just sunk another plot to strike the West.

According to press reports, “Denmark’s intelligence service says it has arrested four people plotting what it called an ‘imminent’ terrorist attack against the Jyllands-Posten newspaper, which printed controversial cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. The head of the agency, Jakob Scharf, described some of the suspects as ‘militant Islamists.’ He said the group had been planning to enter the newspaper’s building and kill as many people as possible.”

It sounds like another “homegrown” plot. We have seen all too many of these of late. They are consistent with the pattern of recent extremist activities—the throw-the-spaghetti-at-the-wall strategy—just do something, anything! Osama bin Laden launched his terror campaign by going after the “far” enemy: the U.S. and Europe. When that didn’t work, he turned his sights on the “near” enemy fomenting attacks in Muslim countries. According to a recent report by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, that has only hastened the decline of his cause. External pressures and internal divisions have taken their toll. The report describes the jihadi movement, helmed by al-Qaeda, as “one that lacks coherence and unity, despite its claims to the contrary.” Bin Laden’s organization has suffered reversals on virtually every front and shows “clear signs of decline.”

The Taliban lost its state. Islamists who rebelled against the Saudi regime were driven into the remote deserts of Yemen. Israel still stands. And the U.S. remains a force to be reckoned with in the Middle East. One of al-Qaeda’s greatest strategic errors, the report says, was its willingness to sanction the killing of Muslims by Muslims. Most of the innocents killed in the Long War were slaughtered by “holy” warriors. Such attacks, the report concludes, “delegitimize the group in the eyes of the Umma—the global Islamic community of believers and al-Qaida’s hoped-for constituency.”

Yet the war is far from over. The enemy is resilient. And bin Laden remains popular among the most extremist elements of the Islamist movement. The most recent string of attacks is a sign of weakness, a flailing movement desperate to show that it’s still in the game.

The U.S. can help end al-Qaeda once for all by finishing the job in Afghanistan, pressing the Pakistanis to root out the last al-Qaeda sanctuaries in their country, and continuing vigorous counterterrorism activities at home and abroad. All these activities are key to bringing the Long War to an end.


Popular Video