Al-Qaeda diminished, but not gone
September 11th, 2012
11:35 AM ET

Al-Qaeda diminished, but not gone

By Fareed Zakaria

A few years after 9/11, I began to make the point – in columns, books and of television – that the threat from al-Qaeda had diminished substantially. Al-Qaeda had flourished in an age when governments regarded it as a sporadic annoyance rather than a major national security challenge. After 9/11, governments around the world began collaborating to track its people, stop its money flows, and eliminate it camps. Once that process was underway, al-Qaeda found it much harder to operate under the radar screen and plot its mayhem.

Today, 11 years after 9/11, it is clearer than ever that al-Qaeda is a shadow of its former self. So much so that there may now be a danger of complacency. Serious experts and scholars, like Bruce Riedel, argue that al-Qaeda has been able to reconstitute itself in places like Yemen, Somalia, and even Mali. The Pakistani connection remains strong. And the growing chaos in Syria has presented the group with an opportunity to make inroads there as well.

These are all worrying signs and naturally one hopes that the U.S. government, as well as others, are battling al-Qaeda wherever they can. Yesterday saw news that the second-in-command of al-Qaeda in Yemen was killed by government forces. The drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan continue. But these signs of life from al-Qaeda do not change the central reality of its diminished potency. The danger of al-Qaeda was always about more than scattered violence in far off places across the globe.

Al-Qaeda was viewed as a mortal threat to the United States and much of the civilized world because it could have become the symbol of protest of Muslims around the world against regimes they hated and a world order dominated by the West. It seemed to tap into the frustration and resentment of millions in the Muslim world.

But two things happened along the way to a global jihad. First, as governments became more alert, al-Qaeda found it much harder to attack military and diplomatic targets – embassies, ships, national monuments – and it began to attack whatever it could. That meant it was targeting cafes and railway stations and killing locals not foreigners. Soon, it was losing support among the locals from Indonesia to Jordan to Saudi Arabia.

The second, perhaps more important, shift has been the Arab Spring. As governments in the Arab world are influenced or even run by Muslim fundamentalist groups – in Tunisia and Egypt – al-Qaeda becomes an even more marginal and extreme movement. It is difficult for al-Qaeda to rant and rail against the government of Egypt when it is no longer a secular, military dictatorship but a democracy with a member of the Muslim Brotherhood at its helm. The ideological struggle was always at the heart of al-Qaeda’s appeal and that struggle is dying as Arab countries open themselves up and include Islamists within their politics.

This doesn’t mean the end of discontent, violence, or terror. It just means that the attacks don’t portend a larger and unending global struggle. Maoists guerrillas kept fighting long after Mao died, they just didn’t scare people so much anymore.

Alas, as Harvard’s Graham Allison has pointed out, none of this changes the grim reality that a handful of people, with small amounts of cash, can cause death and destruction on a vast scale in today’s world. We can battle bad ideas, but it is impossible to battle the march of technology.

soundoff (349 Responses)
  1. visionarey

    So the copycat is back already? Wow. It seems it's no big deal to plagiarize these days. Even if you're caught, no one seems to care. Well, we care Fareed, even if CNN doesn't, and you have forever lost what little credibility you had. Clearly CNN has no standards if they let this thieving hack write for them again.

    September 12, 2012 at 9:27 am | Reply
  2. Shotgun Granny-Evelyn Connaway

    In the US we have our own ideological struggle – republicans vs democrats and always have had, the same as other nations have their differences with each other. Nothing ever changes, as we have power hungry people in all nations who want to rule in their own way, but they overlook the masses of their citizens who are poor and want peace and a way to make a living for their families, with no way to fight back other than a revolution, then many of them are killed by the ones in power who have the weapons. In the US we use radical propaganda, most untruthful, not weapons – yet. I think we have gutted our First Amendment "freedom of speech" portion, with being able to make all kind of remarks about people in regard to their nationality and religious beliefs. All it does is cause more hate throughout the world.

    September 12, 2012 at 10:07 am | Reply
  3. Leilah

    Why is Fareed Zakaria still with CNN? He writes about the obvious half the time and the other half blames the US for the antics of extremist. He seems to always have a reason or excuse for their behavior and uses those reasons to implore readers to have tolerance.
    Classic Zakaria (though usually not this blunt/direct): Oh well, they wouldn't have blown up a bus or shot up the consulate if it weren't for that offensive movie (remember we are usually the religion of peace and rarely ever burn flags of other countries and have our children celebrating 9/11, for example). And, did you know, if such movies weren't made then not only would they not have to burn down buildings but it would prove to them that you infidels are obedient and fearful eh I mean tolerant.
    I know people, this is not the topic of this article. My point is, Mr. Zakaria's point of view is no good. I don't care how educated a person is if his thinking is essentially equivalent to that of a rioter in Libya. There should be no tolerance ever for terrorism. Ever. Period. Fareed Zakaria is over rated, biased and sympathetic to extremist. I didn't say he supports them but anyone who cannot outright condemn their actions without making some excuse for their action is sympathetic to their cause. This article alas is about him stating the obvious...thank you Mr. Zakaria, I had no idea that one of the most extremist, hateful, murderous and more importantly well funded (i wonder by whom???) groups in recent history would still be around.

    September 12, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Reply
  4. Chat Pata

    Bush has created a factory in the Middle East from where Al-Qaeida's #2s keep coming and Obama keeps shooting. Unlimited supply of #2s!!!

    September 12, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Reply
  5. Joel Davidson

    Fareed, I was very pleased to see you back. I appreciate your analysis and take on issues that is more grounded in reality than political spin. Thank you.

    September 12, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Reply
  6. az

    Hmmmmmmmm, where have I read this before?

    September 12, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Reply
  7. Uber News Network (UNN) ©

    Let us seize this opportunity and focus on India now with razor like precision.

    Because the The American invasion of Afghanistan brought to the forefront the irrelevance of India as a nation. With a population of over 1.2 billion people there was no value that this nation could bring to the table. Their soldiers (ragtag) 1.2 million continue hiding in the trenches scared from Talibans. A few teenage Talibans invaded the country and held it hostage for days on end showing how useless India is. It was embarrasing for the world to observe this humiliation of a nation that was being touted as a regional power.

    We continue to read with interest the thesis presented on CNN that "less is more" in a political context as applied to India. Although Mies Van Der Rohe adopted this in an architectural context, its economic and political connotations are indeed powerful. Empowering subjugated minorities in India by splitting it into smaller states would trigger uber economic demand for western nations who have given so much financial and technology aid to India with no return to show for the investment. We concur with this approach and find the premise to be on solid footing. Central Asian States (CAS) are a case in point on this successful approach. We need to understand that India has an unmanageable large population mired in poverty and we are spinning our wheels trying to feed it. It is also too big of a geographical unit to govern. Again, we saw how a few teenage talibans were able to invade it with a few BB guns. And that says a lot... in a negative way not only for a large unmanageable country like India but also for USA which is trying to prop it up against China. Besides, Americans cannot afford to look like losers in the midst of a terror war which has lasted for over ten years now.

    September 12, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Reply
    • Derek

      Poor UNN should have lost his job to an educated indian. What does your topic have to do anything with the topic from the author? What have you been smoking from your cave, smells like shi****

      September 12, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Reply
      • Pinto

        Did that pucker up your @ss you dumb witted indian. You don't have the intelligence to engage in a debate? Go screw some cows and have some steaks and chill with some cow p!ss .. the indian national drink. You moron.

        In many Hindu temples there are sculptures depicting men having s@x not only with men but also cows. What is the meaning of this? Is not the cow sacred? If it is, then it should be worshipped not s@xually assaulted!

        September 12, 2012 at 6:49 pm |
  8. Ugh

    More plagarism........

    September 12, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Reply
  9. Derek

    ARE INDIANS UBER TERRORISTS OR WHAT???? Forget the GDP, focus on these murder statistics.
    In India, millions of girls are strangled, slowly starved or simply tossed in the trash. Moreover, in India, at least 1,370 girls are aborted every day. As a comparison, some 250 Indians die every day in road accidents. Terrorists killed about six people, on an average, every day in 2009. In the last two decades of economic progress, 10 million girls have died as such in India.
    Indians have killed more human beings (girls particularly) than Al Qaeda and Talibans put together.

    September 12, 2012 at 6:51 pm | Reply
  10. Amit-Atlanta-USA


    Here's why?


    While all along Mr. Zakaria has been trashing America and Americans during every 9/11 anniversary or FINDING AN EXPLANATION IN MUSLIM GRIEVANCES AGAINST THE WEST after every terrorist attack (anywhere in the world be it in London, or Mumbai, or Madrid, or Moscow or Bali……in short anywhere in the NON-MUSLIM World, now he seems to have turned the tables around, blaming the Islamists for their terror (FOR THE LARGE PART!!). I will say why I said "for the large part" below.

    Likewise, while until recently he has been SINGING praises of the Arab Spring calling them moderates, democrats, even secularists and what not, now there again he seems to have turned the tables calling them fundamentalists!!!

    What a realization by Mr. Zakaria on both these counts!!!!

    And, I said for "the large part" above b'coz inspite of Mr. Zakaria's "DECEITFUL VOLTE-FACE" he cannot avoid his urge to YET AGAIN give credence to Muslim grievances.

    Here's what he said above: "Al-Qaeda was viewed as a mortal threat to the United States and much of the civilized world because IT COULD HAVE BECOME THE SYMBOL OF PROTEST OF MUSLIMS AROUND THE WORLD against regimes they hated and a world order dominated by the West."

    While that may be true, why is it that MUSLIMS ALONE REACT VOILENTLY TO THIS, even as the rest of the NON-MUSLIM World adopt a more peaceful show & tell approach.?

    Also why should MUSLIMS ALL OVER THE WORLD be agitated against the US & NOT just the Egyptians alone, when Egypt is ruled by a dictator?

    The all knowing Harvard & Yale Grad Mr. Zakaria (much like his EXTREMIST COUSINS!!!!) will never question why that’s so!

    GOD SAVE AMERICA if this man happens to be our next US Sec of State.

    September 12, 2012 at 9:02 pm | Reply
    • Shifra Mendelhall

      Spare us your rubbish. India governed by right wing extremist Hindu brahmins is a bully and a trouble maker in that region. It has kept the neighbors behind due constant bickerings. India has always lived in the shadow of Muslim Pakistan and has been forever defined by Pakistan. Unfortunately, India had a chance at leadership and blew it. Pakistan has now taken over the reins and is running with it. Much to the chagrin of Indians. So be it. Destiny has dealt its hands and India is about to fold.

      September 13, 2012 at 10:13 am | Reply
  11. ToddZy

    GPS.... thanks for the read. it seems that some people just dont get it. Things are getting out of control. diminished? I don't think so. It's not the person who does the act , it's the question as to who keeps on thinking up where and when and who , that is who needs to be found.

    September 12, 2012 at 10:02 pm | Reply
  12. Amit-Atlanta-USA.

    It is no secret that Hitler and his Nazi cronies sought inspiration from Indian extremist groups including the branding of his Nazi Party by adopting the Swastika, a traditionally Hindu symbol and representation of Hindu god Ganesha, as its marketing tool. The thesis being that like the Norwegian massacre, the Jewish holocaust orchestrated by Hitler was inspired by the inherently violent cult of Indian Hindus and the manifesto of its then extremist/terrorist groups still in existence today. These groups are now the successors to and carrying out the vision of Al Qaeda all over the world.

    September 13, 2012 at 10:02 am | Reply
  13. Amit-Atlanta-USA.



    September 13, 2012 at 10:04 am | Reply
  14. Penny D'Souza-Goa-India

    New, More Dangerous Hindu Extremist Groups Emerge in India

    Christians concerned as rightwing factions splinter to form militant outfits.
    PUNE, India, October 29 (CDN) — After more than a decade of severe persecution, India’s Christian minority is growing increasingly concerned over the mushrooming of newer and deadlier Hindu extremist groups.

    Gone are the days when Christians had to watch out only for the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) and its youth wing, Bajrang Dal, which are closely linked with the most influential Hindu extremist umbrella organization, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). With voter support faltering for the RSS’s political wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), moderate and extremist sections within the Hindu nationalist movement are blaming each other, and militant splinter groups have emerged.

    Claiming to be breakaway factions of the RSS, new groups with even more extreme ideology are surfacing. The Abhinav Bharat (Pride of India), the Rashtriya Jagran Manch (National Revival Forum), the Sri Ram Sene (Army of god Rama), the Hindu Dharam Sena (Army for Hindu Religion) and the Sanatan Sanstha (Eternal Organization) have launched numerous violent attacks on Christian and Muslim minorities.

    September 13, 2012 at 10:15 am | Reply
  15. Natalie Rose


    A lot of Americans have become so insulated from reality that they imagine that America can suffer defeat without any inconvenience to themselves..
    Pause a moment, reflect: These events are actual events from history..
    They really happened!!!
    Do you remember? Gee...I didn't know this...did you???
    1. On 6 June 1968, Bobby Kennedy was shot and killed by a DEVOUT MUSLIM FOLLOWERS of ISLAM!
    2. On 5 September 1972 at the Munich Olympics, 11 athletes were kidnapped and brutally massacred by DEVOUT MUSLIM FOLLOWERS of ISLAM!
    3. On 4 November 1979, the US Embassy in Iran was taken over and 66 Hostages were held captive for 444 Days by DEVOUT MUSLIM FOLLOWERS of ISLAM!
    4. During the 1980's scores of Americans were kidnapped in Lebanon by DEVOUT MUSLIM FOLLOWERS of ISLAM!
    5. On 18 April 1983 the U.S. Embassy in Beirut was bombed by DEVOUT MUSLIM FOLLOWERS of ISLAM!
    6. On 23 October 1983 the U.S. Marine Corps. Barracks were blown up and destroyed, killing 241 Marines by DEVOUT MUSLIM FOLLOWERS of ISLAM!
    7. On 12 December 1983 the U.S. Embassy was bombed by DEVOUT MUSLIM FOLLOWERS of ISLAM!.
    8. On 7 October 1985, the cruise ship Achille Lauro was hijacked and a 70 year old American passenger was murdered and thrown overboard in his wheelchair by DEVOUT MUSLIM FOLLOWERS of ISLAM!
    9. On 14 June 1985, TWA flight 847 was hijacked at Athens and a US Navy Diver (Robert Dean Stethem) while trying to rescue passengers was tortured and murdered by DEVOUT MUSLIM FOLLOWERS of ISLAM!
    10. On 21 December 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 was bombed, killing 259 people on board and 11 on the ground by DEVOUT MUSLIM FOLLOWERS of ISLAM!
    11. On 26 February 1993, the World Trade Center was bombed for the “FIRST” time, killing 6 and injuring 1,042 by DEVOUT MUSLIM FOLLOWERS of ISLAM!
    12. On 7 August 1998, the US Embassy in Kenya was bombed Killing 212 and injuring over 4000 by DEVOUT MUSLIM FOLLOWERS OF ISLAM!
    13. On 7 August 1998, the U.S. Embassy in Tanzania was bombed, killing 11 and injuring 85 by DEVOUT MUSLIM FOLLOWERS OF ISLAM!
    14. On 12 October 2000, the U.S.S. Cole was blown up killing 17 US Sailors by DEVOUT MUSLIM FOLLOWERS of ISLAM!
    15. On 11 September 2001, four airliners were hijacked; two were used as missiles to take down the World Trade Centers and of the remaining two, one crashed into the US Pentagon and the other was diverted and crashed by the passengers killing over 3000 Americans by DEVOUT MUSLIM FOLLOWERS OF ISLAM.
    16. In 2001, the United States began combat operations in Afghanistan with 1,935 dead and 17,025 wounded against DEVOUT MUSLIM FOLLOWERS of ISLAM!.
    17.On 23 January 2002, reporter Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and BEHEADED by DEVOUT MUSLIM FOLLOWERS of ISLAM!
    18. On 5 November 2009, Major Nidal Hasan, a DEVOUT MUSLIM FOLLOWER OF ISLAM killed 13 and wounded another 32 AMERICANS in a Massacre at Fort Hood Texas!
    19. On 9 August 2012, an United States Soldier, Army Pfc. Naser Jason, a MUSLIM and DEVOUT FOLLOWER OF ISLAM, was convicted of collecting bomb-making materials for what he told authorities would be a "massive attack" on a Texas restaurant full of AMERICAN SOLDIERS was sentenced Friday to life in prison.

    And now we can add the attacks on our Embassy's and the Death of our Ambassador !

    September 13, 2012 at 11:39 am | Reply
  16. Hesperus

    In many Hindu temples there are sculptures depicting men having s@x not only with men but also cows. What is the meaning of this? Is not the cow sacred? If it is, then it should be worshipped not s@xually assaulted! Hmmmmm....

    September 13, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Reply
  17. Abigail White

    Tragically, in India people are dying of hunger. Why are low caste poor Hindus prohibited from eating beef? People stop their cars, and sit for hours waiting for a cow to clear the roadway, thinking it to be sacred. In India cow meat is cheaper than other available meats. Instead of these Brahmins taking care of the low caste peoples of India, they are doing their best to save their "holy" cows instead. This is evil. According to Valmith's Ramayana, God Rama "ATE" meat. So then "why" have these Brahmins given up beef-eating? It's hypocrisy within their own religion

    September 13, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Reply
  18. aldo mcmannus

    As long as Fareed Zakaria is plagarizing material from his interns, I don't give him no credibility. He would probably commit JIHAD against the US if it got him ratings.

    September 13, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Reply
  19. kim

    America recruits more al Quaeda on a daily basis. USA hires terrorist to destabilize the Middle East and divide the people.

    September 14, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Reply
  20. An American Soldier

    Alright look... this page isnt far off but it shows a lot of work and research in some departments... I myself have served in Afghanistan, a single tour ive seen what they are capable of... its nothing to josh about... everyday we lose more and more men and i lose friends day in and day out because of the Alqaeda... Egypt, Lybia, Yemen, Tunisia, Sudan, and Afghanistan,... all of these places are under Alqaeda's control... American flags are being burned all over that area... mainly becasue they are muslim comunities that no longer favor us... that is their wish but before long... we will have world war 3 on our hands! Which will indeed cause only more dept and more death.. more hate and more suffering among more than just one nation, but many! I understand where many of you come from but the main question is... what will you do to help confront this evil that has been attacking us nonstop for nigh on 11 years? i see so many people say they hate alqaeda yet u sit in your homes and do nothing while military powers in america and the family members go through loses... we are dying over seas! we aim for something that is called world peace!... well we are far from it right now.. the middle east is practically alqaeda territory... we are in a few countries... y cuz its all we can do... this force is stronger than we thought and now Germany, and Britain are suffering! ... a british base was attacked recently, and germany's embassy was attacked! we fight for a cause... help fight for that cause or the american dream will never become a reality! Thank you!

    September 14, 2012 at 6:38 pm | Reply
  21. An American Soldier

    the worlds cold enough... i fight to protect not to kill... id die for anyone other than myself... what would you fight and die for?

    September 14, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Reply
  22. Beth Trautmann

    Excellent content and well-written stylistically. Farreed is highly educated, as objective as any person could be expected to be, and commands a deep understanding of the Arab world and the Islamist thinking as well as a more general knowledge of politics.

    September 15, 2012 at 5:38 pm | Reply
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