Al Qaeda Struggles with Training, Diminishing World Influence, says TRAC

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A year after bin Laden’s death, Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium comments on the impact to his terrorist network

TRAC experts see a continuing threat from Al Qaeda because of its notoriety and Internet presence. One trend is for new groups to use Al Qaeda in their name to give themselves credence and automatic credibility.

May 2nd marks of the first anniversary of the death of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The experts behind Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium (TRAC), one of the world’s most comprehensive encyclopedic reference research centers for studying political violence, say his death along with those of several other of the group’s leaders have had a significant impact on Al Qaeda’s warfare operations. They have identified five key changes over the past year.

  •     Effective training of new recruits has been undermined through weakening of leadership and distrust of new volunteers. “Bin Laden had a tight leadership circle that was not replenished as leaders were killed -- often through drone attacks -- before and after his death,” says TRAC editorial director Veryan Khan. “The days of battle-hardened trainers who cut their teeth against the Soviets are gone.” Further, younger members promoted to the inner circle are unable to carry out planning in person since gatherings are simply too dangerous.
  •     The organization has a reduced capacity to carry out major attacks and is now relying on small-scale events. With small arms and explosives plentiful on the international market, small assaults are easier to deploy than the complicated logistics of attacks on major targets. Future major attacks, however, should still not be discounted, but are expected to be rare.
  •     Al Qaeda is larger in surface area than ever before through partnerships with other similar organizations around the world. “The bonds with other groups, such as Boko Haram and al Shabaab are more reflective of Al Qaeda shoring up instead of expanding,” says Khan. “Moreover, some of these new connections are reflecting their own outward signs of splintering, such as al Shabaab.”
  •     New leader Ayman al Zawahiri’s plan to make Al Qaeda more powerful through “franchises” backfired, making the sub-groups stronger than the overall organization and reducing its international impact. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has a significant stronghold in Yemen, Al Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers [aka Al Qaeda in Iraq, AQI] is trying to establish itself in Syria, and Al Qaeda Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has made significant ties in Mali with Ansar al-Dine. “AQIM, AQAP and AQI have better control of their organizations and their goals than Al Qaeda,” says Khan. “They enjoy isolation, expanding and consolidating without foreign military intervention.”
  •     The clandestine relationship between the ISI/Pakistani military that allowed bin Laden to remain in hiding for five years has weakened the credibility of Al Qaeda in Pakistan and granted “permission” for the Allied forces to attack across the border. “Al Qaeda is a handy whipping boy whenever Pakistan’s ISI is compelled to act in some political show of force,” says Khan. “This may be short-lived since problems with the Pakistani government’s cooperation in counterterrorism are growing.”

TRAC experts see a continuing threat from Al Qaeda because of its notoriety and Internet presence. One trend is for new groups to use Al Qaeda in their name to give themselves credence and automatic credibility even if they have little or no affiliation with the central organization. The combination of fame and technological proficiency provides inspiration to “self starter” terrorists, such as Fort Hood Shooter Nidal Hasan and Toulouse shooter Mohamed Merah. “Al-Qaeda propaganda, instruction and media dissemination are still a powerhouse. Information easily accessed on the Internet gives solo terrorists not only a mission, but also a method,” says Khan. “Lone wolves are far more dangerous when they believe they’re acting on behalf of God.”

TRAC is a digital information resource that addresses the burgeoning need among faculty, scholars, students, government and defense professionals for cutting-edge research on terrorism and terrorists of all kinds. The Beacham Group, LLC, unveiled TRAC in February 2012 after eight years in development. Immediately commended for its breadth of content – described by Library Journal as “astonishing” – TRAC provides historical context and maintains a current intelligence repository with a consortium of 2,200 specialists and a real-time news feed that reports on events as they occur.

Veryan Khan is available for interviews through TRAC’s media office. Follow TRAC on twitter (@TRACTerrorism) to stay up to date on important, but often missed news in this dynamic area. To learn more about TRAC visit .

About The Beacham Group
Founded in 1985 as Beacham Publishing, The Beacham Group, LLC, is renowned for the creation of authoritative reference works that enable comprehensive research, especially on topics of emerging interest. Its acclaimed titles span the impact of climate change with Beacham's Guide to Endangered Species and Beacham’s Guide to Environmental Issues to topical issues in literature to important societal concerns with The Encyclopedia of Social Change and its newly released TRAC (Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium).
Beacham’s unique publishing model assembles and curates the input of topic experts, connecting users with high quality, trustworthy information in a single source.

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Beth Dempsey
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