Does Osama Still Call the Shots?

Debating the Containment of al Qaeda's Leadership

Courtesy Reuters

I am compelled to respond to Bruce Hoffman's review essay, "The Myth of Grass-Roots Terrorism" (May/June 2008), in which he substantially misrepresents my new book, Leaderless Jihad, ignoring all of its main points while making up others that appear nowhere in it.

Most serious, Hoffman blatantly misrepresents my position on the status of al Qaeda's central leadership. He writes, "Leaderless Jihad's salient weakness is its insistence that this dimension [informal local terrorist groups] represents the entire threat facing the United States today." He adds, "According to Sageman, al Qaeda has ceased to exist as either an organizational or an operational entity" and claims that "the grass-roots dimension ... is Leaderless Jihad's sole preoccupation." Because he repeats this mischaracterization numerous times, the reader is seriously misled.

What the book actually says is that the threat from this core group is still substantial and will grow if vigilance is relaxed. I wrote, "Al Qaeda Central is of course not dead, but it is still contained operationally.... The surviving leaders of al Qaeda are undoubtedly still plotting to do harm to various countries in the world and have the expertise to do so, but they are hampered by the global security measures that have been put in place." And one of my recommendations is that "the core group of people who comprise al Qaeda Central -- those who have blood on their hands or are plotting against the United States -- must be eliminated or captured and tried for their crimes."

Hoffman portrays Leaderless Jihad as a simple-minded polemic and ignores the subtleties of its arguments. In the process, he neglects its main point, namely, that the threat from al Qaeda and its progeny has evolved over time. The process of radicalization is still going on but now proceeds in a hostile, post-9/11, wired environment, resulting in a social structure comprised of disconnected groups. The core of the book centers on my description of the four-pronged process of radicalization, which explains the difference between the

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