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Al Qaeda’s Terrible Spring

Why the Organization Might Not Survive

Courtesy Reuters

Since it was founded almost 25 years ago, al Qaeda has proved an impressive survivor, weathering, among other things, ferocious counterterrorism campaigns, the loss of its state sponsors, schisms within the broader Sunni jihadist movement, and the defection or capture of key lieutenants. Indeed, one of Osama bin Laden’s most impressive accomplishments was to create an organization that would survive almost anything, even his passing. Although bin Laden’s death at the hands of U.S. Navy Seals surprised most Americans, al Qaeda had long been prepared for it.

Still, bin Laden’s demise could not have come at a worse time for al Qaeda. As I wrote in my recent Foreign Affairs article (“Terrorism After the Revolutions” May/June 2011), the Arab Spring posed a direct challenge to al Qaeda’s narrative because it offered a compelling alternative to bin Laden’s message that jihad against the United States and

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