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Bin Laden's death puts exclamation point on Al Qaeda's demise

A threat remains from the Al Qaeda core as well as the splinter groups it inspired. But bin Laden's global terrorist franchise and its grand vision of challenging 'imperialist' America is waning.

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The numbers back Lynch up. A Pew poll released yesterday, and conducted before bin Laden's death, shows that Muslim "confidence that Osama bin Laden will do the right thing in international affairs" has plummeted in the past eight years. In Indonesia, the number of supporters fell from 59 percent to 26 percent. In the Palestinian territories, the number fell from 72 percent to 34 percent, while in Pakistan it dropped from 46 percent to 18.

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Bin Laden's actual relevance to recent global terrorist operations was limited. Like-minded terrorist groups – the so-called Al Qaeda franchises in Iraq, in Yemen, in North Africa and elsewhere – had put out shingles of their own. They use the Al Qaeda name and share bin Laden’s austere and chauvinistic salafy brand of Islam, but are free agents.

The 16 people murdered by Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in a Morocco explosion last week, for instance, didn’t die at bin Laden’s hands or on his orders. Whether AQIM flourishes or fails has almost nothing to do with bin Laden.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the Yemen-based group that claimed responsibility for sending the failed underwear bomber to the US, is also autonomous and more internationally engaged than the old core of Al Qaeda in Pakistan.

Al Qaeda's brand of standing up to 'imperalist' America falters

Bin Laden’s death comes at a time when the irrelevance of his worldview has never been clearer.

The Saudi-born militant had convinced himself that the victory of the mujahideen against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan had led to the collapse of that empire and that terrorist attacks against the United States and its allies would likewise lead to the crumbling of what he saw as a godless and corrupt order.

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That desire was at the heart of his and Zawahiri’s creation in 1998 of the Global Front for Jihad against Crusaders and Jews, as Al Qaeda was originally known. The house of Saud in his homeland, he believed, was utterly reliant on the US for its power, and in his mind the road to Mecca would be paved with US bodies.

In bin Laden's eyes, his greatest victory was Sept. 11, the sort of moment he imagined would inspire millions of Muslims and see young men flock to his cause. In the early years of the Iraq war, he was no doubt heartily encouraged.

Thousands of fighters converged on Iraq from Libya, from Egypt, from Saudi Arabia. Al Qaeda was developing a new core of radicalized fighters one country away from Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam. Bin Laden’s statements dripped with conviction that the US would be defeated there and that Muslims worldwide would reject secular politics.

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