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One year after Osama bin Laden's killing, Al Qaeda is in tatters

While his murderous ideology persists in pockets of the Middle East and beyond, Al Qaeda as it was understood after Sept. 11 has failed.

By Staff writer / May 1, 2012

Children are seen through the window of a house under construction as they play cricket on the demolished site of a compound of Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad May 1, 2012. Al Qaeda leader bin Laden was killed almost a year ago, by a United States special operations military unit in a raid on his compound in Abbottabad.

Mian Khursheed/Reuters

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Nearly 11 years ago, Osama bin Laden was on a high. His tight-knit band of terrorists wreaked havoc on the United States, taking down the twin icons of America's financial might in New York, striking at the main symbol of America's military power in Washington, and killing more than 3,000 people on American soil in the process.

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In the years after Al Qaeda's attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the Saudi Arabian jihadi could hardly believe his luck. His video messages of threats and bluster were broadcast around the world, and the US was soon drawn into a ruinous war in Iraq.

The conflict proved a recruiting magnet for his ideology, bringing hundreds of fighters from across the Arab world to a country in turmoil on the doorstep of his ultimate objective: Saudi Arabia, and its monarchy that he had come to despise.

He made gleeful predictions that the US "empire" would collapse, just as the Soviet Union had (jihadis like bin Laden liked to tell themselves that the war they helped wage against the Soviets in Afghanistan, not a bankrupt political system, is what caused the superpower to unravel) and that it was only a matter of time before the House of Saud would fall too, heralding the rise of the caliphate of his dreams.

Approval slips from 60-70 percent to 20-30 percent

But then it all went wrong, and badly. The unprecedented international security cooperation spawned by Al Qaeda attacks in the early and mid-2000s had led to the arrest and killing of lieutenant after lieutenant.

Bin Laden's acolytes in Iraq, with an almost nihilistic string of attacks on schools, on ambulances, and on Iraqis sleeping in their beds whose only crime was not sharing Al Qaeda's extreme vision for the world's future caused most of the Muslim world to recoil in horror. His redoubt in Afghanistan was lost, hundreds of his supporters were killed in airstrikes, and he was pushed into living in Pakistan, with the acquiescence of elements of that country's security services.

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