But important as they were, those news reports masked a surprising and perhaps heartening long-term trend: Many students of terrorism believe that in important ways, Al Qaeda and its ideology of global jihad are in a pronounced decline — with its central leadership thrown off balance as operatives are increasingly picked off by missiles and manhunts and, more important, with its tactics discredited in public opinion across the Muslim world.
“Al Qaeda is losing its moral argument about the killing of innocent civilians,” said Emile A. Nakhleh, who headed the Central Intelligence Agency’s strategic analysis program on political Islam until 2006. “They’re finding it harder to recruit. They’re finding it harder to raise money.”
Marc Sageman, a former C.I.A. officer and forensic psychiatrist, counted 10 serious plots with Western targets, successful and unsuccessful, that could be linked to Al Qaeda or its allies in 2004, a peak he believes was motivated by the American-led invasion of Iraq the year before. In 2008, he said, there were just three.
Dr. Sageman has been in the forefront of those who argue that the centrally led Al Qaeda responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks is giving way to a generation of dispersed, aspiring terrorists linked largely by the Internet — who still pose a danger, but of a lesser degree.“I said two years ago it was a diminishing problem, and everything I’ve seen since then has confirmed it,” Dr. Sageman said of what counterterrorism specialists call Al Qaeda Central.,more..http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/27/weekinreview/27shane.html?hp