UNKNOWN gunmen murdered Muhammad Gul Aghasi - one of the key "theologians" of al Qaeda - at a mosque in northern Syria last month. Candidates for the fiery preacher's killing include rivals within his own radical group, agents of the Americans - and his Syrian hosts. Whatever the truth, this is bad news for the already ailing al Qaeda.
Al Qaeda had hoped that the U.S. Congress would hand it a victory in Iraq by forcing the Bush administration to withdraw American forces before the Iraqis were ready to defend themselves. But that hope vanished last month when it became clear that the United States will retain its military presence in Iraq for at least another year.
Al Qaeda took another hit last week when Sheikh Abdul-Aziz Al-Sheikh, Saudi Arabia's grand mufti and the most prestigious cleric in the kingdom, issued a fatwa against "traveling abroad for the purpose of jihad." Hours after the fatwa was issued, Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki hailed it as a "major step toward defeating al Qaeda in Iraq."
Inside Iraq itself, a new force of more than 30,000 volunteers is getting ready to battle al Qaeda in the two predominantly Arab Sunni provinces of Anbar and Ninveh. Many of the volunteers are young men who had previously fought for Al Qaeda in Iraq. They decided to switch sides when Arab Sunni religious and tribal leaders realized that al Qaeda was merely using Iraq as a battlefield in its own war against the United States.
Even before Aghasi was gunned down, the flow of jihadists going to Iraq via Syria had slowed down. According to Iraqi official estimates, the number of foreign jihadists entering between January and July was down by almost 50 percent compared to the same period in 2006. This is, perhaps, one reason why the al Qaeda cyberspace is now full of desperate calls for more jihadists for Iraq. Despite the setbacks it has suffered, al Qaeda still sees Iraq as a make-or-break moment for its dream of world conquest.
Read it here.Taheri notes that over time al Qaeda's reputation, which was at its peak right after 9/11, has fallen. Allies have drifted away or turned on them, casualties have mounted, fewer recruits are coming in. Organizationally al Qaeda has devolved from a coherent structure, to franchising, to freelance groups operating without any central direction. All in all it seems that the Bush administration's plan of not only destroying al Qaeda, but discrediting it, is working very well.