Seven Years after 9/11 How Dangerous Is Al-Qaida?

After seven years, and a much-trumpeted war against terrorism, the organization that toppled the World Trade Center has not been defeated. SPIEGEL ONLINE talks to seven experts about how much of a threat al-Qaida still poses.

By Yassin Musharbash

September 11, 2001. But where is al-Qaida now?

September 11, 2001. But where is al-Qaida now?

Most people in the world can remember where they were and what they were doing when they heard about the planes terrorists flew into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, DC. This Thursday marks the seventh anniversary of the disaster, and since then a global "war on terror" has been waged -- but not won.

With NATO support, the US has toppled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and established a new government, but not stabilized the country. A second war was started in Iraq with 9/11 as a justification -- but on false premises, as most of the world knows now and many people already understood in 2003.

Most of the world now has a new understanding of "security." Global terrorism of the sort practiced by al-Qaida finds targets that are not always easy to comprehend: a Danish embassy in Pakistan, nightclubs on Bali, trains in London and Madrid, wedding parties in Jordan, a synagogue in Tunisia, a British bank in Istanbul.

To protect themselves, Western as well as non-Western states have passed new laws, some of them draconian. The United States set up a prison at Guantánamo Bay which has yet to be dismantled.

The CIA has kidnapped and transported terror suspects all over the world, including people who weren't especially suspect and have long been proved innocent. Arab nations have signed dubious extradition treaties to move terrorist suspects back and forth. Russia and China use the "war on terror" for their own purposes -- to declare Chechens and Uighurs potential terrorists, for example. The debate over torture, once thought to be settled in civilized nations, has enjoyed an unexpected and in some ways ignoble renaissance.

And al-Qaida?

Al-Qaida is not beaten. Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are still at large. A number of high-ranking members of the organization have been killed or arrested, including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Ramzi bin al-Shibh and others. But terrorism hasn't stopped. Al-Qaida has retreated in Iraq, perhaps, but in Pakistan as well as North Africa, it has gained influence and space.

But there is no single, clear image of al-Qaida or its current status. It has changed from an organization of militias into something nobody recognizes. Is it more of a movement? Are al-Qaida's capabilities weaker than before, or is another 9/11 still possible? Are there fewer members of al-Qaida now, or more?

For the seventh anniversary of 9/11, SPIEGEL ONLINE has asked seven renowned terrorism experts from seven different countries for their opinions of the threat al-Qaida still poses. They are all influential analysts, authors and observers of the global jihad movement. They agree on many things, but disagree on such basic principles as the network's future goals and the success of Western measures against terrorism.


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