General Michael Hayclen, director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), has declared that Al Qaeda is on the ropes, a spent force. "We saw the strategic defeat of Al Qaeda in Iraq on 30 May, the near strategic defeat for Al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. We have witnessed significant setbacks for Al Qaeda globally."
Leading Muslim theologians and scholars have been denouncing Al Qaeda and, in some cases, Osama bin Laden personally, for the number of Muslims being killed by the jihadists, more, some say, than the number of 'infidels' killed since 9/11.
More tellingly, some prominent jihadists have recanted and denounced Al Qaeda in the most stinging terms. The most prominent were Sayyed Imam Al Sharif, known by many as "the ideological godfather of Al Qaeda", from his prison cell in Egypt, and Sheikh Salman Al Oudah, an influential Saudi Arabian religious scholar.
But veteran intelligence specialists in the US and Europe caution that such signals should not be overestimated and stress that Al Qaeda is far from beaten. US forces have delivered several hard blows to Al Qaeda in the last few years, says Michael Scheuer, who once headed the CIA unit tracking Bin Laden, but "not to the catastrophic extent some claim".
Even the damage caused by the damning pronouncements of Al Sharif and Al Oudah, he says, will have limited impact. They may be music to the ears of US leaders who see them as damaging Bin Laden, but "their words ... would pose a much greater threat to the future or Al Qaeda and the Islamist movement ... if it was not so starkly clear that both men are fully under the not-always-gentle thumb of their respective national regimes and that each has personally benefited from his willingness to recant former hard-line positions."
Scheuer and other counterterrorism veterans say the campaign to defeat Al Qaeda cannot be measured in military terms alone, but rather to what extent the organisation's ideology is discredited. This, they contend, has not yet happened. Al Qaeda "remains the most serious terrorist threat to the United States," former CIA officer Ted Gistaro, the US national intelligence officer for …