The terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001and subsequent activities of Al Qaeda and its allies have given vent to considerable debate over the nature and role of international terrorism in the post-Cold War global order. Al Qaeda is one of several of examples of what some analysts see as a new form of 'new' or 'postmodern' international terrorist organisation which is neither securely linked to any one particular state patron nor especially constrained by any limits on the use of violence. 1
Al Qaeda has proved to be a remarkable and highly adaptive international network of terrorist organisations which, since 11 September 2001, have been capable of regrouping into a series of looser organisations that have launched a series of smaller bomb attacks, of which the most spectacular to date has been the bombing in the island of Bali in October 2002. 2 Al Qaeda has shifted its focus to smaller scale operations using a large number of new recruits and has shown itself capable of responding to the US-led campaign that overthrew the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, depriving it of its major base of operations.
The surprise and ferocity of the attacks have ensured that Al Qaeda and its supposed 'leader' Osama bin Laden a status verging on the mythological in contemporary media portrayals of terrorism. Perhaps much of this is due to a general combination in many Western journalistic circles of fear and fascination. In reality it is likely, as the interior minister of Saudi Arabia, Prince Nayef, has suggested, that bin Laden is really the instrument of a much wider organisation and is only at the 'top' of Al Qaeda from the mass media's point of view. 3 A similar view has been expressed by some Western writers, including the novelist Gore Vidal who has suggested that the figure of a lone crazy man bin Laden has been chosen by a 'Bush junta' in Washington to help persuade the US public to support a war in Afghanistan. 4
There are certainly some Scarlet Pimpernel qualities to bin Laden who appears to have the capacity to disappear and then miraculously resurface in some new region of the world. Even if bin Laden is eventually killed and Al Qaeda defeated, the organisation will in all likelihood continue to have the capacity to reproduce itself-like a magic broom-and create a whole new series of terrorist organisational networks in the Middle East and¦ Islamic world that will continue to threaten Western interests and security.