After Benghazi, Is al-Qaeda Back?

Terrorist cells continue to spread, but they now face bigger problems than the U.S.

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Illustration by Oliver Munday for TIME

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But as these groups rise, they come under fire, and not just from the U.S. After a Yemeni government attack, AQAP has lost its stronghold in the south of that country. The Somali government, along with forces from neighboring Kenya, has begun to battle Somalia's homegrown jihadis. As AQIM grows, it will find itself under pressure. A senior U.S. official told me that France had determined that this group--operating in former French colonies--is France's No. 1 national-security threat.

The main reason al-Qaeda faces a more challenging future is the Arab Spring. Al-Qaeda came into being as a radical movement opposed to repressive (and secular) governments. It is now facing many democratic (and somewhat Islamist) governments. Those who have firmly and in some cases eloquently denounced al-Qaeda and its ideology include the elected leaders of Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Turkey--most of whom are Islamist in some sense. They have the most important form of power--legitimacy with their people--and when they declare al-Qaeda un-Islamic and unrepresentative, it matters. Al-Qaeda is losing something much more important than the battle; it is losing the argument.


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