Over the last decade al Qaeda leaders have increasingly stressed individual action or small local groups of Islamic terrorists organizing independently of any larger organization and planning local attacks. This is in response to the post-September 11, 2001 counter-terrorism efforts. Not just in the West but also in Moslem countries, it became much more difficult for Islamic radicals to work with larger organizations like al Qaeda or even to stay in touch with a larger terrorist organization. The counter-terrorism efforts were increasingly monitoring the Internet as well as phone calls. So al Qaeda leaders did the logical thing and called for more independent action. This made a lot of sense because the 1990s era al Qaeda had been hunted down and largely destroyed by 2007. There were still large local al Qaeda organizations that kept operating, but even these were subject to massive attack and heavy damage. This was the fate of the al Qaeda organizations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mali, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and, now, in Yemen.
The Yemen al Qaeda operation is actually a consolidation of other al Qaeda operations chased out of the other Arabian nations (especially Saudi Arabia). Yemen has long been the most lawless part of Arabia and that helped al Qaeda to survive there. But for the last year the Yemeni security forces have been on the offensive against al Qaeda and have inflicted a lot of damage. The U.S. has become more active, in the form of aerial and electronic surveillance, as well as missile armed UAVs hunting for terrorist leaders and specialists. Despite all that, the Yemeni al Qaeda still have several hundred hard-core members and the infrastructure to build and employ truck and car bombs. This is what apparently led to the recent American terrorist alert in the Middle East.
But the steady decline of al Qaeda in the last decade has led to a lot of amateur terrorists getting caught and sent to prison. This is particularly the case in the West, where Islamic terrorists and their fans are frequently found frankly discussing this situation online. The consensus among the al Qaeda fans is that chances of active Islamic terrorists getting caught are very high in the West, especially in North America or Europe. U.S. police are sometimes accused of entrapment for finding and then leading on amateur Islamic terrorists (who usually end up going to prison for life). But the online chatter makes it clear that this approach has a tremendous deterrent effect. The few terrorist attack plans that make any progress have been those carried out by more intelligent and resourceful amateur terrorists who know to stay off line and very carefully collect materials for their bombs. Others have simply obtained firearms (like Nidal Hassan, the U.S. army officer who shot up a clinic on an army base in 2009) and shot as many people as they could. Fortunately, most dedicated Islamic terrorists are not very well educated or intelligent. Al Qaeda has always had the most success recruiting the hapless, talentless, or just deranged. So for all the chatter and Islamic terrorist material available on the Internet, very few capable new recruits heed the al Qaeda call for local and individual action.