How soon we forget. In 1993, al Qaeda bombed the World Trade Center in New York City, and had agents assisting warlords in their fight to drive American troops out of Somali. In 1994, an elaborate plan to blow up eleven U.S. airliners over the Pacific was about to get underway, when Filipino police got wind of it. The planner of that operation, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, got another chance and was largely responsible for putting together the September 11, 2001 attacks. In 1995 and 1996, bombs were set off outside U.S. military facilities, killing two dozen Americans and wounding many more. In 1997, al Qaeda scored a major victory that did not involve an explosion, it established a number of training camps in Afghanistan, and began training thousands of terrorist recruits each year. In 1998, there were simultaneous bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224. In 1999, there was another spectacular failure, as U.S. border agents unmasked a plot to set of several bombs during New Years eve celebrations. In 2000, an al Qaeda suicide boat damaged, and almost sank, an American destroyer in a Yemen harbor. That attack killed 17 sailors, and was later found to be the second attempt against a U.S. warship that year.
Then, on September 11, 2001, al Qaeda had its greatest success. But that also prompted the United States to go to war with al Qaeda (and Islamic terrorism in general), rather than continue to treat it as a police matter. As a result, Afghanistan was gone as a base within a few months. Since then, there were no more attacks in the United States, and only two in Europe. In 2003, the U.S. invaded Iraq, causing many Islamic terrorists to hustle back to the Middle East, to "defend the homeland." There they died in the thousands. But worse than that, the terrorist tactics they continued to use was now killing thousands of Moslem men, women and children. The negative publicity caused Islamic terrorism to sink in the opinion polls. This was very bad news. The terrorists depend on public approval, in the Islamic world, for new recruits, protection (from local police) and financial support. The dead Iraqis were killing al Qaeda.
By 2006, Iraqis were turning on al Qaeda, informing on al Qaeda leaders, and any operatives that did not hide carefully from the people they believed they were fighting for. Westerners, unless they observe Arab media closely, and have contacts inside the Arab world, will not have noted this sharp drop in al Qaedas fortunes. It's in the Western media's interest (financial and political) to pump up al Qaedas current standing. But the reality is that al Qaeda is desperate for a big score. The terrorist chatter this year, on several occasions, has indicated that another major attack was imminent. The intelligence agencies did not release any data on what, if any, major attacks were thwarted. But that's normal, because sometimes attacks are called off, not because the intel agencies have intervened, but because the terrorists decided that things were not quite right. In situations like that, the CIA, FBI or whatever, doesn't want to let the bad guys know how close they are.
The chatter is on again. This time there is talk of an al Qaeda video featuring the long unseen Osama bin Laden. The recent reports of his death began as rumors in Arab countries about bin Laden passing away in some inglorious and painful fashion (Typhoid was mentioned.) Actually, many of the "death reports" were actually jokes. Al Qaeda's fortunes have sunk so low in the Moslem world that he is being mocked, via jokes about his demise. While the Western media may not be picking up on this, al Qaeda certainly is, and is eager to do something about it. The chatter also indicates that the new video release may be followed by the long rumored, and oft delayed, "major attack." Either al Qaeda delivers this time, or the organization continues to fade from the Moslem memory.
Al Qaeda in particular, and Islamic terrorist groups in general, are desperate for a major success. Islamic terrorists remember the 19 90s fondly as a time when they were kicking ass big time, or at least more effectively than they have since September 11, 2001.