Why Bin Laden still matters

For some, these small numbers suggest that bin Laden’s organization is fading away, and that the war against it is largely won. But the fact is that Al Qaeda has always been a small organization. According to the FBI, there were only 200 sworn members at the time of the 9/11 attacks, and the group has always seen itself primarily as an ideological and military vanguard seeking to influence and train other jihadist groups…

Al Qaeda may no longer be able to launch an attack sufficiently deadly to completely reorient U.S. foreign policy, as the 9/11 attacks did. But there has been a key shift since around the time President Obama took office: the Americanization of the leadership of Al Qaeda and aligned groups. Anwar al-Awlaki, a Yemeni-American cleric who grew up in New Mexico, is today playing an important operational role in AQAP and had some part in recruiting the underwear bomber, according to counterterrorism officials. Adnan Shukrijumah, a Saudi-American who grew up in Brooklyn and Florida, is now Al Qaeda’s director of external operations. In 2009 he allegedly tasked Najibullah Zazi and two other Americans to attack targets in the United States. Omar Hammami, an Islamic convert from Alabama, is both a key propagandist and a military commander for Al-Shabab, while Chicagoan David Headley played a central role in scoping the targets for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai that killed more than 160.