If one imagines al-Qaida as experts have characterized it -- as a system of terror franchises with branches worldwide -- then there is clearly an uprising taking place among many branch managers. They are distancing themselves from the icons of terror, and from their goals and methods. So far, it apparently remains an internal process; disputes within the various groups that have been smoldering for some time are now rising to the surface. And there is little to indicate a causal connection between this development and the United States-led war on global terrorism.
Good news to be sure. But not surprising news. Sandburg is right to note the disconnect with the U.S. war on terror and the rejection of global jihad. Jihadists didn't fall away from Al Qaeda because of anything the United States did, but because 'global jihad' was never a popular idea in the first place.
Instead, militants in the 1990s wanted to use the concept of jihad to promote the violent overthrow of their own national governments. Ayman al Zawahiri is a good example of someone who went from advocating the overthrow of his own, Egyptian, government, to believing in bin Laden's brand of global jihad.In fact, many jihadists were furious with bin Laden after September 11.
Ironically, the Iraq war may have prevented these differences from coming out sooner. The foreign occupation of Iraq gave jihadists something to rally around. According to New York University professor Paul Cruickshank, "What's emerging now has been simmering for a long time."