Atwan, Abdel Bari. The Secret History of al-Qaeda.

AuthorAlexander, Kristian P.
PositionBook review

Atwan, Abdel Bari. The Secret History of al-Qaeda. Updated Edition. Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 2008. 328 pages. Paper $16.95.

DOES OSAMA BIN LADEN MATTER anymore? Is al-Qaeda's central leadership still relevant? Is al-Qaeda going to dissipate as a result of recent internal criticisms and feuds? One commentator who is of the opinion that al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden's (OBL) influence remains steadfast and is actually much greater than others acknowledge is Abdel Bail Atwan. Atwan posits that OBL and his organization remain dangerous and unpredictable and contrary to conventional wisdom he still commands a significant following.

Atwan is among the minority analysts and commentators since many counterterrorism experts have now surmised that al-Qaeda no longer poses an existential threat to the West. They point to opinion polls in the Muslim world suggesting that Osama Bin Laden's (OBL) popularity has faded and that many within the jihadi movement have denounced him, or at the minimum, distanced themselves from OBL, his goals and violent tactics. As further evidence they list that al-Qaeda has not demonstrated the ability to plan large-scale operations with its funding streams having been largely curtailed. Lacking a tangible homeland and with almost no territory to operate from, al-Qaeda leaders have been seemingly thrown on the defensive. At best OBL is still a source of inspiration for many 'leaderless jihadis' since recent developments have shown that he lacks an ideology with mass appeal. In response to these recent defections and developments, there have been attempts by the al-Qaeda leadership to portray the dissidents as victims of torture and forceful conversions brought about by coercive methods employed by Arab and Western intelligence agencies seeking to create divisions and uncertainty among OBL's "holy warriors."

Abdel Bari Atwan, the author of this monograph, is an accomplished Palestinian journalist and the editor of the London based Arab Language newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi. Besides being one of the few to receive press releases straight from al-Qaeda, Atwan has had unique access to key players in the organization, not least OBL himself whom he met in person in 1996 for 3 days in his Torn Born hideout.

The title of Atwan's book The Secret History of al-Qaeda comes across as mysterious and intriguing but strictly speaking much of the biographical information on OBL, background factors in the emergence...

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