Just what is the current state of al-Qaeda today

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Marco Werman: Here's a disturbing question for you: is Al-Qaeda dead or alive? The line from the White House is that the terrorist group's leaders have mostly been routed from their caves in the mountains of Afghanistan and the remnants have struggled to reorganize. But if you listen to the experts studying the recent fighting in Iraq and Syria, Al-Qaeda has resurfaced. So who's right? We return to Fawaz Gerges, a professor at the London School of Economics and author of a book called "The rise and fall of al-Qaeda." Fawaz, tell me first of all, when we're talking about Al-Qaeda today, who exactly are we talking about? Fawaz Gerges: I think this is a very good question. We're not talking about Al-Qaeda central, Osama Bin Laden, and Ayman al-Zawahiri. We're not talking about Al-Qaeda, the global jihad which came out with the 911 attacks against America. Now, we're talking about local Al-Qaeda linked fighters who target the near enemy as opposed to the far enemy, with the far enemy meaning the United States and its European allies. It's essential for listeners world wide to make a clear distinction between Al-Qaeda, the global Jihad, with Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri and the various local Al-Qaeda groups in Iraq, in Somalia, in Syria, who are targeting local rulers who oppress the population. There's a major operational and conceptual distinction between the global movement of Al-Qaeda and the local factions and groups that have proliferated in the last few years in the Middle East and the Muslim world. Werman: If you read some of the reports coming out of Syria and Iraq, some of these so-called "Al-Qaeda fighters" are coming from abroad. Do they have to ask permission from Zawahiri before going to a place like Syria and fighting under the name of Al-Qaeda. Gerges: No, I don't think so. Most of the fighters who are going to fight in Syria are motivated by the brutal images of killings and torture and massive use of force inside Syria. They are targeting the near enemy. Either the Assad regime or the Maliki government in Iraq or the various local governments. Their focus, their operational priority is local arab and muslim rulers as opposed to America and its European allies. The question for all of us is what will happen to these particular groups and local factions 1, 2, 3, 4 years from now? What kind of radicalization will be undergone, in particular with some individuals from European and Western countries who go and wage jihad in local contacts, like in Syria and Iraq and Somalia and other places. Werman: Your concern is that they go from a local view to a world view of jihad? Gerges: Absolutely. This is the real fear. No one can tell you what happens once radicalization takes place. No one can tell you what will happen to the tens of thousands of fighters who are battling the near enemy in Syria, in Iraq, in Somalia and in Yemen. The same thing happened in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the 1980's and 1990's. The fight against the near enemy mutated into a global fight against the far enemy, meaning the United States and its European allies. Werman: Some experts are pointing to Iraq and Syria today and saying that it's just a matter of time before Al-Qaeda resurfaces in Afghanistan and Pakistan. What are your thoughts on that, and do you think Al-Qaeda went away at all? Gerges: Al-Qaeda central, Al-Qaeda of Osama Bin Laden no longer exists as an effective organization. It's gone. It's dead. It's a shadow of its former self. Most of its leadership, most of its lieutenants, the rank and file of Al-Qaeda central is gone and dead. What remains of Al-Qaeda central is the ideology. This is the ideology that has traveled near and far. It's not just a label, as some experts say. It's a very deeply entrenched ideology. Unfortunately this fight - all the wars that the United States has waged over the last 13 years or so, the ideology remains in tact, even though Al-Qaeda central no longer exists as an effective organization. Werman: Fawaz Gerges, author and professor of the London School of Economics, thanks very much for your time. Gerges: It's my pleasure.