Early on, Al-Qaeda was a close-knit band of extremists with common cause, a centralized leadership, and a base from which to launch global operations.
With the death of Osama bin Laden, the loss of a host of top commanders, and its retreat from Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda has become a diffuse group with no coherent center. But the emerging network of Al-Qaeda offshoots, with operations around the world, is no less dangerous.
Call it Al-Qaeda 2.0 — the evolution of a group whose directives once came from the top into a network of affiliates who are essentially on their own to export a fundamentalist brand of Islam and upstage secular governments in the Muslim world.
Al-Qaeda’s growing list of affiliates, by feeding off local grievances and exploiting political turmoil, are showing their strength in a number of countries, including Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Mali.
Their rise, which has come with little tutelage from what remains of the Al-Qaeda brain trust in Pakistan, has sparked fears that they will continue to expand by exploiting local conflicts as battlegrounds for global jihad.