"Bin Laden is now a Robin Hood figure.......100 people are inspired by him, but very few respond to do what he wants", the Daily Times quoted Belgium's top terrorism investigator Alain Grignard as saying. Other counter-terrorism officials feel that Laden is no longer a threat to the West, and that his popularity in the Muslim world has waned. European terrorism experts are of the opinion that if Laden had any role in the jihad, it is merely as an icon.
Terrorism expert Peter Bergen writes in the new issue of Time magazine that the jihad has moved beyond Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. He believes that the best available evidence (for Osama being rendered just an iconic figure) is that the threat posed by his acolytes has not been extinguished - and his own influence over them is greater than many analysts acknowledge.
Bergen wrote in the magazine that in Osama's old stomping grounds, the jihad is stronger than at any time since he fled from Tora Bora in 2001. The Taliban are resurgent in Afghanistan, and in Pakistan militant groups have grown aggressive. Extremists in Europe and North Africa continue to covet Bin Laden's blessing and the Al Qaeda brand name.
Bergen writes that while it is true that many of the "leaderless jihadis" have set up operations independently of Al Qaeda, but when they turn to Al Qaeda, it is not just for inspiration but also for training, assistance and direction. Many are able and willing to do Bin Laden's bidding; they pay very careful attention to his Internet postings and follow his instructions.
In contrast to the situation in Europe, Al Qaeda's virulent ideology has found few takers in the American Muslim community. However, it will be dangerous to dismiss Bin Laden as a spent force. While he remains at large, the jihad will never be leaderless, writes Bergen.