U.S. President Barack Obama has just announced that Osama bin Laden, the world's most wanted terrorist, is dead.
This is obviously a huge deal symbolically -- Bin Laden was the face of global terror, and an inspiration to thousands of wanna-be jihadis worldwide.
But many terrorism analysts have been saying for some time that Bin Laden had lost his central importance to al Qaeda, or that he was no longer its operational leader. Al Qaeda had morphed from a cohesive terrorist group into a global franchise, this argument went. It was at once more dangerous because it was spread out, and less lethal because local operatives had neither the expertise nor the ambition to launch truly devastating strategic attacks.
These arguments were always based on limited information -- people connecting the dots between sparse data points. I don't think anyone really knows to what extent Bin Laden was still in control, or else we would have gotten him years ago. But I imagine we'll find out more soon.
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