Al-Qaida is at war. And not just against the West, but with itself, says Lawrence Wright, author of The Looming Tower, the definitive account of the terrorist organization and the road leading up to the attacks of Sept. 11.
"It's very profound in the radical edge of it," says Wright, who explores the ideological rift for an article in next week's New Yorker magazine. "Before, moderate Muslims have spoken out against violence in the name of Islam, but now radicals are doing the same thing. And what's fascinating is that they're attacking on two grounds: One is that [violence is] not practical because it hasn't achieved their purposes. And secondly, it's sinful. It is placing the souls of the people who commit this violence in great jeopardy."
Wright tells NPR's Guy Raz that the two players behind the rift are Ayman Al-Zawahiri, al-Qaida's No. 2 man, and Sayyed Imam Al-Sharif, also known as Dr. Fadl. Sharif, who wrote al-Qaida's manual for jihad training, recently released a manifesto refuting those principles.
The fact that al-Qaida's architect has changed his mind, Wright says, makes violence "harder to justify using that kind of thinking."
He says al-Qaida is unraveling in some respects.
"But in some respects, they are not losing, they are regenerating. But they're still much reduced from what they were. They're clearly losing in Iraq. Their popularity all across the Muslim world is plummeting because Muslims are the main victims. And people are beginning to question the use of violence not only in the case of al-Qaida but even in resistance movements in Palestine."