Al-Qaida Faithful Losing Faith? Al-Qaida is rebuilding and recruiting rapidly, but there is some evidence that middle management is restless. Author and terrorism expert Peter Bergen talks about the growing dissension among bin Laden's followers and the future of terrorist attacks.
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Al-Qaida Faithful Losing Faith?

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Al-Qaida Faithful Losing Faith?

Al-Qaida Faithful Losing Faith?

Al-Qaida Faithful Losing Faith?

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Al-Qaida is rebuilding and recruiting rapidly, but there is some evidence that middle management is restless. Author and terrorism expert Peter Bergen talks about the growing dissension among bin Laden's followers and the future of terrorist attacks.

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Peter Bergen has been reporting and writing about Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda since the late '90s, when, as a producer for CNN, he got bin Laden to agree to an interview. Over the past 10 years, Bergen's travelled to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia to report on bin Laden and his organization. He's also been kind enough to be a regular guest on this program.

His most recent book is "The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al-Qaeda's Leader." Now, along with fellow scholar, Paul Cruikshank, he has an article in the current issue of the New Republic called "The Unraveling: Al-Qaeda's Revolt Against bin Laden," where he chronicles the growing disillusionment, and in some cases, the outright repudiation, of bin Laden and al-Qaeda's leadership by several former supporters and mentors. That doesn't mean that al-Qaeda is no longer a threat, they conclude, but that it is losing the war of ideas.

Peter Bergen joins us in a moment. We'll also talk with a former mujahedin fighter who's among al-Qaeda's critics. Later as exercisers move indoors to escape the heat the gym gets weirder. What are the worst gym sins you've ever seen? But first, the jihadist revolt against bin Laden. If you've read the New Republic piece or if you have questions about the growing criticism of bin Laden and al-Qaeda from former allies, give us a call. The number is 800-989-8255, email us, talk@npr.org, and you can join the conversation on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation.

Peter Bergen joins us here in Studio 3A, and always nice to have you on the program.

Mr. PETER BERGEN (Journalist; Author, "The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al-Qaeda's Leader"): Afternoon, Neal.

CONAN: And when you argue that bin Laden is losing the war of ideas, you emphasize he's not losing it to Washington or to the West, but to former allies with credentials as mujahedin.

Mr. BERGEN: Yes, I mean, a number of the people we spoke to for the piece are people who either fought with bin Laden in Afghanistan, Noman Benotman, a Libyan, the leader of a militant group, Abdullah Anas, who's going to be on the show later, who is a son in-law of Abdullah Azzam, arguably the most important figure in the jihadist movement. Sheikh Salman al-Oudah, a very important religious scholar in Saudi Arabia, who bin Laden looked to for spiritual advice, who's now very publicly turned against him. So, what's interesting about this, Neal, is it's militant scholars, people who fought in Afghanistan, people who very hard for al-Qaeda to paint as sort of stooges of the West who are making this critique on both religious and strategic grounds.

CONAN: What are the religious guys to do then?

Mr. BERGEN: Well, it's so basic, as you know. The Koran forbids the killing of civilians, particularly fellow Muslims. This is something bin Laden's never really been able to satisfactorily explain. When he's been asked these questions about, how do you justify the killing of civilians, say, on 9/11, and he'll say, well, the people in the World Trade Center weren't at a playground. They were helping finance the American economy, and they're all responsible for American foreign policy in that way. Well, that's not an argument from religion. It's an argument - it's a political argument. So he - bin Laden well knows that on religious grounds this is very hard to justify, and this is what people are pointing out.

CONAN: And what about on the strategic level, then?

Mr. BERGEN: On the strategic level, people like Noman Benotman, the leader of this - one of the leaders of the Libyan Islamic fighting group, is saying, look, we're trying to get regime change around the Middle East, replace these dictatorships with, you know, Islamists regimes, in a sense. And that by attacking the United States, bin Laden has made that much more complicated, and I think that's true. I mean, the authoritarian regimes in the Middle East are stronger than ever after 9/11. If the intent was to get rid of them, as bin Laden intended to do by attacking the United States, that's been a strategic failure.

CONAN: And as you look into this, though, a lot of these people you talk to, again, yes, some are former mentors, and you mentioned Sheikh al-Oudah, a very important one. Nevertheless, are these al-Qaeda insiders? Are these people who are important to him are defecting now?

Mr. BERGEN: Well, it's more complicated than that, Neal. I mean, Sheikh Salman al-Oudah has never been an al-Qaeda insider, but he has been an - by bin Laden's own account to myself and Peter Arnett in '97, when we interviewed him from CNN. The reason he turned against the United States is that Sheikh Salman al-Oudah was one of the principal critics of American forces being put on Saudi territory as a result of Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait, and then he was imprisoned by Saudi authorities.

So bin Laden said that the reason I declared war against the United States in part was the imprisonment of this very cleric Sheikh Salman al-Oudah who's now turned against bin Laden. And Neal, the important thing is he's not condemning terrorism. He's not condemning 9/11. He's condemning bin Laden by name. This is very important, because there are plenty of people who've said that 9/11 was wrong, or terrorism is wrong. But really, you know, turning against bin Laden personally, one of the people who Noman Benotman wrote an open letter to, al-Qaeda's number two, late last year, which got a lot of play in the Middle East. And so, when they're critiquing bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri by name, this is very different than just saying, well, you know, terrorism is wrong, 9/11 was wrong.

CONAN: There's another figure you mentioned in the piece known as Dr. Fadl, who is, again, another important intellectual architect of jihadism.

Mr. BERGEN: Yeah. In fact, you could easily paint him as a real al-Qaeda insider because he was the founder of jihad group in Egypt which would later morph into al-Qaeda. And by his own account, early in al-Qaeda history, the leaders of al-Qaeda would consult Dr. Fadl for all sorts of religious and sort of strategic purposes. So, this guy has now written a book from prison condemning al-Qaeda, condemning bin Laden, and also given interviews repeating these charges. In fact, he got so much under Ayman Al-Zawahiri's skin, the number two in al-Qaeda, that Ayman Al-Zawahiri took it upon himself to write a 200-page book in reply. So, clearly al-Qaeda's leaders are realizing this is a problem.

CONAN: And as you say, they're trying to reply to it. Nevertheless, has this affected their recruiting? Has this affected their finances?

Mr. BERGEN: Well, that is a hard thing to tell, but I think, you know, I think it is commonplace to say we're in a war of ideas. And if some of the important architects of the war on the other side of the equation are withdrawing their support from al-Qaeda, I mean, that is very damaging in the long term.

This isn't going to happen overnight, that - but you know, one metric that we're seeing is a sharp decline in Muslim civilians support for al-Qaeda, whether it's in Pakistan or Indonesia, which, after all, are two of the largest Muslim countries in the world, where support for suicide bombing is tanking, support for al-Qaeda is, you know, plummeting, support for bin Laden is plummeting. So, it's not just that the elite levels. It's also at the kind of man-in-the-street level that this is happening. And which is not to say that al-Qaeda isn't a threat, but they are losing this particular war of ideas.

CONAN: And some take comfort in the idea that where regular civilians, Muslim civilians, are exposed to al-Qaeda, they tend to reject it, and point to Anbar Province in Iraq.

Mr. BERGEN: No doubt, and I was just coming back from Iraq two days ago, and clear - al-Qaeda in Iraq is not destroyed, but it is largely defeated, precisely for all this Taliban-style regimes that they try to install wherever they held territory.

CONAN: And yet some people are saying, look, al-Qaeda is failing to rally the masses, and other people say, well, rallying the masses that isn't what they are trying to do.

Mr. BERGEN: Well, that's a very good point. I mean, if Bruce Hoffman, one of the great theorists of terrorism, he would point out correctly that Brigate Rossi and Baader-Meinhof in the '70s, you know, had no popular support at all, yet basically, you know, created an immense amount of chaos in Germany and Italy. So, it doesn't require a great amount of public support, but as the public support evaporates, that doesn't help them, surely. And so, al-Qaeda may have re-grouped on the Afghan - Pakistan border, that is, certainly a problem for the Britain and potentially for the United States, but - and militarily, they are doing quite well right now, compared to the way they were in 2002. Ideologically, they're beginning to lose the battle.

CONAN: And you say, in fact, contain, ideologically, the seeds of their own destruction.

Mr. BERGEN: Yes. It's by this doctrine of taqfir which is they decide who's Muslim and who isn't. And what turns their decision is that basically anybody who doesn't precisely share their views is actually not a Muslim. And that allows them to say, well, they're apostates and eventually to kill them, which is basically the chain of reasoning we've seen in Algeria in the '90s, and Egypt in the '90s, and Iraq, and Anbar Province, as you pointed out, where most - many of their victims were Sunni Muslims. Al-Qaeda in Iraq killed a lot of Sunni Muslims, people, you know, people who were smoking, for instance, or very trivial things that didn't, by any standard - which resulted in deaths for people they thought were doing wrong.

CONAN: Nevertheless, we've seen tremendous upsurge in suicide bombings in Pakistan. And as you mentioned, al-Qaeda and its Taliban allies are doing extremely well at the moment, or seem to be, in Afghanistan.

Mr. BERGEN: Well, that's absolutely right, Neal. So, you know, in Pakistan, we've seen more suicide attacks in Pakistan last year than in the rest of Pakistani history, something like 60 suicide attacks. So, this organization on the Afghan-Pakistan borders still has life in it.

CONAN: There were also those who say al-Qaeda itself, well, it represents part of the threat. But its real concern has to be about these disparate organizations, many of them in Western Europe who are inspired by, though not controlled by, al-Qaeda.

Mr. BERGEN: Well, certainly that is a threat. But I think it's a question of how you order the threat. I mean, al-Qaeda's a strategic threat to the United States if it's capable of doing a 9/11. Self-starting, homegrown radicals can maybe kill a few people here and there, but they aren't strategic threats to the United States and their allies.

I mean, we've seen in the United States a number of plots, none of which were very serious, by self-starting, homegrown radicals since 9/11. But it was basically amateur hour. In Europe, you know, the Madrid attack of 2004, which killed 191 commuters, looks pretty much like a self-starting, homegrown radicals' kind of attack. But, that's not 9/11. So, if al-Qaeda - it's when these things join, self-starting, homegrown radicals and al-Qaeda central.

It's when they meet. It's when those radicals travel to Pakistan, get the training that you really begin to have a problem. We saw that on July 7, 2005, in London. Radicals in the north of England travel to Pakistan, get the training, kill 52 commuters on the way to work in London, the biggest terrorist attack in British history. So, that's - these aren't either, or categories. Both of these are problems.

CONAN: We're talking with Peter Bergen. He's the author of - or co-author of "The Unraveling: Al-Qaeda's Revolt Against bin Laden." If you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. Jeff is on the line, Jeff calling from Cleveland.

JEFF (Caller): Good afternoon. My question concerns the funding for al-Qaeda at this point. Obviously we've been told they're still a threat. Who's giving them the money to help train people and send them out into the world and cause all this?

Mr. BERGEN: Well, I've been looking at some of the documents of al-Qaeda in Iraq that were seized by the U.S. military. And what's really interesting about it - there's two interesting things. The people who came to conduct suicide operations, the terrorists who are mostly foreigners in Iraq, they pay for themselves to come. In fact, they brought money with them to contribute. So, this was a self-financed operation.

On the other hand, running the insurgency in Iraq was quite expensive. And where did that money come from? I think it came from a combination of kidnapping, corruption, oil smuggling, all sorts of things. So, if you look at - it depends where the insurgency is. Obviously in Afghan, Pakistan, you know, the big money draw there is the opium trade. Running an insurgent operation is expensive because you have to pay salaries. Running a terrorist organization is very inexpensive, because people volunteer. The London attack of July 7, 2005, was entirely self-financed on credit cards.

JEFF: Sad.

CONAN: Jeff. And where do the bills go? That's what I wonder. Anyway, Jeff, thanks very much for the call.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JEFF: Thanks for having me on.

CONAN: All right. Peter, stay with us. If you'd like to join the conversation, again, our phone number is 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. Coming up, we'll speak with the former mujahedin who is now a critic of Osama bin Laden. I'm Neal Conan. Stay with us. It's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. We're talking today with terrorism expert, Peter Bergen, who's the co-author of an article in the New Republic about criticism of al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden from within and how the organization is changing as a result. If you've read the New Republic piece, or you have questions about the growing criticism of bin Laden and al-Qaeda from former allies, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. And you can read what other listeners have to say on our blog at npr.org/blogofthenation. Joining us now on the line from London is Abdullah Anas. He's the Osama bin Laden - he met Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 1984 and fought against the Soviets in Afghanistan for nine years in the 1980s. Nice to have you today on Talk of The Nation.

Mr. ABDULLA ANAS (Former Mujahedin): Thank you.

CONAN: And can you tell us, was there a moment al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden did something about - was there a moment when you decided to go public about your criticisms of them?

Mr. ANAS: You know, we have - this is our duty to defend the innocent everywhere. So, because we are Muslims, we are mujahedin, in the past we were mujahedin in order to defend the rights of people, to defend the rights of the innocents. So, any group, any person, anyone could harm or damage the people, we are against him. This could be Osama bin Laden, or not, everyone in the East or in the West, Muslim or non-Muslim. So, this is our duty.

We are not happy for the killing of the civilians, or for damaging the societies, or attacking the innocent everywhere. So, this is our duty. I'm not doing it because - for politics. I'm not an American, I'm not European, and also I'm not a member of al-Qaeda. So, we have - we believe in our principles. So, that is why it is our duty.

CONAN: So, by that definition of jihad, the struggle in Afghanistan against the Soviets was justified as - would the struggle against the United States in Iraq be justified?

Mr. ANAS: You know, in Afghanistan in 1984, there was a fatwa. We call it in Islam, fatwa. It's an order signed by group, very large group of scholars through the Islamic world, that Afghanistan was occupied by the Soviets, and it's a duty of every single Afghani, or every single Muslim, in the world to help the Afghans to liberate their land. So, this is something legitimated in Islam.

But you know, we have to separate between two things. What we saw in Iraq, it was not at all similar to what was in Afghanistan. First of all, the Afghans, the Afghan-Arabs or the foreigner fighters in Afghanistan, they were under leadership of the Afghans themselves. In another way, the politicians who were playing the role of the liberation in Afghanistan were the Afghans themselves. They were free to negotiate or not to negotiate, to stop, to cease fire, or not. We were just supporting them.

But in Iraq this completely - it is a big division happened in Iraq. Al-Qaeda, when they went to Iraq, they declared themselves an independent group, an independent political party, fighting without the orders of the Iraqi leaders. So, that's why instead of helping the Iraqis, they made it more worse. They started fighting against Shia. They started fighting against U.N. They started fighting against the other Sunnis who are not agreeing with their point of view. They started fighting in Amman. So, it's completely different. We cannot - I cannot compare jihad in Iraq to the jihad in Afghanistan during the Soviet Union.

CONAN: And some would say that in Afghanistan now, with the United States there, and NATO forces there, in many ways it's not different from the days when the Soviet Union tried to steal Afghanistan's independence.

Mr. ANAS: Yes, it's completely different. This is, of course, my personal point of view. I don't know if it will get them majority in the Islamic world. This sharing this view, or not, but, at least I should take responsibility. I don't think so what is happening in Afghanistan, from both sides, I cannot say that Taliban are fighting jihad. Or also, I don't think that NATO is in there fighting against terror. Because it's everything went in the wrong direction there. The people who are staying, fighting, that they are fighting against - fighting jihad against NATO. I think we should ask them.

I don't think so if 11 of September did not happen, I wouldn't see any soldier there. So, I don't think so the matter of occupation is there. And at the same time, I don't think so now, the international forces are fighting against terror. Because the mistakes happening every day, every week, bombing sometimes weddings, bombing sometimes, civilians. So, I don't think so it's the same situation. I cannot compare it with the jihad during the Soviet Union.

CONAN: And finally, some people would worry that speaking out publicly against Osama bin Laden, and al-Qaeda, might expose you to retaliation, to attacks?

Mr. ANAS: You look, we say what we believe. If anybody attack us for what we believe, we don't mind. I'm in the death list twice. I was in the death list of GIA in Algeria, the armed group, Islamic armed group, and at the end everyone knows that in Algeria that this group was bloody group was criminals, were criminals, killing civilians. And also we are not - I'm not spokesman of anyone, East or in West. I'm spokesman of my Islam, of what I believe. So I don't mind.

CONAN: Abdullah Anas, thank you so much for your time today. We appreciate it.

Mr. ANAS: Thank you very much, bye.

CONAN: Peter Bergen, just a little bit more. Who is this man, and why is he so important?

Mr. BERGEN: Well, Abdullah is a friend of mine. And he's got extraordinary credibility on these issues because he is the son-in-law of Abdullah Azzam who is arguably the founder of the modern jihadist movement. Basically, also Osama bin Laden's most important mentor, who, between them, set up the services office which became the office that bought foreign fighters and also Muslim from around the world to help the Afghan jihad against the Soviets. And, as you mentioned in the introduction, Abdullah fought personally for nine years inside Afghanistan for Ahmad Shah Massoud. So, he is the real deal.

CONAN: Let's get a caller on the line. And this is Matthew, Matthew with us from Sacramento in California.

MATTHEW (Caller): Hi. I just wanted to ask, given that al-Qaeda is a relatively young organization, do you think it's possible that they're going to follow the same development that groups like the IRA have? Where they've become more like political parties, and less like militant organizations? And I'll take my answer off the air.

CONAN: OK, Matthew.

Mr. BERGEN: That's an excellent question. By the way, al-Qaeda is about to celebrate its 20th anniversary in August. A little over a dozen people spent a couple of weekends in late August of 1988 and founded al-Qaeda. That organization, within 13 years, afflicted more direct damage on the United States than the Soviet Union had done during the Cold War. So, this organization has been around for awhile.

Will it turn into a political organization? I don't think so. You know, the terrorist groups that become political organizations tend to usually have one demand. Get the British out of Northern Ireland, for the IRA. You know, let's have a Basque home country for ETA in Spain. You know, al-Qaeda wants global transformation. It wants a Taliban-style furocracies from Indonesia to Morocco. This is not really a negotiable demand.

CONAN: So, they're not likely to morph into something with a political arm, as Sinn Fein was for the IRA?

Mr. BERGEN: Or has Hezbollah in Lebanon. I just don't see that. Hezbollah in Lebanon wants to create a, sort of, Shiite-like state in one country. Bin Laden wants global transformation.

CONAN: Another thing that Hezbollah or Hamas has done, their social activist organizations providing services to the people. Al-Qaeda has never been about providing services to the people.

Mr. BERGEN: Do the full experiment of an al-Qaeda hospital, you know, it's an oxymoron. It's not going to happen.

CONAN: Let's get Mike on the line. And Mike is calling us from Columbia in South Carolina.

MIKE (Caller): Yes. Thank you for taking my phone call.

CONAN: Go ahead please.

MIKE: I wanted to ask if Mr. Bergen could recommend or knew how we could best exploit this potential divide, because al-Qaeda has used religion as the basis of their argument. And if we can somehow turn religion against them, and turn them into criminals, or portray them as criminals, I was wondering if that is possible, or if that would have any kind of effect. And unfortunately I'm away from my car right now, so if I could possibly hear the answer on hold, I'd appreciate it.

CONAN: Oh, sure, that's no problem.

Mr. BERGEN: You know, there's several - I think the United States there is a natural tendency to do things, because we have so much kind of firepower and different means at our disposal. This one we should just let happen. I mean, there's the kiss-of-death problem. We don't have credibility on this issue. We don't have the knowledge to really talk about it in any great - with any great authority. And it's much more - it's much more valuable that this criticism is coming from within the Islamic community.

MIKE: A club on parmesan...

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: That's why you're away from your car.

MIKE: I know, sorry.

CONAN: I'm sorry. We're out of the parmesan, Mike. Thanks very much for the call.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: We get the best calls on Talk of the Nation. Jen is with us, Jen calling from Fort Wayne, Indiana.

JEN (Caller): Hi there. How are you today?

CONAN: I'm well, and we're glad our callers are well fed, but go ahead, Jen.

JEN: I'm just curious as to how it has played out. Information like this about the internal dissent in al-Qaeda has filtered in to the West. Has this been covered a lot in the mainstream media in other countries in particular, and do politicians in Europe and the West, have they found a way to take advantage of that? And I'll take an answer off the air.

CONAN: OK, Jen, thank you.

Mr. BERGEN: Certainly this has been wide - these disputes have been widely covered in the Arab world, and now, you know, Larry Wright has a piece in the New Yorker making some of the same points this week. We did our piece. I see a piece in Newsweek this week taking up a slice of this. Our story is being reprinted in some British and Canadian newspapers. And I think that, you know, this is getting wide attention, and General Hayden, sorry, Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, testified in February, made a sort of glancing reference to this, and other counterterrorism officials within the U.S. administration have started paying attention to this. So I think it is getting some wide attention.

CONAN: Yet one hesitates to accept good news on its face. You know, it often precedes a big letdown.

Mr. BERGEN: Yeah. In this case, I'm fairly confident that this is - this has got some legs.

CONAN: We're talking with Peter Bergen about an article that - of which he is the co-author that appears in the current issue of the New Republic. It's called "The Unraveling: Al-Qaeda's Revolt Against bin Laden." If you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255. Email is talk@npr.org. And this is Talk of the Nation from NPR News. The stage where a lot of this is playing out is, in fact, in London, where - well, for example, tell us the story of the Finsbury Avenue Mosque.

Mr. BERGEN: Well, you know, London itself has been referred to as Londonistan (ph), and you know, arguably London is the most important place in the Arab world for ideas, because that's where their principal newspapers are published. That's where the principal television stations have studios. That's where a number of the most important dissidents live. So trends in London really mean a lot.

So the Finsbury Park Mosque was where Abu Hamza, the famous one-eyed, no-handed cleric, ran a sort of rest stop for al-Qaeda wannabes, like Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker. And what has happened there is there was sort of a coup, helped by the British metropolitan police, installing a more moderate regime. Now, when I say more moderate, it's sort of a Muslim Brotherhood-flavored regime, which means that their views on Palestine may be quite different from a number of people listening to this show, but...

CONAN: And certainly from the British government's.

Mr. BERGEN: Well, yeah, yeah, but I mean, I think the British metropolitan police are savvy enough to realize that, you know, let's choose - let's assign - you know, let's be - let's all sort of pretend that everybody's all in one basket, and if we have if they have ideas that we disagree with, somehow they're all our enemies, which I think is, you know, we've seen too much of that. What they're saying is, you know, if people are Muslim fundamentalists and they want to take over this mosque and they're not involved in violence and they've abjured it, fine.

CONAN: And they have taken over the mosque, despite the protests of the supporters of the previous regime, who came out in force.

Mr. BERGEN: Yeah, well, Abu Hamza had a lot of sort of, you know, jihadi wannabes who were part of his congregation, so, but you know, that has been quite a successful takeover, and Finsbury Park Mosque is one of perhaps two mosques in London that were, you know, the most militant mosques in the capital, and now it's in very different hands.

CONAN: Let's talk with Robert, Robert on the line with us from Tallahassee, Florida.

ROBERT (Caller): Yes, good afternoon, gentlemen.

CONAN: Good afternoon.

ROBERT: Peter, I have a question. How much has the strength of the U.S. military or our resolve over the past seven years to go after al-Qaeda relentlessly, how much of an effect has that had on their internal decision-making, and has that led to some of their dissent? Thank you.

Mr. BERGEN: You know, I mean, a lot of this is happening independently of what we do. I mean, no one in our piece that we talked to is in, you know - all the people we interviewed or talk about, they've got nothing to do with the U.S. military, good, bad, or indifferent. They don't - you know, this is an internal debate that's taking place within the Muslim community, you know? And you know, where bin Laden is located is in Pakistan, almost certainly, where we have no U.S. military presence that I'm aware of. If we do, it's, you know, a handful of people.

And so, you know, he's certainly not feeling the pressure from that point of view. In Iraq, having just got back from there, clearly the surge was one of about eight different factors that has produced al-Qaeda in Iraq taking a number of severe hits, but that includes Sunnis themselves in Anbar turning against this group, a much larger Iraqi army, trained by, of course, the U.S. military, the Maliki government making some right moves now in Mosul and the north against al-Qaeda, and many other factors.

But I've noticed on the blogs that came out after our article was released, that a lot of people wanted to paint it, well, this was because of United States military action in Afghanistan and Iraq, which, frankly, this has got almost nothing to do with what the debate is about. The debate is about - it's a religious debate, mostly about whether it's OK to kill Muslim civilians, which is, we have unfortunately done too much of that ourselves in Afghanistan, where last year, Afghan, American, and native forces killed more Afghan civilians than the Taliban did, something we need to obviously change.

CONAN: Yet, you know, the criticism would be that nevertheless, people like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed are now in Guantanamo Bay. They're not on the loose in Karachi.

Mr. BERGEN: Well, yeah, I mean, that's great. Of course, he wasn't caught by the U.S. military. He was caught by a combination of the CIA and the Pakistani ISI, for what it's worth. So, you know, unfortunately our military actions in Iraq, you know, eventually we've got to the point where we've almost defeated al-Qaeda in Iraq, but we introduced al-Qaeda into Iraq. They didn't exist there before our invasion. I mean, al-Qaeda in Iraq officially came into existence October of 2004, which is a little over a year after we first invaded. So it's been a long and expensive process, and so many lives and so much money has been spent, but we are doing better there now today.

CONAN: Peter Bergen, thanks very much. Appreciate it. Peter Bergen, coauthor of the story in the latest issue of the New Republic called The Unraveling: Al-Qaeda's Revolt Against bin Laden," and he joined us here in Studio 3A.

Coming up, whether it's a pool of sweat on the elliptical machine or foot fungus in the showers, there are a myriad of sins that could be committed in the gym. What have you seen? Plus, your letters on what you want your final resting place to be. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

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