Al Qaeda is clearly weaker than it was at the formal commencement of the war on terrorism, on October 7, 2001. It has been deprived of operational bases and training camps in Afghanistan. Its command-and-control capabilities have been disrupted. Its headquarters have been destroyed. Its leaders and fighters have been forcibly dispersed, and they are now consumed as much by providing for their own security as by planning and executing attacks. Communication and coordination among the disparate parts of al Qaeda's global network are more inconvenient—if not necessarily less effective—than ever before. These setbacks have forced al Qaeda to alter its targeting patterns. Displaced and harried, its operatives must now rely on local groups to carry out their plans and, as a result, have focused on "softer," more accessible targets, in places as diverse as Tunisia, Pakistan, Jordan, Indonesia, Kuwait, the Philippines, Yemen, and Kenya. These have included German, Australian, and Israeli tourists; French engineers and a French oil tanker; and such long-standing targets as U.S. diplomats and servicemen.
But not everything has changed, of course; al Qaeda remains a powerful threat. The organization has continued to use suicide bombing, both at sea and on land, and commercial aviation remains a focus—as was made clear in December of 2001, when the shoe bomber Richard Reid attempted to blow up an American Airlines plane en route from Paris to Miami, and then eleven months later, when a group in Kenya with links to al Qaeda tried to shoot down an Israeli charter flight using a hand-held surface-to-air missile.