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Mr. Joscelyn acknowledged that the exact role of al Qaeda on the Afghan-Pakistani border remains murky.

“I’m not saying that all these demonstrations were ordered by al Qaeda central,” he said. “The evidence isn’t there for that.

“But what I’m saying is — if you add up all the data points — it’s not too much of a stretch” to conclude that al-Qaeda-linked extremists in the region had a hand in them, Mr. Joscelyn said.

Others agree that the demonstrations show, at the least, the resonance of al Qaeda’s violent interpretation of Islam.

The mob attacks “show the resiliency of their nihilistic ideology” in the Arab world, said a U.S. government counterterrorism official who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the news media.

“We haven’t beaten back that ideology,” he said, noting that al Qaeda leader al-Zawahri claimed in his 9/11 anniversary message that al Qaeda is “as much an idea as a movement.”

The diffusion of al Qaeda’s ideology and the proliferation of its affiliates have led some to detect a rebirth of the terrorist network.

“They’re a greater threat than they were back on Sept. 11,” Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said this week.

Al Qaeda “has now spread out into many different groups, and that is why it is considered by most intelligence experts to be more dangerous now than it was then,” Mr. King said.

Debating the issue

Some of the most respected scholars of al Qaeda argue that the Arab democratic uprisings and last year’s slaying of bin Laden have dealt a death blow to the network.

Peter Bergen, a national security analyst who has studied the terrorist network for 20 years, proposed that “al Qaeda has been defeated.” He made the assertion during an Oxford-syle debate staged Tuesday by the New America Foundation, a centrist Washington think tank.

Mr. Bergen, who has written several books about al Qaeda and bin Laden, said he feels “like a Sovietologist in 1989” after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union began to collapse. “That’s a good feeling,” he said.

Thomas Lynch, a retired Army colonel and scholar at the National Defense University, seconded Mr. Bergen, saying it is important not to underestimate the catastrophic impact the killing of bin Laden had on al Qaeda.

Bin Laden, as a personality, was no less relevant to turning the ideology of Salafi jihadism into a globally threatening movement than Lenin was to [forging] Marxist Bolshevism” into a disciplined revolutionary party, said Mr. Lynch, who was a senior adviser to the U.S. military on al Qaeda.

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