A growing issue among the al Qaeda leadership is the inability of local terrorist leaders to properly handle relations with Moslems in their area. All too often the local al Qaeda will quickly resort to force and terror to get civilians to cooperate. This also includes a casual attitude towards civilian casualties. For example, Moslem women and children killed in the course of terrorist operations were called "involuntary martyrs" and usually no effort is made to apologize or compensate their families. In most cultures this sort of behavior is considered impolite and this has not gone over well in the Moslem world. Few of the low-level al Qaeda leaders are able or willing to cope with this popular view of the Islamic radicals being killers and unfeeling brutes. The senior leadership is in agreement that these thuggish attitudes have to change but no one has yet come up with a practical way to get it done.
It’s not just the many civilian deaths but the inability of local al Qaeda leaders to understand the importance of efficiently governing areas they control. It wasn’t enough to impose law and order and Islamic law, you also had to take care of basics like water supplies and sanitation. Ignoring this meant that Islamic rule would never last long. This pattern has repeated itself time and again in the last decade and the al Qaeda and Taliban leadership have been increasingly strident in issuing orders for their subordinates to shape up.
Meanwhile, al Qaeda also has to cope with the Israeli counter-terror tactics that the Americans successfully applied in Iraq. The Israeli tactic concentrates on the terrorist leadership and technicians. These are the skilled people required to plan attacks. A skilled crew must find a target that is not heavily guarded, build the bomb, recruit and train the bomber, and then get the bomber to the target for the attack. Without these "technicians," the attacks don't happen. That's how the Israelis stopped the Palestinian terror campaign cold in 2005, after five years of developing and perfecting these new techniques. The Palestinians have been stymied ever since and most have lost faith in the use of terror attacks on civilians. This tactic also takes down the most talented leaders, especially ones who could implement more effective governing techniques.
Long term, the U.S. has found that you don't have to kill terrorist leaders to disable them. For example, when American troops drove al Qaeda and the Taliban out of Afghanistan in late 2001, they captured large quantities of records dealing with al Qaeda administration. This was revealing. The al Qaeda leadership was constantly being criticized by subordinates for stupid mistakes, while the leaders were constantly monitoring their people for stealing and malingering. The U.S. made sure a lot of this dirty linen was leaked, and eventually the media in Moslem nations began reporting on it. This paid off when al Qaeda in Iraq, despite vigorous objections within the organization, increased the use of attacks that killed lots of civilians. This played a major role in al Qaeda going from an admired to a despised organization within the Islamic world. American intelligence leaked captured documents that made clear how uncaring the terrorist leaders were about these civilian deaths.
As al Qaeda popularity declined, so did donations from the Moslem world. This forced the terrorists to resort to crime to raise money. This was publicized by the Americans, along with details of captured documents. As a result, Moslems began to regard Islamic terrorists as criminals, as well as thoughtless killers. This was in sharp contrast to al Qaeda propaganda that tried to portray them as selfless fighters for the protection of Islam. This made al Qaeda look like hypocrites.
The final blow came from the mouths of captured terrorists. Most of these men tended to speak freely once captured and often complained about how hard life was as a terrorist. This was especially the case with suicide bombers, who often had to be persuaded, or even coerced, to do the deed. Then there was the use of the mentally ill, very young children (10-12, or even younger) and grief stricken widows. In most Moslem countries widows faced a hard life under any conditions, and suicide among them is common. The details of these recruiting methods were released, and by 2007, the Moslem media couldn't get enough of it. The callous treatment of young Saudi men, volunteering to "fight for Islam" in Iraq, was particularly effective in cutting off this source of manpower. The Saudi volunteers usually had no military training, and the Iraqi terrorist groups used most of them as suicide bombers or in similar combat operations that were pretty much suicidal. Details of these policies were passed on to Saudi media, and parents began to regard a trip to Iraq, or even Afghanistan, as a form of murder (of innocent civilians as well as their sons).
This media campaign against al Qaeda was not, itself, publicized, but was carried out aggressively and discreetly. It worked, and it continues to work. Some things just don't survive the bright light of exposure. The continued difficulty al Qaeda is having to clean up that image has not meant the end of Islamic terrorism, but it has made it appear to be a dead end approach to change for most Moslems.