I have been reading about al Qaeda and how support, even among extremists, for the terrorist group is waning and how they are losing recruits because they are failing to appeal to a younger generation of radicals. Is al Qaeda still a major threat in the middle east or has the organization lost most of the original intimidation and influence it once had?
Al Qaeda remains active, most notably via its franchises. The al Shabaab group controls significant parts of rural Somalia, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula controls some of Yemen, local affiliates are active in the Sahara, and Tahrir al Sham (loosely linked with al Qaeda) controls some of Syria. Al Shabaab has become more of a force lately, launching a suicide bombing in Somalia last month that killed at least 85 and a raid on a US base in Kenya this month which killed 3 American personnel.
Bin Laden, Al Qaeda's leader, was killed in 2011, and they seemed to have lost power ever since:
In 2009, President Barack Obama’s so-called AfPak strategy gave top priority to the defeat of the al-Qaeda core in Pakistan. A relentless campaign, primarily using drones and highlighted by the 2011 commando raid that killed bin Laden in Abbottabad, gradually wore down the core by 2015.
In September 2014, Zawahiri [one of Bin Laden's lieutenants] planned his last major international terror plot: to hijack the Pakistani Navy frigate Zulfiqar and use it to sink a U.S. Navy ship in the Indian Ocean, provoking war between the United States and Pakistan. The plot was foiled only at the last moment. It was probably al-Qaeda’s most audacious conspiracy ever. It could have changed the world even more than 9/11.
So they have put up a fight even after Bin Laden's death, but 2014 seems to be the last time they have made the news.
Of course, that's not if you're counting a few months ago:
Bin Laden’s son and potential heir, Hamza, was killed mysteriously sometime this year with the assistance of the Trump administration.
So another potential leader was recently killed. Also, Zawahiri doesn't seem to be in good health either:
With the group’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in bad health and isolated, most likely somewhere in Pakistan, and Hamza bin Laden, who may have been next in line, recently reported killed, al Qaeda’s most dedicated members seem to understand that its best chance to remain relevant is through its ongoing presence in Syria.
So their leadership seems to be crumbling and they seem to be losing power, but they are still around:
"We see active and deadly al Qaeda affiliates across the globe, including in Somalia, where al Shabab commits regular attacks inside Somalia and also has begun to attack its neighbors as well, particularly Kenya," he said. "We see active AQ plotting and activity elsewhere in Africa."
Some sources seem to think that it is slowly rebuilding itself and trying to become even stronger:
Al Qaeda seemed to be “quietly and patiently rebuilding” itself while deliberately letting the Islamic State bear the brunt of the West’s counterterrorism campaign.
So it could get stronger in the 2020s (Heaven forbid) but so far they haven't seemed to really have done anything major in recent years. ISIS seems to have filled the void Al Qaeda once held:
The heir of the al-Qaeda organization in Iraq—the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria—has lost control of most of the ground it once held in Iraq and Syria but remains a very dangerous terrorist threat, with offshoots in Libya, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. The Islamic State also has cells in Western Europe.