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Al-Qaeda or Al Qaida (Arabic: القاعدة‎, ‎Al Qāʿida “the base”) is a broad term for both terrorist organization and a "brand name" of affiliates, all centered around reestablishing the Caliphate through armed jihad. "Terrorist" is used here as a familiar term, but it will be avoided in the rest of this article, at least with respect to military targets, to avoid distracting discussion of whether terrorism must include civilian targets. Asymmetrical warfare is apt to be a more neutral description.

Al-Qaeda was founded by Osama bin Laden and Zayman al-Zawahiri; bin Laden was killed in, in Pakistan, by a U.S. special operations raid in May 2011. As opposed to the Taliban and other extreme Salafists, they are not necessarily anti-modern, but opposed to what they see as a distinctly non-Muslim lifestyle. Ironically, however, it is useful to think of it them in terms of Western marketing of a brand identity, franchises, and imitators.[1] Again searching for useful Western metaphors, its thinking is much closer to Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations [2] than to more unifying paradigms from Francis Fukuyama or Thomas Barnett. Indeed, Barack Obama's Cairo speech of April 2009 attacks some of the core assumptions of al-Qaeda, which assume a zero-sum game and no concept of coexistence.[3]

While it is certainly strongly Islamist, wants a return of the Caliphate, and seeks Muslim unity, as in Michael Scheuer's analysis of Abu Jandal, [4] it is not as Salafist as the Taliban. Indeed, Abu Jandal himself spoke of takfir groups as far more extreme than bin Laden.[5]

Al-Qaeda's operational signature had long been considered the complex and spectacular attack, especially those involving multiple synchronized events, such as in the 1998 bombings of U.S. Embassies in Africa or the 9/11 attack. These were led by experienced members of "Al Qaeda Central", as opposed to al-Qaeda-influenced but locally organized efforts such as the 2005 London bombings, and "lone-wolf" operations by self-radicalized sympathizers. In 2010, spokesman Adam Gadahn urged adherents not only to support massive attacks of the 9/11 form, but "Even apparently unsuccessful attacks on Western mass transportation systems can bring major cities to a halt, cost the enemy billions and send his corporations into bankruptcy." While the "franchise" operating style seemed earlier to have been accepted as the core group was militarily harassed, the 2010 statement appears to have been a formal approval by the top leadership of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. [6] These are interpreted as invitations for self-radicalized "lone wolf" or small group actions.

Doctrine and affiliations

One translation of al-Qaeda is "the base". It cannot be overemphasized that al-Qaeda, certainly as it evolved from its beginning, is not a centralized hierarchy like a conventional military. It is decentralized, sometimes funding rather than directing, and sometimes with no direct connection other than individual training and inspiration. Even in its directly controlled operations, with a signature of simultaneous attack, it still used "mission-type" orders and left the details of execution to the operational cells.

A current analysis breaks the idea of the al-Qaeda "brand" into four levels, perhaps overlapping:[7]

  • Al-Qaeda Central is the remaining pre-9/11 core, headed by Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri with replacements for senior leaders such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed or Mohammed Atef. This contains the most professional operatives reserved for the high-value "spectacular" attacks such as the 1998 bombings of U.S. Embassies in Africa and the 9-11 attack. For such operations, teams are deployed well in advance, and may take support only from local organizations.
  • Al-Qaeda Affiliates and Associates are groups that have received significant funding, training and cooperation from the core. These include the groups in the Philippines, Bosnia, Indonesia, Chechniya, etc.; Jemaah Islamiya under Hambali was one of the most closely affiliated, as was Al-Qaeda in Iraq under Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Bin Laden wanted to join these into a global jihad, create a "critical mass" of worldwide operations, and establish reliable affiliates that could either provide local support to operations from the core or launch attacks that would complement ore operations.
  • Al-Qaeda Locals with members, often individuals, that have had training and even operational experience with the core, but now operate with only minimal direction. Ahmed Ressam is one such example; he had belonged to the Armed Islamic Group, received training from al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. For his operation, however, he had only nonspecific instructions to attack the United States, was given only seed money, and told to recruit his own cell members.
  • Al-Qaeda Network are local individuals and groups with no direct connection to the core, but who follow its ideology. They may carry out sophisticated attacks; the 2004 Madrid bombings appear to have carried out such a group.

Its immediate predecessor was the Services Office created to support the Afghanistan War (1978-92) by Abdullah Azzam and Osama bin Laden. It was joined by Egyptian Islamic Jihad under Ayman al-Zawahiri. They, in turn, trace their origins to modern Salafism, articulated in part by Azzam and by the late Sayyid Qutb, derived from the medieval concepts of Ibn Tamiyya.

The group has been conducting terrorist operations since the mid-1990s, including the 9-11 attack, when its leadership was in Afghanistan. It has become a distributed worldwide organization, but the leadership is believed to be in the border areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. This remains a general assumption, but bin Laden was "hiding in the open" in Abbotabad, Pakistan, in a large residence near the Pakistani Military Academy.

"Group", however, does not mean the same thing as it would in a Western business or government organization. At various times, the shorthand "al-Qaeda" may have referred to the actions of bin Laden as an individual, of the Services Office and other support groups, of "al-Qaeda central", of groups allied with al-Qaeda, or of local cells of individuals that either simply are motivated by al-Qaeda principles or perhaps obtained seed money but no operational direction.


Its lineage began with the Services Office Maktab al-Khadamat (MAK) in Pakistan, supporting the resistance in the Afghanistan War (1978-92), a Pakistan-based group supporting the Afghans, but also helping foreign volunteers, especially Arabs, to come to Afghanistan. Abdullah Azzam was its leader, with Osama bin Laden as his deputy. Bin Laden had an informal relationship with the Saudi General Intelligence Department (GID), international Islamic organizations and Saudi-backed Afghan leaders. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) said it had no contact with Bin Laden during this time, although they did interact with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which, in turn, worked with GID. [8] The CIA, however, did fund a U.S. division of the Services Office, al-Khifa.

In the summer of 1989, Azzam became concerned with the approach of bin Laden and Zawahiri, who wanted to expand the fight. Azzam's concern was finishing Afghanistan, and then dealing slowly with other Muslim states. Zawahiri wanted to act against Hosni Mubarrak of Egypt. Bin Laden thought worldwide. Others were concerned with Pakistan. Zawahiri told his son-in-law, Abdullah Anas, that he was worried about Bin Laden if he stayed with the radicals: "This heaven-sent man, like an angel; I am worried about his future if he stays with these people."[9]

Services Office

Azzam and bin Laden had been extremely close, but their differing interpretations of jihad caused an irrevocable break. [10] Azzam was assassinated in November 1989; there are many conjectures but no consensus on who did it. Bin Laden took over the Services Office, which had a U.S. branch called al-Khifa. There are links, although not definitive ones, between either MAK and al-Khifa and terrorist acts before the formal founding of al-Qaeda, and before bin Laden's fatwa declaring war against the U.S. Al-Qaeda's actions often do not follow a strict organization table; there may well have been informal support or actual support under a cover identity.

Al Qaeda

According to Bergen, the first written mention of "al Qaeda", in the sense of an organization rather than a physical base, was in an article by Abdullah Azzam, in April 1988.

Every principle needs a vanguard to carry it forward and, while forcing itts way into society, pus up with heavy tasks and enormous sacrifices. There is no ideology, neither earthly nor heavenly, that does not require such a vanguard that gives everything it possesses in order to achieve victory for this ideology. It carries the flag all along the sheer endless and difficult path until it reaches its destination. This vanguard constitutes the solid base (al Qaeda al Sulbah) for the expected society.[11]

A meeting in August 1988 dealt with organizing the new group, which, in part was seen as needed due to problems with MAK. "Al Qaeda is basically an organized Islamic faction; its goal will be to lift the word of God, to make His religion victorious: Requirements to enter al Qaeda:[12]

  • Membership of open duration
  • Listening and obedient
  • Good manners
  • Referred from a trusted side
  • Obeying statutes and instructions of al Qaeda"

Also in 1988, bin Laden met Ayman al-Zawahiri at a hospital in Peshawar. In some respects, they were alike: religious fundamentalists that functioned in complex modern fields. In other respects, they were quite different, but offered things that the other needed; they were allies, not friends. Their alliance took them in a direction other than each had planned individually.

Al-Zawahiri had little interest in Afghanistan, but realized he could use bin Laden as a sponsor to rebuild his Egyptian organization. Bin Laden's first priority was forcing an invader out of a Muslim land, then, in a diffuse way, to punish the "far enemy" of the West for crimes against Islam. Where bin Laden had money and energetic youthful volunteers, al-Zawahiri had seasoned leaders and both organizational and geopolitical skills. Al-Qaeda represented a compromise among the views of bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, and Azzam. [13]

Al-Qaeda proper was created in 1989, organized by Abu Ayoub al-Iraqi and bin Laden. Volunteers gave an oath of bayat to bin Laden. Their motivation was to carry on after the Soviets left. [14] Some reports put its creation in 1988; there are also reports of terrorist acts where the jihadists, outside Afghanistan, were in contact with the Services Office. Besides bin-Laden and al-Zawahiri, others have been associated with its formation, such as Abu Ayoub al-Iraqi. Their immediate followers changed with time and war; Mohammed Atef was the first military commander, killed in action. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed worked with bin Laden, but did not formally swear allegiance (bayat) until some years later.

Bin Laden had been most concerned with the near enemy, or corrupt Islamic nations. Zawahiri convinced him to focus the fight against the far enemy of the United States and Israel, both because it enabled the near enemies and because it would get more media attention.

First operations

Its first combat operation was the siege of Jalalabad, in 1989, where bin Laden demonstrated himself to be brave but tactically unskilled. He and his followers, often Arabs motivated by martyrdom, participated in the Afghan civil war until 1992, when Kabul fell to the Taliban. [15]

Azzam was killed in November 1989. Bergen observed that bin Laden was not in Afghanistan at the time, but that it was to bin Laden's ideological advantage to have Azzam dead. Azzam, he felt, was the only man with the moral authority to control the more extreme jihadists. He believes the killing probably was by a combination of Egyptian militants, possibly in concern with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. An Egyptian journalist, Faraj Ismail, bad quoted Azzam as saying the Arabs should not take sides in the Afghan conflict. Azzam had spoken well of Ahmad Shah Massoud, whom Hekmatyar hated.

Gulf War

Bin Laden had come home to Saudi Arabia and witnessed the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. He offered his fighters to the Saudi government, who infuriated him by accepting Western troops on Saudi land. Prince Turki al-Faisal, head of Saudi intelligence, saw bin Laden's personality change after that meeting, "...from a calm, peaceful gentle man interested in helping Muslims to a person who believed he would be able to amass and command an army to liberate Kuwait. It revealed his arrogance and his haughtiness."[16]

Complaining overtly, they stripped him of his citizenship. Exiled to Sudan, his hate for the Saudi royal house continued to motivate him.

Sudan period

At this point, from 1992 to 1996, al-Qaeda was principally a centralized organization, operating under the patronage of Hassan al-Turabi. Eventually, al-Turabi expelled them, but not before al-Qaeda had supported the Somalian resistance.

During this period, al-Qaeda both conducted operations, and began its pattern of cooperating with other militant groups, some of which would later merge. One of these, Jamaat al-Islamiyya or the Islamic Group, was an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, was a spiritual leader of the Jamaat al-Islamiyya faction that carried out the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and possibly other operations in the U.S.

East Africa

Al-Qaeda carried out a series of programs against the Western involvement in Somalia. It began with a December 1992 of a hotel in Aden, Yemen, used by American military personnel traveling to the U.S. component of the UNISOM II relief operation, Operation RESTORE HOPE. Bin Laden issued a fatwa in 1993, telling Somalis to attack and eject Americans.

Its first clearly identified attack against Americans was a December 1992 bombing of a Yemeni hotel in Aden used by American soldiers traveling to Somalia to participate in Operation RESTORE HOPE. By April 1993, bin Laden issued a fatwa calling upon all Somalis to attack American forces and eject them from their country; he sent trainers and planners, including Mohammed Atef, to Somalia. They played a role in the Battle of Mogadishu on June 5.

Richard Clarke wrote that al-Qaeda never planned to stay in Somalia, and, while it believed the U.S. had "cut and run" under pressure, it was convinced that the U.S. had been humiliated. Clarke asked, rhetorically, if Clinton was right not to respond, with massive force, to the U.S. casualties in the Battle of Mogadishu? He said he is not sure if anything the U.S. could have done would have deterred al-Qaeda, no matter how many Somalis died. [17]


After the Somalia conflict, al-Qaeda sent Arab fighters, led by leadership of Shaykh Anwar Shaaban and Amir Abu Abdel Aziz Barbaros, to Bosnia, to fight with Muslims under to fight alongside their Muslim brothers.

This refined al-Qaeda's techniques, including recruiting and training local fundamentalists, as well as channeling funds through Islamic charities and NGOs, creating the complex al-Qaeda financing networks.[18] Clarke said that the high worldwide visibility of the Bosnian, as opposed to the Chechen, conflict was ideal for al-Qaeda's psychological goals. He wrote that the U.S. did not recognize what would become an al-Qaeda signature:[19]

  • former mujahideen arrived and formed an Afghan Arab force
  • "arrangers", logisticians, financiers, and "charities" set up support networks

The Bosnians, according to Clarke, would rather not have had the "muj", who were exceptionally savage in battle; this was an observation later made about Chechens in Afghanistan Nevertheless, the Bosnians took aid where they could; Iran sent guns and al Qaeda sent men.

The support networks involved charities including the Finsbury Park Mosque in London, the Benevolence International Foundation in Chicago, the International Islamic Relief Organization in Saudi Arabia, and others. Key al-Qaeda personnel in Bosnia would include:

North Africa

In August 1994, two Spaniards shot to death three French Muslims in a hotel in Marrakesh, Morocco. The investigation was reported to have established telephone contact between the killers and the Office of Services, and learned that the suspects had been in Afghanistan. [20]

Four Algerians belonging to the Armed Islamic Group hijacked an Air France jet in December 1994, apparently planning a suicide attack on the Eiffel Tower, but French counterterrorists diverted them to Marseilles and successfully killed them in a raid there. [21]

Middle East

The Middle East is no stranger to terrorism, and, just as it was unwise to leap to the conclusion that the Oklahoma City bombing was done by foreign jihadists, not every asymmetrical attack in the Middle East is affiliated with al-Qaeda or its ideology. A given target, such as an American or Saudi military installation, may be of interest to the essentially Sunni al-Qaeda, but the actor may be Shi'a, perhaps with Iranian sponsorship as with the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing. Those convicted for the 1995 bombing of the Saudi Arabian National Guard claimed to be "inspired" by al-Qaeda, but al-Qaeda operational control is less clear.

Other attacks, such as the 1997 Luxor massacre of tourists, was conducted by the Islamic Group, some of whose members later affiliated with al-Qaeda. Assuming that every attack traces back to al-Qaeda is exactly what is desired by its "brand identity" concept.

Yemen had always been a high priority for bin Laden personally. In 1999, an attack on the destroyer USS Sullivans (DDG-68) failed when the suicide boat sank just after launching. The USS Cole was successfully attacked in Yemen in October 2000. These operations had been directed by Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, who headed al Qaeda operations in the Arabian Peninsula until his arrest in November 2002, who had earlier fought in Afghanistan beginning in 1996, and probably joined al Qaeda in 1997 or 1998. [22]

North America

Several significant terrorist incidents took place in the United States before Bin Laden's formal fatwa in August 1996, as the “Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places” (i.e., Saudi Arabia). Some of the participants were associated with al-Khifa, the U.S. branch of the Services Office. Al-Khifa had been under surveillance by the New York Police Department and FBI since 1988; it clearly reported to Abdullah Azzam but bin Laden's, and al-Qaeda's involvement was less clear. [23]

On November 5, 1990, an Egyptian El Sayyid Nosair shot and killed Rabbi Meir Kahane, head of the Jewish Defense League (JDL) in New York City, as well as two others as he made his escape. Two accomplices found in his apartment were arrested: Mohammed Salameh and Mahmoud Abouhalima. They were linked to al-Khifa.

Nosair was found to be heading military training at a Jersey City, New Jersey mosque, of which Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman was a spiritual leader. Rahman, who had been associated with Egyptian Islamic Jihad and suspected in its 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, had been on a terrorist watchlist but managed to enter the United States.

Ibrahim el-Gabrowny, Nosair's cousin, went to Saudi Arabia to receive $20,000, from, Osama bin Laden for Nosair's legal fees. According to the New York task force, Nosair and Aboualima were being linked outside the U.S., but nothing was definitive. Nosair was acquitted of the Kahane killing but convicted of the two others in 1991. [23]

In 1992, Ramzi Yousef arrived in the U.S., and linked up with the Jersey City cell, meeting with Abouhalima, and then moving into Salameh's apartment. "Yousef was the catalyst," said Charles Stern, one of the FBI agents in the subesequent 1993 World Trade Center bombing investigation. "Either somebody sent him over and said hook up with these guys or someone here reached out overseas and said we need a guy." Yousef was the nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who was not yet associated with bin Laden. According to these investigators, while bin Laden did not know Yousef, he was funding Rahman, and it is argued that the 1993 bombing was an "affiliate" operation of al-Qaeda although generally not considered under its direction.

Back to Afghanistan

El-Hage had visited Nosair in prison and also acquired some weapons for Abouhalima after the Kahane murder.

9/11 Period

The 9/11 Attack was known, within al-Qaeda, as the "Planes Operation". Since al-Qaeda knew when it would happen, it had prepared; the assassination of Ahmed Shah Massoud on 9/9 was a probable way to cripple local reaction in Afghanistan.

The team had its own manual that justified violence by emulating the moment in early Islamic history when Muhammad canceled contracts with non-Muslims and organized raids (ghazwa) against the Meccans in order to establish Islam as a political order. No statement in the manual explicitly identifies the United States as the financial, military, and political center of the turn-of-the-21st-century non-Muslim world; rather, such identification is tacitly assumed, as was shown by the action itself. Instead, the manual prescribes recitations, prayers, and rituals by which each member of the cells should prepare for the ghazwa. Not the objective aim but the subjective intention is at the center of the manual.[24]

Location after 9/11

While it cannot be overemphasized that al-Qaeda is a mobile and decentralized organization, its leadership is, most likely, primarily in the border areas between Afghanistan and Pakistan: the Federally Administered Tribal Area (especially South Waziristan), Northwest Frontier Province, and Balochistan Province. While these are physical locations in Pakistan, there is considerable movement across the border.

The exact relationship between the original Afghan Taliban and today's al-Qaeda is not as clear as when al-Qaeda operated from Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the Taliban leadership is generally assumed to be in the Quetta area.


Many analysts now call al-Qaeda a "franchise" or "brand" rather than a monolithic organization. The core ran a number of operations, but, even early on, used decentralized execution in the field.[25]


The spiritual head of al-Qaeda is called the Emir (Commander), presumably Osama bin Laden. He interprets religious guidance but is not himself a theologian; there is controversy if he does have the authority to issue fatwas. He has an inspirational goal, and exercises authority through the shura council.

Al-Qaeda's majlis al-shura Council sets policy, based on the Qur'an and religious documents (for example, the writings of Qutb), ensure guidance from the Emir is followed, approves fatwas, and authorize major terrorist operations. Its decisions are binding, if and only when a quorum for shura consultation is reached, through regularly-scheduled or emergency sessions and by preserving the principle of secrecy—often decided by secret ballots. Members are picked by the Emir.

It consists of bin Laden, his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri, a general secretary, and averages between 7 and 10 total members.It supervises the work of the six major committees: Military, Political, Information, Administration-Financial, Security, and Surveillance.

Military Committee

Responsible for preparing young Islamic freedom fighters, training and organizing them for combat, and teaching them tactical and technical skills. Also develops and implements procedures for the greater fighting forces in accordance with Islamic law. The committee is subdivided into five separate divisions:

  • President
  • training-combat
  • training-operations,
  • nuclear weapons section
  • library and research section.

Political Committee

The "foreign ministry" of al-Aqeda, which deals with its relations to organizations, whether Islamic republics or other jihadist organizations. It is organized into:

  • president of the committee
  • representative to the president
  • political section
  • operational political officers.

It focuses on religious interpretation within the political interactions available to it, and "spreading the brand."

Information Committee

Al-Qaeda understands the role of information operations; the committee has a wider range than psychological warfare alone. The committee does produce political intelligence. Its goals are to:

  • Proselyze the ca;; upon all Muslims to embark on a personal jihad in the name of Islam.
  • Spread and enforce the general rules and concepts of al-Qa’ida ideology (includes Salafism, Qutbism, and when necessary, takfir).
  • Conduct information operations to spread the ideology and ignite global jihad. Attack the West wherever and whenever possible and do so in accordance with the shari'a.
  • Uncover, reveal, and exploit the weaknesses of secular governments and nationalist parties. Reinforce the importance of Islamic jihad as each Muslim’s individual mission.

Administration and Financial Committee

The functions of this committee may appear mundane, but have to operate within a context of protecting them from financial intelligence It provides salaries, vacations and leave, disability and medical benefits, as well as severance benefits. It does accounting, safeguards funds, provides loans if needed, and oversees financial policies and services for the organization. Loans may seem odd, until it is realized that two of its major defectors, L'Houssaine Kherchtou and Jamal al-Fadl, broke away over financial issues.

Security Committee

Responsible for counterintelligence, this committee guards the leadership as well as operations, and deals with host countries. Led by a committee chairman, the committee is comprised of a lesser council and an executive branch composed of:

  • investigations section,
  • imprisonments and torture section
  • documents section
  • coordination and relations section.
  • guard detail
  • security education.

Surveillance Committee

This is the intelligence arm of al-Qaeda, about which little is known in the open literature.


Al-Qaeda in Iraq

Al-Qaeda in Iraq was formed by the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, killed in a U.S. air strike in June 8, 2006. He appears to have been succeeded by Abu Ayyub al-Masri. It is not clear if Al-Masri has been captured.

Al-Qaeda set up the Islamic State of Iraq, was created, possibly headed by Abu Omar al-Baghdadi. Iraq claimed to have captured him in April 2009. [26]

Zarqawi was at first an affiliate of al-Qaeda and had not sworn allegiance. His goals differed from the core al-Qaeda concepts. A letter, claimed to be from Ayman al-Zawahiri to him, was intercepted on July 9, 2005. The authenticity has not been confirmed, and could Iranian or American black propaganda. Nevertheless, it does address some of the known differences. [27] According to the letter, Zawahiri sees four medium-term goals:

  1. Expel the Americans from Iraq
  2. "Establish an Islamic authority or emirate over whatever Sunni territory in Iraq can be brought under its control. This stage must be prepared for during the struggle to expel the Americans, Zawahiri warns, in order to prevent other forces from taking power. ... The fledgling emirate must also expect to be in a constant state of war with an enemy who is trying to prevent the stability necessary for the emirate to become a Caliphate.
  3. "Extending the jihad to the secular countries neighboring Iraq."
  4. The clash with Israel, which could be done in parallel with some of the other goals

Longer-term goals, which may be critical of Zarqawi's approach to inciting Sunni-Shia fighting, include:

  1. "homogenizing Islam by “correcting mistakes of ideology among Muslims that is, the conversion of all Muslims not simply to Sunni Islam, but also to the Wahhabi school and the elimination of the Ashari-Matridi school and others. This goal cannot be achieved by force or in a short time; it is not the role of the mujahidin, but calls rather for generations of proselytizing (dawa) and education.
  2. "expansion of the Islamic Caliphate throughout the whole of Iraq, al-Shamâ Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine Egypt, and the Arabian peninsula. Even these are not final borders, however, as the Caliphate is eventually supposed to spread its domain over the entire Land of Islam (Dar al-Islam) from North Africa to Southeastern Asia, and ultimately, over the entire world.

The letter emphasizes that Islamic principles of "shura consultation recommending good and forbidding evil. It should also be based on the ahl al-al wal-aqd ahl ar-ray (those who allow and bind) and the ulama who are experts in sharia."

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, formerly the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, developed from an Algerian group. The precursor split from the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) in 1998, because that organization's violence was seen as counterproductive. While some have suggested the name change was intended to revive the Algerian insurgency, others regard it as seriously considering actions throughout North Africa and Europe, and possibly beyond. [28] Its leader in 2008, Abdelmalek Droukda, appeared to have allied, in 2004, with al-Qaeda forces in Iraq. He cited Ayman al-Zawahiri as key to the alliance, as well as the U.S. declaration of AQIM as a terrorist group rather than a regional insurgency. "We found ourselves on the blacklist of the U.S. administration, tagged with terrorism. Then we found America building military bases in the south of our country, and conducting military exercises, and plundering our oil and planning to get our gas.”[29]

The degree to which it is a threat to Europe, rather than principally focused on Algeria and its neighbors, is uncertain.[30] "Their ambition is to attack in Europe, but I wouldn’t hard-sell it,” said Gilles de Kerchove, the head of counterterrorism for the European Union. “I wouldn’t say AQIM is poised to attack in Europe.”[29]

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula

For more information, see: Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (APAP) was formed from the merger of Saudi and Yemeni groups. It is believed to be headed by Nasser al-Wahishi, a Yemeni who escaped from a prison in Sanaa in 2006. This is a newer "affiliate" than the others, and seems to have learned from the others. As opposed, in particular, to operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Sudan, the group is largely "home-grown" and cooperates much more effectively with existing tribal structures.

Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born cleric, works with the group, and is associated with self-radicalization such as that of Nidal Hasan, accused of shootings at Fort Hood, Texas.

It is responsible for bombing attempts against the U.S., including package bombs in October 2010,[31], and the December 2009 attempt against Northwest Airlines Flight 253 by suicide bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab


As an inherently covert organizations, its alliances with nations will be obscure. The most obvious was with the Taliban, but when the Taliban was either a local or national government in Afghanistan.

There is strong suspicion, especially when Osama bin Laden's final location is considered, that it has some agreements with Pakistan, probably with Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) factions. The Services Office was among the groups funded by ISI to act against the Soviets.

Its relationship with Iran is controversial. One view considers serious cooperation to be unlikely, both because there is a deep conflict between Sunni and Shi'a thinking, and that the State of Iran has reason to want stability on its borders. An alternative position has been stated by Tony Blair: "Throughout 2003-2007 I would be chairing meetings, receiving updates, getting weekly reports on the situation all of which reflected this changing security picture. In any event, the roles of AQ and Iran became increasingly obvious and open.

AQ was claiming responsibility for the terrorist attacks and the U.S. and our special forces were focussed on going after them. The type and nature of the EFP and improvised explosive device IEDs made Iranian involvement clear. This was backed up by the intelligence. Muqtada Al Sadr, whose JAM militia was our main opponent at the time, fled to Iran."[32]

After bin Laden

See also: Death of Osama bin Laden

Effects on Pakistan

See also: Raid on Osama bin Laden

Pakistan, before this event, suffered from internal instability. The Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) are to some extent autonomous of the civilian government, which has its own political struggles. Assessment of Pakistani intentions always must consider its hostile relationship with India, and its desire to prevent Indian dominance of Afghanistan.

While the public position has been that Pakistan partners with the U.S. in counterterrorism, the revelation that bin Laden had been there for several years, and the U.S. attack that crossed Pakistani borders without prior notice, clearly embarrassed the government.

Osama Bin Laden was killed deep inside Pakistan in an area that raises deep suspicion about what Pakistani intelligence, senior military officers and government officials did and did not know about his presence – and the presence of other major terrorists and extremist like Sheik Mullah Omar and the “Quetta Shura Taliban.” Pakistan pursues its own agenda in Afghanistan in ways that provide the equivalent of cross-border sanctuary for Taliban and Haqqani militants, and that prolong the fighting and cause serious US, ISAF, and Afghan casualties. This assessment shows, however, that al-Qaeda and the Taliban are only part of the story. There are many other movements and tensions that feed violence and extremism in Pakistan, and which grow out of a government that has consistently failed to meet the needs of Pakistan‟s people over a period of decades.[33]

Effects on radical movements

Bin Laden was the major public face of al-Qaeda. It is not at all clear who will replace him. While Ayman al-Zawahiri was clearly #2 in the organization and the "chief operating officer", Zawahiri is abrasive and not especially charismatic. Many analysts believe he is the most likely successor, but one may not be named to avoid fragmenting the movement.[34]

Bruce Hoffman, writing for the Council on Foreign Relations, argued that the idea of "leaderless jihad", advocated especially by Marc Sageman, had largely been shattered by discoveries that bin Laden had an operational role. [35] Others, such as Leah Farrell of The Economist, minimized his operational role, but still did believe that either his approval, or that of second-level central operational staff, were needed for operations outside their areas or using new techniques.[36]


Schisms may already have been present in al-Qaeda, and the issues of succession may aggravate them. Nevertheless, Reuters suggests that al-Qaeda's first priority is survival, with decisions to be made among approximately 20 second-level commanders. [37]


Juan Cole wrote,

A great deal of attention has been paid to who the next leader of al-Qaeda Central, its next public face, will be. Bin Laden’s killing, while certainly a major loss to al-Qaeda Central and its regional affiliates, does not sound the death knell of the transnational trend known as the jihadi-takfiri (those who view Muslim holy war (jihad) as a pillar of the faith and who lightly excommunicate (takfir) and attack other Muslims who disagree with them). While the importance of his killing should be recognized, it is critically important to not exaggerate its likely impact.[38]

Bin Laden was the major public face of al-Qaeda. It is not at all clear who will replace him. While Ayman al-Zawahiri was clearly #2 in the organization and the "chief operating officer", Zawahiri is abrasive and not especially charismatic. Many analysts believe he is the most likely successor, but one may not be named to avoid fragmenting the movement.[34] Of the "al-Qaeda central", Abu Yahya al-Libi is perhaps the next most influential.

For example, Nasser al-Wahishi‎, who, among others, the leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, may consider himself more of a peer than a subordinate of bin Laden.[39] Other al-Qaeda affiliates, such as those in Algeria and Somalia, may be more concerned with local matters.

At least two U.S.-born individuals are rising in the movement: Anwar al-Awlaki, and, possibly, Adam Gadahn. They probably lack the stature to succeed bin Laden.[34]

Interactions with the Arab Spring

While claims have been made, with some justification, that al-Qaeda is less relevant in countries moving to democracy as part of the Arab Spring, it must be remembered that al-Qaeda influences more than the Arab world. This assumption "...ignores other regions of the Muslim world, such as South and Southwest Asia, where elements of al-Qaeda Central’s message continue to resonate with segments of the population."[38]


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  2. Samuel Huntington (1998), The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Simon & Schuster, ISBN 0684844419
  3. Barack Obama (June 4, 2009), Remarks by the President on a New Beginning
  4. Michael Scheuer (March 28, 2006), "Al-Qaeda Doctrine: Training the Individual Warrior", Terrorism Focus, The Jamestown Foundation
  5. Peter Bergen (2006), The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al Qaeda's Leader, Free Press, ISBN 0743278917, pp. 259-260
  6. Lolita C. Baldor (11 March 2010), Al-Qaida seen eyeing less complex attacks on U.S., Associated Press, San Jose Mercury News
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  8. Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Afghan Invasion to September 10, 2001, Penguin, 2004, pp. 86-88}}
  9. Annas, New York Times, January 14, 2001, quoted by Coll, p. 204
  10. Bergen, p. 74
  11. Abdullah Azzam, Jihad Magazine, April 1988, quoted by Bergen, p. 75
  12. from a computer file, entitled Tareekh Osama, ("Osama's History"), seized by Bosnian authorities in 2002; quoted by Bergen, pp. 80-81
  13. Lawrence Wright (2006), The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, Alfred A. Knopf, ISBN 037541486X, pp. 127-131
  14. Jamal al-Fadl testimony, United States vs. Osama bin Laden et al., quoted by Globalsecurity, [1]
  15. Brian Drinkwine (January 26, 2009), "The Serpent in Our Garden: Al-Qa'ida and the Long War", Carlisle Papers, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, p. 10
  16. Coll, p. 223
  17. Clarke, p. 88
  18. Drinkwine, p. 12
  19. Clarke, pp. 137-138
  20. "Al Qaeda's Global Context", Frontline, Public Broadcasting Service
  21. Coll, p. 275
  22. 9/11 Commission Report, pp. 152-153
  23. 23.0 23.1 Chitra Ragavan (February 16, 2003), "Tracing terror's roots How the first World Trade Center plot sowed the seeds for 9/11", U.S. News and World Report
  24. Hans G. Kippenberg (27 March 2005), "Preparing for a ghazwa: The Spiritual Manual of the Attackers of 9/11", Lectures of XIXth World Congress of the IAHR
  25. Drinkwine, pp. 15-17
  26. "Iraq Al-Qaeda boss Abu Omar al-Baghdadi 'is captured'", Times Online, April 24, 2009
  27. Shmuel Bar, Yair Minzili (February 16, 2006), "The Zawahiri Letter and the Strategy of al-Qaeda", Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, The Hudson Institute 3
  28. Andrew Hansen, Lauren Vriens (21 July 2009), "Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) or L'Organisation Al-Qaïda au Maghreb Islamique (Formerly Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat or Groupe Salafiste pour la Prédication et le Combat)", Council on Foreign Relations
  29. 29.0 29.1 Souad Mekhennet, Michael Moss, Eric Schmitt, Elaine Scilolino, Margot Williams (1 July 2008), "Ragtag Insurgency Gains a Lifeline From Al Qaeda", New York Times
  30. James Palumbo, Daniel Vanim (December 2007), Global Jihad: the Role of Europe's Radical Muslims, Naval Postgraduate School
  31. Peter Finn, Greg Miller and Anne E. Kornblut (30 October 2010), "Intercepted packages could have exploded anytime, British officials say", Washington Post
  32. Thomas Joscelyn (21 January 2011), Tony Blair on Iran and Al Qaeda, Foundation for Defense of Democracies
  33. Varun Vira and Anthony Cordesman (5 May 2011), Pakistan: Violence vs. Stability, a National Net Assessment, Center for Strategic and International Studies
  34. 34.0 34.1 34.2 Rebecca Santana (10 May 2011), "Al-Qaida likely to elevate No. 2 — or name no one.", Associated Press
  35. Bruce Hoffman (13 May 2011), "The Leaderless Jihad’s Leader", Foreign Affairs
  36. "Bin Laden’s death confirmed: US on edge as al Qaeda vows vengeance", Express Tribune (Pakistan)/International Herald Tribune, 7 May 2011
  37. William Maclean (3 May 2011), "Analysis: Core Qaeda priority is survival, not succession", Reuters
  38. 38.0 38.1 Christopher Anzalone (6 May 2011), "Anzalone, After Usama: The Jihadi-Takfiri Trend after Bin Laden", Informed Comment
  39. James Hyder (11 January 2009), "Yemen offers to strike a deal with al-Qaeda fighters", Times (UK)