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Al-Qaeda remains the most notorious Islamist terrorist group in existence today, and by 2016 the extent of its remarkable rise in global strength had become clear to keen observers. The 2007-09 defeat of major affiliate al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI, which would later become the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS) had spurred a significant shift in al-Qaeda’s strategic thinking. AQI had come to be seen by Iraqi Sunnis as an outside, imperialist force, thus prompting dual challenges. The group faced local opposition in the form of the Sahwa (Awakening) movement, while at the same time it attracted massive U.S. counterinsurgency resources to fight it. Never wanting to be put back in the same position, al-Qaeda began emphasizing localization (making its affiliates appear to be an organic part of local aspirations) and also the use of front groups, which would make the question of whether a local militant group was part of its orbit more ambiguous.

Al-Qaeda’s recent rise, and the success of this strategy, has been facilitated by a confluence of factors. The “Arab Spring” revolutions gave the group more operating room than ever before. This space to maneuver was further expanded by the growing regional competition between Sunni states and Iran, where al-Qaeda positioned itself as part of the Sunni side, as well as ISIS’s rise as a major jihadist challenger. Al-Qaeda was able to contrast itself with ISIS, portraying itself within the Middle East and North Africa region as the more “moderate,” rational, and perhaps even controllable jihadist alternative. Al-Qaeda happily let the majority of Western and Middle Eastern states’ counterterrorism and counterinsurgency resources target ISIS.


On July 28, 2016, Abu Muhammad al-Julani, the emir of one of al-Qaeda’s most powerful branches—Jabhat al-Nusra, based in Syria—held a press conference where he announced that his group, moving forward, would “have no links whatsoever with foreign parties.” Nusra then took on the new organizational name Jabhat Fath al-Sham (JFS). Though this was widely interpreted as JFS dissociating itself from al-Qaeda, Julani never explicitly said he was doing so. Further, given the heavy presence of al-Qaeda senior leaders in Syria, it is likely that Julani considers al-Qaeda—and that al-Qaeda considers itself—to be a non-foreign party. In other words, far from the diminution of al-Qaeda’s global brand, the emergence of JFS may signal that al-Qaeda no longer views ISIS as a serious challenge to its network, and is returning to its strategy of localization and front groups that characterized its primary response to the opportunities presented by the Arab Spring revolutions. 

History & Ideology: 

Though the attacks of September 11, 2001 are the most profound symbols of al-Qaeda’s notoriety, the group’s violent history stretches back well over two decades, and finds its roots in another, more conventional, war. Al-Qaeda was formally created in the latter years of the Afghan-Soviet war (1979-1989).1 Various theories have been offered as to the etymology of “al-Qaeda”—which in Arabic literally means “the base”—including that it refers to a “database” of names of Arab-Afghan mujahideen compiled by al-Qaeda’s first emir Osama bin Laden and Palestinian jihadist theoretician Abdullah Yusuf Azzam.2 However, there is no reason to doubt bin Laden’s own explanation: that “al-Qaeda” was originally used as a generic phrase to denote the mujahideen’s base of combat or operations.3 This is borne out by the fact that al-Qaeda sometimes refers to itself as qaedat al-jihad, or “base of jihad.”4

Coming on the heels of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, when Islamist fervor had reached a fever pitch internationally, the Afghan-Soviet conflict attracted jihadists and other fighters from across the Arab world. Among them was Saudi multi-millionaire Osama bin Laden, who, in conjunction with Azzam, opened a “services bureau” (known as the maktab al-khidamat) in Peshawar, Pakistan, supporting the Afghan jihad.5 Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian physician who rose to become al-Qaeda’s emir following bin Laden’s death in May 2011, also made periodic stops in Peshawar, lending his medical skills to the care of wounded mujahideen.6 Bin Laden entered into combat against the Soviets, and often recounted his spiritual, near-death experiences and feelings of tranquility in the midst of furious shelling.7

The victory of the mujahideen over the Soviets, and the subsequent collapse of the USSR, instilled a sense of destiny and invincibility in the mujahideen. It was viewed as a harbinger of even greater Muslim glory to come.8 Ascribing their win to divine intervention, Islamists and jihadists became more confident of their destiny to defeat better-equipped and more technologically advanced foes. 

After returning to his homeland of Saudi Arabia, where he was hailed as a hero, Osama bin Laden found another opportunity to test the mettle of his cadre of seasoned mujahideen, popularly known as the “Afghan Arabs” or “Afghan alumni.” That test was Iraqi president Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait. This, along with neighboring Saudi Arabia’s fears that it was next on Saddam’s list of targets, furnished bin Laden with an opportunity to rally his now-unemployed fighters, this time to defend not just a peripheral Muslim nation but the very sanctity of Arabia, home of the haramain (the Two Holy Mosques in Mecca and Medina). He petitioned the Saudi monarch, King Fahd, to allow the Afghan Arabs to defend the country, only to be rebuffed. Fahd opted instead to accept the offers of the U.S. and other “infidel” forces to deploy their troops on Arabian soil, which bin Laden would later refer to in his 1996 fatwa as the West’s greatest aggression against the Ummah.9

Saudi Arabia’s acceptance of American soldiers on its soil turned bin Laden against the Saudi monarchy. Because of his outspoken opposition, the former Afghan war hero was ostracized and exiled from the Kingdom, and forced to flee to Sudan. Khartoum had just experienced its own Islamist coup d’état, after which it welcomed other fundamentalists from across the globe. During this time (1992-1996), Ayman al-Zawahiri and his organization, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, also used Sudan as a base to launch attacks against the Egyptian government. Zawahiri had been arrested in the aftermath of the assassination of President Anwar Sadat, but soon thereafter left for Pakistan to join the jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan. By 1991, Zawahiri had risen to the leadership of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, eventually merging it with al-Qaeda and expanding the scope of its jihad well beyond Egypt’s borders.10

Bin Laden’s early sponsorship of terrorist attacks against U.S. interests, along with Zawahiri’s botched terrorist missions against the Mubarak regime (including failed assassination attempts on the Egyptian Prime Minister and President Mubarak himself),11 created significant international pressure on the Sudanese government to evict al-Qaeda. They eventually did so, and in 1996 al-Qaeda’s leadership returned to Afghanistan and found refuge with another Islamist regime, the Taliban. That militant faction, composed of former students indoctrinated in the madrassas of Pakistan, had risen out of the chaos that followed the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Pakistan-backed Taliban government welcomed bin Laden and his Afghan Arabs, and allowed them to set up militant bases and training camps.

In 1998, bin Laden, Zawahiri, and others joined forces under the umbrella of al-Jibha al-Islamiyya al-‘Alamiyya (the “World Islamic Front”), and launched their terrorist campaign against the West in earnest. The group’s 1998 fatwa unequivocally called on Muslims “to kill the Americans and their allies—civilians and military… to kill the Americans and seize their money wherever and whenever they [Muslims] find them.”12

Al-Qaeda is a Salafist organization. Salafism denotes the emulation of the Prophet Muhammad and the first three generations of Muslims, al-salaf al-salih (righteous predecessors). Al-Qaeda’s ultimate goal is to resurrect a global Caliphate that enforces sharia law. But the Salafist worldview is not unique to al-Qaeda. Rather, it is a form of Islamism increasingly subscribed to by other Islamist activists, both militant and also non-violent.13  The “originalism” inherent in the Salafist approach renders irrelevant centuries of sharia development according to Islam’s madhahib (four mainstream schools of thought).

Al-Qaeda defends the attacks of September 11, 2001, in which nearly 3,000 civilians were killed, with the sunna (examples or acts from the Prophet Muhammad’s life), which tells of Muhammad employing catapults during the siege of the town of Ta’if.14 Similarly, al-Qaeda excuses the act of killing women and children by referring to reported permission to do so granted by Prophet Muhammad.15 Al-Qaeda continues by quoting the early jurisprudent Al Awza’i (d. 774), who claimed that “it is compulsory that this [the possibility of hitting women, children, and Muslims] not dissuade the launching of an incursion against them [infidels], firing arrows and utilizing other [weapons]—even if one dreads hitting a Muslim.”16 Al-Qaeda also supports “martyrdom operations” by reference, for example, to a Qur’anic verse that calls on believers to “kill and be killed” (Surah 9:111). Other verses simply call for violence, such as the famous “sword verse”: “fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war).”17

Another rukhsa regularly used by al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups is the practice of taqiyya,18 a doctrine that espouses deceit in the face of the enemy when the latter is in a dominant position or during war, two conditions that al-Qaeda believes apply today. In his lengthy treatise, “Loyalty and Enmity,” Zawahiri dedicates an entire section to taqiyya, quoting classical ulema (clerics) who believed that Muslims under the authority of non-Muslims should behave loyally while harboring feelings of hatred toward them.19 In another treatise, Zawahiri quotes Muhammad’s famous assertion that “war is deceit.”20 While al-Qaeda has readily justified violence and terror, it has also tried to take on a softer, more methodical image in recent years to give itself more operating space. This underappreciated strategic shift will be discussed subsequently.

Global Reach: 

From 2010 onward, the Obama administration heavily pushed the idea that al-Qaeda’s “core” leadership had been significantly eroded. In the summer of 2010, then-CIA Director Leon Panetta estimated there were only 50-100 al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan.21 The idea that al-Qaeda’s core leadership was in steep decline gained more adherents after bin Laden’s death in May 2011. In July 2011, Panetta said that the U.S. was “within reach of strategically defeating al-Qaeda.”22

Similarly—and related—both the administration and many independent observers believed that the revolutionary events of the “Arab Spring” helped push al-Qaeda into decline. Former CIA deputy director Michael Morell wrote that the CIA “thought and told policy-makers that this outburst of popular revolt would damage al Qa‘ida by undermining the group’s narrative. Our analysts figured that the protests would send a signal throughout the region that political change was possible without al Qa‘ida’s leading the way and without the violence that al Qa‘ida said was necessary.”23 

Assessments concerning the decline of al-Qaeda’s core leadership were always questionable—and appear to have proven wrong—but even when analysts thought that the group’s core was badly damaged, nobody doubted that its affiliates remained robust. As one U.S. counterterrorism official put it in 2010—mirroring the conventional wisdom of the time—“while (core) Al Qaeda is now struggling in some areas the threat it poses is becoming more widely distributed, more geographically diverse. The rise of affiliated groups such as Al Qaeda the Arabian Peninsula and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is a troubling development.”24 

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has been considered the affiliate of greatest capability. The group resulted from a merger of al-Qaeda’s Saudi and Yemeni franchises that took place in January 2009. While it attempted several attacks against foreign targets at its inception, AQAP has also exhibited a persistent local focus, and has exploited the chaos of Yemen’s civil war.

In 2010, Yemen’s government estimated the group strength to be just 200 to 300 members,25 though unofficial estimates at that time put the number somewhat higher, between 500 and 600 militants.26 AQAP has grown in size and scope since then. In 2011-2012, AQAP succeeded in gaining control of large swathes of territory in southern Yemen. This prompted a major response from the Yemeni government, forcing the organization into a “strategic retreat” from Abyan Province.27 

But thereafter, AQAP benefited from the civil conflict that erupted between Iran-backed Houthis, Sunni tribes, and the forces of nominal president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi. At one point, AQAP gained control over Yemen’s fifth-largest city, al-Mukalla.28 Though AQAP later retreated from the urban areas of Mukalla, it continues to control the surrounding territory.

Likewise prominent among al-Qaeda’s regional franchises is al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM. AQIM was formed in September 2006, when Algeria’s radical Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC) joined forces with al-Qaeda. With the merger, the organization’s focus became broader and more regional in scope, as compared to the GSPC’s narrower goal of ousting the Bouteflika regime in Algeria. The organization now “has aspirations of overthrowing apostate African regimes and creating an Islamic Caliphate,” according to the U.S. Department of State.29 The organization is currently headed by Abdelmalek Droukdel, its founder and a veteran of the jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

As of 2014, the State Department estimated that the group possessed less than 1,000 members active in Algeria, and a “smaller number” of forces in the Sahel.30 By late 2012, AQIM was the dominant force in Northern Mali, and instituted a harsh brand of sharia in the territory under its control.31 France intervened in January 2013, after which AQIM’s safe haven in Northern Mali became less tenable. As a result, AQIM adapted by moving parts of its organization to southwest Libya.32 Thereafter, AQIM played a central role in an insurgency in Mali that has significantly heated up from 2015-16.33 AQIM’s capabilities were further bolstered when it reunited with the master terrorist Mokhtar Belmokhtar in December 2015, a rapprochement that was announced following a notorious attack on Bamako’s Radisson Blu Hotel.34 Thereafter, Belmokhtar’s arm of AQIM continued to carry out deadly attacks on hotels and resorts in West Africa that are popular with Westerners. In addition, AQIM has continued high-profile kidnappings of European hostages.

Nor are AQAP and AQIM the only al-Qaeda affiliates that are growing in power and prominence. The Somali militant group al-Shabaab was the dominant military force in southern Somalia until an offensive against it led by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) pushed it from its urban strongholds in 2011-12. Despite those setbacks, Shabaab has in recent years become a noticeably more potent insurgent and military force.35 Today AMISOM’s grip on the urban areas of Somalia is weakening, and al-Shabaab appears to be the strongest force in rural areas of the country.


Recent Activity: 

Though the events of the “Arab Spring” did not diminish al-Qaeda in the way that many experts had predicted, when ISIS emerged as an independent challenger from within the jihadist ranks, many observers thought this was the development that would finally push al-Qaeda to the margins. Though it did not do so, ISIS’s emergence has in fact had a tremendous impact on al-Qaeda.

ISIS had once been a part of al-Qaeda, known as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). The organization suffered significant setbacks during the course of the Iraq War. Throughout its history, the group has taken several names, including AQI, the Islamic State of Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham and, most recently, the Islamic State. 

During the Iraq War, AQI became, in the words of Col. Peter Devlin, the “dominant organization of influence” in Iraq’s majority-Sunni Anbar province by August 2006.36 However, the group suffered a catastrophic collapse in popular support as a result of the brutal policies of its leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Against the instructions of al-Qaeda’s leadership,37 Zarqawi adopted a policy of indiscriminately targeting and butchering local Sunnis and Shi’ites in Iraq deemed to be at variance with his exclusionary interpretation of Islam. The backlash to these excesses helped form and sustain the so-called Sunni “Awakening,” which served as a critical complement to the Bush administration’s “surge” of forces into Iraq in 2007.

However, following the onset of instability in neighboring Syria as well as the drawdown of U.S. troops from Iraq, ISIS staged a bloody comeback. ISIS first assumed a significant role as part of the constellation of opposition forces arrayed against the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. It soon captured land in northeast Syria. It did so initially in conjunction with al-Qaeda’s local Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, but internal infighting between the two prompted al-Qaeda head Ayman al-Zawahiri to intervene and demand a tactical divorce between the two organizations.38 Zawahiri ordered ISIS to leave Syria and return to Iraq, a command with which it refused to comply.

Thereafter, a strategic and ideological schism grew between al-Qaeda and ISIS. In February 2014, Zawahiri formally disavowed the group.39 In June 2014, ISIS launched a dramatic offensive from Syria into Iraq, capturing a broad swath of territory, and by the end of the month declared that a new caliphate had been established. In declaring the caliphate’s reestablishment, ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani stated that the “caliph,” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had become the “leader for Muslims everywhere.”40 Adnani’s statement also declared that the caliphate’s establishment made all competitor organizations—a category that included al-Qaeda—legally void. 

At that point, the competition between al-Qaeda and ISIS for primacy in the jihadist movement reached a fever pitch. ISIS began loudly trying to lure al-Qaeda’s affiliates into its own orbit, and succeeded in winning over a couple of these groups, Sinai’s Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis and Nigeria’s Boko Haram (which had been an undeclared al-Qaeda affiliate). The U.S. intelligence community estimated at that time that ISIS could field as many as 31,000 men under arms.41 This number was, in fact, likely an underestimate.42 ISIS was also, at the time, perhaps the richest militant group in the world, with assets valued at around $2 billion.43 ISIS controlled segments of northern Iraq and eastern Syria equivalent to the size of the United Kingdom.44

But despite the massive advantages it enjoyed in territory and resources, ISIS’s strategy was fraught with problems from the start. The group purposefully surrounded itself with enemies, including betraying allies and attacking forces that were not at war with it.45 Due to the group’s aggressiveness, including undertaking a genocidal campaign against the Yazidi minority group that posed no military threat to it, ISIS provoked an international response. In September 2014, the Obama administration authorized air strikes against the group in Iraq and Syria, and assisted in the creation of a coalition, including both European nations and Gulf Arab states, to coordinate the fight against the Islamic State. The anti-ISIS fight was slow going at first, with the air campaign being under-aggressive in targeting, for example, ISIS’s oil resources. Despite this, ISIS has lost significant ground over time, with its losses spiraling. Furthermore, despite the noise ISIS made about expanding internationally, the group did not succeed in making a significant dent in al-Qaeda’s global network, and in fact was outmaneuvered by al-Qaeda and its allies in most theaters outside the Iraq-Syria caliphate.46

Meanwhile, al-Qaeda has been able to pivot off of ISIS’s raw brutality to undertake a strategic shift that it had sought since AQI’s defeat in Iraq.

In fact, Al-Qaeda had been trying to reshape, and soften, its image long before ISIS emerged as a challenger. Bin Laden had written about the need to change public perceptions of the organization prior to his death. In a May 2010 letter to Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, he proposed that al-Qaeda should “correct [the mistakes] we made,” and “reclaim … the trust of a large segment of those who lost their trust in the jihadis.”47 In other words, bin Laden viewed AQI’s defeat as a black mark on how al-Qaeda was perceived globally, and he thought correcting that image was vital. He cautioned that if al-Qaeda alienated the public, it could win “several battles while losing the war at the end.”48 Some of the early efforts at changing al-Qaeda’s public image were reflected in Zawahiri’s “General Guidelines for Jihad,” released in September 2013.49 The document aims to reduce the amount of unnecessary violence associated with al-Qaeda, including advising affiliate organizations not to kill women and children, and also to stop attacking markets and mosques where Muslims could be killed. 

As the “Arab Spring” revolutions struck, al-Qaeda undertook further adaptations and exploited developments in the region, including taking advantage of the ungoverned spaces that proliferated in places like Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and southern Libya. One of al-Qaeda’s adaptations was making use of front groups to conduct dawa (evangelism) and other forms of public outreach, in the form of organizations like Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia and Libya. Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria initially functioned as a front group until ISIS’s loud entry into Syria, and its subsequent claim that Nusra was subservient to it, forced Nusra emirAbu Muhammad al-Julani to make his relationship with al-Qaeda public. This use of front groups allowed al-Qaeda to gain adherents locally without attracting outside counterterrorism resources against it. 

Al-Qaeda also sought to mirror what the United States had done when it defeated AQI in 2007-09, and become more population-centric. Al-Qaeda built relationships with various other armed groups, including those that were not jihadist in orientation. After a coalition of Islamist armed groups, including Nusra, captured Syria’s Idlib city in April 2015, Nusra’s Julani said that his group did not “strive to rule the city or to monopolize it without others.”50 This approach contrasted with that of ISIS, which wanted to dominate all other groups, including Sunni militias. Thus, while ISIS’s emergence was a real challenge, one that legitimately threatened al-Qaeda’s dominance within the jihadist movement—at least for a time—ISIS’s rise also presented an opportunity. In contrast to al-Qaeda’s efforts to tone down its brutality, and appear more rational or even “moderate,” ISIS broadcast its brutality to the world, and reveled in the blood it spilled in increasingly ingenious and repulsive ways.

Thus, al-Qaeda used ISIS as its rhetorical foil. Not only did it contrast itself with ISIS’s brutality, but al-Qaeda also downplayed its own successes. The world was legitimately worried about ISIS’s growth, and for good reason, and al-Qaeda was content to allow the bulk of counterterrorist and counterinsurgent resources to focus on ISIS. Typifying this strategy is a June 2015 interview in The Guardian with senior al-Qaeda religious figures Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi and Abu Qatada. Both men furthered the image that ISIS had already beaten al-Qaeda. Maqdisi said that al-Qaeda’s organization had “collapsed,” and Abu Qatada described Zawahiri as “isolated.”51 (This portrayal was almost certainly intended as disinformation.)

On July 28, 2016, Nusra’s emir, Abu Muhammad al-Julani, held a press conference in which he announced that his group would, from then on, “have no links whatsoever with foreign parties.” Nusra adopted the new name Jabhat Fath al-Sham (JFS). This move was widely interpreted as JFS dissociating itself from al-Qaeda, but Julani never explicitly said he was doing so. Indeed, the heavy presence of al-Qaeda senior leaders in Syria makes it likely that Julani considers al-Qaeda to be a non-foreign party.52 It seems that the rebranding of Nusra as JFS signals a return to al-Qaeda’s pre-ISIS strategy for Syria, in which the local affiliate has taken on a different name and a different brand, and is allegedly independent.

Al-Qaeda has survived and thrived despite recent challenges. The Arab Spring did not marginalize it, but presented it an opportunity to grow. ISIS did not eclipse it, but presented it the opportunity to undertake a rebranding that it had sought ever since AQI’s defeat. The signs of al-Qaeda’s growing strength are evident in multiple theaters, including in its return to Afghanistan and the intensifying al-Qaeda-linked insurgencies in Mali and Somalia. AQAP and AQIM remain potent and destabilizing forces. 

As the challenge of ISIS recedes, al-Qaeda could reemerge as the world’s preeminent jihadist organization.


[1] John Rollins, Al Qaeda: Profile and Threat Assessment (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, July 25, 2011),
[2] Ibid.
[3] “Transcript of Bin Laden’s October Interview,” CNN, February 5, 2002,
[4] “Al-Qaeda Deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri Claims Responsibility for the London Bombings, Discusses Elections in Afghanistan, and Declares: ‘Reform Can Only Take Place through Jihad,’” Middle East Media Research Institute Special Dispatch No. 989, September 20, 2005,
[5] Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (New York: Random House, 2007), 119.
[6] Ibid., 52-54.
[7] Mark Long, “Ribat, al-Qa’ida, and the Challenge for U.S. Foreign Policy,” Middle East Journal 63, no. 1, Winter 2009,
[8] Rohan Gunaratna, “Al Qaeda’s Ideology,” Current Trends in Islamist Ideology vol. 1, May 19, 2005,
[9] Douglas Jehl, “Holy War Lured Saudis s Leaders Looked Away,” New York Times, December 27, 2001,
[10] “Mapping Militant Organizations: Egyptian Islamic Jihad,” Stanford University, July 31, 2012,
[11] “Egyptian Islamic Jihad,” Encyclopedia of the Middle East, n.d.,
[12] World Islamic Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders, “Initial ‘Fatwa’ Statement,” February 23, 1998,
[13] Christian Caryl, “The Salafi Moment,” Foreign Policy, September 12, 2012,
[14] Quintan Wiktorowicz and John Kaltner, “Killing in the Name of Islam: Al-Qaeda’s Justification for September 11,” Middle East Policy 10, no. 2, Summer 2003,
[15] Raymond Ibrahim, The Al Qaeda Reader (New York: Doubleday Publishers, 2007), 165.
[16] Ibid.
[17] At Taubah, Surah 9: Repentance,
[18] For a detailed discussion, see Raymond Ibrahim, “How Taqiyya Alters Islam’s Rules of War,” Middle East Quarterly 17, no. 1, Winter 2010,
[19] Ibrahim, The Al Qaeda Reader, 73-74.
[20] Ibid., 142.
[21] Jack Date, “CIA Director Leon Panetta: Serious Problems with Afghanistan War but Progress Being Made,” ABC News, June 27, 2010,
[22] Elisabeth Bumiller, “Panetta Says Defeat of al Qaeda is ‘Within Reach,’” New York Times, July 9, 2011,
[23] Michael Morell, The Great War of Our Time: The CIA’s Fight Against Terrorism from al Qa‘ida to ISIS (New York: Twelve, 2015).
[24] Assaf Moghadam and Brian Fishman, “Debates and Divisions Within and Around Al Qa’ida,” in Assaf Moghadam and Brian Fishman, eds., Self-Inflicted Wounds: Debates and Divisions al-Qa’ida and its Periphery (West Point, NY: Combating Terrorism Center, December 2010), 11-12,
[25] “Western Counter-Terrorism Help ‘Not Enough for Yemen,’” BBC, December 29, 2009,
[26] Pascal Boniface, “Al-Qaida: De L’Afghanistan Au Yemen?” Le Nouvel Observateur, September 16, 2010,
[27] Andrew Michaels and Sakhr Ayyash, “AQAP’s Resilience in Yemen,” CTC Sentinel, September 24, 2013,
[28] Daveed Gartenstein-Ross & Bridget Moreng, “Al Qaeda is Beating the Islamic State,” Politico, April 14, 2015,
[29] U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2013.
[30] Ibid.
[31] Zachary Laub, “CFR Backgrounder: Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM),” Council on Foreign Relations, March 27, 2015,
[32] U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2013.
[33] Mark Leon Goldberg, “In Mali, Peacekeepers Have Become the Target of an Insurgency. This is Unprecedented,” UN Dispatch, June 1, 2016,
[34] Daveed Gartenstein-Ross & Nathaniel Barr, “Neither Remaining Nor Expanding: The Islamic State’s Global Expansion Struggles,” War on the Rocks, February 23, 2016,
[35] Bill Roggio and Caleb Weiss, “Shabaab Strikes Police Department Headquarters in Mogadishu,” Long War Journal, July 31, 2016,
[36] Peter Devlin, “State of the Insurgency in al-Anbar,” U.S. Marine Corps intelligence assessment, August 17, 2006, available at
[37] Rollins, Al Qaeda: Profile and Threat Assessment.
[38] Bassem Mroue, “Syria and Iraq Al Qaeda Merger Annulment Announced by Ayman al Zawahiri,” Associated Press, June 10, 2013,
[39] “Expert: ISIS’ Declaration Of Islamic State ‘Poses A Huge Threat To Al Qaeda,’” CBS, June 30, 2014,
[40] See “Sunni Rebels Declare New ‘Islamic Caliphate,’” Al-Jazeera (Doha), June 30, 2014,
[41] Jim Sciutto, Jamie Crawford and Chelsea J. Carter, “ISIS can ‘muster’ between 20,000 and 31,500 Fighters, CIA Says,” CNN, September 12, 2014,
[42] Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, “How Many Fighters Does the Islamic State Really Have?,” War on the Rocks, February 9, 2015,
[43] Martin Chulov, “How an Arrest in Iraq Revealed Isis’s $2bn Jihadist Network,” The Guardian, June 15, 2014,
[44] Ian Johnston, “The Rise of Isis: Terror Group now Controls an Area the Size of Britain, Expert Says,” Independent (London), September 3, 2014,
[45] Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, “The Islamic State’s Vulnerability,” War on the Rocks, September 17, 2014,
[46] Daveed Gartenstein-Ross & Nathaniel Barr, “Neither Remaining Nor Expanding: The Islamic State’s Global Expansion Struggles,” War on the Rocks, February 23, 2016,
[47] Letter from Osama bin Laden to Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, May 2010, SOCOM-2012-00000019,
[48] Ibid.
[49] Ayman al-Zawahiri, “General Guidelines for Jihad,” As-Sahab Media, September 2013,
[50] Abu Muhammad al-Julani, “Victory from God and Conquest is Close,” Al-Manarah al-Bayda Foundation for Media Production, April 1, 2015,
[51] Shiv Malik, Mustafa Khalili, Spencer Ackerman and Ali Younis, “How Isis Crippled Al-Qaida,” The Guardian (U.K.), June 10, 2015,
[52] Thomas Joscelyn, “Al Nusra Front Rebrands Itself as Jabhat Fath al-Sham,” Long War Journal, July 28, 2016,