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Despite a diminishing of its capabilities and leadership in recent years, al-Qaeda remains the most notorious Islamist terrorist group in existence today. In the years since it orchestrated the devastating September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, its late founding leader, Osama bin Laden, and its current chief, Ayman al-Zawahiri, have become internationally recognized figures and heroes to Islamists and aspiring jihadists the world over. Indeed, al-Qaeda has taken on a truly global reach, boasting such an array of groups affiliated with it and others that are stirred by its ideology.

However, al-Qaeda’s primacy in the pantheon of Islamic extremism is increasingly being challenged by other Islamist groups, most notably the Islamic State (IS), an even more extreme and violent Salafi-jihadist group. Since its emergence in Syria in 2013 as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS), IS has made unprecedented progress in seizing and holding power in large tracts of Iraq and Syria. In the process, it has ignited an Islamist civil war, and is now actively vying with al-Qaeda for intellectual primacy of the global jihadi movement.

History & Ideology: 

Though the attacks of September 11, 2001 are perhaps 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 is believed to have been formally created in the later years of the Soviet-Afghan 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 Osama bin Laden and Palestinian jihadist theoretician Abdullah Yusuf Azzam, and later mobilized for terrorist missions.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 Soviet-Afghan conflict attracted many jihadists from around the Arab world. Among them was Saudi multi-millionaire Osama bin Laden, who, in conjunction with Azzam, opened a “services bureau” (known as the maktabat al-khadamat) in Peshawar, Pakistan, supporting the Afghan jihad logistically and materially.5  Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian physician who would later rise to become al-Qaeda’s second-in-command (and, after the death of bin Laden in May 2011, its leader), also made periodic stops in Peshawar, lending his medical skills to the care of wounded mujahideen.6  Bin Laden himself reportedly entered into combat against the Soviets, and often recounted his spiritual, near-death experiences and feelings of spiritual tranquility in the midst of furious shelling.7 

The victory of the mujahideen over the Soviets, and the subsequent collapse of the USSR, created a sense of invincibility across the Muslim world. 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 strength against better-equipped and more technologically advanced foes. In short, it made Islamists more ambitious and laid the groundwork for the emergence of al-Qaeda. 

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, colloquially 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 ideal opportunity to rally his now-unemployed fighters, this time to defend not just a peripheral Muslim nation but also the sanctity of Arabia, home of Islam and its haramin (the Two Holy Mosques, or “sanctities,” in Mecca and Medina). He petitioned Saudi Arabia’s monarch at the time, King Fahd, to allow the Afghan Arabs to defend the country, only to be rebuffed; Fahd opted to accept the offers of the U.S. and other so-called “infidel” forces to deploy their troops on Arabian soil, which bin Laden would later refer to in his 1996 fatwa as the latest and greatest aggression from the West.9  Meanwhile, the Saudi regime, according to bin Laden, “betrayed the Ummah and joined the Kufr [infidels], assisting and helping them against the Muslims.”10 

Because of bin Laden’s opposition to the Saudi monarchy, 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 and was welcoming co-religionists from around the world—particularly millionaire investors like Bin Laden. During this time (1992-1996), Ayman al Zawahiri and his organization, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, also used Sudan as a base to launch operations against the Egyptian government. Inspired by Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Sayyid Qutb and, like others, radicalized by the outcome of the Six Day War, Zawahiri had been transformed from a pious Muslim to an ardent jihadist. He was 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.11 

Bin Laden’s continuing criticisms of the Saudi king, along with Zawahiri’s botched terrorist missions against the Mubarak regime (including failed assassination attempts on the Egyptian Prime Minister and President Mubarak himself),12  created significant international pressure on the Sudanese government to evict al-Qaeda.13  They eventually did so, and in 1996, al-Qaeda’s leadership returned to Afghanistan and found refuge with another Islamist regime, the Taliban. The Islamist militant faction made up of former students indoctrinated in the madrassas of Pakistan had risen out of the chaos that followed the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Pakistani-backed Taliban government in Kabul welcomed bin Laden and his Afghan Arabs and allowed them to set up militant bases and training camps. It was at this juncture that al-Qaeda began to crystallize into the organization it is known as today.

In 1998, Zawahiri, bin Laden, and others joined forces under the umbrella of al-Jibha al-Islamiyya al-‘Alamiyya (the “World Islamic Front”), and began their terrorist campaign against the West in earnest. In contrast to bin Laden’s lengthy 1996 fatwa, in which he declared a vague global jihad, the group’s 1998 fatwa succinctly and unequivocally called on all 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.”14  Most of al-Qaeda’s ideological material presents jihad as an obligation on behalf of Islam to attack those who oppose Islamic law, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.15 

Al-Qaeda is best described as a Salafist organization. Salafism denotes the literal emulation of Muhammad and the early generations of Muslims, al-salaf al-salah (righteous forbears). The ultimate goal of Salafists is to resurrect, and make supreme, a global Caliphate that enforces sharia law, in an attempt to recreate the perceived “golden age” of Islam (c. 632-656).

The Salafist worldview is not unique to al-Qaeda, however. Rather, it is the form of Islamism increasingly subscribed to by other Islamist activists, both militant and non-violent (e.g., the non-violent Hizb ut-Tahrir, which also seeks to revive the Caliphate).16  It should also be noted that the Salafist approach ignores centuries of sharia development according to Islam’s madhahib (four mainstream schools of thought) and ijtihad reasoning (wherein more contemporary issues unaddressed either by the Koran or the Sunnah are resolved and applied according to experts in sharia law). Certain aspects of Salafism most associated with al-Qaeda—such as the military component of jihad and the requirement to make sharia the supreme law of the land—do find consensus among Islam’s mainstream madhahib.

Even the particularly ruthless character of al-Qaeda is rationalized by its adherents, such as Zawahiri, through qiyas, or the analogical interpretation of various Muslim doctrines. For instance, because infidel armies were on Muslim territory, defensive jihad, as stressed in the 1998 fatwa, is deemed obligatory (fard ayn) in Islam.17  Based on this, and because of the unbalanced power relationship between the West and the Muslim world, several rukhsa (relaxations of religious law) based on the sharia principle that “necessity makes forbidden things permissible” are used to rationalize al-Qaeda’s ostensibly nihilistic brand of terrorism. 

Al-Qaeda defends the attacks of September 11, 2001, during which nearly 3,000 American 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.18  Similarly, al-Qaeda excuses the otherwise Koranically forbidden act of killing women and children by referring to reported permission to do so granted by the Prophet himself.19  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.”20

Al-Qaeda also supports “martyrdom operations,” or suicide bombings, referring to early Islamic history and Muhammad’s assertions to uphold its views on the subject.21  For example, one verse calls on believers to "kill and be killed" (Surah 9:111). Others 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).”22  Similar warfare methods, such as those allowing Muslims to break certain religious obligations if those obligations restrict the execution of jihad, also receive justification from influential Muslim scholars, including Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Yusif al Qaradawi.23
Another rukhsa regularly used by al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups is the practice of taqiyya,24  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 various classical ulema (clerics) who believed that Muslims under the authority of non-Muslims should behave loyally while actually harboring feelings of hatred toward them.25  In another treatise, Zawahiri quotes Muhammad’s famous assertion that “war is deceit.”26 

While violence and terror are emblematic of al-Qaeda’s strategy, the group has also mastered the use of propaganda and doublespeak, particularly when addressing its Western rivals. Primarily, it has and continues to send communiqués citing any number of grievances—Israel often topping the list, followed by objections to the stationing of so-called infidel troops on the Holy Land of Saudi Arabia, as well as the perceived U.S. policy of fragmenting Arab states, and crippling sanctions against Iraq following the Gulf War27 —in order to justify terrorism, which is portrayed as “reciprocal treatment.” By 2007, the organization was estimated to be producing and delivering such messages nearly every 72 hours,28  although that pace has diminished since. 

When addressing Muslims in the Arabic tracts it disseminates, al-Qaeda makes perfectly clear that its animus to the West is first and foremost based on religious doctrine, which is one of the reasons that it has been well-received by many young and devout Muslims. One of Zawahiri’s ultimate stated goals is making “Islam supreme in its [own] land and then spreading it around the world.”29  Bin Laden also claimed that the relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims should be one of “enmity, evidenced by fierce hostility, and an internal hate from the heart” based on his reading of Koranic verse 60:4.30 

Al-Qaeda’s propaganda largely has been successful, including among Muslims frustrated by their governments’ perceived failures to attend to society’s needs, insufficiently Islamic bearing/orientation, or corruption. Westerners are not immune to the al-Qaeda vision, as demonstrated by mainstream Western acceptance that al-Qaeda’s war is entirely fueled by grievances against the West—even when bin Laden himself asserted that the animosity between the West and the Muslim world is inherent. 

Global Reach: 

The years since the start of the U.S.-led War on Terror have witnessed a major metamorphosis on the part of the bin Laden network. The organization has been significantly eroded in Afghanistan, where Coalition operations succeeded in whittling away at the core group of militants that made up what can be called al-Qaeda “central” in recent years. In the summer of 2010, then-CIA Director Leon Panetta estimated there were 50-100 al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan, the group's country of origin.31  A similar figure was reported by a Coalition general in 2013.32 

However, the decline of al-Qaeda’s core has been mirrored by the rise of its various affiliates and franchises—and by a diffusion and expansion of its ideology. As one U.S. counterterrorism official put it in 2010, “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 in the Arabian Peninsula and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is a troubling development.”33  This shift, experts say, "is enhanced by jihadis’ inability to coordinate closely, which likely limits their ability to achieve ultimate policy goals, but also complicates the processes to combat the movement writ large.” 34

Al-Qaeda, in short, has transformed from a unitary, hierarchical terrorist organization to a network of affiliated organizations operating from North Africa to Southeast Asia. These franchises have proven capable of striking throughout their respective communities, into Europe, and the United States. Furthermore, by promoting ideas in cyberspace, al-Qaeda affiliates have been able to recruit citizens of Western countries to carry out attacks against its enemies. This growth has been affected by regional characteristics and the political climate of respective countries.


Currently, the official organizational affiliate of greatest capability is thought to be al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The group is a relatively new creation—the result of a merger of al-Qaeda’s Saudi and Yemeni franchises that took place in January of 2009. Like the larger bin Laden network, AQAP is committed to the elimination of “apostate” governments and their replacement with righteous fundamentalist Islamic regimes. Al-Zawahri has named AQAP leader Nasser al-Wuhayshi as the al-Qaeda “general manager”—in effect, his second in command.35 Aside from several attacks against foreign targets at its inception, AQAP has exhibited a persistent local focus, and has emerged as a major threat to the stability of the Yemeni government. In 2010, Yemen’s government was estimating the group strength to be just 200 to 300 members.36  Unofficial estimates at the same time put the number at somewhat higher: between 500 and 600 militants.37  Despite the efforts of the Yemeni government, AQAP has grown in both size and scope since; according to the State Department’s most recent Country Reports on Terrorism, the group is today “estimated to have approximately one thousand members.”38  The organization, which boasts a rather loose structure and informal chain of command,39  is funded primarily “from robberies and kidnap for ransom operations, and to a lesser degree donations from like-minded supporters.”40

AQAP has become a major threat to the Yemeni government, waging a persistent struggle against authorities in Sana’a, with considerable success. For example, an AQAP suicide attack aimed at the Yemeni military in May 2012 killed more than 90 soldiers during a parade through the capital city of Sana’a.41  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 to beat a “strategic retreat” from Abyan Province.42 However, the group remains resilient and entrenched in various parts of the Yemeni state.  In 2013, the Yemeni military did not undertake any major counter-terrorism operations, instead adopting a more defensive posture as Yemen’s military and security restructuring process remained incomplete.43 AQAP took advantage of these delays by targeting military and security installations and attacking or kidnapping government officials.44  However, in April of 2014, with the coordination and support of the United States and Saudi Arabia, Yemeni security forces launched a major offensive against al-Qaeda strongholds, as a result of which the Yemeni government claims to have killed and injured hundreds of militants.45


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 narrow 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.46  The organization is currently headed by Abdelmalek Droukdel, its founder and a veteran of the jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

While an accurate estimate is difficult to ascertain, 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.47  Currently, AQIM operates in Niger, Mauritania, Northeastern Algeria, and Southwest Libya.48  In Mali, it has assumed a significant role in the bolstering of aligned Islamist groups, such as Ansar Dine and MUJWA, in their efforts to establish a new, Islamist-leaning government in Bamako.49 However, AQIM’s safe haven in Northern Mali has become less tenable since the French intervention there, and as a result AQIM has moved parts of their organization to Southwest Libya.50   AQIM maintains activities, albeit of a more limited scope than its predecessor, the GSPC, in Algeria.51  Instead, AQIM’s focus has shifted southward, toward the continent’s largely lawless Sahel region.52  The group has also demonstrated both the ability and the willingness to collaborate as needed with other regional radical forces, including Boko Haram in Nigeria, Somalia’s al-Shabaab and assorted Malian Islamists.53  In recent years, AQIM has grown to global notoriety for its high-profile kidnappings of European hostages. While AQIM is not currently thought to pose a major threat to the U.S. homeland, it is a real danger to European nations, and suspected AQIM activists have been arrested in France, Spain, Italy, Germany, and Britain.54  Droukdel has declared France to be the organization’s main target in this regard.55 

AQI/ISIS/Islamic State

After suffering significant setbacks during the course of the Iraq War, al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) has reemerged as a potent regional—indeed, an international—force. Throughout its history, the group has taken several names, including AQI, the Islamic State of Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (sometimes translated as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and, most recently, the Islamic State. It has also experienced a significant ideological evolution, and now appears less an appendage of al-Qaeda and more an intellectual competitor to it. 

Early in the group’s political trajectory, it 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,56  Zarqawi adopted a policy of targeting local Sunnis and Shi’ites in Iraq deemed to be at variance with his exclusionary interpretation of Islam. The backlash helped form and sustain the so-called Sunni “Awakening,” which served as a critical compliment to the Bush administration’s “surge” of forces into Iraq in 2007.

However, over the past three years, AQI has staged a bloody comeback in Iraq, even as it has experienced a metamorphosis in both its structure and its objectives. Following a return to prominence in Iraq (outlined in detail below), AQI—now rebranded as ISIS—assumed a significant role as part of the constellation of opposition forces arrayed against the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Damascus and has captured land in northeast Syria. It did so initially in close conjunction with al-Qaeda’s local Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, but internal infighting over leadership prompted al-Qaeda head Ayman al-Zawahiri to intervene and demand a tactical divorce between the two organizations.57  

Thereafter, an ideological schism appears to have formed between al-Qaeda and ISIS. In February of 2014, al-Zawahiri formally disavowed the group.58  These tensions have only been further exacerbated by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s June 2014 declaration of a new “Islamic caliphate” in Iraq and parts of Syria, and his self-anointment as “caliph” and “leader for Muslims everywhere.”59  As a result, there is now pitched ideological competition between al-Qaeda and the Islamic State for primacy in the jihadist intellectual narrative, with the two groups trading barbs and proffering competing narratives for Islamist “hearts and minds.”60  In this calculus, al-Qaeda appears to remain the dominant ideological force—at least for the moment.61  

Nevertheless, the Islamic State is unmistakably on the march. The U.S. intelligence community now estimates that the group could field as many as 31,000 men under arms, making it among the largest terrorist groups on record.62  It is also one of the richest, with assets valued at around $2 billion.63  The Islamic State’s rapid territorial advance in both Iraq and Syria, moreover, has left the group in control of vast swathes of territory; according to expert estimates, the group now controls segments of northern Iraq and eastern Syria equivalent to the size of the United Kingdom.64 

The expansion of the Islamic State has generated a significant international response. In September 2014, the Obama administration authorized the start of air strikes against the group in both Iraq and Syria, and assisted in the creation of a like-minded coalition of the willing—including both European nations and Gulf Arab states—to coordinate the fight against the Islamic State. As of this writing, coalition operations against the group in both Iraq and Syria have begun to erode its strategic position in both countries.65

Ideologically, meanwhile, al-Qaeda’s organizational transformation has been mirrored by a shift in strategic thinking. A number of strategic setbacks for the organization over the past decade have prompted the emergence of a new generation of jihadist thinkers. The most prominent among these has been Abu Musab al-Suri, a Syrian-born Islamist whose manifesto, Call to Global Islamic Jihad, published online in 2005, entailed the first significant reconception of al-Qaeda strategy following the attacks of September 11th. In it, al-Suri counseled, inter alia, the abandonment of large-scale strategic attacks in favor of “individual jihad” by lone wolf terrorists and small atomized cells whose thinking and operations are in line with al-Qaeda’s vision.66  To a large extent, al-Suri’s ideas have helped to animate the strategy of al-Qaeda and its affiliates in recent years.67 

At the same time, the organization and its branches have attempted to adapt tactically in the face of U.S. and allied operations. Along these lines, one of the most interesting revelations contained in the 2013 disclosures of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was the fact that al-Qaeda engineers are reportedly attempting to hack, coopt or neutralize the unmanned aerial vehicles that have become one of the weapons of choice in recent U.S. counterterrorism operations.68 

Recent Activity: 

Al-Qaeda operations in its respective spheres of operation have been affected by developments following the “Arab Spring” uprisings and the departure of American military forces from Iraq. Following the May 2011 death of Osama bin Laden, the respective branches of al-Qaeda have maintained a strong geographic presence in their core regions (e.g., North Africa, the Persian Gulf) and now actively attempt to capitalize on geopolitical events.

One such trigger was the withdrawal of U.S. and Coalition forces from Iraq. Shortly after the American withdrawal in December 2011, violent attacks in the country increased significantly,69 leading U.S. military officials to conclude that al-Qaeda was “returning” to the Iraqi battlefield.70The reason can be traced back to the summer 2012 launch of a campaign devised by the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, called “Breaking of the Walls.” This effort—entailing some two dozen vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) attacks and eight coordinated prison breaks—was aimed at freeing prisoners captured fighting for an Islamic state in Iraq, and restoring the organization’s lost dynamism.71 The resulting surge in violence and the freeing of hundreds of militants, most notably from prisons in Abu Ghraib and Taji,72 dealt a blow to the reputation of the Iraqi security forces and may have boosted the confidence of AQI combatants. Since then, Baghdadi has dealt serious blows to Iraqi security forces, captured Iraq’s second-most populous city, acquired substantial military materiel, and declared his holdings to be an Islamic State.73

To the west, the Islamic State has succeeded in wresting control of territories in northeastern Syria from the Assad government, reinforced by the influx of thousands of jihadis from various countries.74 The combination of al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al Nusra and the Islamic State in Syria has stoked fears among Western powers that the fall of the Assad government could lead to an unstable political environment in which al-Qaeda could become an increasingly prominent regional force.75

Al-Qaeda’s Gulf franchise, AQAP, likewise remains a potent and destabilizing force. Since the overthrow of long-serving president Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2011, the transitional government of Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi has exhibited greater willingness to engage in counterterrorism cooperation with the United States, and it has stepped up its campaign against AQAP militants.76 However, in August 2013, the Obama administration ordered the temporary closure of 19 diplomatic outposts across the Middle East and North Africa in response to intercepted communications between al-Zawahiri and AQAP, indicating the level at which western powers still perceive a threat.77

Other “Arab Spring” uprisings in North Africa similarly may present al-Qaeda with opportunities to gain a foothold in the region. Most notably, Libya has emerged as a significant flashpoint, with America’s ambassador to the country, Christopher Stephens, dying at the hands of al-Qaeda-linked militants on the 2012 anniversary of September 11th. Since then, experts have testified to an alarming upsurge of jihadist and al-Qaeda affiliated activity in the country—as well as its export to other parts of the Greater Middle East.78

As the foregoing suggests, al-Qaeda still poses a significant security threat and ideological challenge to the West. The network once headed by Osama bin Laden has shown remarkable resilience and adaptability in recent years, rebounding from post-9/11 setbacks in both Afghanistan and Iraq to present a sustained challenge to the United States and its allies. Though now more diffuse in nature, the threat posed by the organization remains real. Its franchises have exhibited significant capability to carry out local and regional operations (in the Gulf, North Africa and elsewhere). Moreover, the organization as a whole remains opportunistic, and can be expected to exploit and attack points of vulnerability in those countries allied with America as they arise.


[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 US Foreign Policy,” Middle East Journal 63, no. 1, Winter 2009,
[8] Rohan Gunaratna, “Al Qaeda’s Ideology,” Hudson Institute Current Trends in Islamist Ideology vol. 1, May 19, 2005,
[9] Douglas Jehl, “A NATION CHALLENGED: SAUDI ARABIA; Holy War Lured Saudis As Leaders Looked Away,” New York Times, December 27, 2001,
[10] NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, “TRANSCRIPT: Bin Laden’s Fatwa,” PBS, n.d.,
[11] “Mapping Militant Organizations: Egyptian Islamic Jihad,” Stanford University, July 31, 2012,
[12] “Egyptian Islamic Jihad,” Encyclopedia of the Middle East, n.d.,
[13] Caspar Weinberger, “Bill Clinton’s Failure on Terrorism,” Washington Times, September 1, 2003,
[14] World Islamic Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders, “Initial ‘Fatwa’ Statement,” February 23, 1998,
[15] Rollins, Al Qaeda: Profile and Threat Assessment.
[16] Christian Caryl, “The Salafi Moment,” Foreign Policy, September 12, 2012,
[17] Majid Khadduri, War and Peace in the Law of Islam (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1955), 60.
[18] Quintan Wiktorowicz and John Kaltner, “Killing in the Name of Islam: Al-Qaeda’s Justification for September 11,” Middle East Policy X, no. 2, Summer 2003,
[19] Raymond Ibrahim, The Al Qaeda Reader (New York: Doubleday Publishers, 2007), 165.
[20] Ibid.
[21] Ibidem, 152-15.
[22] At Taubah, Surah 9: Repentance,
[23] “The Qaradawi Fatwas,” Middle East Quarterly XI, no. 3, Summer 2004,
[24] For a detailed discussion, see Raymond Ibrahim, “How Taqiyya Alters Islam’s Rules of War,” Middle East Quarterly XVII, no. 1, Winter 2010,
[25] Ibrahim, The Al Qaeda Reader, 73-74.
[26] Ibid., 142.
[27] World Islamic Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders, “Initial ‘Fatwa’ Statement.”
[28] Bruce Riedel, The Search for Al Qaeda: Its Leadership, Ideology, and Future (Washington DC: Brookings Institution, 2010), 123.
[29] Ibid., 113.
[30] Ibidem, 43.
[31] Jack Date, “CIA Director Leon Panetta: Serious Problems with Afghanistan War but Progress Being Made,” ABC News, June 27, 2010,
[32] Rob Taylor, “U.S. General says al Qaeda just surviving in Afghanistan,” Reuters, July 26, 2013,
[33] 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: Combatting Terrorism Center, December 2010). 11-12,
[34] Ibid.
[35] Eric Schmitt and Mark Mazzetti, “Qaeda Leader’s Edict to Yemen Affiliate Is Said to Prompt Alert,” New York Times, August 5, 2013,
[36] “Western Counter-Terrorism Help ‘Not Enough for Yemen,’” BBC, December 29, 2009,
[37] Pascal Boniface, “Al-Qaida: De L’Afghanistan Au Yemen?” Le Nouvel Observateur, September 16, 2010,
[38] U.S. Department of State, Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Country Reports on Terrorism 2013 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of State, April 2014),
[39] Alexis Areiff, Mali-Assessing AQIM and Associated Extremist Groups (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, January 2013),
[40] U.S. Department of State, Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Country Reports on Terrorism 2013 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of State, April 2014),
[41] Tom Finn, “Sana’a Suicide Bomb Attack Kills More than 90,” Guardian (London), May 21, 2012,
[42] Andrew Michaels and Sakhr Ayyash, “AQAP’s Resilience in Yemen,” Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point CTC Sentinel, September 24, 2013,
[43] U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2013.
[44] Ibid.
[45] Mohammed Hatem and Glen Carey, “Al-Qaeda Ascendancy in Yemen Spurs Army Drive to Crush Militants,” Bloomberg, May 28, 2014,
[46] U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2013.
[47] Ibid.
[48] Ibidem.
[49] See “Mali,” World Almanac of Islamism, September 25, 2013,
[50] U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2013.
[51] Ibid.
[52] Areiff, Mali-Assessing AQIM and Associated Extremist Groups; Jonathan Masters, “Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb,” Council on Foreign Relations, January 24, 2013,
[53] U.S. Department of State, Country Reports on Terrorism 2013.
[54] Ibid.
[55] Masters, “Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.”
[56] Rollins, Al Qaeda: Profile and Threat Assessment.
[57] Bassem Mroue, “Syria and Iraq Al Qaeda Merger Annulment Announced by Ayman al Zawahiri,” Associated Press, June 10, 2013,
[58] “Expert: ISIS’ Declaration Of Islamic State ‘Poses A Huge Threat To Al Qaeda,’” CBS DC, June 30, 2014.
[59] See “Sunni Rebels Declare New ‘Islamic Caliphate,’” Al-Jazeera (Doha), June 30, 2014,
[60] See J.M. Berger, “The Islamic State vs. Al Qaeda,” Foreign Policy, September 2, 2014,
[61] Ibid.
[62] Jim Sciutto, Jamie Crawford and Chelsea J. Carter, “ISIS can ‘muster’ between 20,000 and 31,500 Fighters, CIA Says,” CNN, September 12, 2014,
[63] Chulov, Martin. “How an Arrest in Iraq Revealed Isis’s $2bn Jihadist Network,” The Guardian, June 15, 2014, sec. World news.
[64] Ian Johnston, “The Rise of Isis: Terror Group now Controls an Area the Size of Britain, Expert Says,” Independent (London), September 3, 2014,
[65] “More Strikes Pound Islamic State Targets in Syria, Iraq,” Voice of America, September 27, 2014,
[66] A condensed version of al-Suri’s manifesto is available in Jim Lacey, ed., A Terrorist’s Call to Global Jihad (Annapolis, MD: Naval Press Institute, 2008).
[67] David Samuels, “The New Mastermind of Jihad,” Wall Street Journal, April 6, 2012,
[68] Craig Whitlock and Barton Gellman, “U.S. Documents Detail Al-Qaeda’s Efforts to Fight Back against Drones,” Washington Post, September 3, 2013,
[69] Joseph Logan, “Last U.S. troops leave Iraq, Ending War,” Reuters, December 18, 2011,; See also Ashish Kumar Sen, “Al Qaeda Drives Iraq toward Chaos; U.S. Withdrawal Left Door Open to Sectarian Battle for Power,” Washington Times, August 8, 2013,
[70] Greg Jaffe, “Iraq Attacks Raise Specter of Al-Qaeda’s Return,” Washington Post, July 23, 2012,
[71] Jessica D. Lewis, “Al-Qaeda in Iraq Resurgent,” Institute for the Study of War Middle East Security Report 14, September 2013,
[72] Gordon and Adnan, “Brazen Attacks at Prisons Raise Worries of Al Qaeda’s Strength in Iraq.”
[73] “Al Qaeda Splinter Group Declares Islamic ‘Caliphate,’” Reuters, June 29, 2014.
[74] Liz Sly, “Al-Qaeda expands in Syria via Islamic State,” Washington Post, August 12, 2013,
[75] Editorial, “Al Qaeda in Syria,” New York Times, December 10, 2012,
[76] John O. Brennan, Interview with Margaret Warner, “U.S. Policy Toward Yemen,” Council on Foreign Relations, August 8, 2012,
[77] Mark Mazzetti, “U.S. Extends Closing of Some Diplomatic Posts,” New York Times, August 4, 2013,
[78] Aaron Zelin, Testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade and the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, July 10, 2013,