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Dates of operation11 August 1988 – present
Active regionsWorldwide
Current territorial control:
Mali, Somalia,[1] Yemen[2]
Battles and wars
Designated as a terrorist group bySee below
Preceded by
Maktab al-Khidamat


North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the European Union, and various countries
around the world.

The organization was founded in a series of meetings held in

apostates from Islam), and against the US. During 1992–1996, al-Qaeda established its headquarters in Sudan until it was expelled in 1996. It shifted its base to the Taliban-ruled Afghanistan and later expanded to other parts of the world, primarily in the Middle East and South Asia

In 1996 and 1998, bin Laden issued two

war on terror in response and invaded Afghanistan to depose the Taliban and destroy al-Qaeda. In 2003, a U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq, overthrowing the Ba'athist regime
which it wrongly accused of having ties with al-Qaeda. In 2004, al-Qaeda launched its Iraqi regional branch. After pursuing him for almost a decade, the U.S. military killed bin Laden in Pakistan in May 2011.

Al-Qaeda members believe a

Islamic State of Iraq and Levant, was responsible for numerous sectarian attacks against Shias during its Iraqi insurgency.[77][78] Al-Qaeda ideologues envision the violent removal of all foreign and secular influences in Muslim countries, which it denounces as corrupt deviations.[14][79][80][81] Following the death of bin Laden in 2011, al-Qaeda vowed to avenge his killing. The group was then led by Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri until his death in 2022. As of 2021, it has reportedly suffered from a deterioration of central command over its regional operations.[82]


Al-Qaeda only indirectly controls its day-to-day operations. Its philosophy calls for the

centralization of decision making, while allowing for the decentralization of execution.[83] The top leaders of Al-Qaeda have defined the organization's ideology and guiding strategy, and they have also articulated simple and easy-to-receive messages. At the same time, mid-level organizations were given autonomy, but they had to consult with top management before large-scale attacks and assassinations. Top management included the shura council as well as committees on military operations, finance, and information sharing. Through the information committees of Al-Qaeda, Zawahiri placed special emphasis on communicating with his groups.[84] However, after the war on terror, Al-Qaeda's leadership has become isolated. As a result, the leadership has become decentralized, and the organization has become regionalized into several Al-Qaeda groups.[85][86]

Many terrorism experts do not believe that the global jihadist movement is driven at every level by Al-Qaeda's leadership. However, bin Laden held considerable ideological sway over some

Muslim extremists before his death. Experts argue that Al-Qaeda has fragmented into a number of disparate regional movements, and that these groups bear little connection with one another.[87]

This view mirrors the account given by Osama bin Laden in his October 2001 interview with Tayseer Allouni:

this matter isn't about any specific person and ... is not about the al-Qa'idah Organization. We are the children of an Islamic Nation, with Prophet Muhammad as its leader, our Lord is one ... and all the true believers [mu'mineen] are brothers. So the situation isn't like the West portrays it, that there is an 'organization' with a specific name (such as 'al-Qa'idah') and so on. That particular name is very old. It was born without any intention from us. Brother Abu Ubaida ... created a military base to train the young men to fight against the vicious, arrogant, brutal, terrorizing Soviet empire ... So this place was called 'The Base' ['Al-Qa'idah'], as in a training base, so this name grew and became. We aren't separated from this nation. We are the children of a nation, and we are an inseparable part of it, and from those public demonstrations which spread from the far east, from the Philippines to Indonesia, to Malaysia, to India, to Pakistan, reaching Mauritania ... and so we discuss the conscience of this nation.[88]

As of 2010 however, Bruce Hoffman saw Al-Qaeda as a cohesive network that was strongly led from the Pakistani tribal areas.[87]

Al-Qaeda militant in Sahel armed with a Type 56 assault rifle
, 2012


Al-Qaeda has the following direct affiliates:

The following are presently believed to be indirect affiliates of Al-Qaeda:

Al-Qaeda's former affiliates include the following:


Osama bin Laden (1988–May 2011)

Osama bin Laden served as the emir of Al-Qaeda from the organization's founding in 1988 until his assassination by US forces on May 1, 2011.[101] Atiyah Abd al-Rahman was alleged to be second in command prior to his death on August 22, 2011.[102]

Bin Laden was advised by a Shura Council, which consists of senior Al-Qaeda members.[103] The group was estimated to consist of 20–30 people.

After May 2011

Ayman al-Zawahiri had been Al-Qaeda's deputy emir and assumed the role of emir following bin Laden's death. Al-Zawahiri replaced Saif al-Adel, who had served as interim commander.[104]

On June 5, 2012, Pakistani intelligence officials announced that al-Rahman's alleged successor as second in command, Abu Yahya al-Libi, had been killed in Pakistan.[105]

Nasir al-Wuhayshi was alleged to have become Al-Qaeda's overall second in command and general manager in 2013. He was concurrently the leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) until he was killed by a US airstrike in Yemen in June 2015.[106] Abu Khayr al-Masri, Wuhayshi's alleged successor as the deputy to Ayman al-Zawahiri, was killed by a US airstrike in Syria in February 2017.[107] Al Qaeda's next alleged number two leader, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, was killed by Israeli agents. His pseudonym was Abu Muhammad al-Masri, who was killed in November 2020 in Iran. He was involved in the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.[108]

Al-Qaeda's network was built from scratch as a conspiratorial network which drew upon the leadership of a number of regional nodes.[109] The organization divided itself into several committees, which include:

After Al-Zawahiri (2022 - present)

Al-Zawahiri was killed on July 31, 2022 in a drone strike in Afghanistan.

Afghan government in acknowledging the death of Al-Zawahiri as well as due to "theological and operational" challenges posed by the location of al-Adel in Iran.[115][116]

Command structure

Most of Al Qaeda's top leaders and operational directors were veterans who fought against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, were the leaders who were considered the operational commanders of the organization.

Muslim World. The central leadership assumes control of the doctrinal approach and overall propaganda campaign; while the regional commanders were empowered with independence in military strategy and political maneuvering. This novel heirarchy made it possible for the organisation to launch wide-range offensives.[119]

When asked in 2005 about the possibility of Al-Qaeda's connection to the

Sir Ian Blair said: "Al-Qaeda is not an organization. Al-Qaeda is a way of working ... but this has the hallmark of that approach ... Al-Qaeda clearly has the ability to provide training ... to provide expertise ... and I think that is what has occurred here."[120] On August 13, 2005, The Independent newspaper, reported that the July 7 bombers had acted independently of an Al-Qaeda mastermind.[121]

Nasser al-Bahri, who was Osama bin Laden's bodyguard for four years in the run-up to 9/11 wrote in his memoir a highly detailed description of how the group functioned at that time. Al-Bahri described Al-Qaeda's formal administrative structure and vast arsenal.

1998 US embassy bombings
in East Africa. Curtis wrote:

The reality was that bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri had become the focus of a loose association of disillusioned Islamist militants who were attracted by the new strategy. But there was no organization. These were militants who mostly planned their own operations and looked to bin Laden for funding and assistance. He was not their commander. There is also no evidence that bin Laden used the term "al-Qaeda" to refer to the name of a group until after September 11 attacks, when he realized that this was the term the Americans had given it.[123]

During the 2001 trial, the US Department of Justice needed to show that bin Laden was the leader of a criminal organization in order to charge him in absentia under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. The name of the organization and details of its structure were provided in the testimony of Jamal al-Fadl, who said he was a founding member of the group and a former employee of bin Laden.[124] Questions about the reliability of al-Fadl's testimony have been raised by a number of sources because of his history of dishonesty, and because he was delivering it as part of a plea bargain agreement after being convicted of conspiring to attack US military establishments.[125][126] Sam Schmidt, a defense attorney who defended al-Fadl said:

There were selective portions of al-Fadl's testimony that I believe was false, to help support the picture that he helped the Americans join together. I think he lied in a number of specific testimony about a unified image of what this organization was. It made al-Qaeda the new Mafia or the new Communists. It made them identifiable as a group and therefore made it easier to prosecute any person associated with al-Qaeda for any acts or statements made by bin Laden.[123]

Field operatives

Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir interviewing Osama bin Laden
in Afghanistan, 1997

The number of individuals in the group who have undergone proper military training, and are capable of commanding insurgent forces, is largely unknown. Documents captured in the raid on bin Laden's compound in 2011 show that the core Al-Qaeda membership in 2002 was 170.[127] In 2006, it was estimated that Al-Qaeda had several thousand commanders embedded in 40 countries.[128] As of 2009, it was believed that no more than 200–300 members were still active commanders.[129]

According to the 2004 BBC documentary The Power of Nightmares, Al-Qaeda was so weakly linked together that it was hard to say it existed apart from bin Laden and a small clique of close associates. The lack of any significant numbers of convicted Al-Qaeda members, despite a large number of arrests on terrorism charges, was cited by the documentary as a reason to doubt whether a widespread entity that met the description of Al-Qaeda existed.[130] Al-Qaeda's commanders, as well as its sleeping agents, are hiding in different parts of the world to this day. They are mainly hunted by the American and Israeli secret services.

Insurgent forces

According to author Robert Cassidy, Al-Qaeda maintains two separate forces which are deployed alongside insurgents in Iraq and Pakistan. The first, numbering in the tens of thousands, was "organized, trained, and equipped as insurgent combat forces" in the Soviet–Afghan war.[128] The force was composed primarily of foreign mujahideen from Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Many of these fighters went on to fight in Bosnia and Somalia for global jihad. Another group, which numbered 10,000 in 2006, live in the West and have received rudimentary combat training.[128]

Other analysts have described Al-Qaeda's rank and file as being "predominantly Arab" in its first years of operation, but that the organization also includes "other peoples" as of 2007.[131] It has been estimated that 62 percent of Al-Qaeda members have a university education.[132] In 2011 and the following year, the Americans successfully settled accounts with Osama bin Laden, Anwar al-Awlaki, the organization's chief propagandist, and Abu Yahya al-Libi's deputy commander. The optimistic voices were already saying it was over for Al-Qaeda. Nevertheless, it was around this time that the Arab Spring greeted the region, the turmoil of which came great to Al-Qaeda's regional forces. Seven years later, Ayman al-Zawahiri became arguably the number one leader in the organization, implementing his strategy with systematic consistency. Tens of thousands loyal to Al-Qaeda and related organizations were able to challenge local and regional stability and ruthlessly attack their enemies in the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Europe and Russia alike. In fact, from Northwest Africa to South Asia, Al-Qaeda had more than two dozen "franchise-based" allies. The number of Al-Qaeda militants was set at 20,000 in Syria alone, and they had 4,000 members in Yemen and about 7,000 in Somalia. The war was not over.[133]

In 2001, Al-Qaeda had around 20 functioning cells and 70,000 insurgents spread over sixty nations.[134] According to latest estimates, the number of active-duty soldiers under its command and allied militias have risen to approximately 250,000 by 2018.[135]


Al-Qaeda usually does not disburse funds for attacks, and very rarely makes wire transfers.

heroin trade and donations from supporters in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other Islamic Gulf states.[137] A WikiLeaks-released 2009 internal US government cable stated that "terrorist funding emanating from Saudi Arabia remains a serious concern."[138]

Among the first pieces of evidence regarding Saudi Arabia's support for Al-Qaeda was the so-called "

Wael Hamza Julaidan. Batterjee was designated as a terror financier by the US Department of the Treasury in 2004, and Julaidan is recognized as one of Al-Qaeda's founders.[139]

Documents seized during the 2002 Bosnia raid showed that Al-Qaeda widely exploited charities to channel financial and material support to its operatives across the globe.[141] Notably, this activity exploited the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) and the Muslim World League (MWL). The IIRO had ties with Al-Qaeda associates worldwide, including Al-Qaeda's deputy Ayman al Zawahiri. Zawahiri's brother worked for the IIRO in Albania and had actively recruited on behalf of Al-Qaeda.[142] The MWL was openly identified by Al-Qaeda's leader as one of the three charities Al-Qaeda primarily relied upon for funding sources.[142]

Allegations of Qatari support

Several Qatari citizens have been accused of funding Al-Qaeda. This includes

US Treasury designated Nuaimi as a terrorist for his activities supporting Al-Qaeda.[143] The US Treasury has said Nuaimi "has facilitated significant financial support to Al-Qaeda in Iraq, and served as an interlocutor between Al-Qaeda in Iraq and Qatar-based donors".[143]

Nuaimi was accused of overseeing a $2 million monthly transfer to Al-Qaeda in Iraq as part of his role as mediator between Iraq-based Al-Qaeda senior officers and Qatari citizens.[143][144] Nuaimi allegedly entertained relationships with Abu-Khalid al-Suri, Al-Qaeda's top envoy in Syria, who processed a $600,000 transfer to Al-Qaeda in 2013.[143][144] Nuaimi is also known to be associated with Abd al-Wahhab Muhammad 'Abd al-Rahman al-Humayqani, a Yemeni politician and founding member of Alkarama, who was listed as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) by the US Treasury in 2013.[145] The US authorities claimed that Humayqani exploited his role in Alkarama to fundraise on behalf of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).[143][145] A prominent figure in AQAP, Nuaimi was also reported to have facilitated the flow of funding to AQAP affiliates based in Yemen. Nuaimi was also accused of investing funds in the charity directed by Humayqani to ultimately fund AQAP.[143] About ten months after being sanctioned by the US Treasury, Nuaimi was also restrained from doing business in the UK.[146]

Another Qatari citizen, Kalifa Mohammed Turki Subayi, was sanctioned by the US Treasury on June 5, 2008, for his activities as a "Gulf-based Al-Qaeda financier". Subayi's name was added to the

September 11 Commission report.[148]

Qataris provided support to Al-Qaeda through the country's largest NGO, the Qatar Charity. Al-Qaeda defector al-Fadl, who was a former member of Qatar Charity, testified in court that Abdullah Mohammed Yusef, who served as Qatar Charity's director, was affiliated to Al-Qaeda and simultaneously to the National Islamic Front, a political group that gave Al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden harbor in Sudan in the early 1990s.[140]

It was alleged that in 1993

Sunni charities to channel financial support to Al-Qaeda operatives overseas. The same documents also report Bin Laden's complaint that the failed assassination attempt of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had compromised the ability of Al-Qaeda to exploit charities to support its operatives to the extent it was capable of before 1995.[citation needed

Qatar financed Al-Qaeda's enterprises through Al-Qaeda's former affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra. The funding was primarily channeled through kidnapping for ransom.[149] The Consortium Against Terrorist Finance (CATF) reported that the Gulf country has funded al-Nusra since 2013.[149] In 2017, Asharq Al-Awsat estimated that Qatar had disbursed $25 million in support of al-Nusra through kidnapping for ransom.[150] In addition, Qatar has launched fundraising campaigns on behalf of al-Nusra. Al-Nusra acknowledged a Qatar-sponsored campaign "as one of the preferred conduits for donations intended for the group".[151][152]


In the disagreement over whether Al-Qaeda's objectives are religious or political, Mark Sedgwick describes Al-Qaeda's strategy as political in the immediate term but with ultimate aims that are religious.[153] On March 11, 2005, Al-Quds Al-Arabi published extracts from Saif al-Adel's document "Al Qaeda's Strategy to the Year 2020".[3][154] Abdel Bari Atwan summarizes this strategy as comprising five stages to rid the Ummah from all forms of oppression:

  1. Provoke the United States and the West into invading a Muslim country by staging a massive attack or string of attacks on US soil that results in massive civilian casualties.
  2. Incite local resistance to occupying forces.
  3. Expand the conflict to neighboring countries and engage the US and its allies in a long war of attrition.
  4. Convert Al-Qaeda into an ideology and set of operating principles that can be loosely franchised in other countries without requiring direct command and control, and via these franchises incite attacks against the US and countries allied with the US until they withdraw from the conflict, as happened with the
    July 7, 2005 London bombings
  5. The US economy will finally collapse by 2020, under the strain of multiple engagements in numerous places. This will lead to a collapse in the worldwide economic system, and lead to global political instability. This will lead to a global jihad led by Al-Qaeda, and a
    Wahhabi Caliphate
    will then be installed across the world.

Atwan noted that, while the plan is unrealistic, "it is sobering to consider that this virtually describes the downfall of the Soviet Union."[3]

According to Fouad Hussein, a Jordanian journalist and author who has spent time in prison with Al-Zarqawi, Al Qaeda's strategy consists of seven phases and is similar to the plan described in Al Qaeda's Strategy to the year 2020. These phases include:[155]

  1. "The Awakening." This phase was supposed to last from 2001 to 2003. The goal of the phase is to provoke the United States to attack a Muslim country by executing an attack that kills many civilians on US soil.
  2. "Opening Eyes." This phase was supposed to last from 2003 to 2006. The goal of this phase was to recruit young men to the cause and to transform the Al-Qaeda group into a movement. Iraq was supposed to become the center of all operations with financial and military support for bases in other states.
  3. "Arising and Standing up", was supposed to last from 2007 to 2010. In this phase, Al-Qaeda wanted to execute additional attacks and focus their attention on Syria. Hussein believed other countries in the Arabian Peninsula were also in danger.
  4. Al-Qaeda expected a steady growth among their ranks and territories due to the declining power of the regimes in the Arabian Peninsula. The main focus of attack in this phase was supposed to be on oil suppliers and cyberterrorism, targeting the US economy and military infrastructure.
  5. The declaration of an Islamic Caliphate, which was projected between 2013 and 2016. In this phase, Al-Qaeda expected the resistance from Israel to be heavily reduced.
  6. The declaration of an "Islamic Army" and a "fight between believers and non-believers", also called "total confrontation".
  7. "Definitive Victory", projected to be completed by 2020.

According to the seven-phase strategy, the war is projected to last less than two years.

According to Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute and Katherine Zimmerman of the American Enterprise Institute, the new model of Al-Qaeda is to "socialize communities" and build a broad territorial base of operations with the support of local communities, also gaining income independent of the funding of sheiks.[156]


The English name of the organization is a simplified

definite article "the", hence "the base".[157] In Arabic, Al-Qaeda has four syllables (/alˈqaː.ʕi.da/). However, since two of the Arabic consonants in the name are not phones found in the English language, the common naturalized English pronunciations include /ælˈkdə/, /ælˈkdə/ and /ˌælkɑːˈdə/. Al-Qaeda's name can also be transliterated as al-Qaida, al-Qa'ida, or el-Qaida.[158]

The doctrinal concept of "Al-Qaeda" was first coined by the

Abdullah Azzam in an April 1988 issue of Al-Jihad magazine to describe a religiously committed vanguard of Muslims who wage armed Jihad globally to liberate oppressed Muslims from foreign invaders, establish sharia (Islamic law) across the Islamic World by overthrowing the ruling secular governments; and thus restore the past Islamic prowess. This was to be implemented by establishing an Islamic state that would nurture generations of Muslim soldiers that would perpetually attack United States and its allied governments in the Muslim World. Numerous historical models were cited by Azzam as successful examples of his call; starting from the early Muslim conquests of the 7th century to the recent anti-Soviet Afghan Jihad of 1980s.[159][160][161] According to Azzam's world-view:

"It is about time to think about a state that would be a solid base for the distribution of the (Islamic) creed, and a fortress to host the preachers from the hell of the Jahiliyyah [the pre-Islamic period]."[161]

Bin Laden explained the origin of the term in a videotaped interview with

Tayseer Alouni
in October 2001:

The name 'al-Qaeda' was established a long time ago by mere chance. The late Abu Ebeida El-Banashiri established the training camps for our mujahedeen against Russia's terrorism. We used to call the training camp al-Qaeda. The name stayed.[162]

It has been argued that two documents seized from the Sarajevo office of the Benevolence International Foundation prove the name was not simply adopted by the mujahideen movement and that a group called Al-Qaeda was established in August 1988. Both of these documents contain minutes of meetings held to establish a new military group, and contain the term "Al-Qaeda".[163]

Former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook wrote that the word Al-Qaeda should be translated as "the database", because it originally referred to the computer file of the thousands of mujahideen militants who were recruited and trained with CIA help to defeat the Russians.[164] In April 2002, the group assumed the name Qa'idat al-Jihad (قاعدة الجهاد qāʿidat al-jihād), which means "the base of Jihad". According to Diaa Rashwan, this was "apparently as a result of the merger of the overseas branch of Egypt's al-Jihad, which was led by Ayman al-Zawahiri, with the groups Bin Laden brought under his control after his return to Afghanistan in the mid-1990s."[165]