Al Qaeda

FormedAugust 11, 1988
DisbandedGroup is active.
First AttackAugust 7, 1998: Al Qaeda operatives detonated car bombs outside the U.S. embassies in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya. The significant majority of casualties occurred in Nairobi. The bombings took place on the 8th anniversary of U.S. troops' presence in Saudi Arabia. (223 killed, 4,000+ wounded). [1]
Last AttackJanuary 7, 2015: Two gunmen attacked the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris. The paper had previously been targeted by Islamic extremists for its satire of Islam, and was named in a “most wanted” list released by AQ. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) claimed the attack, and there is evidence that at least one of the gunmen traveled to Yemen, participated in AQ training, and receiving funding for an attack. (12 killed, 11 wounded)[2] [3]
UpdatedAugust 17, 2015

Narrative Summary

Al Qaeda (AQ) is one of the longest-operating and largest jihadist militant organizations in the world. Founded by Osama bin Laden on August 11, 1988 after he had gained experience training and organizing opposition against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Al Qaeda has grown to become an organization with affiliates and supporters all over the world, and has carried out some of the most violent and infamous attacks in the last twenty-five years. [4] It seeks to rid the Muslim world of foreign influence and establish a Shariah-based Islamic government. [5] [6]

Al Qaeda emerged from the mujahideen movement that pit jihadists against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan beginning in the late 1970s. Osama bin Laden arrived in Afghanistan to join the fighting in 1980. The son of an extremely wealthy Saudi businessman, he became an important member of the jihad by providing funding for the movement. [7] Throughout the occupation, he worked with prominent Palestinian cleric Abdullah Azzam to create a group called Mektab al-Khidmat (“Bureau of Services”) that funneled jihadis into Afghanistan. [8] In the mid-1980s, Haqqani Network (HN) leader Jalaluddin Haqqani granted bin Laden land in the mountainous region between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Bin Laden established a presence in the region and built a training camp there that became the elite camp for Afghan Arab mujahideen. It was called al-Qa’ida al-‘Askariyya, or “the military base,” Al Qaeda’s namesake. [9] Throughout AQ’s development, HN continued to serve as an enabler, providing AQ with training, combat experience, and resources. It created a safe haven for jihadists where it housed AQ and other Islamist militants, facilitating networking between AQ and other groups. [10] While the CIA and Saudi Arabia funneled financial assistance to mujahideen groups through Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI) throughout the Soviet occupation, both AQ leaders and CIA members denied that Al Qaeda received U.S. funding. [11] However, some accounts allege that over $600 million in U.S. funding went to mujahideen who worked closely with bin Laden. [12]  

In April 1989, the Soviet Union declared that it would withdraw from Afghanistan. Bin Laden and Azzam established Al Qaeda from the fighters, financial resources, and training and recruiting structures left over from the anti-Soviet war. Al Qaeda continued to use the mountainous region—including places like Khost, Nangarhar, Paktia, and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Pakistan—as a headquarters for its leadership. By August 1989, bin Laden began to let it be known that he intended to have AQ operatives work all over the world, while Azzam preferred to focus on Afghanistan. Azzam died in a car bombing in November 1989, reportedly at the hands of rival Egyptians, and left bin Laden to continue undisputed leadership of Al Qaeda. [13]

In the meantime, the Islamist movement in Egypt battled the Egyptian government, a fight that was marked by the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat at the hand of the Islamists, followed by a government crackdown that weakened the movement and left it with two major extremist organizations. One of these was the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ), an organization that developed ties with AQ largely facilitated by Ayman al-Zawahiri. Zawahiri was the leader of an EIJ faction and began to be in constant communication with bin Laden. Their relationship was so strong that many began to consider Zawahiri the deputy head of AQ. [14]

Between 1989 and 1990, Hassan al-Turabi, head of an Islamist political party in Sudan, encouraged bin Laden to bring Al Qaeda to Sudan. Bin Laden reportedly agreed to join in the Sudanese Islamists’ war against African Christians in Southern Sudan, and his agents began to buy property in the country in 1990. [15] In 1990, bin Laden was in Saudi Arabia during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and he reportedly approached the Saudi monarchs with a proposal to send mujahideen into Kuwait to fight the Iraqis. The Saudis joined the U.S.-led coalition instead, and took away bin Laden’s passport when he began to denounce the coalition. He fled the country in 1991 and soon moved to Sudan. [16] There, he and his operatives worked on reorienting the organization toward its more global mission following the end of the anti-Soviet jihad. The group continued training operations near the Afghan-Pakistani border, expanded its connections in Muslim countries, especially Somalia and Yemen, and bought weapons and technical equipment. [17][18] AQ established a network of businesses, NGOs, and private donors across the globe to grow the AQ arsenal and covertly support terrorist activities. Bin Laden also forged connections with extremist Islamist groups from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Oman, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Somalia, Eritrea, Chad, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Uganda, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. AQ began to provide equipment, training assistance, and recruits to Islamist insurgencies in the Philippines, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Tajikistan. AQ also reportedly played a role in a number of terrorist attacks throughout the early nineties by training operatives or providing equipment. AQ trainers allegedly trained the Somali militants that shot down two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters in 1993, for example, and AQ may have provided the explosives used in a car bombing against a Saudi-U.S. joint training facility in Riyadh in 1995. In many cases, it is impossible to prove AQ links to these attacks based on public information alone. A U.S. government report found no reliable information to prove that bin Laden was involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, which killed six in New York, although one of the major plotters was Ramzi Yousef, the nephew of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who would later play a major role in the 9/11 attacks. [19]

In 1995, after a failed assassination attempt on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak supported by bin Laden, the Sudanese government experienced increased international pressure to stop sheltering Islamist terrorists. Meanwhile, Sudanese currency had depreciated which, combined with increased pressure on AQ, created financial shortages in the organization. Under pressure in Sudan and not allowed back in Saudi Arabia, bin Laden returned to Afghanistan in May 1996. [20]

The Taliban provided bin Laden with safe haven, although it was wary of him. [21] AQ reportedly paid the Taliban between $10 and $20 million per year for the shelter. [22] In 1996, bin Laden declared war on the United States in an extensive fatwa published in the newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi. [23] [24] After the highly publicized fatwa, Saudi Arabia put pressure on the Taliban to quiet bin Laden.  Although he promised to avoid drawing too much attention, he later gave a highly publicized inflammatory interview to CNN in March 1997. [25] A year later, bin Laden and leaders of several other jihadist organizations made a sweeping declaration of global jihad from a camp in the mountainous Afghani-Pakistani border region, calling on all Muslims all across the world to kill Americans wherever they were. [26]

Meanwhile, Zawahiri had traveled around the world, including inside the U.S., raising funds and supporting jihadist movements. He returned to Afghanistan in May 1997 where he remained with bin Laden for the next four years. During this time, he still commanded EIJ attacks, and after the Egyptian government continued its crackdown against Islamist groups, Zawahiri was sentenced to death in absentia. [27] EIJ merged with AQ informally in 1998, and formally in June 2001. [28] [29]

In Afghanistan, AQ made more connections with other jihadist movements, recovered financially, and planned terrorist attacks. AQ-funded camps trained between 10,000 and 20,000 fighters between 1996 and 2001. While it collaborated with many different organizations and trained thousands of fighters, it kept its core membership small. [30]

In August 1998, AQ carried out car bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, killing 224. The act represented a shift from providing training, finances, and equipment to other groups carrying out terrorist attacks, to having full operational control of attacks. [31] In 2000, AQ members in Yemen bombed the USS Cole in Aden, killing seventeen American sailors. [32]

Between 1998 and 1999, AQ leadership began to plan the 9/11 attacks. According to AQ leadership and captured operatives, the goal of 9/11 was to provoke a U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, drawing the U.S. and its allies into the same kind of long war that drained the Soviet Union in the 1980s. [33] Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was the alleged operational manager of the attacks, arranging logistics and funding. Bin Laden also played a significant personal role, recruiting operatives and playing a large part in target selection. [34] [35] Around 2000, Mohammed Atta, an Egyptian architect, went to Kandahar to join AQ, and in early 2000 bin Laden put him in charge of on-the-ground operations for the coming attack. The operatives, including Atta, began to move to the U.S. in mid-2000. [36] On September 11, 2001, the nineteen operatives hijacked four planes, crashing three into the World Trade Center buildings and the Pentagon, while the fourth crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. The operation killed 2,973 people, likely caused almost $200 billion in physical and economic damage, and cost Al Qaeda between $400,000 and $500,000. [37] [38]

The September 11th attacks brought Al Qaeda and Islamist terrorism to the forefront of international security concerns, and also fundamentally changed the structure of AQ. After the U.S. began its pursuit of AQ in Afghanistan, bin Laden escaped a December 2001 battle at Tora Bora, near the Pakistani border, beginning a decade-long manhunt. Meanwhile, the CIA and the Northern Alliance, a political and military Afghan organization, worked together to overthrow the Taliban. [39] Despite bin Laden’s escape, the U.S. response, especially in Afghanistan, killed thousands of AQ operatives and U.S. forces and allies killed or arrested much of its mid-level leadership by 2005. As such, AQ’s dominant strategy since 2001 has been to encourage affiliate organizations to attack the West, sometimes with financial or operational support. [40] AQ gained affiliates post-9/11, as several groups either emerged or reoriented themselves to pledge allegiance to bin Laden. These groups included Al Qaeda in Yemen (AQY) (which later became Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP), Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which have been among the most deadly AQ affiliates throughout the 2000s. [41] For most preexisting groups, which largely focused on local issues, pledging allegiance to Al Qaeda meant adopting a more global jihadist worldview. However, they largely continued to carry out attacks in their own countries. While some AQ affiliates attacked western presence and interests in the Middle East, no affiliate made an attempt to attack the U.S. homeland until 2009. [42] Affiliate relationships sometimes posed challenges for AQ in addition to the obvious benefits such as expanded reach and local expertise. For example, AQI, which later became the Islamic State, had a troubled relationship with AQ from the beginning. After bin Laden accepted AQI as an affiliate in 2004, AQI’s leader, Zarqawi, consistently ignored warnings from AQ leadership to cut back on sectarian attacks and attacks that indiscriminately killed Muslims. [43] In 2005, AQI bombed Western-serving hotels in Amman, killing mostly Muslims, which caused a huge public backlash against Al Qaeda. AQI continued its disobedience throughout its time as an AQ affiliate.  {Cragin, R. Kim. "A Recent History Of Al-Qa'ida." The Historical Journal Hist. J. 57.03 (2014): 810. Web. 18 July 2015. [44]

The most well known AQ attacks since 9/11 have, for the most part, involved very little operational involvement from the core group of AQ leaders who planned 9/11. Instead, they were carried out largely by affiliates or by local actors who were inspired by AQ and other extremist clerics or organizations, and who may have received money and training from AQ. In October 2002, militants from the group Jemaah Islamiyah bombed two Bali nightclubs, killing 202. Jemaah Islamiyah operative Hambali, who reportedly was also counted among AQ leadership, planned the attacks and claimed to have received funding from AQ. [45] [46] [47] [48]  In November 2003, four truck bombs exploded in Istanbul, killing 58 and wounding about 750. Al Qaeda allegedly sponsored the attack that was carried out by local extremists. [49] On July 7, 2005, four suicide bombers detonated in the London Underground and on a London bus, killing 56 and wounding over 700. The bombers were British by birth, and most visited Pakistan before the attack. Al Qaeda claimed the bombings, but there is no clear evidence that shows that AQ directed the attack. [50] On December 25, 2009, AQAP made the first attempted attack against the U.S. homeland by an AQ affiliate when Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab known as the underwear bomber, failed to set off an explosive device on a plane. The next fall, AQAP attempted to bring down several planes through mail bombs. [51]

The search for bin Laden came to an end when U.S. Navy Seals killed him at his Abbottabad hideout in May 2011. Ayman al-Zawahiri succeeded him as AQ leader. [52] Bin Laden’s true control over AQ operations and overall strategy has been widely debated, with some experts claiming that he had little real power to command the organization, while others claim that he was heavily involved in most of AQ’s operations. [53] However, most sources agree that while followers widely viewed bin Laden as inspirational and charismatic, Zawahiri is not as likeable and remains unpopular with many members, despite his many years of high-level service to the group. [54]

Bin Laden’s death was followed by an aggressive U.S. drone strike campaign that killed Ilyas Kashmiri, an AQ operative and one of the most dangerous terrorists in South Asia, in April 2011; Atiyah abd al-Rahman, reportedly AQ’s second-in-command after Zawahiri, in August 2011; Rahman’s successor, Abu Yahya al-Libi, in June 2012; and Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the leader of Al Qaeda in in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the alleged new second-in-command after Zawahiri, in June 2015. Under the Obama administration, drone strikes reportedly killed at least thirty-four AQ leaders in Pakistan alone, along with over 230 AQ fighters. [55] [56] By some analysts’ measures, the amount of AQ leaders who have been killed by drones may be as low as two percent. [57] Others, however, point to the AQ’s decimated leadership as evidence that the organization is in decline, while another camp argues that the organization remains resilient and capable of continuing to carry out attacks, and has even expanded since the mid-2000s. [58] [59] [60] AQ core leadership remains on the Afghan-Pakistani border region and is weaker than it was before bin Laden’s death. Most of its affiliates did not appear to be planning attacks against the U.S. as late as 2013, when the last public information was available. [61]

During the Arab Spring, experts debated whether the movements and their results would strengthen or weaken Al Qaeda. The strongholds of AQ leadership—the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, Somalia, and Yemen—remained largely untouched by the clashes and political changes, and the effect of the Arab Spring on potential recruits is hard to measure. [62] The most significant result of the Arab Spring for Al Qaeda has been the expansion of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), which harnessed the Syrian civil war to grow dramatically in size and power. AQI changed its name to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and announced a merger with new AQ-affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, which operated in the Syrian civil war with the support of AQI/ISIS. When the commander of al-Nusra denied the merger, Zawahiri supported al-Nusra, saying that the organizations should remain separate. [63] ISIS’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, publicly rejected Zawahiri’s statement. [64] [65] ISIS continued to operate in Syria, often clashing with other Islamist groups and ignoring calls for mediation. Attempts at reconciliation with Al Qaeda leadership failed, and AQ officially renounced any connection with ISIS in February 2014, before it became the Islamic State (IS). [66] Now, the Islamic State is drawing pledges of allegiance from all over the world, including from some groups that had previously sworn allegiance to Al Qaeda. In some areas, fighting has broken out between IS and AQ supporters and some groups have splintered as members decide between AQ or IS affiliation. [67]

However, al-Nusra has become deeply entrenched in Syria, using the civil war to assert its leadership among Islamist groups fighting the government and IS. Similarly, the civil war in Yemen has provided AQAP with an opportunity to expand. It has taken control of territory in Sunni-majority parts of Yemen while the government largely focuses on fighting the Houthi rebellion in other parts of the country. [68]

Leadership

  1. Nasser al-Wuhayshi (Unknown to Unknown): Wuhayshi was the leader of AQAP and reportedly became the second-in-command of Al Qaeda soon before his death in June 2015, when he was killed by a U.S. drone strike. [69]
  2. Ayman al-Zawahiri (Unknown to Present): Zawhiri was AQ’s longtime second-in-command who became the group’s leader in 2011 when bin Laden was killed. Some analysts credit Zawahiri with controlling the group’s strategy before bin Laden’s death, while bin Laden acted as AQ’s figurehead. Others call Zawahiri, who comes from a family of politicians and religious scholars, AQ’s ideological mastermind. [70]
  3. ? Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, also known as Sheikh Saeed al-Masri (Unknown to May 22, 2010): Yazid was a founder and financial chief of AQ, and also was believed to be third in command of the group behind Zawahiri and bin Laden. He played a vital role in operational planning, especially attacks on Western forces in Afghanistan. Yazid was killed in May 2010 by a U.S. drone strike. [71]
  4. Atiyah abd al-Rahman (Unknown to August 22, 2011): Rahman, an AQ operative from Libya who was close with bin Laden, took over as AQ’s operational planner after bin Laden’s death, effectively serving at the organization’s second-in-command. He was killed by a U.S. drone strike in August 2011. [72]
  5. Abu Yahya al-Libi (Unknown to June 5, 2012): Libi was a Libyan Islamic scholar who played large role in AQ operations. He was reportedly second to Zawahiri when he was killed in a U.S drone strike in North Waziristan. [73]
  6. Osama bin Laden (1999 to May 2, 2011): Bin Laden was the Saudi-born founder and leader of Al Qaeda. He supported the Afghan resistance to the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, then began to target the U.S. and other Western influences with Al Qaeda. He was killed by U.S. Navy Seals in May 2011.[74]

Ideology & Goals

Al Qaeda aims to rid the Muslim world of Western influence, to destroy Israel, and to create an Islamic caliphate stretching from Spain to Indonesia that imposes strict Sunni interpretation of Shariah law. [75] [76] However, not all AQ members and affiliates agree on the same laws. Some argue that Shiites are also apostates, a disagreement that has caused rifts between AQ and its affiliates—for example, when AQI targeted Shiites in Iraq against the instructions of bin Laden. [77]

Name Changes

The name "Al Qaeda" comes from the name for one of the mujahedeen training camps established during the Afghan insurgency against the Soviet invasion in the 1980s. According to bin Laden in a tape interview with Al Jazeera in October 2001, the name was thought up by Abu Ebeida El-Banashiri in reference to one of these camps, and means "the foundation" or the "base". [78]

Size Estimates

The organization has an extremely tight-knit core leadership group, and mostly utilizes operatives from allied affiliate groups to carry out attacks. Estimates of core membership are generally less than 1,000, though second tier membership lies in the thousands to tens of thousands and outer shell support could be up to 100,000. [79]

Designated/Listed

Resources

While many analysts initially believed that bin Laden personally financed the majority of AQ activities through family inheritance, the CIA now reports that private donations funded most of the $30 million per year that it took to operate AQ before 9/11. A core group of fundraisers reportedly collected both from donors who knew the eventual destination of their money and those who did not, primarily in the Gulf States, while corrupt employees at charitable organizations siphoned money to AQ. Some charities, such as the Al Wafa Organization, were likely run entirely by AQ operatives to funnel money directly to AQ. [84] Allegations that AQ received funding from the Saudi state, relied heavily on drug trafficking, traded in conflict diamonds, and manipulated the stock market thanks to its advanced knowledge of 9/11 were found by the U.S. 9/11 Commission Report to be unsubstantiated. [85]

Recruitment of trainees and militants largely occurs through engagement with local tribes in Pakistan and Afghanistan, which at one time offered new recruits between $1,000-$1,500 per month plus numerous benefits and vacations in exchange for sworn allegiance and secrecy. [86] Decades of running training camps along the Afghan-Pakistani border has allowed AQ to pick the most promising candidates for recruitment into AQ.

External Influences

AQ has a fraught relationship with the Shiite state of Iran. Letters found in the Abbottabad house where bin-Laden was killed revealed that AQ was engaged in extensive negotiations for Iran to free AQ-affiliated individuals and members of bin Laden’s family, but that not all of the promises of the negotiations were being met. [87] However, as of 2013, the U.S. State Department claimed that Iran allowed AQ to operate a facilitation pipeline through the country in order to move fighters and resources to South Asia and Syria. [88] Iranian operatives also reportedly trained AQ members in explosives, intelligence, and security in the early 1990s. [89]

One of bin Laden’s earliest grievances was that Saudi Arabia allowed the presence of U.S. soldiers on Saudi soil. Now, Saudi Arabia counts Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) as the biggest terrorist threat to the Kingdom. [90] It has carried out military operations against the group in country, including a particularly effective crackdown around 2008 and 2009 that drove many AQAP members from Saudi Arabia. [91] However, some allege that members of the Saudi royal family maintained a relationship with AQ throughout the 1990s and made major donations to the group. [92] Some of Al Qaeda’s funding does appear to come from wealthy individuals in Saudi Arabia, but U.S. reports have not found evidence that the Saudi government or high-level Saudi officials contributed to Al Qaeda. [93] Some analysts argue that Saudi Arabia has been aware of these donations but has not taken enough action to stop it. [94] In 2014, Saudi Arabia outlawed support for AQ. [95]

Pakistan has a long history of interacting with militant Islamist organizations and has served as both a supporter and victim of extremist violence. When the U.S. and Saudi Arabia sent money to the mujahideen fighting the Soviet Union in the 1980s, it was funneled through Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI). [96] Pakistan, and the ISI in particular, continued to maintain a strong relationship with the Taliban. When bin Laden relocated from Sudan to Afghanistan in 1996, he likely did so with the knowledge of Pakistani officials, and military intelligence officers may even have facilitated his travel and introduced bin Laden to Taliban leaders in Khandahar with the hope that he would open his training camps to Kashmiri militants. [97] Pakistan’s ISI may interact with militant groups without the knowledge or consent of Pakistani officials, and some members of the Pakistani government have accused the ISI of failing to protect against militant Islamist attacks. [98]  Throughout its counterterrorism efforts in the region, U.S. officials regularly suspected that the ISI worked with bin Laden and warned him of U.S. efforts against him. [99] In the late 1990s, the U.S. urged Pakistan to press the Taliban to stop sheltering bin Laden, and later Pakistani prime minister Sharif requested U.S. assistance to train a Pakistani special forces team to go after bin Laden. The U.S. agreed, but the plan never came to fruition because Sharif was deposed by Musharraf in October 1999. [100] The U.S. continued to pressure Musharraf to crack down on bin Laden, but little came from the efforts. [101] Since 2001, AQ has used Pakistan as a safe haven. However, throughout the 2000s, AQ became increasingly confrontational with the Pakistani state, regularly calling for the government’s ouster and collaborating with militant Pakistani groups. In July 2007, after a high-profile confrontation between Islamist militants and the Pakistani government at the Red Mosque in Islamabad, AQ’s calls for violence against the government became more frequent. It has claimed responsibility for some attacks in Pakistan, has been suspected of others, and reportedly assists local militant groups that are actively fighting against the Pakistani government. [102] Bin Laden was found and killed a few hundred yards from a Pakistani military academy, and many experts speculate that at least some Pakistani officials must have known of his whereabouts. [103]

Geographical Locations

AQ’s leadership has largely operated out of Pakistan since the American invasion of Afghanistan. [104] It has a particularly strong presence there, in Somalia, and in Yemen. [105] As of 2013, Al Qaeda or AQ affiliates had significant presence in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Algeria, Mali, Libya, Niger, Tunisia, Morocco, and Nigeria. [106]

Targets & Tactics

Al Qaeda uses a wide variety of tactics to achieve their goals. AQ and its affiliates employ suicide bombings, IEDs, rocket & small arms attacks, grenades, kidnapping & hostage-taking, ransoms, hijackings, and propaganda to further these goals against a number of different countries, both in the Middle East and around the globe. Al Qaeda also has reportedly sought nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, and attempted to purchase weapons-grade uranium as early as 1997. [107] [108]

AQ and its affiliates have attempted and carried out a number of assassinations. It assassinated Ahman Shah Massoud, a powerful anti-Taliban military and political leader in Afghanistan, on September 9, 2001. [109]  [110] The group killed former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in a suicide bombing attack in 2007. [111] [112] It may have been involved in two assassination attempts against Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in 2003. [113] In addition to political leaders, it also reportedly was behind multiple attempts to kill Kurt Westergaard, the Danish cartoonist who published cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed. [114] AQ also allegedly trained at least one of the gunmen who attacked the offices of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, a publication on an AQ “most wanted” list, and may have funded the 2015 attack. [115] [116]

AQ and its affiliates target U.S. and western presence and interests in the Middle East, as well as political figures and security forces that attempt to prevent AQ from reaching its goal. AQ affiliates rarely attempt to attack the U.S. homeland, although AQAP was behind two attempted airplane attacks in the mid- to late-2000s. [117] Some analysts believe that AQ has not carried out another 9/11-scale attack partly because it is waiting for the resources and opportunity to undertake a larger attack. Others claim that AQ is not currently planning larger attacks because it is no longer capable, and instead is willing to rely on smaller, more achievable attacks. [118]

Political Activities

Core Al Qaeda has never engaged in the political process on any level. Bin Laden personally advocated for followers to focus on education and persuading others to join their cause, rather than political engagement with Islamic political parties. [119]

Major Attacks

  1. August 7, 1998: Two truck bombs detonated outside the U.S. embassies in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya. The significant majority of casualties occurred in Nairobi. The bombings took place on the 8th anniversary of U.S. troops' presence in Saudi Arabia. Al Qaeda and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility. (223 killed, 4,000+ wounded).[120]
  2. October 12, 2000: An AQAP suicide bomber drove a small watercraft towards the side of the hull of the U.S.S. Cole naval ship, detonating a large bomb stored on the watercraft upon impact. (17 killed, 39 wounded).[121]
  3. September 11, 2001: In the most destructive attack ever attributed to Al Qaeda, operatives hijacked four jetliners and piloted two into the World Trade Center towers and one into the Pentagon building. The fourth plane crashed in Pennsylvania, probably on route to an additional target. It was the first major foreign attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor, the most violent day in America’s history after the battle of Antietam in 1862, and resulted in economic damages valued at between $100 billion and $2 trillion. Following the attacks, the United States invaded Afghanistan to find and prosecute those responsible for the attacks, causing bin Laden and his organization to flee for remote regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. (2,996 killed, 6,000+ wounded).[122]
  4. November 15, 2003: Over two days (11/15 and 11/20, 2003), four truck bombs ran into 2 Jewish synagogues, a bank, and the British Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. The bombing at the British Consulate may have been coordinated with U.S. President Bush's meeting with Tony Blair, which occurred the day of the second bombing (11/20/2003). (67 killed, 700+ wounded).[123]
  5. March 11, 2004: After coordinated bombs went off on Madrid’s public transportation system, killing 191, a Spanish government investigation report found that AQ may have inspired the attacks, but that AQ had no involvement in the planning or operation of the bombings. Intelligence gathered after the investigation suggests that AQ may have facilitated and supervised the attack. (191 killed, 1820 wounded).[124]
  6. May 29, 2004: Seventeen members of the self-proclaimed "Jerusalem Squadron", attacked two oil industry buildings in Khobar, Saudi Arabia. The militants took 41 hostages, reportedly questioning and releasing only Muslim hostages prior to their standoff with police. Abdulaziz al-Muqrin, the leader of AQAP from 2003-2004, claimed responsibility for the attacks in an audio tape. (22 killed, 25 wounded).[125]
  7. July 7, 2005: Four British men detonated 3 bombs on the London Underground and one on a double-decker bus during morning rush hour in London. Al Qaeda claimed the bombings, but there is no direct evidence that shows that AQ directed the attack. (56 killed, 770+ wounded).[126]
  8. November 23, 2006: Al Qaeda in Iraq detonated a series of car bombs and carried out mortar attacks in Sadr City, Iraq. It was the deadliest sectarian attack since the beginning of the War in Iraq in 2003. (215+ killed, 257 wounded).[127]
  9. September 20, 2008: A truck bomb exploded at the Marriot Hotel in Islamabad. Intelligence officials suspected AQ, although the attack was never claimed. (40+ killed, 250+ wounded).[128]
  10. December 25, 2009: AQAP made the first attempted attack against the U.S. homeland by an AQ affiliate when Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab failed to set off an explosive device on a plane. (No casualties).[129]
  11. October 2010: AQAP sent bombs through cargo mail, attempting to down planes over the U.S. The bombs were discovered before the planes left for the U.S., but made it past several cargo screening facilities in different countries. (No casualties).[130]
  12. January 7, 2015: Two gunmen attacked the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris. The paper had previously been targeted by Islamic extremists for its satire of Islam, and was listed in an AQ “most wanted” list. AQAP claimed the attack, and there is evidence that at least one of the gunmen traveled to Yemen, participated in AQ training, and receiving funding for an attack. (12 killed, 11 wounded).[131]

Relationships with Other Groups

Al Qaeda’s network is a topic of significant research. AQ may seek affiliate relationships to increase its operational reach, gain local expertise, and boost its legitimacy across Muslim movements around the world. But affiliate organizations come with a variety of challenges, including disparate priorities and ideologies, expensive managerial structures, difficulty enforcing its requests, and problems with branding when affiliates act against AQ’s official ideology and tactics. [132] Some argue that the affiliated organizations make AQ significantly stronger and more deadly, while others argue that the organizational ties between AQ and its affiliates are operationally insignificant, or that the effort of maintaining the network is a burdensome strain on AQ core. [133]  In the past, many analysts assumed that the relationship between AQ and its affiliates was that of director and follower; AQ core would issue commands, and the affiliates would carry them out. However, the documents seized from Abbottabad when U.S. forces killed bin Laden in 2011 revealed more complex relationships. [134] There is sometimes overlap between AQ core and the leadership of its affiliate organizations. [135]

Beginning in 2014, as the Islamic State (IS) challenged AQ for dominance in the global jihadi movement, some groups have begun to pledge allegiance to the Islamic State, in some cases replacing their pledges to AQ. Notably, Boko Haram, which previously followed AQ, swore allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in March 2015. [136] [137] Controversies over allegiances have caused some groups to splinter as some members retain loyalty to AQ while others pledge to Baghdadi.

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is an Algerian-based Sunni Islamist militant group that supports the establishment of an Islamic state and the overthrow of the Algerian government. It was formed as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) in 1998 by a group of militants who defected from the Armed Islamic Group (GIA). In September 2006, Ayman al-Zawahiri announced a union between AQ and GSPC, and in January 2007 GSPC changed its name to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). [138] AQIM carries out small arms attacks, assassinations, suicide bombings, and kidnappings to achieve its goal of expelling Western influence from North Africa and establishing Islamist governments in the region. [139] AQIM remains loyal to Zawahiri according to a pledge made in July 2014, but its membership is fragmented between supporters of the Islamic State and AQ. [140] In September 2014, an AQIM regional commander split from AQ, taking AQIM members with him to form a new militant group that pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. [141]

Al Qaeda in Yemen (AQY)
was the Yemeni affiliate of the Al Qaeda organization. Coming into existence in 2000 with the USS Cole bombing, AQY became the dominant jihadist player in Yemen. AQY targeted Western interests and individuals in Yemen as well as the Yemeni government. In 2009 it merged with its Saudi counterpart under the umbrella of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. (See AQAP)

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), an extremist organization of Saudis and Yemenis, is considered one of the greatest terrorist threats to the United States, regularly attempting to attack the U.S. and U.S. interests in addition to its fight against the Saudi government and its participation in the civil war in Yemen. [142]  After a government offensive in Saudi Arabia, Al Qaeda was nearly extinguished in the country when its remaining members fled to merge with AQY in 2009 under the name Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). AQAP became one of the most active strains of Al Qaeda activity and is is deeply embedded in Yemeni tribal society. AQAP's tactics are modern and innovative, as seen by their English magazine Inspire and their techniques used to penetrate security systems utilized in the Christmas Day bombing attack in 2009 and the parcel bombing attack in 2010. [143] Of all AQ affiliates, AQAP has always had the closest ties to AQ core leadership. However, those ties do not prevent disagreements. [144] Captured letters between bin Laden and other AQ leaders revealed that bin Laden worried about AQAP’s aggressive plans to expand and declare a caliphate in Yemen, as well as its targeting of local security forces rather than the United States. [145] While AQAP published a message of support for the Islamic State (IS) in 2014, it rejected IS’ claim on territory in Yemen, and reportedly have engaged in gunfights with IS members in Yemen in 2015. [146] [147] [148]

Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) AQI was the first affiliate organization formally accepted by AQ and the only one personally announced by bin Laden. [149] The relationship between Al Qaeda and AQI/ISIS had a rocky foundation that ultimately led to Zawahiri severing the relationship. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who had worked with AQ leaders before establishing his own group, approached AQ to begin a formal relationship. The affiliation process took about ten months, and by the end of 2004 bin Laden publicly affirmed the relationship. AQ gained a leading role in the highly visible Iraq War, while AQI gained legitimacy and recognition as an AQ affiliate, which had positive implications for funding and recruiting. [150] Early problems included AQI’s intentional targeting of Shiites, which AQ did not condone, and AQI’s extremely strict interpretation of Shariah law, which resulted in attacks on other Sunnis, like men who smoked and women who refused to wear the niqab. [151] AQI’s 2005 bombing of Western hotels in Amman, which killed mostly Muslims, caused a huge public backlash and drew private criticism from AQ leadership. {Cragin, R. Kim. "A Recent History Of Al-Qa'ida." The Historical Journal Hist. J. 57.03 (2014): 810. Web. 18 July 2015. Zarqawi ignored warnings against the behavior from AQ core leadership, and although there was backlash against AQI that reflected poorly on AQ in jihadist communities, the prominence of the Iraq conflict made it impossible for AQ to drop the relationship altogether. The disagreements between AQI and AQ continued after Zarqawi’s death and into Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s tenure. [152]  Bin Laden would later invoke AQI’s behavior and the backlash against it when he encouraged other leaders to heed his advice. [153]  (See the Islamic State section below for more current information.)

Al Qaeda Kurdish Battalions (AQKB) is a militant Islamist organization founded in 2007 through the merger of other Kurdish terrorist organizations. It operates along the Iranian border with Iraq. [154] AQKB allegedly severed ties with the Islamic State and reaffirmed its commitment to AQ in April 2014. [155]

Al Shabaab is an Islamist militant group that primarily focuses on creating a Shariah-run state in Somalia. [32] The U.S. believes that Al Shabaab is able to carry out its attacks due to an influx of money and training from foreign jihadists linked to Al Qaeda.[33] While Al Shabaab has openly claimed affiliation with Al Qaeda since 2007, the group was accused of hosting Al Qaeda cells as early as 2002 when the AQ cells were reportedly planning the twin attacks on Israeli targets close to the Kenyan resort of Mombasa. [34] Many Al Shabaab leaders have trained at Al Qaeda camps, including Al Shabaab leader Ibrahim Haji Jama, who trained with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and Tariq Abdullah, who was Al Qaeda's leader in East Africa and is reportedly the financier for its African operations. [37] In addition, Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, killed in a U.S. raid in September 2009, was a senior All Qaeda leader who trained terrorists in Somalia and took the lead in coordinating relations between Al Shabaab and Al Qaeda. [38] Adan Hashi Ayro, the first leader of Al Shabab, was also a top AQ operative in East Africa. [39] In March 2007, Sheikh Abu Yahy al-Liby, head of the Al Qaeda in Libya, called Al Shabaab, "the lions of Somalia and champions of the deserts and jungles," while Zawahiri and Bin Laden have praised Al Shabaab and issued statements to, "call on the international mujahedeen to rush to the aid of their Muslim brothers in Somalia."[40] However, in 2010, bin Laden denied an Al Shabaab request for official recognition as an AQ affiliate, citing concerns that such an affiliation would both make Al Shabaab a bigger target and that foreign aid to impoverished Muslims in Somalia might be compromised if the association was made public. [156] A letter to bin Laden, probably from Zawahiri, critiqued the decision to not accept Al Shabaab’s pledge. [157] In 2012, after bin Laden’s death, AQ and Al Shabaab reportedly released a joint video in which Al Shabaab leader Mukhtar Abu al-Zubayr pledged allegiance to Zawahiri and Zawahiri accepted the pledge. [158]

Jabhat al-Nusra is affiliated with AQ and has pledged allegiance to the organization, serving as its only official branch in the Syrian conflict after global AQ emir Ayman al-Zawahiri publicly disowned ISIS following months of ISIS disobedience to AQ orders. [159] Al Nusra has emerged as a leader of Islamist rebels in Syria, regarded as one of the most effective groups fighting the government and the Islamic State. Beginning in 2012, Al Nusra began to harbor the so-called “Khorasan Group,” an experienced cell of AQ jihadists that planned to use the relatively ungoverned territory to develop international terror plots. [160]

Other groups with notable ties to Al Qaeda include:

Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) is a militant  Filipino criminal and terrorist organization that seeks to establish an independent Islamic state for Muslim Filipinos. [161] ASG leader Abdurajak Janjalani had a close relationship with Osama bin Laden, which influenced Janjalani’s decision to create ASG and strengthened the affiliation between the two groups. [162] AQ allegedly provided funding and training in ASG’s early stages, and although a Phillipine military report alleged that AQ had provided support in 2000, the exact state of the AQ-ASG relationship has been unclear since the mid-1990s. [163] If the relationship did continue, it has been threatened by the Islamic State (IS) in 2014, with some ASG leaders and members pledging support to IS. [164]

Ansar al-Islam (AI) is a Sunni extremist group made up primarily of Iraqi Kurds. Some AI members participated in the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan, and have reportedly received financial and ideological support from Al Qaeda leaders.[41] In 2003 the U.S. State Department claimed that AI hosted a training camp for then-AQI leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and that one of the senior AI leaders was also an AQ operative, but AI leader Najmeddin Faraj Ahmad denied links with AQ in the early 2000s. [165] The relationship between AQ and AI has been unclear throughout the 2000s. [166]

The Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) is a militant organization that emerged in the late-1970s with the intention of overthrowing the secular Egyptian government and installing an Islamic administration. The group opposes Western influence in the Muslim world. In 2001, the EIJ shifted its ideological focus and parts of EIJ merged with AQ after a terrorism campaign in Egypt. [167]

The Haqqani Network (HN) is an Islamist nationalist militant organization based out of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas in Northern Pakistan. It has always prioritized the local goal of driving foreign influences from Afghanistan, although since the U.S.-led counterterrorism efforts after 9/11, its members have reportedly adopted a broader view of global jihad. [168]  It has a long history of cooperation with Al Qaeda and other Islamist groups, and has been hugely influential in AQ’s formation and survival, from hosting AQ members and camps in the 1980s to helping AQ escape from Afghanistan after U.S. forces toppled the Taliban. [169]

Much of HN’s strength and influence comes from its strategic location in the mountainous border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan, a crossroads between battlefields for many jihadis and a relatively safe haven from security forces. There, it has hosted members of different groups, leading to new connections between organizations. [170] By being relatively open to Arab mujahideen in the 1980s, in contrast to other Afghan jihadi groups, HN ended up hosting a number of future AQ leaders as they used HN territory as a base for fighting against the Soviets. [171] In the mid-1980s, the emir of HN, Jalaluddin Haqqani, granted bin Laden land for training and sheltering Afghan Arabs and one training camp bin Laden built there became known as al-Qa’ida al-‘Askariyya, “the military base,” Al Qaeda’s namesake. [172] HN continued to provide protection for AQ after 9/11, and the groups have carried out attacks cooperatively; one of Jalaluddin Haqqani’s sons was killed in a firefight alongside a reported regional AQ commander in July 2008. [173]

Harkat-ul-Mujahedeen (HuM) is a Sunni Islamist group based in Kashmir. HuM’s former leader, Fazlur Rehman Khalil, has ties to bin Laden, and he signed bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa calling for jihad against Americans. [174]

Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami (HuJI) was founded in Afghanistan and was part of the fight against the Soviet Union. A number of its members trained at AQ camps, and some members reportedly split from HuJ to join AQ. [175] Its leader and founder, Qari Saifullah Akhtar, once commanded an AQ unit called Brigade 313. [43]  

Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) is an Islamist militant group who has sought to install a Shariah-based Islamic government in Uzbekistan since 1991. Although it had stronger ties with Tahreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) than AQ, it also reportedly maintained a relationship with Al Qaeda. [176] In March 2015, however, IMU leader Uthman Ghazi pledged recognized the Islamic State’s Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as caliph. [177]

The Islamic State (ISIS, IS): See Al Qaeda in Iraq, above, for information before 2014.

After entering the Syrian Civil War, AQI became the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and subsequently the Islamic State (IS). The first big conflict between IS and AQ came when IS declared that it had merged with AQ affiliate Al Nusra, and Al Nusra denied the merger. Zawahiri ruled in favor of Al Nusra and decreed that the two organizations would continue to operate independently of one another. He also appointed AQ leader Abu Khalid al-Suri to mediate the conflict in Syria and ensure that his orders were followed. [178]

In February 2014, after IS’s repeated refusals to heed Zawahiri’s commands and make peace with other Islamist groups in Syria, AQ formally severed the affiliate relationship. [179] Later that month, Abu Khalid al-Suri, Zawahiri’s delegate to Syria and a leader of Ahrar al-Sham, was killed in a suicide bombing, and many Islamists blamed ISIS. [180]

As IS has gained global notoriety and grown in strength, jihadist groups around the world have begun to pledge allegiance to the group, some renouncing their allegiance to Al Qaeda to do so. Many experts believe that AQ and IS are locked in a competition for leadership of global jihad. [181]

Jemmah Islamiyah (JI) is an extremist group based in Indonesia that seeks to overthrow the government to create a pan-Islamic state in Southeast Asia. AQ reportedly provided training, resources, and advising to JI leaders from its creation, beginning in the late 1980s. Some JI members received training in AQ affiliated camps in Afghanistan during the mid-1990s. [182] Multiple individuals from JI have either worked for or maintained close ties with both JI and AQ. For example Hambali, JI’s operational leader and a head of a regional JI council until his 2003 arrest by Thai officials, was also reportedly AQ’s director of operations in East Asia. [183] He was reportedly a key factor in the relationship between AQ and JI, and his appreciation of AQ’s ideology and goals oriented him to attack Western targets. Analysts also agree that AQ influences JI ideologically and encouraged attacks on the West like the 2002 Bali bombing. However, it appears that AQ’s influence on the group has declined since the early years of JI. [184]

Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) has held active ties with Al Qaeda since the early 1990s through its operational commander Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, who is the brother-in-law of a bin Laden deputy, Abu Abdur Rahman Sareehi. [185] LeT actively collaborated with Al Qaeda post-9/11. LeT leaders were reportedly paid $100,000 USD to protect Al Qaeda leaders of Arab origin in Pakistan, house their families and arrange for their travel from Pakistan. In March 2002, senior Al Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah was captured at an LeT safe house in Faisalabad. [186]

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) is a prominent militant organization in Pakistan known best for its anti-Shiite attacks. It has ties to Al Qaeda, including overlapping membership. For example, one jihadist commander, Qari Rehman (also known as Abdul Samad) served as both a chief operational commander for LeJ and a planning director for AQ. [187] [188]

Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) is an extremist Islamist group in Pakistan that aims to undermine Indian control over the Indian Administered Kashmir (IAK). JeM’s leader, Masood Azhar, allegedly met with Osama bin Laden and secured his support to create JeM in the late 1990s or early 2000s. Although some analysts allege close ties between AQ and JeM, the extent and type of assistance that AQ provides is at present unknown. [189] [190]

Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is the Pakistani Taliban, based out of the numerous Pakistan provinces and carrying out attacks only within Pakistan. The TTP was closely allied with Al Qaeda, and relied on it for financial, logistical and ideological support. TTP allegedly assisted in AQ attacks in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.[191] As time went on, however, bin Laden became personally opposed to the tactics and methods of the TTP, leading to a strained relationship. A 2010 letter from AQ core to TTP chastised TTP for its ideology and tactics, particularly its indiscriminate violence and the killing of Muslims, and threatened public action if TTP did not correct its errors. [192]

The Taliban has a complex relationship with Al Qaeda. The groups were reportedly suspicious of each other throughout their history. However, the Taliban did harbor Al Qaeda beginning in the 1990s, allegedly for a price of $10 million to $20 million per year. [193] Mullah Omar, the former leader of the Taliban, was particularly bothered by bin Laden’s attention-grabbing media appearances and fatwas. [194] After bin Laden issued his 1996 fatwa from Taliban lands, he reportedly promised Omar that he would draw less attention to the region, but soon gave a highly-publicized interview with CNN promising to attack the West. [195] Omar allegedly exclaimed, “How dare he [bin Laden] give a press conference without my permission! There will be one ruler in Afghanistan, either I or Osama bin Laden.” [196] He then asked bin Laden to move to Khandahar, likely so that he could keep a better eye on AQ activities. [197]

However, the two groups continued to collaborate. On September 9, 2001, Al Qaeda operatives assassinated Ahmad Shah Massoud, an Afghani political and military leader of the Northern Alliance, the Taliban’s most significant opposition in Afghanistan. A Taliban offensive against the Northern Alliance was coordinated with the assassination, suggesting that AQ carried out the attack for the Taliban. [198]While the Taliban and AQ cooperated against the Northern Alliance and American forces in Afghanistan after 9/11, underlying tensions did not disappear, and the strength of the relationship between the two groups has often been overstated in the media since then. [199]

Community Relationships

The majority of supporters for Al Qaeda during its inception and development were mujahedeen fighters in the post-Cold War environment, seeking to install Islamic government in the Muslim world. Currently, a significant portion of Al Qaeda members are tribal leaders and former madrasa students, oftentimes of Pakistani descent. Al Qaeda has a positive relationship with some parts of the Pashtun community; bin Laden himself was Pashtun and frequently referenced it in his statements.  Recruiting trainees and militants largely occurs through engagement with local tribes in Pakistan and Afghanistan, with offers of pay for new recruits between $1,000-$1,500 per month plus numerous benefits and vacations in exchange for sworn allegiance and secrecy. [200]

Support for AQ among Muslims has declined since the early 2000s. Between 2003 and 2011, support for bin Laden among Muslim publics dropped by 38 points. [201] A 2013 Pew survey found that a median of 13% of Muslims across 11 Muslim-majority countries had a favorable view of AQ, while a median of 57% had an unfavorable view. [202]

The letters found in bin Laden’s Abbottabad hideout revealed bin Laden’s ongoing concern with the image and status of AQ as a leader in the jihadi movement. [203] A significant part of his concern came from actions of the affiliate organizations, which reflect on AQ even when they are not approved by AQ leadership. Large-scale attacks, especially indiscriminate attacks that kill Muslims, have drawn backlash from the Muslim community. For example, when AQI bombed Western hotels in Amman against the wishes of AQ, tens of thousands of Jordanians took to the streets to protest AQ and support the king of Jordan. [204] AQ must balance the support of their affiliates with their reputation with the Muslim community at large. In the case of the Jordanian bombings, it chose its relationship with its affiliate, rebuking AQI leader Zarqawi privately, but not issuing a public apology or repudiation. [205]

In 2007, attempting to boost its support in the Muslim world, AQ increased outreach over the internet and made its instructions on when and how to carry out terrorist attacks public to separate itself from some of the more indiscriminate attacks of its affiliates. [206] In spring of 2008, Zawahiri conducted an online Q&A to address critics and the concerns of potential supporters. [207]

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