Twenty-two Years After 9/11 Terror Attacks, Al-Qaeda Threat Remains

(New York, N.Y.) — Twenty-two years ago, al-Qaeda terrorists killed nearly 3,000 civilians and injured thousands more in the deadliest terror attacks in history, prompting the U.S. to shift its military and intelligence focus to disrupting and destroying the organization’s infrastructure in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the years since, however, the terrorist group has established five major regional affiliates in the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, East Africa, Syria, and the Indian subcontinent. The terrorist group has launched multiple attacks this year and once again has a growing base in Afghanistan. 

To read CEP’s resource Al-Qaeda, please click here.

Since its founding in 1988, al-Qaeda has played a role in innumerable terrorist attacks, including the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the 2002 Bali bombing, the 2003 Saudi Arabia bombings, the 2004 Madrid bombing, and the 2005 London bombing. It is also responsible for several failed operations, including the 2009 Christmas Day plane bombing attempt and the Times Square and cargo plane bombing attempts in 2010.

Following the May 2011 death of Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda’s affiliates have taken on more central roles as al-Qaeda’s core became more decentralized. Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri brokered mergers with several Islamist groups, including al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (previously the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat or GSPC) and al-Shabaab before he died in 2021. In February 2023, the U.S. Department of State confirmed that Saif al-Adel is Zawahiri’s de facto successor and is currently being harbored by Iran. 

Al-Qaeda and its affiliates continue to conduct attacks worldwide. On June 9, 2023, al-Shabaab was suspected of carrying out two attacks, one in Mogadishu, where they detonated an explosive, killing nine and injuring 20 others, and another in Qoryoley in southern Somalia, where a child accidentally struck an explosive device reportedly placed by al-Shabaab. In August 2023, the FBI arrested a 17-year-old in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on suspicion of gathering bomb-making material and communicating with al-Qaeda-linked Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad in Syria. Later that month, al-Qaeda militants in northwest Syria detonated explosives in tunnels underneath army positions, killing at least 11 and wounding 20 others. A June 2023 U.N. report also warned that terror groups are taking advantage of having “great freedom” to “maneuver” under Taliban rule in Afghanistan. The report gathered evidence that al-Qaeda and ISIS’s Afghan affiliates have grown substantially in Afghanistan since the 2021 withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Counter Extremism Project (CEP) CEO Ambassador Mark D. Wallace said, “Terrorism did not begin nor end with the tragedy of September 11. However, the attacks showed that groups like al-Qaeda are highly motivated to attack the United States on its territory. Recent events in Afghanistan have ignited concerns that the country will once again become a sanctuary to jihadist groups, which could plot and direct attacks against the U.S. and its allies. There is still much work to do to combat terrorists and the regimes that enable or harbor them.”

To read CEP’s resource Al-Qaeda, please click here.

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On May 8, 2019, Taliban insurgents detonated an explosive-laden vehicle and then broke into American NGO Counterpart International’s offices in Kabul. At least seven people were killed and 24 were injured.

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