Osama bin Laden founded al-Qaeda during the latter stages of the Soviet-Afghan War with the goal of waging global jihad. Since its founding in 1988, al-Qaeda has played a role in innumerable terrorist attacks, and is most notoriously responsible for the multiple attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. The 9/11 terror attacks—the deadliest ever on American soil—left nearly 3,000 people dead and provoked the United States to wage war against al-Qaeda in the group’s home bases in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other sanctuaries worldwide. Since then, the group has established five major regional affiliates pledging their official allegiance to al-Qaeda: in the Arabian Peninsula, North Africa, East Africa, Syria, and the Indian subcontinent.
In addition to directing and carrying out the 9/11 attacks, al-Qaeda is responsible for terrorist atrocities across the globe, 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. Al-Qaeda is also responsible for several failed operations, including the 2009 Christmas Day plane bombing attempt, the 2010 Times Square bombing attempt, and the 2010 cargo plane bombing attempt. Today, al-Qaeda’s structure is increasingly decentralized, with affiliates acting semi-autonomously as extensions of al-Qaeda’s core mission. These affiliates carry out fatal terrorist attacks and hostage operations, and wage war under the al-Qaeda banner. Although al-Qaeda maintains affiliates worldwide, some of its affiliates have pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda’s former affiliate in Iraq and current competitor, ISIS. However, despite the dramatic rise of ISIS since 2013, the Pentagon, the National Counterterrorism Center, and the U.S. House Intelligence Committee have all forcefully stressed that al-Qaeda remains a critical terrorist threat.“Special Issue: The Al-Qa’ida Threat 14 Years Later,” Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, September 2015, https://www.hsdl.org/?view&did=787133; Eric Schmitt, “ISIS or Al Qaeda? American Officials Split Over Top Terrorist Threat,” New York Times, August 4, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/05/world/middleeast/isis-or-al-qaeda-american-officials-split-over-biggest-threat.html?_r=0. This assessment was borne out in January 2015, when al-Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), was credited with the deadly attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo that left 12 people dead. Despite important strategic and ideological differences, Zawahiri has indicated that future cooperation with ISIS is not out of the question, for the ultimate goal of destroying the United States or, in the event of ISIS’s own destruction, absorbing its fighters into a reinvigorated al-Qaeda.Carla E. Humud, “Al Qaeda and U.S. Policy: Middle East and Africa,” Congressional Research Service, August 11, 2016, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/R43756.pdf In April 2017, Iraqi Vice President Ayad Allawi confirmed that al-Qaeda was seeking an alliance with ISIS, as Iraqi forces closed in on Mosul, ISIS’s last key stronghold. Allawi claimed discussions were occurring between representatives of Baghdadi and Zawahiri.“Islamic State seeking alliance with al Qaeda, Iraqi vice president says,” Reuters, April 17, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-iraq-islamic-state-idUSKBN17J1DT
Al-Qaeda is a jihadist network that seeks to establish a caliphate (global Muslim state) under sharia (Islamic law). In 1996, bin Laden issued a declaration of jihad against the United States and its allies, the contents of which continue to serve as the three cornerstones of al-Qaeda’s doctrine: to unite the world’s Muslim population under sharia; to liberate the “holy lands” from the “Zionist-Crusader” alliance, and to alleviate perceived economic and social injustices.“Bin Laden’s Fatwa,” PBS Newshour, August 23, 1996,http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/military-july-dec96-fatwa_1996/.
Ultimately, al-Qaeda believes that it is fighting a “defensive jihad” against the United States and its allies, defending Muslim lands from the “new crusade led by America against the Islamic nations…”http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/terror/RL32759.pdf. In his 1996 declaration of jihad against the United States, Osama bin Laden justified the use of force by citing 13th century Islamic scholar Ibn Taymiyyah: “To fight in defence of religion and Belief is a collective duty; there is no other duty after Belief than fighting the enemy who is corrupting the life and the religion. There [are] no preconditions for this duty and the enemy should be fought with [one’s] best abilities.”“Bin Laden’s Fatwa,” PBS Newshour, August 23, 1996,http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/military-july-dec96-fatwa_1996/.
Since then, the group has adapted its strategy in an effort to meet its evolving goals. In 2005, details of al-Qaeda’s 20-year strategy to implement its ideology emerged. Following a series of interviews and correspondence with senior al-Qaeda officials by Jordanian journalist Fouad Hussein, he described the “stages” leading to the ultimate objective of establishing a caliphate. According to Hussein, the first stage was the “awakening stage,” which ranged from the 9/11 attacks to the U.S. taking over Baghdad in 2003.Yassin Musharbash, “The Future of Terrorism: What al-Qaida Really Wants,” Spiegel Online, August 12, 20015, http://www.spiegel.de/international/the-future-of-terrorism-what-al-qaida-really-wants-a-369448.html; Radwan Mortada, “Al-Qaeda’s 20-Year Plan,” Al-Akhbar English, January 29, 2014, http://english.al-akhbar.com/node/18437. This period was then to be followed by the “opening eyes” stage which was expected to last between 2003 and 2006. According to Hussein, this stage entailed enhanced al-Qaeda operations in the Middle East, centralizing power in Iraq, and establishing bases in other Arabic states. The third stage, “Arising and Standing Up,” was staged to last between 2007 and 2010 and was focused on goading Syria to conduct attacks on Israel and Turkey. The following three years, 2010 to 2013, would involve the overthrow of Arabic monarchies and cyber-attacks on the United States economy. The declaration of the caliphate would come between 2013 and 2016.Yassin Musharbash, “The Future of Terrorism: What al-Qaida Really Wants,” Spiegel Online, August 12, 20015, http://www.spiegel.de/international/the-future-of-terrorism-what-al-qaida-really-wants-a-369448.html; Radwan Mortada, “Al-Qaeda’s 20-Year Plan,” Al-Akhbar English, January 29, 2014, http://english.al-akhbar.com/node/18437.
However, al-Qaeda’s planned declaration of a caliphate was usurped by ISIS. In September 2015, on the eve of the 14th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri denounced ISIS for its so-called unilateral and premature imposition of a caliphate without coordination with other jihadist groups through sharia courts, which he calls the “prophetic method.”James Gordon Meek, “Al Qaeda Leader Al-Zawahiri Declares War on ISIS ‘Caliph’ Al-Baghdadi,” ABC News, September 10, 2015, http://abcnews.go.com/International/al-qaeda-leader-al-zawahiri-declares-war-isis/story?id=33656684. In particular, Zawahiri expressed his dismay that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had anointed himself the fourth caliph “without consulting the Muslims.”James Gordon Meek, “Al Qaeda Leader Al-Zawahiri Declares War on ISIS ‘Caliph’ Al-Baghdadi,” ABC News, September 10, 2015, http://abcnews.go.com/International/al-qaeda-leader-al-zawahiri-declares-war-isis/story?id=33656684. Zawahiri also strongly criticized infighting among jihadist groups, especially the killing of other Muslims because, according to Zawahiri, it distracted from the overriding goal of destroying the United States.Carla E. Humud, “Al Qaeda and U.S. Policy: Middle East and Africa,” Congressional Research Service, August 11, 2016, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/R43756.pdf.
Since then, and despite the local-oriented activities of al-Qaeda’s regional affiliates, Zawahiri has maintained that the group’s primary target is the United States and “its ally Israel, and secondly its local allies that rule our countries.”Ayman al-Zawahiri, “General Guidelines for Jihad,” As-Sahab Media, September 2013, https://azelin.files.wordpress.com/2013/09/dr-ayman-al-e1ba93awc481hirc4ab-22general-guidelines-for-the-work-of-a-jihc481dc4ab22-en.pdf. Despite al-Qaeda’s criticism of ISIS, Zawahiri has not ruled out the possibility of cooperating with ISIS, or absorbing its fighters if ISIS is eventually defeated.Carla E. Humud, “Al Qaeda and U.S. Policy: Middle East and Africa,” Congressional Research Service, August 11, 2016, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/R43756.pdf. In April 2017, the Iraqi vice president confirmed that an al-Qaeda-ISIS merger was a possibility as the government had seen reports of high-level talks between the two groups.“Islamic State seeking alliance with al Qaeda, Iraqi vice president says,” Reuters, April 17, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-iraq-islamic-state-idUSKBN17J1DT.
Al-Qaeda’s central command, which includes current leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and his top aides, has traditionally been headquartered in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Al-Qaeda has long pledged allegiance to the Afghan-based Taliban, which provided sanctuary to al-Qaeda after the United States turned its military focus on the group following the 9/11 attacks. In June 2016, Zawahiri reaffirmed al-Qaeda’s allegiance by publicly endorsing the Taliban’s new leader, Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada.“Al Qaeda’s Zawahiri backs new Taliban chief Askhundzada,” Deutsche Welle, June 11, 2016, http://www.dw.com/en/al-qaedas-zawahiri-backs-new-taliban-chief-akhundzada/a-19323475.
Since the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent U.S.-led campaign against the organization’s base of operations, al-Qaeda spawned affiliate groups that have spread throughout North Africa and the Sahel, East Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and most recently, South Asia. Despite the affiliates’ dispersal over such a vast area, the commander of each branch has pledged allegiance to—and takes operational directions from—al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.Thomas Joscelyn, “Global Al Qaeda: Affiliates, Objectives, and Future Challenges,” Long War Journal, July 18, 2013, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2013/07/global_al_qaeda_affi.php#
In North Africa and the Sahel, al-Qaeda is represented by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and its breakaway factions. In East Africa, the group is represented by Somali-based al-Shabaab. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which many security analysts believe poses the greatest security threat to Western targets, operates primarily in Yemen. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Subcontinent (AQIS) is the most recent regional al-Qaeda affiliate to be established, operating chiefly in India, Bangladesh, as well as in the traditional al-Qaeda “home” countries of Afghanistan and Pakistan. For years, al-Qaeda has sustained a formal affiliate in Syria, the Nusra Front. In July 2016, the groups announced that they had split, a move which some analysts have dismissed as artificial.Thomas Joscelyn, “Analysis: Al Nusrah Front rebrands itself as Jabhat Fath Al Sham,” Long War Journal, July 28, 2016, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2016/07/analysis-al-nusrah-front-rebrands-itself-as-jabhat-fath-al-sham.php.
Recent developments suggest that al-Qaeda’s primacy of command is not exclusive to the group’s geographical base in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In August 2013, Zawahiri appointed Nasir al-Wuhayshi, former head of AQAP, as deputy leader of al-Qaeda’s global organization.Eli Lake, “Meet al Qaeda’s New General Manager: Nasser al-Wuhayshi,” Daily Beast, August 9, 2013, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/08/09/meet-al-qaeda-s-new-general-manager-nasser-al-wuhayshi.html. After Wuhayshi died in a U.S. airstrike in June 2015, Zawahiri appointed deputy leader Abu Khayr al-Masri, who was also killed in a U.S. airstrike. Hamdi Alkhshali and Barbara Starr, “Deputy al Qaeda leader killed In Syria,” CNN, February 28, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/27/middleeast/deputy-al-qaeda-leader-killed/index.html; Ray Sanchez and Paul Cruickshank, “Syria’s al-Nusra rebrands and cuts ties with al Qaeda,” CNN, August 1, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/28/middleeast/al-nusra-al-qaeda-split/ Zawahiri reportedly groomed Osama bin Laden’s son Hamza bin Laden for a senior leadership role prior to Hamza bin Laden’s death in 2019. Dugald McConnell and Brian Todd, “Latest al Qaeda propaganda highlights bin Laden’s son,” CNN, May 15, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/15/middleeast/al-qaeda-bin-laden-son/index.html
The 2011 death of bin Laden compounded with the deaths or arrests of other al-Qaeda leaders have degraded the group’s communications, financial support, and facilitation of terror attacks, according to the U.S. State Department. Nevertheless, al-Qaeda’s core remains a source of inspiration for its affiliate groups, according to the State Department. “Country Reports on Terrorism 2016,” U.S. Department of State, July 2017, 433, https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/272488.pdf
On November 13, 2020, there were reports that Zawahiri may be dead or at least “completely off the grid.” The claim came from Hassan Hassan, the director of the U.S.-based Center for Global Policy (CGP), who has closely monitored the militant group’s activities over the years. According to Hassan—who corroborated the claim with sources close to al-Qaeda—Zawahiri had been seriously ill and had possibly died in mid-October due to natural causes.Daniel L. Byman, “The death of Ayman al-Zawahri and the future of al-Qaida,” Brookings, November 17, 2020, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2020/11/17/the-death-of-ayman-al-zawahri-and-the-future-of-al-qaida/; Hassan Hassan, Twitter, November 13, 2020, https://twitter.com/hxhassan/status/1328378494611492865?s=20. According to Arab News on November 20, security sources in Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as an al-Qaeda translator with close ties to the group, claimed Zawahiri died in Ghazni, Afghanistan from “asthma because he had no formal treatment.” The exact date of Zawahiri’s death was not released, but a Pakistani anti-terror security officer claims Zawahiri died sometime in November 2020.Baker Atyani and Sayed Salahuddin, “Al-Qaeda chief Zawahiri has died in Afghanistan — sources,” Arab News, November 20, 2020, https://www.arabnews.pk/node/1765746/world; Tim Stickings, “Al-Qaeda's leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has died, reports claim terror chief Ayman al-Zawahiri has died in Afghanistan from 'asthma-related breathing issues',” Daily Mail, November 20, 2020, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8970231/Al-Qaedas-leader-Ayman-al-Zawahiri-died-reports-claim.html. It is suspected that Saif al-Adel, one of Zawahiri’s chief deputies, is next in line to succeed Zawahiri as the leader of al-Qaeda.Kabir Taneja, “Al Qaeda is battered, but don’t rejoice yet,” Observer Research Foundation, November 18, 2020, https://www.orfonline.org/research/al-qaeda-is-battered-but-dont-rejoice-yet/.
In its early stages, al-Qaeda’s primary bankroller was its founder Osama bin Laden. Since then, al-Qaeda has come to rely on donations and extorted funds for financing. The CIA estimates that al-Qaeda maintained a $30 million annual budget prior to the 9/11 attacks, and that donations primarily made up this budget. National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Against the United States, The 9/11 Commission Report, 169-170, https://www.9-11commission.gov/report/911Report.pdf A 2002 report by the Council on Foreign Relations identified a network of “charities, nongovernmental organizations, mosques, websites, intermediaries, facilitators, and banks and other financial institutions” that were serving to finance the terrorist organization. Greg Bruno, “Al-Qaeda’s Financial Pressures,” Council on Foreign Relations, February 1, 2010, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/al-qaedas-financial-pressures
Today, al-Qaeda receives funding from a wide range of sources, including private donors, Islamic charities and foundations, state sponsors, and from activities linked to drug trafficking, bank robbery, and hostage-taking. Nonetheless, wide-ranging sanctions by the United States, United Nations, Financial Action Task Force, and other international financial organizations have slowed the flow of money to the terror group. By 2009, al-Qaeda was reportedly suffering from negative cash flow and was forced to seek out new revenue streamsSean Lengell, “U.S. claims to disrupt al Qaeda funds,” Washington Times, October 13, 2009, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/oct/13/us-claims-to-disrupt-terror-funds/ as al-Qaeda recruits complained of being charged for weapons and other supplies. Sebastian Rotella, “Al Qaeda recruits back in Europe, but why?” Los Angeles Times, May 24, 2009, http://articles.latimes.com/2009/may/24/world/fg-junior-jihadis24 In October 2009, David S. Cohen, then-assistant Treasury secretary for terrorist financing, said that al-Qaeda was in its “weakest financial condition in several years.” Sean Lengell, “U.S. claims to disrupt al Qaeda funds,” Washington Times, October 13, 2009, http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/oct/13/us-claims-to-disrupt-terror-funds/
After bin Laden’s death in 2011, analysts questioned whether al-Qaeda could survive financially or if it had depended too much on bin Laden’s celebrity. But al-Qaeda had laid the groundwork for a new fundraising strategy based on drug trafficking and kidnappings to bolster its finances. Rachel Ehrenfeld, “Drug trafficking, kidnapping fund al Qaeda,” CNN, May 4, 2011, http://www.cnn.com/2011/OPINION/05/03/ehrenfeld.al.qaeda.funding/index.html A year before, a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration official had pointed to an “unholy alliance” between al-Qaeda and Colombian guerillas in the cocaine smuggling trade. Hugh Bronstein, “Colombia rebels, al Qaeda in ‘unholy’ drug alliance,” Reuters, January 4, 2010, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-drugs-colombia-qaeda-interview-idUKTRE6034L920100104
U.S. forces searching bin Laden’s Pakistani compound in May 2011 discovered a trove of financial records. Analysts believe that al-Qaeda’s structure of international affiliates necessitated a paper trail in order for the group’s leadership to maintain control of its affiliates’ finances.Dina Temple-Raston, “Al-Qaida's Paper Trail: A 'Treasure Trove' For U.S.,” NPR, May 31, 2011, http://www.npr.org/2011/05/31/136721965/al-qaidas-paper-trail-a-treasure-trove-for-u-s Receipts found in an al-Qaeda hideout in Mali in 2013 revealed al-Qaeda’s corporate-like financial structure. The group meticulously kept receipts and invoices for major and minor expenses, from propaganda trips to fresh produce and tea.Courtney Subramanian, “Al-Qaeda Receipts Reveal Meticulous Accounting Habits,” Time, December 29, 2013, http://world.time.com/2013/12/29/al-qaeda-receipts-reveal-meticulous-accounting-habits/ According to William McCants, a former adviser to the State Department’s Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, “They have so few ways to keep control of their operatives, to rein them in and make them do what they are supposed to do. They have to run it like a business.”Connor Simpson, “Al Qaeda Are Strict About Keeping Track of Their Receipts,” Atlantic, December 29, 2013, https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/12/al-qaeda-are-strict-about-keeping-track-their-receipts/356552/
Al-Qaeda has misused charities to enhance its cash flow. In 2004, for example, the U.S. government sanctioned the Sudan-based Islamic Relief Agency (ISRA) for funneling roughly $5 million to Maktab al-Khidamat, bin Laden’s al-Qaeda predecessor. ISRA is present in 40 countries around the world. According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, ISRA began collaborating with Maktab al-Khidamat in 1997. An ISRA leader was allegedly involved in planning to relocate bin Laden in the late 1990s.“Resource Center – Protecting Charitable Organizations,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, accessed January 12, 2021, https://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/terrorist-illicit-finance/Pages/protecting-charities_execorder_13224-i.aspx. According to a December 2020 U.S. Senate investigation, the Obama administration in 2014 approved a $200,000 grant to the non-profit humanitarian agency World Vision United States, which was collaborating with ISRA at the time. World Vision ended its funding of ISRA after later learning of its designation.National Review, “Senate Investigation Finds Obama Admin Knowingly Funded al-Qaeda Affiliate,” Yahoo! News, December 29, 2020, https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/senate-investigation-finds-obama-admin-201648458.html.
During the 1990s, bin Laden built a network of private donors to al-Qaeda using contacts he established during the Soviet-Afghan war. Bin Laden’s early donors to al-Qaeda in the 1990s relied “on ties to wealthy Saudi individuals that he had established during the Afghan war in the 1980s,” according to the U.S. 9/11 Commission. National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Against the United States, The 9/11 Commission Report, 170, https://www.9-11commission.gov/report/911Report.pdf. In 2002, U.S. forces in Bosnia seized a cache of al-Qaeda documents that revealed a global network of private donors. Among the documents was a 1988 memorandum that identified a group of 20 Saudi financial donors, referred to as “the Golden Chain,” which included members of bin Laden’s family, as well as prominent wealthy Saudis such as Saleh Kamel and Khalid bin Mahfouz, and the Al-Rajhi family.Glenn R. Simpson, “List of Early al Qaeda Donors Points to Saudi Elite, Charities,” Wall Street Journal, March 18, 2003, https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB104794563734573400
High-profile private donors to al-Qaeda also include: ‘Abd al-Rahman bin ‘Umayr al-Nu’aymi;“Treasury Designates Al-Qa’ida Supporters in Qatar and Yemen,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, December 18, 2013, http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/jl2249.aspx. ‘Abd al-Wahhab Muhammad ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Humayqani;“Treasury Designates Al-Qa’ida Supporters in Qatar and Yemen,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, December 18, 2013, http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/jl2249.aspx. Enaam Arnaout;“Treasury Designates Benevolence International Foundation and Related Entities as Financiers of Terrorism,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, November 19, 2002, http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/po3632.aspx. Muhammad Yaqub Mirza;Glenn Simpson, “U.S. Indicts Head of Charity For Helping Fund al Qaeda,” Wall Street Journal, October 10, 2002, http://online.wsj.com/articles/SB1034185882821997916. Shafi Sultan Mohammed al-Ajmi;Jay Solomon, “U.S. Treasury Sanctions 3 Kuwait-Based Financiers for Alleged Terrorism Funding,” Wall Street Journal, August 6, 2014, http://online.wsj.com/articles/u-s-treasury-sanctions-3-kuwait-based-financiers-for-alleged-terrorism-funding-1407337782. Hajjaj Fahd Hajjaj Muhammad Shabib al-Ajmi;Jay Solomon, “U.S. Treasury Sanctions 3 Kuwait-Based Financiers for Alleged Terrorism Funding,” Wall Street Journal, August 6, 2014, http://online.wsj.com/articles/u-s-treasury-sanctions-3-kuwait-based-financiers-for-alleged-terrorism-funding-1407337782. and Abd al-Rahman Khalaf Ubayad Juday al-Anizi.Jay Solomon, “U.S. Treasury Sanctions 3 Kuwait-Based Financiers for Alleged Terrorism Funding,” Wall Street Journal, August 6, 2014, http://online.wsj.com/articles/u-s-treasury-sanctions-3-kuwait-based-financiers-for-alleged-terrorism-funding-1407337782.
By 2009, donations to al-Qaeda had reportedly slowed to a near halt. On June 3, 2009, bin Laden issued an appeal for “charity and support” for al-Qaeda’s affiliates in Pakistan and Afghanistan. In an audio message a week later, al-Qaeda’s Afghanistan leader, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, said that the group lacked food, weapons, and other supplies.William Maclean, “Qaeda struggling with slump in donations,” June 12, 2009, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-security-qaeda-finance-analysis-idUSTRE55B3DZ20090612?pageNumber=1&virtualBrandChannel=0 That August, then-deputy al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri entreated Pakistani Muslims in particular to “back the jihad and mujahideen with your persons, wealth.”“Qaeda’s Zawahiri calls for Pakistani jihad,” Reuters, August 28,2009, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-pakistan-qaeda-idUSTRE57R1CJ20090828
In October 2015, a U.S. airstrike killed Sanafi al-Nasr, a former senior al-Qaeda financial leader who had revived the group financially. United Nations Security Council, “United Nations Security Council Adds Names of Six Individuals to Al-Qaida Sanctions List,” United Nations, August 15, 2014, http://www.un.org/press/en/2014/sc11521.doc.htm Nasr had set up a fundraising network based in Iran, from where he transferred donations from around the Persian Gulf to al-Qaeda’s leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan.Bill Roggio and Thomas Joscelyn, “US military confirms it killed senior al Qaeda strategist Sanafi al Nasr in airstrike in Syria,” Long War Journal, October 18, 2015, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2015/10/us-military-confirms-it-killed-senior-al-qaeda-strategist-sanafi-al-nasr-in-airstrike-in-syria.php Today, according to the U.S. State Department, al-Qaeda funding continues to come primarily from donations and the diversion of funds from Islamic charities. “Country Reports on Terrorism 2016,” U.S. Department of State, July 2017, 433, https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/272488.pdf
Al-Qaeda has focused its recruiting on the Middle East, where al-Qaeda's holy war garners adherents from a wide variety of backgrounds.
Potential recruits are often identified due to the character of their faith. Recruiters patrol certain mosques known for extremist interpretations of Islamic texts and seek out the most curious or fervent believers.Seaman William Selby, “Detained Terrorists Reveal Al-Qaeda Recruiting Process,” Armed Forces Press Service, March 18, 2008, http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=49310. Recruits are quickly immersed in doctrines of martyrdom and jihad and instructed in the religious duty to establish the caliphate.
Local insurgent groups in the Middle East and North Africa have found that the al-Qaeda label itself helps to attract new members on the basis of al-Qaeda’s global revolutionary agenda. As counterterrorism scholar Daniel Byman notes, “Groups like al-Shabab often have an inchoate ideology; al Qaeda offers them a coherent—and, to a certain audience, appealing—alternative.”Daniel Byman, “Al Qaeda's M&A Strategy,” Brookings Institution, December 7, 2010, http://www.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2010/12/07-al-qaeda-byman.
In Europe, al-Qaeda has sought recruits from those marginalized by society. They have actively, if informally, recruited members from Europe’s prison system. In 2006, Steve Gough of the U.K.’s Prison Officers Association said he did not think there were “al-Qaida-controlled wings” yet in British prisons. Nonetheless, Gough noted that al-Qaeda was already recruiting prisoners who shared their cells or were held in cells nearby.Alan Travis, “Prisons failing to tackle terror recruitment,” Guardian (London), October 1, 2006, http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2006/oct/02/prisonsandprobation.terrorism. In France, two of the alleged January 2015 Paris attackers, Amedy Coulibaly and Cherif Kouachi, met al-Qaeda’s “premiere European recruiter,” Djamel Beghal, in prison.Scott Bronstein, Drew Griffin, and Deborah Feyerick, “For Paris attackers, terror ties ran deep,” CNN, January 13, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/12/europe/paris-terror-suspects-al-qaeda-ties/.
In recent years, both al-Qaeda and ISIS have reportedly focused their international recruitment efforts on young adults. Psychologists call this group “in-betweeners,” referring to young adults who have not solidified their identities. Scott Shane, Richard Perez-Pena, and Aurelien Breeden, “‘In-Betweeners’ Are Part of a Rich Recruiting Pool for Jihadists,” New York Times, September 22, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/23/us/isis-al-qaeda-recruits-anwar-al-awlaki.htm l One example is Ahmad Khan Rahami, the 28-year-old naturalized Afghan-American who allegedly planted bombs in New York City and New Jersey in September 2016. Police discovered that Rahimi had praised bin Laden and deceased AQAP cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in his journal.Criminal Complaint: United States of America v. Ahmad Khan Rahami a/k/a/ ‘Ahmad Rahimi,’ defendant,” U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, September 20, 2016, https://www.justice.gov/usao-sdny/file/894396/download Rahimi spent several weeks in Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2011, and his father believed he had radicalized on the trip. https://www.counterextremism.com/extremists/ahmad-khan-rahamiCatherine E. Shoichet, “Ahmad Khan Rahami: What We Know about the Bombing Suspect,” CNN, September 20, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/19/us/ahmad-khan-rahami; Marc Santora and Adam Goldman, “Ahmad Khan Rahami Was Inspired by Bin Laden, Charges Say,” New York Times, September 20, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/21/nyregion/ahmad-khan-rahami-suspect.html; Spencer Ackerman, Paul Owen, and Amber Jamieson, “Ahmad Khan Rahami’s Father Contacted FBI in 2014 over Terrorism Worry,” Guardian (London), September 20, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/sep/20/ahmad-khan-rahami-father-fbi-terrorism-bombing
In Pakistan, al-Qaeda entices recruits through a plethora of benefits. Documents recovered from bin Laden’s Pakistani compound in May 2011 revealed that married al-Qaeda fighters received seven days of vacation for every three weeks worked, while bachelors received five days of vacation per month. Married fighters received a monthly salary of $108, or more if they had more than one wife. Dina Temple-Raston, “Al-Qaida's Paper Trail: A 'Treasure Trove' For U.S.,” NPR, May 31, 2011, http://www.npr.org/2011/05/31/136721965/al-qaidas-paper-trail-a-treasure-trove-for-u-s
Al-Qaeda's online recruitment has grown increasingly sophisticated. Its broad goal has been twofold: to increase the charm of an austere existence rooted in religion and then to shame those who abstain from this duty. These dual messages are conveyed online in many ways. Jihadist-inspired rap music, video games, and comics have successfully cast holy war positively and pulled new recruits into the organization.Andrew Dornbierer, “How al-Qaeda Recruits Online,” Diplomat, September 13, 2011, http://thediplomat.com/2011/09/how-al-qaeda-recruits-online/.
Al-Qaeda relies on multiple methods to train its fighters, ranging from physical training camps to propaganda. In May 2012, AQAP’s English-language magazine, Inspire, published instructions on how to carry out domestic terror attacks, focusing on arson.“'Unleash Hell': New Al Qaeda magazine describes in detail how to start huge forest fires across the U.S..with instructions on how to make 'ember bombs,’” Daily Mail (London), May 3, 2012, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2138758/Unleash-Hell-New-Al-Qaeda-magazine-describes-start-huge-forest-fires-U-S-instructions-make-ember-bombs.html#ixzz4p6RdlaaZ Also that month, al-Qaeda released a training manual for Western recruits, authored by American AQAP member Samir Khan. The manual included information to help Western recruits acclimate to life with al-Qaeda in the Middle East, though it also encouraged recruits to instead carry out terror attacks in their home countries. According to the manual, one of the “pillars of modern day jihad” is secrecy.Duncan Gardham, “English language al-Qaeda training manual revealed,” Telegraph (London), May 14, 2012, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/al-qaeda/9265512/English-language-al-Qaeda-training-manual-revealed.html
From the Lackawanna Six to Charlie Hebdo
Sahim Alwan was one of the “Lackawanna Six” from Buffalo, New York, who were convicted of supporting al-Qaeda after attending a terror training camp in Afghanistan in the spring of 2001.Christopher M. Matthews, “Al Qaeda Trainee Describes Training Camp During Terror Trial,” Wall Street Journal, March 6, 2014, http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303824204579423753034928002. More than 10 years later, Saïd Kouachi, one of the perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo killings, confirmed that he spent “a few months” training in small-arms combat, marksmanship, and other skills on display in videos of the military-style attack. Thus, despite the increase in lone-wolf incidents since 9/11, traditional terrorist operations, including recruitment and training at foreign camps, remain a threat to Western security today.
Al-Qaeda training camps are located in numerous countries around the globe. While allied with the Taliban, al-Qaeda established several training camps in Afghanistan, including the sprawling Tarnak Farms, where Osama bin Laden allegedly plotted 9/11. Most Afghan camps were destroyed during the U.S. invasion and occupation of the country after 9/11.“Terrorist Training and Indoctrination,” MI5 Security Service, accessed March 14, 2015, https://www.mi5.gov.uk/home/about-us/what-we-do/the-threats/terrorism/international-terrorism/international-terrorism-and-the-uk/terrorist-training.html. Unfortunately, as Joshua E. Keating of Newsweek noted in January 2015, “Where once there were few sanctuaries for jihadists [i.e., primarily in Afghanistan], now there are many—in Syria and Iraq, Pakistan and Yemen, Nigeria and Somalia.” Today’s jihadist training camps are created by a dispersed membership of not only al-Qaeda core but also offshoots like AQAP and AQIM.Kurt Eichenwald, “The Strategic Blunder Behind the War on Terror,” Newsweek, January 13, 2015, http://www.newsweek.com/2015/01/23/paris-massacre-was-declaration-new-kind-war-298810.html.
In Africa, AQIM ran a training camp for eight months in Timbuktu, Mali before France conducted an airstrike that destroyed the unassuming building. A cook and cleaner at the facility recalled, “[The building was] ringed by a perimeter fence topped with barbed wire” and “became the hub for AQIM's new recruits. They [the recruits] ate, slept and trained in the old Gendarmerie, turning some of its rooms into dormitories.David Blair, “Timbuktu: al-Qaeda’s terrorist training academy in the Mali desert,” Telegraph (London), February 11, 2013, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/mali/9860822/Timbuktu-al-Qaedas-terrorist-training-academy-in-the-Mali-desert.html.”
Al-Qaeda also relies on proxy training facilities from like-minded terrorist outfits like Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET) in Pakistan. The latter group allegedly plotted the 2008 Mumbai attacks.Joshua E. Keating, “What Do You Learn at Terrorist Training Camp?” Foreign Policy, May 10, 2010, http://foreignpolicy.com/2010/05/10/what-do-you-learn-at-terrorist-training-camp/. Keating notes that:
The camps these groups run are often small, just one or two buildings, and temporary — such groups stay on the move to avoid detection by satellite or intelligence agents. These groups are believed to be increasingly sharing resources when it comes to training. According to some estimates, there are about 40 militant training camps around Pakistan.Joshua E. Keating, “What Do You Learn at Terrorist Training Camp?” Foreign Policy, May 10, 2010, http://foreignpolicy.com/2010/05/10/what-do-you-learn-at-terrorist-training-camp/.
Nonetheless, in late 2015, U.S. and Afghan forces discovered a large training camp in Qandahar Province, suggesting that al-Qaeda has “expanded its presence in Afghanistan.”Carla E. Humud, “Al Qaeda and U.S. Policy: Middle East and Africa,” Congressional Research Service, August 11, 2016, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/R43756.pdf.
In addition to physical training, indoctrination through study, videos, prayer, and a generally regimented lifestyle is meant to reinforce the singular message of jihad that al-Qaeda wishes to inspire in its trainees. Alwan noted that at the camp he attended, there was a billboard displaying a Quranic message that said, “Prepare for them what you can of strength so they may cast fear in the enemies of God.”Christopher M. Matthews, “Al Qaeda Trainee Describes Training Camp During Terror Trial,” Wall Street Journal, March 6, 2014, http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702303824204579423753034928002.
An al-Qaeda manual found in May 2000 further illustrates the degree of indoctrination that jihadists face in camp. The 180-page “handwritten terror instruction book” is dubbed the “Manchester Manual” because British anti-terror police found it in a raid on the apartment of al-Qaeda commander Abu Anas al-Liby in Manchester, England. Liby was wanted for plotting the 1998 U.S. embassy attacks in Kenya and Tanzania.Ian Drury, Chris Greenwood, and Martin Robinson, “Manchester Link of al-Qaeda Commander Captured in Daring U.S. Delta Forces Raid as It Emerges Jihadist Gave Scotland Yard the Slip 13 Years Ago After Being Given Asylum in the UK,” Daily Mail (London), last modified October 7, 2013, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2447532/Al-Qaeda-commander-Abu-Anas-al-Liby-snatched-Libya-US-Delta-Force.html#ixzz3SEEh5jkk. The manual provides significant insight on the type of training al-Qaeda soldiers receive beyond physical training. Specifically, according to the U.S. Joint Task Force Guantanamo, “The Manchester Manual is literally an overarching basic guide that simply covers just about everything. It covers how to conduct general combat operations, how to escape and evade capture and how to behave in captivity. There is even a chapter on how to poison yourself using your own feces.”Shanita Simmons, “Manchester Manual The Code of Conduct for terrorism,” Joint Task Force Guantanamo, August 14, 2007, http://www.jtfgtmo.southcom.mil/storyarchive/2007/August/081407-2-manmanual.html.
Much of the information in the manual was corroborated by Guantanamo Bay detainees regarding al-Qaeda operative training. For example, Omar Sheik [a kidnapper of Daniel Pearl] told his interrogators that he was trained in… the art of disguise... secret rendezvous techniques; hidden writing techniques; [and] cryptology and codes... Moreover, Khalid Sheik Muhammad—the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks—admitted that he assisted the hijackers in preparing to live a Western lifestyle by instructing them how to order food at restaurants and wear Western clothes, amongst other things. Furthermore, an al-Qaeda training manual entitled, “Declaration of Jihad Against the Country’s Tyrants (Military Series), written primarily with the stated purpose of helping operatives avoid detection when infiltrating an enemy area, teaches lessons in forging documents and counterfeiting currency, living a cover, cell compartmentalization, and meeting and communicating clandestinely…Devin D. Jesse, “Tactical Means, Strategic Ends: Al Qaeda’s Use of Denial and Deception,” Terrorism and Political Violence 18 (2006): 371, http://www.international.ucla.edu/media/files/FTPV_A_175157_P.pdf.
Today, there are numerous ideological offshoots that either continue to support or have deviated from al-Qaeda in the Middle East and other regions. As mentioned above, al-Qaeda itself continues some training camps but also increasingly outsources to allied groups in countries such as Pakistan. The need for such camps to remain under the radar will only grow as more countries band together to fight ISIS (which has more than 40 camps in Iraq and Syria alone) and other violent extremist groups like the Nusra Front and Boko Haram.
- December 1992: Bombs explode at a hotel in Aden, Yemen where U.S. troops had stayed before traveling to Somalia. Two Austrian tourists die in the attack.“Osama Bin Laden: A Chronology of His Political Life,” PBS Frontline, accessed March 15, 2015, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/binladen/etc/cron.html.
- February 1993: Khalid Sheik Mohamed’s nephew Ramzi Yousef masterminds the first attack on the World Trade Center, which kills six and wounds 1,500.“Al-Qaida Timeline: Plots and Attacks,” NBC News, accessed March 15, 2015, http://www.nbcnews.com/id/4677978/ns/world_news-hunt_for_al_qaida/t/al-qaida-timeline-plots-attacks/#.U4idFpwqRdg.
- April-June 1993: FBI stops a plot to bomb several targets in New York, including the Lincoln and Holland tunnels, the George Washington Bridge, the Statue of Liberty, the United Nations, the Federal Building, and one location in the Diamond District.“Al-Qaida Timeline: Plots and Attacks,” NBC News, accessed March 15, 2015, http://www.nbcnews.com/id/4677978/ns/world_news-hunt_for_al_qaida/t/al-qaida-timeline-plots-attacks/#.U4idFpwqRdg.
- October 1993: An al-Qaeda cell in Somalia allegedly shoots down a U.S. black hawk helicopter in Mogadishu. 18 U.S. servicemen died in the operation.Andrew Wander, “A History of Terror: Al-Qaeda 1988-2008,” Guardian (London), July 12, 2008, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/jul/13/history.alqaida.
- March 1994: Ramzi Yousef and a militant cell in Bangkok hijacks a delivery truck and attempt to deliver a one-ton bomb to the Israeli embassy. The plot fails when the truck crashes and the militants are forced to abandon it.“Al-Qaida Timeline: Plots and Attacks,” NBC News, accessed March 15, 2015, http://www.nbcnews.com/id/4677978/ns/world_news-hunt_for_al_qaida/t/al-qaida-timeline-plots-attacks/#.U4idFpwqRdg.
- November 1994: Bin Laden’s associates in Manila conduct surveillance of President Bill Clinton and his Secret Service detail during a state visit, in preparation for an assassination attempt during Clinton’s planned trip to the APEC summit in November 1996. Surveillance tapes, maps, and notes were passed to Bin Laden in Sudan.“Al-Qaida Timeline: Plots and Attacks,” NBC News, accessed March 15, 2015, http://www.nbcnews.com/id/4677978/ns/world_news-hunt_for_al_qaida/t/al-qaida-timeline-plots-attacks/#.U4idFpwqRdg.
- June 1995: Members of Egyptian Islamic Jihad attack former President Hosni Mubarak’s motorcade during his visit to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to attend the Organization of African Unity summit. Egyptian officials believed that Bin Laden planned the attack.“Al-Qaida Timeline: Plots and Attacks,” NBC News, accessed March 15, 2015, http://www.nbcnews.com/id/4677978/ns/world_news-hunt_for_al_qaida/t/al-qaida-timeline-plots-attacks/#.U4idFpwqRdg.
- August 1998: Simultaneous suicide bombings at the U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya kill 258 people and wound more than 5,000. In retaliation, the Clinton administration launches cruise missile attacks on suspected al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and on the Al Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum.“Osama Bin Laden: A Chronology of His Political Life,” PBS Frontline, accessed March 15, 2015, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/binladen/etc/cron.html.
- October 12, 2000: Suicide bombers driving an inflatable raft packed with explosives ram into the USS Cole as it was mooring a U.S. Navy destroyer to a buoy in the Port of Aden, killing 17 U.S. servicemen and injuring at least 40. Both bombers were Yemenis, and six men were arrested in connection with the plot, including Saudi national Abdel Rahim al-Nashiri, who was reportedly al-Qaeda’s chief of naval operations in the Persian Gulf.“Suicide Bombers Attack USS Cole.”
- September 11, 2001: Nineteen al-Qaeda operatives hijack U.S. commercial airliners and flew them into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, DC. A fourth hijacked airplane, whose target may have been the U.S. Capitol building, crashes in a field in rural Pennsylvania. More than 3,000 civilians are killed and thousands more injured. The U.S. launched military operations against al-Qaeda’s suspected safe havens in Afghanistan six weeks later.“Timeline: Al-Qaeda,” BBC News, September 4, 2006, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/3618762.stm.
- December 23, 2001: British citizen Richard Reid is arrested after he tries to detonate explosives hidden in his shoes on an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami. Nicknamed the “Shoebomber,” Reid pledged his allegiance to bin Laden during trial.“Timeline: Al-Qaeda,” BBC News, September 4, 2006, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/3618762.stm.
- January-February 2002: Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl is kidnapped and beheaded in Pakistan while on assignment to interview a militant leader about his ties to Richard Reid.“U.S. Journalist Daniel Pearl is Dead, Officials Confirm,” CNN.com, February 22, 2002, http://edition.cnn.com/2002/WORLD/asiapcf/south/02/21/missing.reporter/.
- April 11, 2002: Al-Qaeda claims responsibility for a synagogue bombing in Djerba, Tunisia, that killed 19 and injured 22.Audrey Kurth Cronin, “Terrorist Attacks by Al Qaeda,” Congressional Research Service, March 31, 2004, 4, http://www.fas.org/irp/crs/033104.pdf.
- October 2002: Al-Qaeda reportedly carries out attacks on a French oil tanker in Yemen on October 6, killing 1. On October 8, the group claims responsibility for attacking and killing two U.S. Marines on Faylaka Island in Kuwait. Then on October 12, the group claims responsibility for bombing the Kuta Beach nightclub district of Bali, Indonesia, killing 202 and wounding hundreds more.“Al-Qaida Timeline: Plots and Attacks,” NBC News, accessed March 15, 2015, http://www.nbcnews.com/id/4677978/ns/world_news-hunt_for_al_qaida/t/al-qaida-timeline-plots-attacks/#.U4idFpwqRdg.
- November 28, 2002: Al-Qaeda bombs a hotel in Mombasa, Kenya, that was owned and frequented by Israelis, killing 15 and wounding 40. Meanwhile, the group also tries but fails to shoot down an Israeli airliner with a surface-to-air missile as it took off from the airport in Mombasa.Audrey Kurth Cronin, “Terrorist Attacks by Al Qaeda,” Congressional Research Service, March 31, 2004, 4, http://www.fas.org/irp/crs/033104.pdf.
- May 2003: On May 12, al-Qaeda militants in Saudi Arabia attack three Western housing compounds in Riyadh, killing 34 people. Four days later, on May 16, 14 suicide bombers from al-Qaeda affiliate al-Salafiyyah al-Jihadiyah detonate 5 bombs in Casablanca, Morocco. The attacks killed 44 people, including 12 of the assailants, and wounded nearly 60.“Al-Qaida Timeline: Plots and Attacks,” NBC News, accessed March 15, 2015, http://www.nbcnews.com/id/4677978/ns/world_news-hunt_for_al_qaida/t/al-qaida-timeline-plots-attacks/#.U4idFpwqRdg.
- November 2003: On November 8, Suicide bombers driving vehicles disguised as police cars attack another residential compound in Riyadh, killing 17 and injuring 122.“Al-Qaida Timeline: Plots and Attacks,” NBC News, accessed March 15, 2015, http://www.nbcnews.com/id/4677978/ns/world_news-hunt_for_al_qaida/t/al-qaida-timeline-plots-attacks/#.U4idFpwqRdg. On November 15, two synagogues in Istanbul, Turkey are bombed simultaneously by the al-Qaeda affiliated Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades. The bombings kill at least 29 people and wound dozens more. Five days later, 32 people are killed when suicide bombers from the Great Eastern Islamic Raiders’ Front detonate trucks packed with explosives outside of HSBC bank and the British consulate in Istanbul.Audrey Kurth Cronin, “Terrorist Attacks by Al Qaeda,” Congressional Research Service, March 31, 2004, 4, http://www.fas.org/irp/crs/033104.pdf. The Saudi militant cell called itself al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).Ty McCormick, “Al Qaeda Core: A Short History,” Foreign Policy, March 17, 2014, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/03/17/al_qaeda_core_a_short_history.
- March 11, 2004: Four rush-hour commuter trains in Madrid are bombed simultaneously, killing 191 and wounding more than 1,800. Police discover that the bombs were hidden in backpacks and detonated remotely with mobile phones. Al-Qaeda claims that the attacks were in retaliation for Spain’s troop presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. Spain indicts 29 people in the attacks, including 15 Moroccans, 9 Spaniards, 2 Syrians, one Egyptian, one Algerian, and one Lebanese.“The 2004 Madrid Bombings,” Guardian (London), October 31, 2007, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2007/oct/31/spain.menezes.
- May 17, 2004: A suicide bomber with suspected ties to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi detonates himself near the U.S.-led coalition headquarters in Baghdad, killing the acting president of the Iraqi Governing Council, Ezzedine Salim. Salim’s death comes 45 days before the occupation forces were set to transfer limited political control back to the Iraqis.Ian Fisher and Christine Hauser, “The Struggle for Iraq: Political Violence; Suicide Bomber Kills President of Iraqi Council,” New York Times, May 18, 2004, http://www.nytimes.com/2004/05/18/world/struggle-for-iraq-political-violence-suicide-bomber-kills-president-iraqi.html.
- December 2004: On December 6, al-Qaeda launches an attack against the U.S. Consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, killing 5 non-American employees. Then on December 29, militants attack Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Interior in Riyadh. Saudi forces killed seven of the assailants.“Al-Qaida Timeline: Plots and Attacks,” NBC News, accessed March 15, 2015, http://www.nbcnews.com/id/4677978/ns/world_news-hunt_for_al_qaida/t/al-qaida-timeline-plots-attacks/#.U4idFpwqRdg.
- July 7, 2005: Suicide bombers attack the London Underground railway and a civilian bus, killing 56 people in the worst terrorist attack in UK history. All four bombers were British nationals.“Al-Qaida Timeline: Plots and Attacks,” NBC News, accessed March 15, 2015, http://www.nbcnews.com/id/4677978/ns/world_news-hunt_for_al_qaida/t/al-qaida-timeline-plots-attacks/#.U4idFpwqRdg. On July 21, four British nationals attempted to blow up three trains and a bus in London but the bombs did not detonate.“Al-Qaida Timeline: Plots and Attacks,” NBC News, accessed March 15, 2015, http://www.nbcnews.com/id/4677978/ns/world_news-hunt_for_al_qaida/t/al-qaida-timeline-plots-attacks/#.U4idFpwqRdg.
- February 22, 2006: Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) bomb the Shiite Al Askari Mosque in Samarra, Iraq, one of the four major Shiite shrines in Iraq and the burial place for two of the 12 revered Shiite Imams. Reportedly, “a group of men dressed like Iraqi police commandos” walked into the shrine and set off the explosions.Bill Roggio, “Dome of the Golden Mosque Destroyed,” Long War Journal, February 22, 2006, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2006/02/dome_of_the_golden_m_1.php#. The mosque attack set off a wave of intensified Shiite-Sunni attacks across Iraq.Robert F. Worth, “Blast Destroys Shrine in Iraq, Setting Off Sectarian Fury,” New York Times, February 22, 2006, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/02/22/international/middleeast/22cnd-iraq.html.
- August 16, 2007: Suicide bombers from AQI simultaneously detonate five fuel trucks in the Yazidi Kurdish villages of al-Qataniyah and al-Adnaniyah, killing more than 300 Iraqis, injuring several hundred, and destroying dozens of homes. It is considered the worst terrorist attack in Iraq during the post-Saddamn era.Tim Butcher, “Iraq Bombs: 250 Die in Worst Terror Attack,” Daily Telegraph (London), August 16, 2007, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/1560477/Iraq-bombs-250-die-in-worst-terror-attack.html.
- September 2007: Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) detonate a car bomb in the northern town of Dellys, killing 28 coast guard officers. Just days before, AQIM set off an explosion in a crowd that was waiting to greet Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika.“Group with Ties to Al Qaeda Says It Was Behind Blasts in Algeria,” New York Times, September 10, 2007, http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/10/world/africa/10algeria.html.
- September 2009: Afghan native Najibullah Zazi, who spent time in an al-Qaeda training camp in Pakistan’s Waziristan region, is arrested for allegedly planning to detonate homemade explosives in New York City’s subway system to mark the anniversary of 9/11. Zazi pleads guilty in February 2010 to three charges: conspiring to use weapons of mass destruction, conspiracy to commit murder in a foreign country, and providing material support to a terrorist organization.Julian Cummings, “Najibullah Zazi Pleads Guilty in New York Terrorism Plot,” CNN, February 23, 2010, http://www.cnn.com/2010/CRIME/02/22/najibullah.zazi.plea/.
- December 25, 2009: Nigerian citizen Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempts to detonate explosives hidden in his underwear aboard a Northwest Airlines flight travelling from Amsterdam to Detroit, but was subdued by passengers after setting his pants on fire. Abdulmutallab allegedly received training and explosives from AQAP in Yemen.Dan Eggen, Karen DeYoung, and Spencer Hsu, “Plane Suspect Was Listed in Terror Database after Father Alerted U.S. Officials,” Washington Post, December 27, 2009, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/25/AR2009122501355.html.
- November 2010: Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula attempts to mail bombs loaded in printer cartridges via UPS and FedEx to Jewish community centers in Chicago. The bombs made their way from Yemen to Britain and Dubai before a last minute tip from Saudi intelligence alerted officials in each country to the cargo and foiled the plot.Spencer Ackerman, “Qaeda: Yeah, the Printer-bomb Plot Was Us,” Wired, November 6, 2010, http://www.wired.com/2010/11/qaeda-yeah-the-printer-bomb-plot-was-us/.
- May 2012: The Central Intelligence Agency and foreign intelligence services foil an attempt by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to send a suicide bomber carrying an “experimental bomb aboard an airliner” travelling to the U.S.Scott Shane and Eric Schmitt, “Qaeda Plot to Attack Plane Foiled, U.S. Officials Say,” New York Times, May 7, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/08/world/middleeast/us-says-terrorist-plot-to-attack-plane-foiled.html.
- September 11, 2012: Al-Qaeda affiliate Ansar al-Sharia in Libya attack the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, killing U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans at the Consulate.Karen DeYoung, Michael Birnbaum, and William Branigin, “U.S. Officials: Attack on Consulate in Libya May Have Been Planned,” Washington Post, September 12, 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/news-agencies-us-ambassador-to-libya-killed-in-attack-outside-consulate/2012/09/12/665de5fc-fcc4-11e1-a31e-804fccb658f9_story.html.
- January 23, 2013: Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb seize control of a natural gas plant in eastern Algeria, tying up dozens of Western workers and planting explosives throughout the facility. After four days of negotiations failed, Algerian forces storm the facility, killing and driving out the militant. However, at least 37 hostages die in the hostage crisis and ensuing assault.Amir Ahmed, “At Least 37 Hostages Killed in Algeria Gas Plant Standoff, Prime Minister Says,” CNN, January 23, 2013, http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/21/world/africa/algeria-hostage-crisis/.
- September 21, 2013: Reportedly, gunmen from Al-Shabaab open fire on bystanders at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, Kenya, killing more than 60 people during an 80-hour siege of the mall by Kenyan security forces.Mike Pflanz, “Nairobi’s Westgate Mall Attack: Six Months Later, Troubling Questions Weigh Heavily,” Christian Science Monitor, March 21, 2014, http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Africa/2014/0321/Nairobi-s-Westgate-mall-attack-six-months-later-troubling-questions-weigh-heavily.
- January-February 2014: Militants from Boko Haram in Nigeria stage numerous attacks on colleges and villages in Nigeria during the first two months of 2014, shooting and burning male students alive. According to estimates, the group murder more than 200 students during a four-week span.Adam Nossiter, “Islamist Militants Blamed for Deadly College Attack in Nigeria,” New York Times, February 25, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/26/world/africa/dozens-killed-in-nigeria-school-assault-attributed-to-islamist-militant-group.html.
- April 24, 2014: Two al-Qaeda gunmen try and fail to kidnap U.S. embassy staff in Sanaa, Yemen.JC Finley, “U.S. embassy employees repel AQAP kidnapping attempt in Yemen, killing 2 militants,” United Press International, May 12, 2014, http://www.upi.com/Top_News/World-News/2014/05/12/US-embassy-employees-repel-AQAP-kidnapping-attempt-in-Yemen-killing-2-militants/4231399905320/.
- September 17, 2014: Al-Qaeda’s new wing in South Asia hijacks a Pakistani naval ship, and tries to use it to launch rockets towards U.S. vessels.Maria Golovnina, “New al Qaeda wing in South Asia claims major attack,” Reuters, September 17, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/09/17/us-southasia-attacks-idUSKBN0HC0YS20140917.
- October 20, 2014: Al-Qaeda suicide bombings and gun attacks kill at least 33 people in Yemen.Mohammed Ghobari, “Al Qaeda attacks kill at least 33 in Yemen,” Reuters, October 20, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/10/20/us-yemen-crisis-fighting-idUSKCN0I91PO20141020.
- January 7, 2015: The perpetrators of the Paris attacks on the offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket claim that they received funding from AQAP. One of the two Kouachi brothers had previously trained with al-Qaeda in Yemen.Eric Schmitt, Michael S. Schmidt and Andrew Higgins, “Al Qaeda Trained Suspect in Paris Terror Attack, Official Says,” New York Times, January 8, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/09/world/europe/paris-terror-attack-suspects.html.
- January 14, 2015: AQAP officially claims responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo attack.Sami Aboudi, “Al Qaeda claims French attack, derides Paris rally,” Reuters, January 14, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/01/14/us-france-shooting-aqap-idUSKBN0KN0VO20150114.
- February 12, 2015: AQAP militants seize a large army base in southern Yemen, just hours after the U.N. warns that the country is on the brink of civil war.Mohammad Mukhashaf, “Al Qaeda fighters seize Yemen army base, U.N. warns of civil war,” Reuters, February 12, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/02/12/us-yemen-security-idUSKBN0LG0VE20150212.
- February 13, 2015: Al-Qaeda fighters attack a Yemeni prison, freeing six al-Qaeda militants.Jason Hanna and Hakim Almasmari, “Al Qaeda freed 6 inmates in Yemen prison attack, officials say,” CNN, February 13, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/02/13/world/yemen-unrest/.
- February 25, 2015: The Guardian reports that Russian intelligence fears al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is planning attacks against European targets in the Mediterranean from North Africa with a “kamikaze” marine unit.Seumas Milne and Ewen MacAskill, “Al-Qaida Planning Kamikaze Attacks on Ships in Mediterranean, Cables Claim,” Guardian (London), February 25, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/25/al-qaida-planning-kamikaze-attacks-ships-mediterranean-russian-cables.
- March 3, 2015: Five people are killed in an AQAP suicide attack on a Houthi outpost in central Yemen.“UPDATE 1-Five dead in Qaeda suicide attack on Houthis in central Yemen,” Reuters, March 3, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/03/03/yemen-security-idUSL5N0W551J20150303.
- November 20, 2015: Al-Mourabitoun claims responsibility for a deadly gun and hostage attack on the Radisson Blu Hotel in Bamako, Mali, allegedly as part of a joint attack with al-Qaeda affiliate, AQIM. According to U.N. spokesman Olivier Salgado, 21 people were killed in the attack when gunmen stormed the hotel using counterfeit diplomatic license plates.Faith Karimi and Erin Burnett, “Mali hotel attack: Gunmen barged in, shot at 'anything that moved,'” CNN, November 22, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/21/africa/mali-hotel-attack/.
- January 16, 2016: Al-Qaeda affiliate AQIM storms a hotel and nearby cafe in Ougadougou, Burkina Faso, killing 28 and wounding dozens.“Why did Burkina Faso become al-Qaida’s latest target?” January 18, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/18/why-did-burkina-faso-become-al-qaidas-latest-target.
- March 13, 2016: AQIM gunmen open fire at a beach resort in Grand-Bassam, a coastal town located 25 miles east of Abidjan. The attack—the first al-Qaeda attack in the country—leaves 19 people dead, including 16 civilians and three Ivorian soldiers. Among the killed are foreign citizens from France, Germany, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Cameroon.Joe Bavier, “Al Qaeda Gunmen Drank In Bar Before Unleashing Ivory Coast Attack,” Reuters, March 15, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-ivorycoast-attack-idUSKCN0WF0L9;
Elisée B., “Attaques Terroristes À Grand Bassam : Les Forces Ivoiriennes Et Françaises Sur Le Théâtre Des Opérations,” Abidjan.net, March 13, 2016, http://news.abidjan.net/h/584273.html;
“After Ivory Coast Al Qaeda Attack, Is Senegal Next? Muslim Population, Unemployment Make Tourist Destination A Target,” International Business Times, March 17, 2016, http://www.ibtimes.com/after-ivory-coast-al-qaeda-attack-senegal-next-muslim-population-unemployment-make-2337915.
- October 14, 2017: Al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab is suspected of detonating a suicide bomb in Mogadishu, killing more than 500 people. While al-Shabaab is an al-Qaeda affiliate, more than 200 fighters have defected since 2015 and declared allegiance to ISIS.“Death toll from Somalia truck bomb in October now at 512: probe committee,” Reuters, November 30, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-somalia-blast-toll/death-toll-from-somalia-truck-bomb-in-october-now-at-512-probe-committee-idUSKBN1DU2IC; Tom Odula, “Official: 200 al-Shabab fighters pledge allegiance to IS,” Associated Press, December 14, 2015, https://web.archive.org/web/20151227161237/https://news.yahoo.com/official-200-al-shabab-fighters-pledge-allegiance-152642307.html.
- January 12, 2018: Al-Qaeda prison inmate Christian Ganczarski injures three guards in a knife attack at the French prison where he is being held. Ganczarski was linked to the 2002 Tunisian synagogue bombing that killed 21.“Three French prison guards hurt in attack by Al-Qaeda inmate,” AFP, January 12, 2018, https://www.timeslive.co.za/news/world/2018-01-12-three-french-prison-guards-hurt-in-attack-by-al-qaeda-inmate/.
- January 21, 2018: The al-Qaeda affiliated Haqqani Network kills 22 people including several U.S. citizens in a 12-hour attack on a hotel in Kabul, Afghanistan.Elise Labbot, “US citizens among dead in Kabul hotel attack,” CNN, January 23, 2018, https://www.cnn.com/2018/01/23/politics/kabul-hotel-attack/index.html.
- January 27, 2018: Al-Qaeda fighters attack and briefly seize control of a Malian army base near Soumpi, Timbuktu, killing 14 and wounding 18.“Malian soldiers killed in al-Qaeda attack on army base,” al Jazeera, January 27, 2018, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/01/malian-soldiers-killed-al-qaeda-attack-army-base-180127165051479.html.
- March 25, 2018: Al-Qaeda affiliate al-Shabaab detonates three car bombs over four days in Mogadishu, Somalia, killing nearly 20 people.Hussein Mohammad, “Militants Linked to Al Qaeda Unleash Deadly Car Bombings in Somalia,” New York Times, March 25, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/25/world/africa/somalia-bombing-mogadishu-shabab.html.
- July 7, 2018: An al-Shabaab suicide bombing in Mogadishu kills at least nine.Haley Britzky, “Al Qaeda branch claims attack in Somalia that left at least nine dead,” Axios, July 7, 2018, https://www.axios.com/al-qaeda-branch-claims-attack-in-somalia-that-leaves-at-least-nine-dead-6c0d4a52-b133-45c5-aa5f-e40c27a5e74a.html.
- November 9, 2018: Suicide attackers set off two car bombs at a hotel in Mogadishu. The explosion kills at least 22 civilians and six militants. Abdiasisi Abu Musab, al-Shabaab’s spokesman for military operations, said the group targeted the Sahafi hotel because of its proximity to Somalia’s Criminal Investigations Department.Abdi Sheikh,“Suicide car bombers kill at least 22 in Somalia,” Reuters, November 9, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-somalia-blast/suicide-car-bombers-kill-at-least-22-in-somalia-idUSKCN1NE1MG.
- January 15, 2019: Four gunmen and one suicide bomber storm a complex in Nairobi. The 19-hour siege claims the lives of 26, including the attackers, and injures 28. Al-Shabaab claims responsibility for the attack as it was “a response to the witless remarks of U.S. president, Donald Trump, and his declaration of al-Quds [Jerusalem] as the capital of Israel.”Max Bearak, “Deadly Nairobi attack comes as U.S. military ramps up airstrikes against al-Shabab in Somalia,’ Washington Post, January 17, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/africa/deadly-nairobi-attack-comes-as-us-military-ramps-up-airstrikes-against-al-shabab-in-somalia/2019/01/17/ebf40936-1a6c-11e9-b8e6-567190c2fd08_story.html.
- March 13, 2019: Six Malian troops are killed after driving over improvised land mines. Two army vehicles were struck in Dialloube killing two soldiers, and four soldiers are killed after driving over an explosive in Hombori.“Mali troops killed by landmines in Mopti region,” Defense Post, March 13, 2019, https://thedefensepost.com/2019/03/13/mali-troops-killed-landmines-mopti-hombori/.
- March 17, 2019: Gunmen linked to al-Qaeda attack and briefly seize a Malian army base in Mopti region. At least 16 soldiers are killed.“Gunmen attack Mali army base, kill at least 16 soldiers,” Reuters, March 17, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mali-security/gunmen-attack-mali-army-base-kill-at-least-16-soldiers-sources-idUSKCN1QY0ER.
- March 23, 2019: Gunmen launch assaults on the villages of Ogossagou and Welingara. At least 110 Fulani herders are killed. It is suspected that the gunmen were associated with al-Qaeda.“More Than 100 Killed Amid Escalating Violence in Mali,” New York Times, March 23, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/23/world/africa/mali-dozens-killed.html.
- March 28, 2019: An explosive-laden vehicle detonates outside a busy restaurant in Somalia. At least 16 people are killed and another r17 are wounded. Al-Shabaab claims responsibility for the attack.Abdi Guled, “16 dead after blast outside restaurant in Somalia’s capital,” Associated Press, March 28, 2019, https://www.apnews.com/0175124c6f0746c4bff962c78088d369.
- May 12, 2019: Gunmen attack and burn down a church in Dablo, Burkina Faso. At least six people, including the priest, are killed. No group claims responsibility, but it is expected that the gunmen were affiliated with either al-Qaeda or ISIS given the rise of jihadist attacks in neighboring Mali.Thiam Ndiaga, “Gunmen kill six in second church attack in Burkina Faso,” May 12, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-burkina-security/gunmen-kill-six-in-second-church-attack-in-burkina-faso-idUSKCN1SI0EI.
- May 19, 2019: Gunmen raid Timbuktu, Mali, targeting U.N. troops stationed there. One soldier is killed and three other peacekeepers are injured. The attackers are suspected to be associated with al-Qaeda.“Nigerian UN peacekeeper killed in Mali,” Al Jazeera, May 19, 2019, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2019/05/nigerian-peacekeeper-killed-mali-190519173226281.html.
- July 14, 2019: At least four al-Shabaab militants attack a hotel in Mogadishu. The assailants blew up the gate of the hotel with a car bomb, taking over the building and killing over 26 people in the process. Somali forces mange to recover the hotel.Abdi Guled, “Islamic Extremist attack on Somali hotel leaves 26 dead,” Associated Press, July 14, 2019, https://www.apnews.com/8f881d89ea05421e92fff3ea5f857088.
- July 22, 2019: A car bomb detonates near a hotel close to the busy K-4 junction in Mogadishu. At least 17 people are killed and another 28 are taken to a hospital. Al-Shabaab claims responsibility for the explosion.Harun Maruf, “Somalia Car Bombing Kills at Least 17,” Voice of America, July 22, 2019, https://www.voanews.com/africa/somalia-car-bombing-kills-least-17.
- July 24, 2019: A suicide bomber detonates an explosive inside a Mogadishu government building. The attack kills seven, including Abdirahman Omar Osman, the mayor of Mogadishu. Al-Shabaab claims responsibility for the attack, claiming to target United Nations officials who were visiting the government building.Omar Nor and Nicole Chavez, “At least 6 killed, mayor wounded in suicide bombing in Somalia's capital,’ CNN, July 24, 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/07/24/africa/somalia-mogadishu-suicide-bomb/index.html.
- August 2, 2019: Al-Qaeda militants storm the al-Mahfad army base in Abyan province, Yemen. The attack kills at least 19 soldiers.“Al-Qaeda launches deadly attack on army base in southern Yemen,” Al Jazeera, August 2, 2019, www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/08/al-qaeda-launches-deadly-attack-army-base-southern-yemen-190802081549242.html.
- August 14, 2019: Al-Shabaab militants attack a government military base in Somalia. The assailants deploy car bombs and open fire on the base, with unofficial reports claiming over 50 soldiers are killed.“Al-Shabab attacks Somali military base; casualties reported,” Al Jazeera, August 14, 2019, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/08/al-shabab-strikes-somali-military-base-casualties-reported-190814121439284.html.
- August 14, 2019: Al-Shabaab militants attempt to attack a military camp in Mogadishu. Somali troops manage to fend off the two car bombs and gun raid, but three people are killed in the crossfire.Omar Nor and Zahid Mahmood, “3 people killed in a foiled Al-Shabab attack on a Somali military camp,” CNN, August 14, 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2019/08/14/africa/somalia-military-base-foiled-attack-intl/index.html.
- August 15, 2019: Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), otherwise known as the Nusra Front, shoots down a government warplane in Idlib. The militants capture the pilot who was ejected from the plane. Pro-government forces sought to destroy the Nusra Front’s headquarters following their recent successful seizure of new grounds from rebels near the strategic town of Khan Sheikhoun.Josie Ensor, “Idlib rebels shoot down Syrian government plane as regime troops gain ground,” Telegraph, August 15, 2019, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/08/15/idlib-rebels-shoot-syrian-government-plane-regime-troops-gain/.
- August 20, 2019: The U.S. military conducts air raids targeting an al-Shabaab fighter in Qunyo Barrow, Somalia. The militant is killed in the raid.“Air raid in Somalia killed al-Shabab fighter, says US,” Al Jazeera, August 20, 2019, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/08/airstrike-somalia-kills-al-shabab-fighter-190820050324365.html.
- August 21, 2019: Suspected jihadists ambush Malian soldiers between the cities of Hombori and Boni. At least five soldiers are killed. It is unconfirmed which insurgent outfit the rebels belonged to, but jihadist groups linked to al-Qaeda and ISIS have exploited ethnic rivalries in Mali and the surrounding areas to boost recruitment and render swathes of territory ungovernable.“Suspected jihadists kill five Malian troops in ambush,” Reuters, August 21, 2019, https://af.reuters.com/article/topNews/idAFKCN1VB1SG-OZATP?feedType=RSS&feedName=topNews.
- November 11, 2019 – April 16, 2020: A man wielding a knife rushes onto a stage at King Abdullah Park in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The assailant, identified as 33-year-old Yemeni resident Emad Abdelqaui al-Mansouri, stabs three performers before being tackled by a security guard. Saudi state TV reports that al-Mansouri acted on an order of a senior leader of AQAP. On December 30, a court in Saudi Arabia finds al-Mansouri guilty of tampering with national security and creating chaos and terror. The court sentences him to death. On April 16, 2020, Saudi Arabia executes al-Mansouri.“Saudi concert stabbing suspect took orders from al Qaeda in Yemen: state TV,” Reuters, December 19, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-saudi-security-stabbing/saudi-concert-stabbing-suspect-took-orders-from-al-qaeda-in-yemen-state-tv-idUSKBN1YN1C0; “Saudi court sentences man to death for stabbing Spanish theatre group,” BBC News, December 30, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-50947324; “Saudi Arabia executes man who attacked Spanish dance troupe,” NBC News, April 16, 2020, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/saudi-arabia-executes-man-who-attacked-spanish-dance-troupe-n1185206.
- December 6, 2019 – February 02, 2020: On December 6, a member of the Saudi Air Force goes on a shooting rampage in a classroom building at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola. Armed with a handgun, Second Lt. Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani kills three people and injures eight others. Alshamrani was one of hundreds of military trainees at the base. A sheriff’s deputy eventually shoots Alshamrani dead during the attack. On February 2, AQAP releases a posthumous recording from AQAP leader Qasim al-Raymi that claims responsibility for directing the December shooting. The group does not provide evidence of training the gunman but offers copies of his will and correspondence that indicate his affiliation with AQAP.“Al-Qaeda In Yemen Takes Credit For Deadly Florida Naval-Base Shooting,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, February 3, 2020, https://www.rferl.org/a/al-qaeda-in-yemen-takes-credit-for-deadly-florida-naval-base-shooting/30413791.html; Declan Walsh, “Al Qaeda Claims It Directed Florida Naval Base Shooting,” New York Times, February 2, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/02/world/middleeast/al-qaeda-claims-it-directed-florida-naval-base-shooting.html; Kalyn Wolfe, Patricia Mazzei, Eric Schmitt and Christine Hauser, “Six Saudis Said to Be Questioned After Pensacola Navy Base Shooting,” New York Times, December 6, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/06/us/pensacola-florida-navy-shooting.html.
- August 16, 2020: A car bomb decimates the security gates leading to the Elite Hotel in the Lido beach area of Mogadishu, allowing five heavily armed Islamist militants to storm the building. Somali security forces end the siege after five hours of fighting, but at least 15 people are killed. The hotel is a popular destination for politicians, journalists, activists, and young people. Al-Shabaab claims responsibility for the attack via its radio outlet, Andalus.Abdi Guled, “Somalia forces end rebel siege of Mogadishu hotel; 15 killed,” Associated Press, August 16, 2020, https://apnews.com/6c824db9611325f79bf3e04df9505212; “Somalis forces end rebel siege of Mogadishu,” Deutsche Welle, August 16, 2020, https://www.dw.com/en/somalia-forces-end-rebel-siege-of-mogadishu-hotel/a-54588952.
- September 9, 2020: A suicide bombing in the Somali capital of Mogadishu kills at least three people, including one child, and injures seven others. The attacker targets the Blue Sky restaurant, a popular eatery among government troops and located near an army checkpoint that leads to the presidential palace. Al-Shabaab claims responsibility for the attack in a statement.“Suicide Bombing Kills Three In Mogadishu,” Radio Dalsan, September 10, 2020, https://www.radiodalsan.com/en/2020/09/10/suicide-bombing-kills-three-in-mogadishu/; Abdi Guled, “Suicide bomber kills 3, including child, in Somali capital,” Associated Press, September 9, 2020, https://apnews.com/12077d37f516473ba379a0c175795723.
- September 11, 2020: A suicide bomber detonates his explosives outside of a mosque as congregants depart, following Friday prayers, in the southern port city of Kismayo. The attack leaves at least six worshippers dead and another 20 people injured. Al-Shabaab claims responsibility via its Radio Andalus.Abdi Guled, “Suicide bomber kills 2, wounds 6 outside mosque in Somalia,” Associated Press, September 11, 2020, https://apnews.com/d2dc342eb91113653d66cb49d45aa018; “Several killed in suicide bombing outside mosque in Somalia,” Al Jazeera, September 11, 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/09/killed-suicide-bombing-mosque-somalia-200911152954557.html.
- October 29, 2020: Armed with a knife and shouting “Allahu akbar,” Tunisian immigrant Ibrahim Issaoui stabs and kills three people at Notre Dame Basilica in Nice, France. Issaoui beheads one victim and slits the throat of another. Police shoot and wound Issaoui and take him into custody. Nice officials label the attack an act of terrorism, making it France’s third terror attack since September. According to Tunisian prosecutors, a previously unknown al-Qaeda-linked group called Al Mehdi of Southern Tunisia claims responsibility for orchestrating the attack. The group threatens more attacks inside France.Angela Charlton and Daniel Cole, “France mourns 3 killed in church attack, tightens security,” Associated Press, October 30, 2020, https://apnews.com/article/tunisia-france-arrests-terrorism-nice-c01aa6dcd34fcf97ad5fcfa2b46bd83f; Noemie Bisserbe and Sam Schechner, “France Terrorist Attack: What Happened in Nice at the Notre Dame Basilica?,” Wall Street Journal, last updated November 2, 2020, https://www.wsj.com/articles/france-knife-attack-in-nice-what-we-know-so-far-about-the-deadly-stabbing-11603975141; Andy Lines and Chris Hughes, “New terror group linked to al-Qaeda claims it planned Nice church attack killings,” Mirror (London), November 2, 2020, https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/new-terror-group-linked-al-22947104.
- November 17, 2020: A suicide bomber detonates an explosive outside a police academy in Mogadishu. The attack kills at least five and injures 10 others. Al-Shabaab claims responsibility for the attack.“Five dead, many wounded in suicide bomb attack in Somalia,” Al Jazeera, November 17, 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/11/17/at-least-two-dead-after-suicide-bombing-in-somalia.
- November 30, 2020: Al Qaeda-linked militants fire rockets toward French military bases in Kidal, Menaka and Gao in northern Mali. There are no reported casualties.“Al-Qaeda attacks three French military bases in Mali,” Middle East Online, November 30, 2020, https://middle-east-online.com/en/al-qaeda-attacks-three-french-military-bases-mali.
- January 1, 2021: A car bomb explodes at a Russian military base in the Tal Saman area in Raqa province in Syria, wounding several. Al-Qaeda-affiliated Hurras al-Din claims responsibility.Agence France-Presse, “Car Bomb Hits Near Russia Base in Northeast Syria,” Moscow Times, January 1, 2021, https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2021/01/01/car-bomb-hits-near-russia-base-in-northeast-syria-a72533.
- January 2, 2021: An IED strikes a French military vehicle in Menaka, Mali, killing two and wounding one. Al-Qaeda’s North African branch, Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM), claims responsibility.“Two French soldiers killed in Mali: French presidency,” Al Jazeera, January 2, 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/1/2/two-french-soldiers-killed-in-mali-french-presidency; “Al-Qaeda branch claims killings of French soldiers in Mali,” Al Jazeera, January 5, 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/1/5/al-qaeda-branch-claims-killings-of-french-soldiers-in-mali.
Designations by the U.S. Government:
|October 8, 1999: The Department of State designates Al-Qa’ida (AQ) as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (under section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act).“Foreign Terrorist Organizations,” U.S. Department of State, accessed March 12, 2015, http://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/other/des/123085.htm.||The Department of State designates Al-Qa’ida as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (under Executive Order 13224).“Sanctions List Search: Al-Qa’ida,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, accessed March 15, 2015, https://sdnsearch.ofac.treas.gov/Details.aspx?id=545.|
|The Office of Foreign Assets Control, U.S. Treasury Department designates Al-Qa’ida as a Specially Designated Terrorist (under Executive Order 13224).“Sanctions List Search: Al-Qa’ida,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, accessed March 15, 2015, https://sdnsearch.ofac.treas.gov/Details.aspx?id=545.|
In addition to designating hundreds of terrorist groups affiliated with al-Qaeda, the U.S. Department of the Treasury has formally designated dozens of Islamic charities and front companies tied to al-Qaeda.“FTO,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, accessed March 12, 2015, http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/terrorist-illicit-finance/Pages/protecting-fto.aspx.
Designations by Foreign Governments and Organizations:
|Australia—listed Al-Qaeda as a terrorist organization on October 21, 2002.“Listed Terrorist Organisations,” Australian Government, accessed February 19, 2015, http://www.nationalsecurity.gov.au/Listedterroristorganisations/Pages/default.aspx.||Canada—listed Al-Qaeda as a terrorist organization on July 23, 2002.“Currently Listed Entities,” Public Safety Canada, last modified March 24, 2014, http://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/ntnl-scrt/cntr-trrrsm/lstd-ntts/crrnt-lstd-ntts-eng.aspx#2004.|
|EU—listed Al-Qaeda as a terrorist organization on May 27, 2002.Council of the European Union, “Council Regulation (EC) No 881/2002 of 27 May 2002,” Official Journal of the European Communities, May 27, 2002, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ:L:2002:139:0009:0022:EN:PDF.||France—designated Al-Qaeda according to rule (CE) n° 881/2002 of May 27, 2002.“Liste terroriste unique,” Tresor Direction Generale, accessed March 12, 2015, http://www.tresor.economie.gouv.fr/5563_liste-terroriste-unique.|
|India—listed Al-Qaeda as a terrorist organization on April 9, 2002.“Centre Bans Al-Qaeda,” Hindu, April 9, 2002, http://www.thehindu.com/2002/04/09/stories/2002040903651100.htm.||Israel—listed Al-Qaeda as an Unlawful organization on April 10, 2001.“List of Declarations and Orders—Unofficial Translation,” Ministry of Justice, February 20, 2013, http://www.justice.gov.il/NR/rdonlyres/9C960928-70AB-428A-BCCC-2E6091F2BDE3/40880/impa_terror_eng_17012013.doc.|
|New Zealand—listed Al-Qaeda as a terrorist organization on October 17, 2002.“Designated Individuals and Organisations,” New Zealand Police, February 10, 2015, http://www.police.govt.nz/sites/default/files/publications/designated-entities-10-02-2015.pdf.||United Arab Emirates—listed Al-Qaeda as a terrorist organization on November 15, 2014.“UAE lists scores of groups as ‘terrorists,’” Al Jazeera, November 16, 2014, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/11/uae-lists-scores-groups-as-terrorists-2014111517644316294.html.|
|United Nations—listed Osama bin Laden as a terrorist on October 15, 1999.“Resolution 1267 (1999),” United Nations Security Council, October 15, 1999, http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=S/RES/1267%281999%29.||United Kingdom—listed Al-Qaeda as a terrorist organization in March 2001.“Proscribed Terrorist Organisations,” Home Office, last modified January 23, 2015, 6, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/400902/Proscription-20150123.pdf.|
Ties to Extremist Entities:
The terrorist cell exposed in September 2014 as “the Khorasan Group” is a conglomerate of al-Qaeda fighters integrated or fully embedded within al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, the Nusra Front. President Obama introduced Khorasan to the American public as “seasoned al Qaeda operatives in Syria.”“Statement by the President on Airstrikes in Syria,” U.S. Department of State, September 23, 2014, http://www.state.gov/p/nea/rls/rm/232045.htm. Reports indicate that U.S. internal documents refer to the group as the Khorasan Shura,Zack Beauchamp, “Khorasan, Explained: Why the US Is Bombing an Al-Qaeda Group You’ve Never Heard Of,” Vox, September 26, 2014, http://www.vox.com/2014/9/26/6836491/khorasan-isis-syria-al-qaeda. essentially the leadership council of core al-Qaeda. Khorasan is considered by some to be a reallocation of a portion of al-Qaeda’s core leadership to Syria and, by others, to be an externally directed arm of al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria. Both of these claims hold that Khorasan’s purpose is to recruit Western jihadists in Syria and redirect them to carrying out attacks against the U.S. and Europe.
In response to Egypt’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, Ayman al-Zawahiri released a video condemning the crackdown and saying, “We call on the people to put their revolution on the right track and undertake slogans calling for Islamic Sharia, the path of freedom, social justice and human dignity.”Adam Koppeser and AbdelHalim H. AbdAllah, “Al Qaeda Chief Declares Solidarity with Muslim Brotherhood, Urges Followers to Kidnap Westerners,” Daily News Egypt, April 27, 2014, http://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2014/04/27/al-qaeda-chief-declares-solidarity-muslim-brotherhood-urges-followers-kidnap-westerners/. The Egyptian outlet El-Watan has exposed conversations between Egypt’s former president and member of the Muslim Brotherhood Mohammed Morsi and Ayman al-Zawahiri’s brother, Muhammad al-Zawahiri. According to these conversations, Morsi allegedly colluded with Zawahiri to release terrorists from Egyptian prisons in order to garner support for the Brotherhood.Ariel Ben Solomon, “Egyptian Reports Highlight Alleged Morsi-Al-Qaida Cooperation,” Jerusalem Post, February 6, 2014, http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Egyptian-reports-highlight-alleged-Morsi-al-Qaida-cooperation-340556.
In 2002, the Washington Post quoted official U.S. government sources as confirming a loose alliance “between al-Qaeda, Hamas, and Hizbullah.”Jonathan Schanzer, “The Hamas-Al Qaeda Alliance,” Weekly Standard, May 2, 2011, http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/hamas-al-qaeda-alliance_558605.html. In 2003, Israel arrested three Hamas fighters returning from al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan.Jonathan Schanzer, “The Hamas-Al Qaeda Alliance,” Weekly Standard, May 2, 2011, http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/hamas-al-qaeda-alliance_558605.html. That same year, Jordanian security officials confirmed to Time that two Hamas members went on a recruiting mission in Afghanistan in the hopes of bringing al-Qaeda fighters back to the Palestinian territories.Jonathan Schanzer, “The Hamas-Al Qaeda Alliance,” Weekly Standard, May 2, 2011, http://www.weeklystandard.com/blogs/hamas-al-qaeda-alliance_558605.html.
|Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is the union of al-Qaeda’s branches in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. AQAP has carried out violent jihadist attacks both domestically and internationally in service of al-Qaeda’s ideology. AQAP is most known for its terrorist plots on U.S. soil, including the Christmas Day Bomber of 2009 and the Times Square Bomber of 2010, as well as its brutal war against the Yemeni government.
ISIS was originally an al-Qaeda affiliate in Iraq. Under al-Qaeda’s auspices from October 2004Ty McCormick, “Al Qaeda Core: A Short History,” Foreign Policy, March 17, 2014, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/03/17/al_qaeda_core_a_short_history; “Terrorist Organization Profile: al-Qaeda Organization in the Land of the Two Rivers,” START: National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, accessed March 16, 2015, http://www.start.umd.edu/tops/terrorist_organization_profile.asp?id=4416; “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant / al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI): ISIL – Early History,” GlobalSecurity.org, accessed March 16, 2015, http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/para/aqi-2.htm. until February 2014, ISIS, formerly al-Qaeda in Iraq, was responsible for a score of terrorist bombings that resulted in the death of thousands. In February 2014, the two groups split over a leadership dispute when ISIS’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, refused to obey al-Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Al-Shabaab publicly praised al-Qaeda between 2006 and 2008, condemning U.S. oppression of Muslims worldwide. In 2010, the group announced that it sought to “connect the horn of Africa jihad to the one led by al-Qaeda.”Jonathan Masters, “Al-Shabab,” Council on Foreign Relations, last modified September 5, 2014, http://www.cfr.org/somalia/al-shabab/p18650. Al-Shabaab officially announced its union with al-Qaeda in February 2012. Following Godane’s death in September 2014, the group and its new leader reaffirmed the alignment.Reuters, “Al-Shabaab pledge allegiance to new leader,” Al Arabiya, September 8, 2014, http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/2014/09/08/Somalia-s-al-Shabaab-pledge-allegiance-to-new-leader.html.
The Nusra Front has a long and proven history of serving as al-Qaeda’s loyal affiliate in Syria. In July 2016, however, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri released an audio statement giving the Nusra Front formal permission to break ties with al-Qaeda if the link was “conflicting with [the Nusra Front’s] unity and working as one body.”Reuters, “Al Qaeda tells Syrian branch Nusra Front it can drop links,” Thomas Reuters Foundation News, July 28, 2016, http://news.trust.org/item/20160728110801-ogl17. Hours later, Nusra Front leader Abu Muhammad al-Golani formally severed ties with al-Qaeda’s central command.Orient News, “Nusra Front, Abu Mohammed Joulani commander officially announced the disengagement from al-Qaeda and the establishment of a new entity,” YouTube video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oossAtDYbrs; Dania Akkad, “Nusra confirms split with al-Qaeda ‘to protect the Syrian revolution,’” Middle East Eye, July 28, 2016, http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/nusra-front-announces-official-split-al-qaeda-520293064. Analysts have long surmised that a formal, or at least artificial, break from al-Qaeda could allow the Nusra Front the opportunity to attract more funding from Gulf states, consolidate local support, and present itself as a legitimate insurgent group in Syria.Bassem Mroue, “AP EXPLAINS: Why Syria’s al-Qaida may be considering a split,” Associated Press, July 27, 2016, http://bigstory.ap.org/article/d10d759d35824b70b47501d85f0ff8c3/ap-explains-why-syrias-al-qaida-may-be-considering-split; Reuters, “Al Qaeda tells Syrian branch Nusra Front it can drop links,” Thomas Reuters Foundation News, July 28, 2016, http://news.trust.org/item/20160728110801-ogl17. Even as the Nusra Front formally declared its independence from al-Qaeda, the group thanked al-Qaeda’s leadership for giving “priority to the interests of the people of Al-Sham, their Jihad, [and] their revolution.”Orient News, “Nusra Front, Abu Mohammed Joulani commander officially announced the disengagement from al-Qaeda and the establishment of a new entity,” YouTube video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oossAtDYbrs.
For years before the announcement, the Nusra Front had reaffirmed its allegiance to al-Zawahiri, even in the face of competing claims to its leadership. In April 2013, after al-Baghdadi unilaterally claimed that the Nusra Front answered to his al-Qaeda in Iraq group (now ISIS), Nusra Front leader Abu Muhammad al-Golani broke ties with ISIS and affirmed its allegiance to al-Qaeda central.“Syria Crisis: Al-Nusra Pledges Allegiance to Al-Qaeda,” BBC News, April 10, 2013, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-22095099.
Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS)
Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) is al-Qaeda’s fifth official chapter. Alastair Reed, “Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent: A New Frontline in the Global Jihadist Movement?,” ICCT Policy Brief, May 2015, 1, https://www.icct.nl/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/ICCT-Reed-Al-Qaeda-in-the-Indian-Subcontinent-May2016.pdf The group was founded in September 2014 at the behest of al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who appointed Asim Omar as emir (leader) of the new affiliate. Like its parent group, AQIS seeks to wage jihad in order to establish governance by sharia (Islamic law). The affiliate allegedly operates in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Burma, Bangladesh, and Kashmir. Al-Zawahiri stated that AQIS seeks to “rescue” the subcontinent’s Muslim population from “injustice, oppression, persecution, and suffering.” Bill Roggio, “Al Qaeda Opens Branch in the ‘Indian Subcontinent,’” Long War Journal, September 3, 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/09/al_qaeda_opens_branc.php.
JI’s experiences with al-Qaeda jihadists in Afghanistan significantly influenced its doctrine and also served to solidify a connection between JI and al-Qaeda core. David Gordon and Samuel Lindo, “Jemaah Islamiyah,” Center for Strategic & International Studies, November 2011, http://csis.org/files/publication/111101_Gordon_JemaahIslamiyah_WEB.pdf Al-Qaeda core had initially provided a bulk of revenue to JI also, though JI members are able to raise their own funds. Some analysts believe the group is still financially connected. Yanina Goldburt, “An In-Depth Look at the Jemaah Islamiyah Network,” al Nakhlah (Fall 2004), http://fletcher.tufts.edu/Al-Nakhlah/Archives/~/media/Fletcher/Microsites/al%20Nakhlah/archives/pdfs/golburt.ashx Some members of JI associate with al-Qaeda’s formal affiliate in Syria, the Nusra Front, and have joined the group there. Julie Chernov Hwang and Noor Huda Ismail, “There and Back Again: Indonesian Fighters in Syria,” Middle East Institute, January 27, 2015, http://www.mei.edu/content/map/there-and-back-again-indonesian-fighters-syria.
| Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT)
LeT has had long-standing relationships with al-Qaeda members since the 1980s. In August 1998, LeT fighters were killed when training camps run by Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan were hit by U.S. cruise missiles. Protecting the Homeland against Mumbai-Style Attacks and the Threat from Lashkar-e-Taiba, Before the House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, 113th Cong. (2013) (statement of Jonah Blank, Senior Political Analyst, RAND Corporation), http://docs.house.gov/meetings/HM/HM05/20130612/100964/HHRG-113-HM05-Wstate-BlankJ-20130612.pdf After 9/11, LeT provided safe havens to al-Qaeda militants, including senior AQ member Abu Zubaydah. Abu Zubaydah was eventually captured by the Pakistani government in 2002. Gerry J. Gilmore, “Rumsfeld Confirms Capture of Senior Al Qaeda Leader,” Department of Defense News, April 2, 2002, http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=44203 LeT member David Headley, conspired with AQ operative Ilyas Kashmiri in 2009 to plan attacks on a Danish newspapers and other targets in Copenhagen. Protecting the Homeland against Mumbai-Style Attacks and the Threat from Lashkar-e-Taiba, Before the House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, 113th Cong.  (2013) (statement of Jonah Blank, Senior Political Analyst, RAND Corporation), http://docs.house.gov/meetings/HM/HM05/20130612/100964/HHRG-113-HM05-Wstate-BlankJ-20130612.pdf Like the Afghan Taliban, al-Qaeda reportedly learned some of its outreach and media techniques from LeT. Neil Padukone, “The Next al-Qaeda? Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Future of Terrorism in South Asia,” World Affairs, November/December 2011, http://www.worldaffairsjournal.org/article/next-al-qaeda-lashkar-e-taiba-and-future-terrorism-south-asia According to reports, al-Qaeda has tried to poach members from Pakistani-backed jihadist groups such as LeT. Despite cooperating with LeT, al-Qaeda seeks to create an independent jihadist presence in Jammu and Kashmir that operates outside of Pakistan’s political interests.Thomas Joscelyn, “Indian forces kill spokesman for al Qaeda group in Kashmir,” Long War Journal, June 28, 2019, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2019/06/indian-forces-kill-spokesman-for-al-qaeda-group-in-kashmir.php.
|Ansar al-Sharia in Libya
ASL is the union of two smaller groups, the Ansar al-Sharia Brigade in Benghazi (ASB) and Ansar al-Sharia Derna (ASD). U.K. Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond stated that both ASD and ASB “have links with Al Qaeda and are responsible for acts of terror in Libya, including bomb attacks, kidnappings, and murder.”Thomas Joscelyn, “UN Recognizes Ties between Ansar Al Sharia in Libya, Al Qaeda,” Long War Journal, November 19, 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/11/un_designates_ansar.php In November 2014, the United Nations sanctioned ASL as an entity associated with al-Qaeda. Thomas Joscelyn, “UN Recognizes Ties between Ansar Al Sharia in Libya, Al Qaeda,” Long War Journal, November 19, 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/11/un_designates_ansar.php Many members of ASL are personally connected to al-Qaeda, including former Guantanamo detainee and founder of ASD, Abu Sufyan Bin Qumu. Following the capture of Abu Anas al-Libi, ASL called for the release of the al-Qaeda militant “by all possible means.”Nadia Radwan, “Libya: Ansar Al-Sharia Intensifies Recruitment,” AllAfrica, November 15, 2013, http://allafrica.com/stories/201311180744.html The emir of the organization, Mohamad al-Zahawi, has spoken favorably about al-Qaeda. Officially, however, ASL denies any connections to al-Qaeda.Faisal Irshaid, “Profile: Libya’s Ansar Al-Sharia,” BBC News, June 13, 2014, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-27732589
Ties to Other Entities:
The United States accuses Iran of providing safe haven to al-Qaeda members and knowingly permitting al-Qaeda members, including several of the September 11, 2001, attackers, to travel through its territory. According to the U.S. 9/11 Commission, senior al-Qaeda operatives and trainers traveled to Iran in late 1991 or 1992 to receive explosives training. In 1993, another delegation traveled to Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, a Hezbollah stronghold, for explosives training.National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Against the United States, The 9/11 Commission Report, 61, https://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report.pdf#page=78. The 9/11 Commission found that Iran “made a concerted effort to strengthen relations with Al-Qaeda after the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole,” but bin Laden did not want to further alienate his supporters in Saudi Arabia.National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Against the United States, The 9/11 Commission Report, 240, https://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report.pdf#page=78. While the 9/11 Commission found no evidence that Iran was aware of the plans for the September 11 attacks, the commission reported that Iran had allowed al-Qaeda members to transit through its territory in 2000 and 2001 on their way to Afghanistan.National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Against the United States, The 9/11 Commission Report, 241, https://govinfo.library.unt.edu/911/report/911Report.pdf#page=78.
In 2016, the United States identified and sanctioned three senior al-Qaeda operatives residing in Iran, Faisal Jassim Mohammed al-Amri al-Khalidi, Yisra Muhammad Ibrahim Bayumi, and Abu Bakr Muhammad Ghumayn.“Treasury Designates Three Senior Al-Qaida Members,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, July 20, 2016, https://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/jl0523.aspx. On August 7, 2020, al-Qaeda deputy leader Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, a.k.a. Abu Muhammad al-Masri, was killed in Tehran, Iran, with his daughter, Miriam, the widow of Hamza bin Laden. Masri was allegedly one of the masterminds of the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Africa. Unidentified intelligence officials alleged that the Iranian government had provided Abdullah with a false identity and cover story.Adam Goldman, Eric Schmitt, Farnaz Fassihi, and Ronen Bergman, “Al Qaeda’s No. 2, Accused in U.S. Embassy Attacks, Was Killed in Iran,” New York Times, November 13, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/13/world/middleeast/al-masri-abdullah-qaeda-dead.html.
On January 12, 2021, the United States sanctioned Iran-based al-Qaeda leaders Muhammad Abbatay, a.k.a. Abd al-Rahman al-Maghrebi, and Sultan Yusuf Hasan al-‘Arif. The United States also designated three leaders of the al-Qaeda Kurdish Battalions (AQKB), an al-Qaeda-linked group operating on the border between Iran and Iraq. According to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Iran is al-Qaeda’s new “home base” and “gives sanctuary to the terror group’s senior leaders as they plan attacks against America” and its allies.“United States Takes Action to Counter Iranian Support for al-Qa’ida,” U.S. Department of State, January 12, 2021, https://www.state.gov/united-states-takes-action-to-counter-iranian-support-for-al-qaida/. The Iranian leadership has denied that there are any al-Qaeda leaders residing in the country or that the regime has any ties to al-Qaeda.Javad Zarif, Twitter post, January 12, 2021, 10:42 a.m., https://twitter.com/JZarif/status/1349018857067991046; “Iran denies al-Qaeda leader was killed in Tehran,” BBC News, November 14, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-54942839.