Al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks was the deadliest ever on American soil, killing nearly 3,000 people. Since the fall of the Taliban, al-Qaeda has established operations worldwide, including in Syria, the Gulf, North Africa, West Africa, East Africa, and the Indian subcontinent.
February 13-15, 2023: According to a report released by the U.N. Security Council on February 13, Adel is the “de facto leader of Al-Qaida.” Two days later, the U.S. Department of State reiterates that Adel is al-Qaeda’s new leader and that he is currently based in Iran.“Letter dated 13 February 2023 from the Chair of the Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999), 1989 (2011) and 2253 (2015) concerning Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals, groups, undertakings and entities addressed to the President of the Security Council,” United Nations Digital Library, February 13, 2023, https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/4002636?ln=en; Edith M. Lederer, “UN report: Sayf al-’Adl widely seen as new al-Qaida leader,” Associated Press, February 14, 2023, https://apnews.com/article/islamic-state-group-al-qaida-ayman-zawahri-politics-organized-crime-6ad9fe3f8e79064657b6e72b123ba8d7; “Department Press Briefing – February 15, 2023,” U.S. Department of State, February 15, 2023, https://www.state.gov/briefings/department-press-briefing-february-15-2023/.
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
With the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021 following the U.S. military withdrawal, U.S. military leaders remain concerned al-Qaeda will reestablish and grow its base in that country. The United States has warned the Taliban against allowing al-Qaeda to thrive in Afghanistan.Robert Burns, “Pentagon chief: al-Qaida may seek comeback in Afghanistan,” Associated Press, September 9, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/afghanistan-united-states-jamal-khashoggi-kabul-middle-east-6b4d72c5f3f5e88c7dace6bfc5fef8b1. U.S. assessments indicate al-Qaeda could rebuild its Afghanistan base within one to two years.Julian E. Barnes, “Al Qaeda could rebuild in Afghanistan in a year or two, U.S. officials say,” New York Times, last updated September 28, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/14/us/politics/al-qaeda-afghanistan.html. Despite the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan, the U.S. military has declared its intentions to use airstrikes to restrict al-Qaeda in the country.Agence France-Presse, “US eyes air strikes on al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, thousands of miles from nearest base,” South China Morning Post, October 1, 2021, https://www.scmp.com/news/world/united-states-canada/article/3150854/us-eyes-air-strikes-al-qaeda-afghanistan-thousands.
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 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 did not rule 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. Despite the collapse of ISIS’s caliphate in 2019, al-Qaeda and ISIS continued to cooperate in West Africa’s Sahel region, raising concerns of future coordination between the groups.Associated Press, “Al-Qaida, ISIS merger worries U.S. general,” Arkansas Democrat Gazette, February 28, 2020, https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2020/feb/28/al-qaida-isis-merger-worries-us-general/.
Al-Qaeda’s central command, which included former 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# Since the May 2011 death of Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda’s affiliates have taken on more central roles as al-Qaeda’s core has become more decentralized. Zawahiri brokered mergers with a number of Islamist groups including al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (previously the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat or GSPC) and al-Shabaab.Jean-Pierre Filiu, “Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb: Algerian Challenge or Global Threat?” Carnegie Papers Number 104 (2009): 3; Jonathan Masters, “Al-Shabab,” Council on Foreign Relations, http://www.cfr.org/somalia/al-shabab/p18650.
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 Indian 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 sustained a formal affiliate in Syria, al-Nusra Front (Hayat Tahrir al-Sham). In July 2016, the groups announced that they had split, a move some analysts 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. Al-Nusra subsequently dissolved and was subsumed into a new, larger Syrian Islamist group, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (“Assembly for the Liberation of the Levant” or HTS). While al-Nusra Front continues to operate under the HTS name, the group has since reverted back to its core of about 10,000 fighters, most of them belonging to al-Nusra Front.Aron Lund, “A Jihadist Breakup in Syria,” Foreign Affairs, September 15, 2017, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/syria/2017-09-15/jihadist-breakup-syria.
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 claimed 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. Saif al-Adel, one of Zawahiri’s chief deputies, was widely reported to be 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 late February 2021, some British media began reporting that Adel is soon to be or may have already been named the leader of al-Qaeda. According to retired British Army officer Colonel Richard Kemp, Adel is highly respected among both al-Qaeda and ISIS. As such, some analysts expected Adel to begin recruiting from current ISIS fighters. Analysts told the Mirror Adel is a more effective leader than Zawahiri and could make al-Qaeda as dangerous as it was in 2001.Dan Keane, “TERROR TAUNT Al-Qaeda now as dangerous as under Osama Bin Laden as new chief dubbed ‘Sword of Revenge’ vows to attack, expert claims,” Sun (London), February 25, 2021, https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/14159205/al-qaeda-dangerous-osama-bin-laden/; Chris Hughes, “New Al-Qaeda boss known as Sword of Revenge is ‘worse than Osama bin Laden,’” Mirror (London), February 24, 2021, https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/new-al-qaeda-boss-known-23559133.
On March 12, 2021, al-Qaeda released a new video featuring Zawahiri’s voice addressing the plight of Rohingya Muslims in China. However, Zawahiri was not the main speaker, nor did he physically appear in the video, leading observers to question whether the video had used pieces of a previously recorded speech by Zawahiri.“New video message from al-Qai’dah’s Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri: “The Wound of the Rohingya is the Wound of the Islamic Nation,” Jihadology, March 12, 2021, https://jihadology.net/2021/03/12/new-video-message-from-al-qaidahs-dr-ayman-al-%e1%ba%93awahiri-the-wound-of-the-rohingya-is-the-wound-of-the-islamic-nation/; Cole Bunzel, “Is Ayman al-Zawahiri Dead?,” Jihadica, March 17, 2021, http://www.jihadica.com/is-ayman-al-zawahiri-dead/. Al-Qaeda released another video on September 11, 2021, in which Zawahiri praised the U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan as well as a January 2021 attack targeting Russian troops in Syria. Given that Zawahiri did not mention the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in August, the video could have been recorded months earlier, fueling doubt over whether he was still alive.“Al-Qaida chief appears in video marking 9/11 anniversary,” Associated Press, September 12, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/middle-east-syria-afghanistan-taliban-islamic-state-group-79fc96bd028a31718e3c69fc6aba2a96. Almost a year later on July 31, 2022, Zawahiri was killed in a CIA drone strike in Kabul.Matthew Lee, Nomaan Merchant, Mike Balsamo, and James Laporta, “Biden: Drone strike on al-Qaida leader delivered ‘justice,’” Associated Press, August 1, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/ayman-al-zawahri-al-qaida-terrorism-biden-36e5f10256c9bc9972b252849eda91f2. The strike targeted a house reportedly belonging to a top aide to senior Taliban leader Sirajuddin Haqqani. Zawahiri had allegedly been staying in the house. The strike was the first U.S. drone strike in Afghanistan since the U.S. withdrew its forces in late August 2021.Idrees Ali, “Al Qaeda leader Zawahiri killed in CIA drone strike in Afghanistan - U.S. officials,” Reuters, August 1, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/cia-carried-out-drone-strike-afghanistan-us-officials-say-2022-08-01/; Matthew Lee, Nomaan Merchant, Mike Balsamo, and James Laporta“Biden: Drone strike on al-Qaida leader delivered ‘justice,’” Associated Press, August 1, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/ayman-al-zawahri-al-qaida-terrorism-biden-36e5f10256c9bc9972b252849eda91f2. In late December 2022, al-Qaeda released an undated video narrated by Zawahiri.“Al Qaeda releases video it claims is narrated by leader al-Zawahiri who was believed dead -SITE,” Reuters, December 23, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/al-qaeda-releases-video-it-claims-is-narrated-by-leader-al-zawahiri-who-was-2022-12-23/. Nonetheless, al-Qaeda had still not announced a new leader as of early 2023.Kanishka Singh and Jonathan Landay, “Al Qaeda succession after al-Zawahiri’s death still unclear -U.S. official,” Reuters, January 10, 2023, https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/al-qaeda-succession-after-al-zawahiris-death-still-unclear-us-official-2023-01-10/. On February 13, 2023, the U.N. Security Council released a report stating that the predominant view held among member states is that Adel is the “de facto leader of Al-Qaida.” His leadership was not officially announced as the statement would also acknowledge that former leader Zawahiri was in Afghanistan upon the time of his death, a fact that would contradict the Afghan Taliban’s claims of not harboring known terrorists.“Letter dated 13 February 2023 from the Chair of the Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999), 1989 (2011) and 2253 (2015) concerning Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and associated individuals, groups, undertakings and entities addressed to the President of the Security Council,” United Nations Digital Library, February 13, 2023, https://digitallibrary.un.org/record/4002636?ln=en; Edith M. Lederer, “UN report: Sayf al-’Adl widely seen as new al-Qaida leader,” Associated Press, February 14, 2023, https://apnews.com/article/islamic-state-group-al-qaida-ayman-zawahri-politics-organized-crime-6ad9fe3f8e79064657b6e72b123ba8d7. On February 15, the U.S. Department of State reiterated that Adel is Zawahiri’s successor, and that he is currently based in Iran.“Department Press Briefing – February 15, 2023,” U.S. Department of State, February 15, 2023, https://www.state.gov/briefings/department-press-briefing-february-15-2023/.
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 al-Nusra Front and Boko Haram.
De facto leader (reported), senior leader, member of the majlis al-shura leadership council
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.
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, al-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) 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.
Al-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 al-Nusra Front formal permission to break ties with al-Qaeda if the link was “conflicting with [al-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, al-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 al-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 al-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, al-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 al-Nusra Front answered to his al-Qaeda in Iraq group (now ISIS), al-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) 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, al-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.
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.
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
Ansar al-Islam is an al-Qaeda affiliate operating in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Hisham Ashmawy, a former captain in the Egyptian special forces, founded the group after defecting from Ansar Bait al-Maqdis when it declared allegiance to ISIS in November 2014.Tim Lister, “Al Qaeda leader to ISIS: You’re wrong, but we can work together,” CNN, September 15, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/2015/09/14/middleeast/al-zawahiri-al-qaeda-isis-olive-branch/. Ashmawy is responsible for the May 2013 attempted assassination of former Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim and the June 2015 assassination of Egypt’s top public prosecutor with a car bomb.Ahmed Hassan, “One of us: the militant Egypt's army fears most,” Reuters, October 16, 2015, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-egypt-army-militant-insight/one-of-us-the-militant-egypts-army-fears-most-idUSKCN0SA0XT20151016.
The Taliban provided a safe haven for al-Qaeda insurgents in Afghanistan prior to the September 11, 2001, terror attacks. In 1996, Osama bin Laden met with Taliban leader Mullah Omar and formally pledged his allegiance and financial backing in exchange for protection from the Taliban.Steve Coll, “Looking for Mullah Omar,” New Yorker, January 23, 2012, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/01/23/looking-for-mullah-omar. During this time, bin Laden established al-Qaeda’s 55th Arab Brigade to fight alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan.Bill Roggio and Thomas Joscelyn, “The al-Qaeda-Taliban Connection,” Weekly Standard, July 4, 2011, http://www.weeklystandard.com/the-al-qaeda-taliban-connection/article/575548. Leaked memos from the U.S. military Joint Task Force Guantanamo describe the brigade as bin Laden’s “primary battle formation supporting Taliban objectives,” with bin Laden “participating closely in the command and control of the brigade.”Bill Roggio and Thomas Joscelyn, “The al-Qaeda-Taliban Connection,” Weekly Standard, July 4, 2011, http://www.weeklystandard.com/the-al-qaeda-taliban-connection/article/575548.
Following the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, al-Qaeda and the Taliban fled to the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan, where both organizations began to regroup and retool.Richard Barrett, Sajjan Gohel, Ronald E. Neumann, and Nigel Inkster, “The al-Qaeda-Taliban Nexus,” Council on Foreign Relations, November 25, 2009, http://www.cfr.org/pakistan/al-qaeda-taliban-nexus/p20838. Al-Qaeda maintained a close relationship with the Taliban following the U.S. invasion. A U.S. intelligence report acquired by Bill Roggio and Thomas Joscelyn from Guantanamo Bay described “a newly-conceived ‘unification’ of Al Qaeda and Taliban forces within Afghanistan.”Bill Roggio and Thomas Joscelyn, “The al-Qaeda-Taliban Connection,” Weekly Standard, July 4, 2011, http://www.weeklystandard.com/the-al-qaeda-taliban-connection/article/575548. The same report indicated that Mullah Omar and bin Laden “envisioned this new coalition” during a meeting in Pakistan in early spring 2003.Bill Roggio and Thomas Joscelyn, “The al-Qaeda-Taliban Connection,” Weekly Standard, July 4, 2011, http://www.weeklystandard.com/the-al-qaeda-taliban-connection/article/575548.
Following the death of bin Laden in 2011, Ayman al-Zawahiri repeatedly renewed his oath of allegiance to the leader of the Taliban.Thomas Joscelyn, “Al Qaeda Renews Its Oath of Allegiance to Taliban Leader Mullah Omar,” Long War Journal, July 21, 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/07/al_qaeda_renews_its.php. Al-Qaeda leaders have also been featured in Taliban propaganda videos, confirming the continued alliance between the two groups.Thomas Joscelyn and Bill Roggio, “Taliban rejects peace talks, emphasizes alliance with al Qaeda in new video,” Long War Journal, December 9, 2016, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2016/12/taliban-rejects-peace-talks-emphasizes-alliance-with-al-qaeda-in-new-video.php.
In February 2020, the Taliban reached an agreement with the United States for a U.S. troop drawdown in Afghanistan. Among other commitments, the Taliban agreed to renounce al-Qaeda and prevent al-Qaeda and other groups from using Afghanistan as a base for terrorism against the United States.Mujib Mashal, “Taliban and U.S. Strike Deal to Withdraw American Troops From Afghanistan,” New York Times, February 29, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/29/world/asia/us-taliban-deal.html. Nonetheless, a February 2021 U.S. Department of Defense report found the Taliban were maintaining their links to al-Qaeda.“Lead Inspector General for Operation Freedom’s Sentinel I Quarterly Report to the United States Congress I October 1, 2020 - December 31, 2020,” U.S. Department of Defense Office of Inspector General, February 12, 2021, https://www.dodig.mil/reports.html/Article/2505172/lead-inspector-general-for-operation-freedoms-sentinel-i-quarterly-report-to-th/. A May 2021 U.N. Security Council report found the Taliban maintained strong ties to al-Qaeda. The U.N. monitoring team behind the report concluded it is “impossible to assess with confidence that the Taliban will live up to its commitment to suppress any future” al-Qaeda threat in Afghanistan.“Letter dated 20 May 2021 from the Chair of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1988 (2011) addressed to the President of the Security Council,” U.N. Security Council, June 1, 2021, 3, https://www.undocs.org/en/S/2021/486. The report also mentioned that Sirajuddin Haqqani, who is the deputy emir of the Taliban’s Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, is also “assessed to be a member of the wider al-Qaeda leadership, but not of the al-Qaeda core leadership.” The exact details of his role are not provided.“Letter dated 20 May 2021 from the Chair of the Security Council Committee established pursuant to resolution 1988 (2011) addressed to the President of the Security Council,” U.N. Security Council, June 1, 2021, 3, https://www.undocs.org/en/S/2021/486.
With the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, U.S. military leaders remain concerned al-Qaeda will reestablish and grow its base in that country. The United States has warned the Taliban against allowing al-Qaeda to thrive in Afghanistan.Robert Burns, “Pentagon chief: al-Qaida may seek comeback in Afghanistan,” Associated Press, September 9, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/afghanistan-united-states-jamal-khashoggi-kabul-middle-east-6b4d72c5f3f5e88c7dace6bfc5fef8b1. In September 2021, the Taliban denied al-Qaeda had a presence in the country. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid promised there would be no danger to any other country—including the United States—originating from within Afghanistan.“Taliban say no al Qaeda or ISIS in Afghanistan,” Reuters, September 21, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/taliban-say-no-al-qaeda-or-isis-afghanistan-2021-09-21/. Despite the Taliban’s assurances, U.S. assessments indicate al-Qaeda could rebuild its Afghanistan base within one to two years.Julian E. Barnes, “Al Qaeda could rebuild in Afghanistan in a year or two, U.S. officials say,” New York Times, last updated September 28, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/14/us/politics/al-qaeda-afghanistan.html. Despite the U.S. military withdrawal from Afghanistan, the U.S. military has declared its intentions to use airstrikes to restrict al-Qaeda in the country.Agence France-Presse, “US eyes air strikes on al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, thousands of miles from nearest base,” South China Morning Post, October 1, 2021, https://www.scmp.com/news/world/united-states-canada/article/3150854/us-eyes-air-strikes-al-qaeda-afghanistan-thousands.
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.×
Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.
On May 27, 2018, Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jamaah (ASWJ) militants carried out an attack in Monjane, Cabo Delgado in northern Mozambique. The assailants beheaded over 10 villagers.
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