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Al Qaeda Network

A Guide to Al Qaeda's Network Structure

By

Ayman Al Zawahiri

Ayman Al Zawahiri, 2nd in Command

FBI
Also see: Al Qaeda leaders

The Al Qaeda Network

The term Al Qaeda is often used as if it refers to a single global group united under the leadership of Osama bin Laden. In fact, Al Qaeda is a loose affiliation of groups who claim affiliation to Al Qaeda or its stated objectives of global jihad.

Some organizations may have operational ties to Osama bin Laden's core group. Increasingly, however, groups pledging allegiance to Al Qaeda have no formal association whatever.

While many analysts use the metaphor of marketing to describe Al Qaeda as a 'brand,' and its offshoots as 'franchises,' others describe the decentralization phenomenon in terms of a core group of professionals, surrounded by new membership in 'grassroots' affiliates.

This decentralization is a consequence of strategy, not accident, according to analyst Adam Elkus. In 2007, he wrote that:

Al Qaeda has been moving towards decentralization ever since the invasion of Afghanistan, with isolated cells and loosely affiliated groups that have only a tenuous connection to the greater Al Qaeda hierarchy tapping into Bin Laden's "franchise," appropriating its ideological "brand name" for their actions. ("Future War: The War on Terror after Iraq," Athena Paper, Vol 2, No, March 26, 2007).

Some of these "knock off" groups spring from pre-existing militant groups committed to some version of Islamist transformation of their society. In Algeria, for example, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is a new incarnation of another group, the Salafist Group for Call and Combat, which has had a long, and violent, commitment to overthrowing the Algerian government. The group's sudden commitment to 'Al Qaeda- style' global jihad should be taken with a grain of salt or, at the least, examined in light of its local history.

Among the groups presumed to be in the Al Qaeda network are:
  • Al Qaeda—core organization: The original group headed by Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri

  • Al Qaeda in Iraq: An organization founded after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, AQI has morphed several times since.

  • The Egyptian Islamic Jihad (Tanzim Al Jihad): Egyptian Islamic Jihad was founded in the 1970s, and well known for its assassination of Egyptian President Sadat in 1981. It is a good example of an organization that has historically had a far greater interest in violent transformation of the Egyptian government than it has in a 'global jihad.'

  • Ansar Al Islam:This Iraqi Kurdish organization was founded in 2001, and operates in the northern areas of Iraq and Iran. Its membership includes a number of members who trained or fought in Afghanistan, with bin Laden, and it is presumed to have close operational ties with Al Qaeda in the region.

  • Al Jemaah Al Islamiyya: Al Jemaah Al Islamiyyah (The Islamic Group) is a southeast Asian group dedicated to bringing Islamist rule to the area. The United States suspects it of ties to Al Qaeda, but these seem tenuous on a large scale.

  • Lashkar-i-Tayyiba:This Kashmir-based Sunni Pakistani group has historically directed its attacks at India. Leaders and members have demonstrated ties to some Al Qaeda members.

  • Al Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb: This Algerian group grew out of one dedicated to the overthrow of the Algerian government. Its name change was accompanied by a pledge to put Western targets in its sights.

  • Abu Sayyaf: This Philippine group has been called an Al Qaeda affiliate, but there is little evidence of a meaningful operational tie. Indeed, the organization is more like a criminal network than one committed to an ideological goal.
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