Under the leadership of Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda operated military training camps in Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. The U.S. attack on Afghanistan and subsequent toppling of the Taliban regime eliminated this presence. Elements of Al Qaeda's leadership structure remained in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan following the American invasion in 2001.
By 2006, identifying areas of heavy Al Qaeda presence had become a subject of considerable speculation. Some experts argued that the late 2006 spike in violence in Afghanistan indicated a significant Al Qaeda presence. Other sources said exactly the opposite: that Al Qaeda was reducing its numbers in Afghanistan and was moving members to Middle Eastern countries, including Iraq.
Backing & Affiliations:
These groups include, most notably:
- Abu Sayyaf Group (Philippines, Malaysia)
- Al Qaeda in Iraq
- Egyptian Islamic Jihad
- Jemaah Islamiya (Indonesia)
- Lashkar e Taiba (Kashmir)
Establishing affiliations is difficult: the relationships between groups shift over time, and intelligence experts conflict in their interpretations of data suggesting linkages.
- Removing Islamic / Arab countries' current leadership. They are perceived as secular, promoting corrupted forms of Islam, and guilty of permitting foreign (e.g. Americans) occupation;
- Removing American military, as well as economic and cultural, influence from the Middle East and Islamic countries; weakening Israel, an American ally, is a corollary goal.
Much has been said about Al Qaeda's wish to re-establish an Islamic caliphate, a transnational government of all Muslims concerned with affairs of state and religion. Such statements should be seen as a form of political nostalgia for a past that seems less corrupt than the present, rather than as a practical or achievable goal of the group.
Al Qaeda's organizational structure has been compared to the Hydra, the many-headed serpent of Greek myth. Those who seek to destroy the Hydra by chopping off a head will be disappointed, since the body as a whole remains intact and the head grows back. Likewise, Al Qaeda's signature structure is small, autonomous cells whose exposure or destruction has little effect on the organization as a whole.
- In August 1998, Al Qaeda simultaneously attacked U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The fact that Al Qaeda could carry out two attacks at once, in different countries, signaled the strength of Al Qaeda's capabilities.
- October, 2000 bombings of the American ship U.S.S. Cole, off the coast of Yemen, killed 56 people.
- The September 11, 2001 suicide attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon killed over 3,000 people.
- Al Qaeda Training Manual in English translation.
- Al Qaeda: Statements and Evolving Ideology,a report from the Congressional Research Service updated in 2006.
- This undated translation of an Al Qaeda document outlines the structure of the organization's various structures. The recently declassified document is part of a larger, classified Department of Defense database of Al Qaeda documents called the Harmony Database.
For a deeper look at Osama bin Laden and the historical context of his beliefs, see: