Al Qaida

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Al Qaida is an Islamic fundamentalist group that engages in global jihad.[1][2][3] Most governments, including the United States and the European Union, have designated it as a terrorist organization.

Al Qaida is stronger / weaker than before 9/11

On July 12, 2007, the Bush administration's National Intelligence Council released "a report entitled Al Qaida Better Positioned to Strike the West[4][5], concluding that the 'network is gaining strength and has established a safe haven in remote tribal areas of western Pakistan for training and planning attacks…despite concerted U.S. attempts to smash the network.'"[6][7]

However, on the morning of July 12, 2007, President George W. Bush and Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland Security, "attempted to play down the intelligence report.[8] 'I wouldn’t put it [the threat] at that level — in my own opinion,' said Chertoff. Bush claimed:[9]

There is a perception in the coverage that al Qaeda may be as strong today as they were prior to September 11th. That’s simply not the case…because of the actions we’ve taken, al Qaeda is weaker today than they would have been.

On June 28, 2007, Bush, in a "major speech" at the Naval War College, "referred to al Qaida at least 27 times, [which] seemed calculated to use lingering outrage over the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to bolster support for the current buildup of U.S. troops in Iraq, despite evidence that sending more troops hasn't reduced the violence or sped Iraqi government action on key issues."[10]

Bush called al Qaida "'the main enemy' in Iraq, an assertion rejected by his administration's senior intelligence analysts", and "the perpetrator of the worst violence racking that country and said it was the same group that had carried out the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington."[11]

"U.S. military and intelligence officials, however, say that Iraqis with ties to al Qaida are only a small fraction of the threat to American troops. The group known as al Qaida in Iraq didn't exist before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, didn't pledge its loyalty to al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden until October 2004 and isn't controlled by bin Laden or his top aides."[12]

Resurgence 2007

"Senior leaders of Al Qaeda operating from Pakistan have re-established significant control over their once-battered worldwide terror network and over the past year have set up a band of training camps in the tribal regions near the Afghan border, according to American intelligence and counterterrorism officials," Mark Mazzetti and David Rohde wrote February 19, 2007, in the New York Times.

Although until recently Bush administration officials "had described" Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, as "detached from their followers and cut off from operational control of Al Qaeda", Mazzetti and Rohde wrote, American officials said there was "mounting evidence" bin Laden and al-Zawahri "had been steadily building an operations hub in the mountainous Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan."

Additionally, the U.S. has "also identified several new Qaeda compounds in North Waziristan, including one that officials said might be training operatives for strikes against targets beyond Afghanistan," Mazzetti and Rohde said.


Summed up by Jason Burke in the March 21, 2004, Guardian Unlimited (UK):

"Al-Qaeda is as much an ideology or a set of values as a single organisation led by a single leader." [1]

In Burke's May/June 2004, Foreign Policy follow-up article "Think Again: Al Qaeda" he wrote:

"The mere mention of al Qaeda conjures images of an efficient terrorist network guided by a powerful criminal mastermind. Yet al Qaeda is more lethal as an ideology than as an organization. Al Qaedaism will continue to attract supporters in the years to come--whether Osama bin Laden is around to lead them or not."

According to the perspective of historian R.T. Naylor:

"Al Queda itself does not exist, except in the fevered imaginations of neo-cons and Likudniks, some of whom, I suspect, also know it is a myth, but find it extremely useful as a bogeyman to spook the public and the politicians to acquiesce in otherwise unacceptable policy initiatives at home and abroad. By those terms, Al Queda is cast like 'the Mafia' and similar nonsense coming from police lobbies. This is a complex issue but, putting it very simply, what you have in both cases is loose networks of likeminded individuals-sometimes they pay homage to some patron figure who they may never have met and with whom they have no concrete relationship. They conduct their operations strictly by themselves, even if they may from time to time seek advice." [2]

According to the perspective of author Jason Burke:

"Every piece of evidence I came across in my own work contradicted this notion of al-Qaeda as an 'evil empire' with an omnipotent mastermind at its head. Such an idea was undoubtedly comforting - destroy the man and his henchmen and the problem goes away - but it was clearly deeply flawed." [3]

In the May 23, 2002, Christian Science Monitor, Kimberly A. McCloud and Adam Dolnik wrote:

"The United States and its allies in the war on terrorism must defuse the widespread image of Al Qaeda as a ubiquitous, super-organized terror network and call it as it is: a loose collection of groups and individuals that doesn't even refer to itself as 'Al Qaeda.' Most of the affiliated groups have distinct goals within their own countries or regions, and pose little direct threat to the United States. Washington must also be careful not to imply that any attack anywhere is by definition, or likely, the work of Al Qaeda."
"we must be honest with the facts in order to construct a viable long-term strategy"

Peter Bergen wrote December 25, 2003:

"... there is a great deal of ambiguity about what exactly constitutes al Qaeda. Is it a terrorist organization run in a regimented top-down fashion by its CEO, Osama bin Laden? Or is it a loose-knit group of Islamist militants around the world whose only common link is that many of them trained in Afghanistan? Or has al Qaeda, the organization, morphed into something best described as al Qaeda, the movement -- a movement defined by adherence to bin Laden's virulent anti-Westernism/anti-Semitism and propensity for violence? Is 'al Qaeda' all of the above?"

... and describes four concentric rings of depiction:

  • "First there is al Qaeda, the organization. Most non-specialists are surprised to learn that al Qaeda has only 200 to 300 members. These are the men who have sworn bayat, an oath of allegiance to serve their emir, or leader, bin Laden, even unto death. (It is al Qaeda, the organization, that carried out the Sept. 11 attacks.)
  • "The second concentric ring spreading out beyond the inner core of al Qaeda consists of perhaps several thousand "holy warriors" trained in the group's Afghan camps in the terrorist black arts of bomb making and assassination.
  • "Beyond this circle are tens of thousands of militants who received some kind of basic military training in Afghanistan over the past decade. Many of these trainees went to Afghanistan for what amounted to little more than a jihad vacation. Most were to be cannon fodder in the Taliban's war against the Northern Alliance. Think John Walker Lindh.
  • "Finally, untold numbers of Muslims around the world subscribe to bin Laden's Manichean worldview that the West is the enemy of Islam. Some of these, too, may be prepared to do violence."

Bergen concludes that there is evidence "that al Qaeda has successfully turned itself from an organization into a mass movement -- one that has been energized by the war in Iraq."

In the documentary series The Power of Nightmares, producer Adam Curtis "tells the story of Islamism, or the desire to establish Islam as an unbreakable political framework, as half a century of mostly failed, short-lived revolutions and spectacular but politically ineffective terrorism. Curtis points out that al-Qaida did not even have a name until early 2001, when the American government decided to prosecute Bin Laden in his absence and had to use anti-Mafia laws that required the existence of a named criminal organisation." --Andy Beckett for The Guardian, October 15, 2004

"In an era of satellite television and the World Wide Web," Faye Bowers writes of Al-Qaida in Christian Science Monitor, "it is nearly impossible to stop boutique terror groups - small homegrown cells that can reach mass audiences with just a videocamera and a few stylish graphics." According to Michael Scheuer, a former senior intelligence official who studied Al Qaeda for more than a decade, "Their communications systems are light-years more sophisticated than they were on 9/11." [4]

The Wikipedia article is well established.

Al Qaida and Saudi Arabia

"In the al-Qaeda plan, the conquest of Saudi Arabia would represent the foundation for a restoration of the (military and political form of) Caliphate... to reunite the one billion Muslims in the world today under the same green banner of Muhammad." - by Charles Lambroschini, Le Figaro

Al Qaida and Egypt

The BBC Documentary The Power of Nightmares shows Egyptian roots in radical violent "Islamist" groups. Marc Sageman asserts that Al Qaida has Egyptian origins, Egyptian ideologies, and Egyptian leaders. [5]

Al Qaida and CIA

"Al-Qaida, literally 'the base,' was originally the computer file of the thousands of mujahideen who were recruited and trained with help from the CIA to defeat the Russians," admits former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, whose Foreign Office portfolio included control of British Intelligence Agency MI-6 and the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), in a column published by the UK Guardian newspaper. [6]

Al Qaida (القاعدة) comes from the Arabic verb qa'ada (قعد) which in its first pattern means to sit down, or lie in wait. Al Qaida (القاعدة) itself means foundation, groundwork, basis, or base.[citation needed]

How many "No. 2"s are there?

"'If I had a nickel for every No. 2 and No. 3 they've arrested or killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, I'd be a millionaire,' Evan Kohlmann, a brainy counter-terrorism analyst who tracks the Iraqi insurgency, told" Michael Isikoff for his weekly 'Terror Watch' column (written with colleague Mark Hosenball) on the Newsweek web site, Isikoff reported September 29, 2005, in The Huffington Post.

Resources and articles

Related SourceWatch articles


  1. Global Jihad and the United States, inactive link.
  2. Bearers of Global Jihad? The Nixon Center.
  3. Dan Murphy, "Iraq, Internet fuel growth of global jihad. Analysts suspect Thursday's attack in London was motivated by Britain's role in Iraq," Christian Science Monitor, July 12, 2005.
  4. Laura Rozen, "Intelligence Briefing on the Hill Today," MotherJones, July 11, 2007.
  5. Spencer S. Hsu and Walter Pincus, "U.S. Warns Of Stronger Al-Qaeda. Administration Report Cites Havens in Pakistan," Washington Post, July 12, 2007.
  6. "Bush, Chertoff Seek To Discredit Their Own Intelligence, Claim al Qaeda Is ‘Weaker’," Think Progress, July 12, 2007.
  7. Katherine Shrader and Matthew Lee, "U.S. Intel Warns al-Qaida Has Rebuilt," Los Angeles Times, July 12, 2007.
  8. Mimikatz, "Al Qaeda Determined To Attack In US," The Next Hurrah Blog, July 11, 2007.
  9. Satyam Khanna, "Bush, Chertoff Seek To Discredit Their Own Intelligence, Claim al Qaeda Is ‘Weaker’," Think Progress, July 12, 2007. Includes video link to Bush/Chertoff shown on CNN.
  10. Jonathan S. Landay, "Bush plays al Qaida card to bolster support for Iraq policy," McClatchy Newspapers, June 28, 2007.
  11. Ibid.
  12. Ibid.

External articles



  • Standard Schaefer, "The Wages of Terror. An Interview with Historian R.T. Naylor," CounterPunch, June 21, 2003.
  • Jason Burke, "What is al-Qaeda?" Observer/Guardian Unlimited (UK), July 13, 2003.
  • Erich Marquardt, Al-Qaeda's Exaggerated Organizational Strength, Power and Interest News Report, September 2, 2003.
  • Brendan O'Neill, Does al-Qaeda exist?, Spiked Online, November 28, 2003; contains an historical examination of the use of the term.
  • Peter Bergen, "The Dense Web of Al Qaeda," Washington Post, December 25, 2003 (Note: link inactive): "Defining our terms on al Qaeda is more than a matter of semantic interest. If we can better define what al Qaeda is, we may better understand the threat it poses at a critical moment. ... President Bush reportedly keeps photos of the 20 or so top terrorists in his desk, and when one of them is apprehended or killed writes an X through his picture. That might work for a Mafia crime family: Arrest all the key members and the organization will disappear. But al Qaeda is now a movement based on an ideology. Arresting a movement is quite a different proposition from arresting people."
  • Rowan Scarborough, Drug Money Sustains al Qaeda, Washington Times, December 29, 2003: "Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network has become deeply involved in international drug trafficking, using the money to buy arms and, possibly, radioactive material for use in a so-called 'dirty' nuclear bomb, senior U.S. officials say."





External resources

General articles


  • Marc Sageman, "Understanding Terror Networks" (ISBN 0-8122-3808-7).

Documents and speeches