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Al-Qaeda Terrorist Group Research Paper

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Updated: Dec 24th, 2019


Al Qaeda was established in the late 80s by Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan; who moved to Afghanistan in 1979 at the time of Soviet invasion. There he became a major donor and fund mobilise for the Afghan Mujahedin and hired Afghans and other volunteers from the Arab world to fight the Soviet (Krebs, 2004).

At that time the Americans supported Bin Laden in getting rid of the soviet army out of Afghanistan and made no attempt to stop Bin Laden from hiring more recruits. US official have frequently denied that they also supported the Bin Laden voluntary recruits and the Afghan Mujahedin group at the time of war with funds amounting to over 3 billion dollars.

During that period Bin Laden and his group had not sponsored or planned any attack against the Americans but were very critical of the American support for Israeli government in the Middle East (McAllister, 2004).

After the end of the war and USSR occupation Bin Laden and his group started thinking of how they would utilize their Islamic recruits to counter any threat against the Islam.

Some of the Al Qaeda leadership wanted to use the recruit for their own benefit but Bin Laden had the idea of sending them off to their mother countries to overthrow secular government/leadership which was very supportive of the western influence (McAllister, 2004).

The invasion of Kuwait in the early 90s marked the turning point of Bin Laden being US dally to one of the most vibrant enemy. Bin Laden and allies took part in many coup d’état to overthrow governments or leadership that supported the western countries and the US so as to install Islamic regimes (McAllister, 2004).

Since falling out with the Americans and becoming US number one enemy, Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda group have carried out a number of terrorist acts against US and its allies but the turning point was on September 11. This attack on the twin towers changed the perception of the Americans and the whole world on terrorism.

The structure of Al Qaeda terrorism group

In order to succeed in fighting any terrorism organization like the Al Qaeda, it is very important to understand how they operate. This is done by analysing their leadership, responsibility of members, and decision making procedures (Krebs, 2004).

The most significant concept of fighting any terrorism group like Al Qaeda is to understand how their structures enable flow of information from the top leadership, accountability and authority between leadership and the factions within the organization.

There are three hypothetical explanations in relation to the structure of the Al Qaeda terrorist group: hierarchical/ranks, set of connections or network, and the dynamic paradigms (Krebs, 2004).

Network paradigm analyses the Al Qaeda networks and its resilience. Nevertheless, the dynamic paradigm still requires more research. The hierarchical paradigm tries to explain how information, accountability and commands flow from the top leadership to the grass root.

Al Qaeda’s ability to carry out synchronized attacks on different locations and Osama’s financial support for the whole organization is a proof of an existence of a structural framework that influence their goals and objectives (McAllister, 2004).

This is the main reason why US government have always targeted top Al Qaeda leaders such as AL-Zawahiri as it is believed that by eliminating the top level leadership in a top down institution or organization automatically neutralizes the rest of the system.

McAllister, (2004) argues that while there is enough proof to support Al Qaeda’s hierarchical system, the existence of a centralized network structure would not be possible following the September 11 attack and the enhanced attack by the American and allied forces.

Al Qaeda is believed to have a wide variety of networks which are synonymous to a scale –free network where each faction has dissimilar number of networks. This form of structure enables the Al Qaeda to build up nucleus and nodes with irregular but large number of networks.

These types of networks have leadership equivalent with those in an organization as they have the authority to pass demands over a large area within the network. Statistical and social network analysis has demonstrated that people controlling a large number of networks have the most power (Krebs, 2004).

In spite of the type, networks are very significant in resource distribution between the factions and this explains why Al Qaeda has not subsided despite of the government’s efforts to freeze their accounts and neutralize their groups working for the organization.

This type of structure has made Al Qaeda to carry on and keep on terrorising people even when under attack for instance removal of their main hubs and centres in Afghanistan (Raufer, 2003). Researches have established that the only way to destroy this type of networks is to immobilize about 15% of their hubs and this is where US has failed in fighting Al Qaeda.

With sparse and disjointed structure, people have always wondered how Al Qaeda has managed to operate articulately. Researchers attribute this to Al Qaeda’s strict devotion to the extremist ideologies of Islam besides their conformity with Islamic religion. Al Qaeda in most occasions refers to the Jihad and the stringent Muslim laws in their training to assists them in setting up of their goals.

Their anti-western ideologies are inert, enhancing the integration of the new factions with the rest of the organization. Some studies reveal that Osama bin Laden does not give orders like the normal leaders but acts as a leader who provides spiritual guidance to his followers (Raufer, 2003).

Organizations with networked structure produce leaders among those with the highest links between cells, or who can work as negotiators between hubs. Being the founder of the Al Qaeda organization and the main body in terms of principles, Osama Bin Laden has a huge number of connections between hubs and cells.

This accords him more power and influence within the organization (Krebs, 2004). Bin Laden also being the chief financier of the organization gives him an advantage over others since the organization depends on him.

According to the dynamic paradigm, Al Qaeda is a dynamic organization whose terrorist cells work independently, with limited connection but work together indirectly to achieve their main agenda (Raufer, 2003). This school of thought is supported by researchers who believe that centrally networked organizations despite of being flexible are not vibrant enough to explain Al Qaeda structure.

They believe that all the cells operate independently, infrequently merging nor answering to the highest authority, making them flexible and enables them to learn from one another through entity response to the authorities thus allowing the most effective faction to carry on (McAllister, 2004).

Similar to the networked organizations, the dynamic paradigm also follows specific ideologies. Because cells lack authority from the outside, the only way they can perform in harmony is by following powerful ideologies. The dynamic paradigm takes the centralized network’s dependence on fundamental Islam and extremist ideologies a little bit further (Krebs, 2004).

Proponent of this school of thought argues that by acting on the ideologies and concentrating on the Islamic beliefs, Osama Bin Laden has been able to persuade those upset with the Western nations and the US to express their anger by establishing their individual cells and setting up of Jihads that correspond with the Al Qaeda’s.

This paradigm alleviates the effects of analysing the Al Qaeda’s centralized networks in which there is very little information to authenticate their existence (Krebs, 2004).

Some researchers believe that Al Qaeda is still struggling with the earlier structures and change into the dynamic structure. They predict that it would take fairly a long period of time and that the present evidence pointing towards a centralized network is a tip of the evolution process (Raufer, 2003).

By achieving a fully dynamic status, Al Qaeda will become an invincible terrorist organization that will be very hard to counter using the present techniques (McAllister, 2004).

Home land security policy on terrorism

Global terrorism has been identified as a serious foreign and homeland security threat. A commission was set up following the September 11 attack on the US soil to provide the way forward in the war against terrorism.

This commission concluded that US is required to use all instruments at its disposal to fight terrorism including mediation, international collaboration, productive economic sanctions, secret actions, physical security improvement , and armed forces (Perl,2004).

In general, the US policy on terrorism began from the late 70s to the mid 90s concentrating mostly on state sponsored terrorism as opposed to the terrorist organizations. Enactment of the Anti terrorism and effective death penalty act in 1996 marked the most significant change in policy.

This act recognized foreign terrorist groups and banned financing, granting of passage and other forms of support to such groups. The US patriotic act of 2001 expounded and gave more strength to the previous legislation listing a number of groups that were considered foreign terrorist organizations.

US use a number of policy tools to counter international terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda. One of the policy tool used by American government to combat terrorism is diplomacy or constructive engagement. This has helped build an international coalition to fight terrorism for instance the US-led coalition in Afghanistan which aims at fighting the Taliban (Krebs, 2004).

Diplomacy is the only measure that is least likely to broaden conflict thus becomes the first option. In many cases laws forbid negotiating with the terrorist groups. However, groups that are entrenched in a country’s politics and culture, negotiation with the group may be favoured to eliminate the group (Perl, 2004).

US also use economic sanctions such as banning trade or investment with countries perceived to be supporting terrorism groups.

Sanctions are also used to aim at the assets of the terrorist organizations or individuals associated with the group for instance former US president George W. froze the accounts of 27 individuals believed to be associate with the Al Qaeda group and also gave the secretary of treasury authority to impose sanctions on the financial institutions and banks that provides these groups or individuals access to the global financial system and provides for designation of other groups as terrorist groups.

The UN Security Council adopted a resolution 1373 which calls for all member countries to freeze finances of individuals and organizations linked with the Taliban and Al Qaeda (Krebs, 2004). However, the implication of these measures is not clear since the flow of terrorist money in most cases takes place outside the banking system. They generally use a network of money brokers known as the Hawala.

Sanctions mostly entail trade embargo, restrictions of financial transactions, deferment of foreign aid, restriction of aircraft/ship traffic, or abolishing friendship, trade, and navigation agreement (Perl, 2004).

Altering economic and social conditions that presents a breeding ground for terrorists is also an initiative employed by US government to fight terrorism. Most people join terrorist organizations because of poverty, unemployment or due to underemployment attribute mainly to lack of economic development.

US government use economic inducement to empower the masses economically and intellectually thus reduces poverty and ignorance (Perl, 2004). In AL Qaeda dominated regions mainly the Middle East, US have helped these governments to build Islamic religious schools instead of Madrassahs to minimise case of extremism among the young generation.

US government also uses spies to penetrate the terrorist organizations and provide intelligence information. The passive form of covert activity is carried out to establish the intention of the terrorist group, its abilities, and vulnerability. Active espionage activities take place in events such as hijacking or hostage situation. Payment for information program is also used to fight terrorist groups or individuals (Krebs, 2004).

International cooperation in law enforcement, control of customs and intelligence is a very important aspect in the US counter –terrorism policy. For instance US have deployed intelligence agents to over fifty nations to help in the investigation of terrorism activities and supplement flow of information in relation to the structure and membership of these groups.

US also use military force to combat terrorism and the current war against the Taliban who are Al Qaeda affiliate is an example (Krebs, 2004). Last but not the least, US has joined the rest of the world in establishing key anti-terrorism conventions. This treaty obligates members to prosecute terrorist criminals or extradite them to allow for their prosecution for terrorist crimes (Perl, 2004).


Al Qaeda is considered to be one of the largest international terrorism groups in the world. However, the administrative and operational structure of the Al Qaeda group still remains a mystery to many. Some studies have tried to hypothesize the structure of the organizations giving rise to Hierarchical, network, and dynamic paradigm.

All the above school of thought only give a hint of how this organization is administered but a lot of research still need to be done to legitimize their explanations.

Following the attack of the US during September 11, the whole world changed their perception regarding terrorism and has identified it as a serious foreign and homeland security threat. This led to the enactment of laws/policies to counter terrorism globally. US use a number of policy tools to counter terrorism which is their number one threat to the national security.


Krebs, V. (2004). Inflow – Mapping and Measuring Social Networks – Social Cartography. Retrieved from:

McAllister, B. (2004). “Al Qaeda and the Innovative Firm: Demythologizing the Network.” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 27 pp. 297-319.

Perl, R. (2004). Terrorism and National Security: Issues and trends. CRS Issue Brief for Congress. Order code no. IB10119.

Raufer, X. (2003). “Al Qaeda: A Different Diagnosis.” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 26 (8 / 9) pp. 391-398.

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