Al Qaeda: Statements and Evolving Ideology
Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress
Al Qaeda leaders and affiliates have conducted sophisticated public relations and media
campaigns since the mid-1990s. Terrorism analysts believe that these campaigns have been
designed to elicit psychological reactions and communicate complex political messages to a
global audience as well as to specific sub-populations in the Islamic world, the United States,
Europe, and Asia. Some officials and analysts believe that Al Qaeda’s messages contain signals
that inform and instruct operatives to prepare for and carry out new attacks. Bin Laden and other
leading Al Qaeda figures have referred to their public statements as important primary sources for
parties seeking to understand Al Qaeda’s ideology and political demands. Global counterterrorism
operations since 2001 appear to have limited Bin Laden’s ability to provide command and control
leadership to Al Qaeda operatives and affiliated groups. Other Al Qaeda leaders and affiliates
continue to release statements that encourage and provide guidance for terrorist operations. Iraq
has become a focal point for jihadist rhetoric, underscoring Al Qaeda leaders’ interest in Iraq and
support for the ongoing insurgency.
Statements released by Osama Bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al Zawahiri since late 2004 have
rekindled public debate in Europe and the United States surrounding Al Qaeda’s ideology,
motives, and future plans for attacks. Statements released following the July 2005 Al Qaeda-
linked suicide bombing attacks on the London transit system have characterized those attacks and
Al Qaeda’s ongoing terrorist campaign as a response to British and American military operations
in Iraq. In January 2006, Bin Laden stated that Al Qaeda “does not object to a long-term truce”
with the United States “on the basis of fair conditions” but alluded to nearly complete
preparations to carry out attacks inside the United States.
The ideological content and political tone of recent Al Qaeda statements have led some terrorism
analysts to speculate that the messages may signal an on effort by Al Qaeda founders to reaffirm
their leadership roles and the role of the Al Qaeda organization as the vanguard of an emerging,
loosely organized international jihadist movement. Others have argued that the presently limited
operational capabilities of Al Qaeda’s founders have inspired them to focus on ideological
outreach activities and efforts to influence public opinion in the United States and Europe. Many
observers believe that the group’s primary goal remains to inspire, plan, and carry out attacks
against the United States and its allies around the world, with particular emphasis on targeting
economic and energy infrastructure and fomenting unrest in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf
states, and countries neighboring Israel.
This report reviews Al Qaeda’s use of public statements from the mid-1990s to the present and
analyzes the evolving ideological and political content of those statements. The report focuses
primarily on statements made by Osama Bin Laden, but also considers: statements made by
Ayman al Zawahiri, the late Abu Musab al Zarqawi, Iraq-based Al Qaeda affiliates, and Al Qaeda
military leader Sayf al Adl. The report will be updated periodically. For background on Al Qaeda,
see CRS Report RL33038, Al Qaeda: Profile and Threat Assessment, by Kenneth Katzman.
Introduc tion ..................................................................................................................................... 1
Al Qaeda: Statements 1994-2001..............................................................................................2
“Declaration of Jihad”.........................................................................................................2
“Clash of Civilizations”......................................................................................................3
Al Qaeda Post-9/11..........................................................................................................................4
“The Goals of the New York Strike”.........................................................................................4
Al Qaeda Statements in 2004-2007...........................................................................................5
Outreach and “Truce” Proposals.........................................................................................5
Iraq and Al Qaeda’s Ideology....................................................................................................6
Iraq and Al Qaeda’s Regional Ambitions............................................................................8
The “Islamic State of Iraq” and Discord.............................................................................8
Political Goals and Perspectives on Reform.............................................................................9
The Three Foundations.......................................................................................................9
Al Qaeda on Democracy and Reform.................................................................................9
The Importance of Oil.......................................................................................................13
Implications and Conclusion.........................................................................................................13
Al Qaeda’s Audiences.............................................................................................................14
Al Qaeda and the Jihadist International..................................................................................15
Author Contact Information..........................................................................................................16
Al Qaeda leaders and affiliates have conducted sophisticated public relations and media
campaigns since the mid-1990s using a series of faxed statements, audio recordings, video 1
appearances, and Internet postings. Terrorism analysts believe that these campaigns have been
designed to elicit psychological reactions and communicate complex political messages to a
global audience as well as to specific sub-populations in the Islamic world, the United States,
Europe, and Asia. Bin Laden and his deputies have personally stated their belief in the importance
of harnessing the power of international and regional media for Al Qaeda’s benefit, and Al
Qaeda’s central leadership structure has featured a dedicated media and communications 2
committee tasked with issuing reports and statements in support of the group’s operations. Some
officials and analysts believe that Al Qaeda’s messages contain signals that inform and instruct
operatives to prepare for and carry out new attacks.
Bin Laden has referred to his public statements as important primary sources for parties seeking 3
to understand Al Qaeda’s ideology and political demands. Through his public statements over the
last ten years, Bin Laden has portrayed himself both as the leader of a consistent ideological
movement and a strategic commander willing to tailor his violent messages and acts to respond to
specific political circumstances and to influence specific audiences and events. Surveys of
jihadist literature suggest that such a leadership role may remain elusive for Bin Laden and Al
Zawahiri, particularly among ideologues and religious scholars who otherwise support jihadist
activities and goals. A study completed by the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. Military
Academy at West Point in November 2006 concluded that “both men have had an enormous
impact on the wider Jihadi Movement, but our data shows that they have had little to no impact 4
on Jihadi thinkers.”
Global counterterrorism operations in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks
appear to have limited Bin Laden’s ability to provide command and control leadership to Al
Qaeda operatives and affiliated groups. Bin Laden’s last confirmed messages were released in
June and July 2006, mourning the death of Abu Musab al Zarqawi and calling on Muslims to
support the Islamists in Somalia. In a January 2006 message, he proposed a temporary truce with
the United States in exchange for a series of U.S. concessions. It is unlikely, however, that Bin
Laden could ensure a wholesale cessation of hostilities or that Al Qaeda supporters would
abandon the strategic priorities reflected in their statements that have sanctioned, encouraged, and
provided guidance for terrorist operations.
1 Unless indicated, translated citations are derived from “Compilation of Usama Bin Ladin Statements 1994-January
2004,” Open Source Center (OSC) Report, GMP20040209000243, February 9, 2004.
2 Recent Al Qaeda messages have been produced by a dedicated studio, known as the Al Sahab.Institute for Media
3 For example, in Bin Laden’s October 2004 pre-U.S. presidential election messag,e he referred to specific pre-9/11
interviews with a variety of media outlets as previous indications of Al Qaeda’s ideology and demands.
4 William McCants and Jarret Brachman, “Militant Ideology Atlas: Executive Report,” Combating Terrorism Center,
United States Military Academy, November 2006. Available at http://www.ctc.usma.edu/atlas/
Osama Bin Laden’s experiences as a logistical coordinator and financier for the Afghan and Arab
resistance to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan during the 1980s are thought to have provided the
backdrop for his belief that Muslims could take effective military action inspired by select Islamic 5
principles. His exposure to the teachings of conservative Islamist scholars in Saudi Arabia and
his work with Arab militants in Afghanistan provided the theological and ideological basis for his
belief in the desirability of puritanical Salafist Islamic reform in Muslim societies and the
necessity of armed resistance in the face of perceived aggression—a concept Al Qaeda has since 6
associated with a communally-binding Islamic principle known as “defensive jihad.” After the
Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Bin Laden expressed these views in opposition to the
introduction of foreign military forces to Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden characterized the presence of
U.S. and other non-Muslim troops in Saudi Arabia after the 1991 Gulf War as cause for renewed
commitment to defensive jihad and the promotion of violence against the Saudi government and
the United States.
In the early 1990s, Bin Laden emphasized his desire to secure the withdrawal of U.S. and other
foreign troops from Saudi Arabia at all costs. Bin Laden criticized the Saudi royal family publicly
and alleged that their invitation of foreign troops to the Arabian peninsula constituted an affront 7
to the sanctity of the birthplace of Islam and a betrayal of the global Islamic community. Finding
his rhetoric and efforts rebuffed by Saudi leaders, Bin Laden was expelled from Saudi Arabia and
his ire increasingly focused on the United States. Following a period of exile in Sudan and
Afghanistan in which his radical views sharpened, Bin Laden issued a “declaration of jihad”
against the United States in 1996 that signaled his emergence as an internationally recognizable
figure and offered a full account of his main critiques of an enemy he described as the “alliance of 8
Jews, Christians, and their agents.” Adopting the sensitive historical and religious imagery of
Islamic resistance to the European Crusades, Bin Laden condemned the U.S. military presence in
Saudi Arabia, criticized the international sanctions regime on Iraq, and voiced his opposition to 9
U.S. support for Israel. The declaration also cited “massacres in Tajikistan, Burma, Kashmir,
Assam, the Philippines, Fatani [as transliterated], Ogaden, Somalia, Eritrea, Chechnya, and
Bosnia-Herzegovina” as examples of a growing war on Islam for which the United States should
5 For an autobiographical account of the influence of the Afghan conflict on Bin Laden, see 1988 footage in “Jihadist
Website Posts ‘Rare’ Bin Ladin Afghanistan Video,” OSC Report FEA20061208039746, December 8, 2006.
6 For more on Bin Laden and defensive jihad, see James Turner Johnson, “Jihad and Just War,” First Things, June/July
2002, pp. 12-14. Bin Laden has identified Salafist thinkers such as his former mentor Abdallah Azzam, Hamas founder
Ahmed Yasin, World Trade Center bombing conspirator Omar Abdel Rahman, Saudi clerics Salman al Awdah and th
Safar al Hawali, and 13 century Islamic scholar Ibn Taymiyah as prominent ideological influences. For more on
Salafism see CRS Report RS21695, The Islamic Traditions of Wahhabism and Salafiyya, by Christopher M. Blanchard.
7 Robert Fisk, “Interview With Saudi Dissident Bin Ladin” Independent (London), July 10, 1996.
8 “Declaration of Jihad Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Mosques,” Al Islah (London),
September 2, 1996.
9 At the time, Bin Laden expressed no solidarity or sympathy for Saddam Hussein or his regime, explaining—“We, as
Muslims, do not like the Iraqi regime but we think that the Iraqi people and their children are our brothers and we care
about their future.” Fisk, “Interview With Saudi Dissident Bin Ladin” Independent (London), July 10, 1996. op. cit.
be punished (Bin Laden did not recognize the humanitarian aspects of U.S. efforts in Bosnia and 10
Following his declaration of jihad on the United States, Bin Laden released a series of statements
that expanded the vision and scope of his self-declared conflict with the United States and
specified his political prescriptions for the reformation of Islamic societies. Echoing U.S. 11
academic Samuel Huntington’s theory on the impending clash of civilizations, Bin Laden
repeated his characterization of a so-called “new crusade led by America against the Islamic
nations,” and emphasized his belief that an emerging conflict between Islam and the West would 12
be fought “between the Islamic world and the Americans and their allies.” Bin Laden argued
that the Islamic world should see itself as one seamless community, or umma, and that Muslims
were obliged to unite and defend themselves. Turning his focus to the internal politics of the
Islamic world, Bin Laden urged Muslims to find a leader to unite them and establish a “pious
caliphate” that would be governed by Islamic law and follow Islamic principles of finance and 13
social conduct. Bin Laden repeatedly argued that Afghanistan had become a model Islamic state
under his Taliban hosts and used religious rhetoric to solicit support for the Taliban and Al 14
Although he possesses no traditional Islamic religious credentials or authority, Bin Laden issued a
fatwa, or religious edict, in 1998 that claimed that the United States had made “a clear declaration 15
of war on God, his messenger, and Muslims” through its policies in the Islamic world. The
fatwa made use of the principle of defensive jihad to argue that U.S. aggression made armed
resistance and the targeting of American civilians and military personnel incumbent upon all
Muslims. The statement also announced the formation of “The World Islamic Front for Jihad
against the Jews and Crusaders,” which consisted of a tacit alliance between Bin Laden, his
supporters, and a number of regional Islamic militant groups. Following Al Qaeda’s bombings of
the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (1998) and the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen(2000), Bin
Laden refused to take direct responsibility for the attacks, but claimed that he approved of the
strikes and shared the motivations of the individuals who had carried them out. Bin Laden argued
that the bombings should be seen by Americans and the world as retribution for U.S. policy and
compared them to alleged “massacres” of Palestinians in historic cases familiar to many Muslims 16
10 “Declaration of Jihad,” Al Islah (London), September 2, 1996. op. cit.
11 See Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Simon and Schuster, 1998.
12 “Correspondent Meets With Opposition Leader Bin Ladin,” Channel 4 (London) February 20, 1997.
13 “Pakistan Interviews Usama Bin Ladin,” (Islamabad, Pakistan), March 18, 1997.
14 “Website Publishes Bin Ladin ‘Speech’” Internet Supporters of Shariah, June 22, 2000; and “Al Jazirah Program on
Bin Laden” Al Jazirah Television (Doha, Qatar), June 10, 1999.
15 “Text of Fatwa Urging Jihad Against Americans,” Al Quds Al Arabi (London), February 23, 1998. The fatwa argued
that defensive jihad was necessary “in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque [Jerusalem] and the holy mosque [Mecca]
from their grip [the U.S. and Israel].”
16 Bin Laden specifically cited “Sabra, Shatila, Deir Yasin, Qana, Hebron and elsewhere.” “Al Jazirah Program on Bin
Laden” Al Jazirah Television (Doha, Qatar), June 10, 1999.
Osama Bin Laden’s longstanding threats to strike the United States came to fruition on September
11, 2001, and Bin Laden and others subsequently issued several statements confirming Al
Qaeda’s responsibility for the attacks on New York and Washington. Following an established
pattern, Bin Laden acknowledged his support for the hijackers and repeated his claim that strikes
on American targets should be viewed by Muslims and Americans as a defensively motivated
response to perceived American aggression in the Islamic world. Statements attributed to Bin
Laden and Al Zawahiri since 2001 have promised further attacks and sought to justify Al Qaeda’s
targeting of American and British civilians by arguing that Western societies are morally corrupt,
recent democratic reform and human rights initiatives are insincere or bankrupt, and American
and British civilians should be held accountable for the policies of their democratically elected 17
governments in the Middle East that Al Qaeda finds objectionable or unjust.
Several Al Qaeda statements have addressed the motives for the 1998 Embassy bombings and
other terrorist operations, but relatively few statements have been made regarding Al Qaeda’s
strategic goals in planning and executing the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and
Washington. A text attributed to Al Qaeda military commander Sayf al Adl released in May 2005 18
identifies three primary objectives for the September 11 attacks. According to Al Adl, Al
Qaeda’s “main objective” in perpetrating the September 11 attacks was to carry out a damaging
strike against the United States in retaliation for its perceived aggression in the Islamic world. Al
Adl indicates that in the opinion of Al Qaeda’s leadership, this primary objective was “partially
achieved,” although “other strikes” would have had a greater impact if they had been successful.
However, Al Adl does not identify specific planned attacks that may have been disrupted since
Al Qaeda’s second objective, as identified by Al Adl, was to signal and support the “emergence of
a new virtuous leadership” dedicated to opposing “the Zionist-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant coalition”
that Al Qaeda blames for a litany of social and political ills in the Islamic world. Analysts have
associated this stated objective with Al Qaeda leaders’ views of themselves as the vanguard of a
broader global Islamic movement and their desire to inspire political upheaval and change across
the Islamic world. The third and “ultimate objective,” according to Al Adl, “was to prompt [the
United States] to come out of its hole.” Al Adl claims that Al Qaeda wanted to provoke the United
States into attacking areas of the Islamic world associated with the organization and its affiliates.
In doing so, Al Adl claims, Al Qaeda hoped to make it easier to attack elements of U.S. power
17 “It is a fundamental principle of any democracy that the people choose their leaders, and as such, approve and are
party to the actions of their elected leaders... By electing these leaders, the American people have given their consent to
the incarceration of the Palestinian people, the demolition of Palestinian homes and the slaughter of the children of
Iraq. This is why the American people are not innocent. The American people are active members in all these crimes.”
“Statement From Shaykh Usama Bin Ladin, May God Protect Him, and Al Qaeda Organization,” Al Qal’ah (Internet),
October 14, 2002.
18 Although portions of the text may reflect revised perspectives and the benefit of hindsight, its key statements of
intent correspond to elements of prior statements by Osama Bin Laden and other Al Qaeda figures. “Detained Al-
Qa’ida Leader Sayf al-Adl Chronicles Al-Zarqawi’s Rise in Organization,” OSC Report-GMP2005060637100, May
and to build its “credibility in front of [the Islamic] nation and the beleaguered people of the
Reflecting on the subsequent U.S. response to the attacks, Bin Laden and others have described
the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq as new “crusades” and highlighted both the considerable
economic impact of the 9/11 attacks and the subsequent costs of the U.S. military response as
indications of Al Qaeda’s effectiveness. Al Adl and others have conceded that the attacks on New
York and Washington were not totally successful, while arguing that the September 11 attack
“was enough to prompt the Americans to carry out the anticipated response”—namely direct 19
military action within the Islamic world. Al Qaeda appears to have been less successful in using
the purportedly hoped for U.S. military response to “help the [Islamic] nation to wake from its
slumber,” as it claims to have planned. Both Bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al Zawahiri have
criticized the population and governments of the Islamic world for failing to answer their calls to
arms and for cooperating with the United States and its allies. These criticisms have been coupled
with renewed calls for armed “resistance” against the United States and its allies from Al
Zawahiri, Al Adl, the late Al Zarqawi, and others.
In 2004 and 2006, Bin Laden personally addressed the governments and citizens of Europe and
the United States directly in an effort to discourage further support for their respective foreign
policies in the Islamic world. In April 2004, Bin Laden proposed a “truce” with Europeans if they
agreed to abandon their support for the United States and their military commitments in Iraq and
Afghanistan. The offer was resoundingly rejected by European leaders and their citizens. In
October 2004, on the eve of the U.S. presidential election, Bin Laden made a similar statement in
which he urged Americans to reevaluate their policies toward the Islamic world and threatened to
bleed and bankrupt the United States. In late November 2004, Al Zawahiri stated Al Qaeda’s
intention to continue its jihad against the United States indefinitely until its leaders deem “U.S.
policy toward Muslims” to be non-aggressive. These sentiments were echoed in tapes issued by
Al Zawahiri in 2005, in which he cited Bin Laden’s truce offer and characterized Al Qaeda’s 20
message to Americans and their allies as “crystal clear.” In January 2006 Bin Laden stated that
Al Qaeda “does not object to a long-term truce” with the United States “on the basis of fair
conditions,” but it is unlikely that he could guarantee a total cessation of hostilities or that other
Al Qaeda figures would abandon strategic priorities that include long-term confrontation with the 21
United States and its allies. Al Zawahiri stated in March 2007 that, “Shaykh Usama Bin Ladin
19 In his May 2005 statement, Sayf Al Adl argues, “What we had wished for actually happened. It was crowned by the
announcement of Bush Jr. of his crusade against Islam and Muslims everywhere.” OSC Report-GMP2005060637100,
May 21, 2005.
20 “The lion of Islam mujahid Shaykh Usama Bin Ladin... offered you a truce until you leave the land of Islam... Has
Shaykh Usama Bin Ladin not informed you that you will not dream of security until we live it in reality in Palestine
and before all infidel armies leave the land of Muhammad, may peace be upon him? You however shed rivers of blood
in our land so we exploded volcanoes of anger in your land... Our message to you is crystal clear: Your salvation will
only come in your withdrawal from our land, in stopping the robbing of our oil and resources, and in stopping your
support for the corrupt and corrupting leaders.” Ayman al Zawahiri, “Message on Desecration of Holy Koran and the
Infidel Democracy,” August 4, 2005, OSC Report-GMP20050927550001.
21 “Bin Ladin Threatens New Operations, Offers ‘Long-Term Truce,’” OSC Report-GMP20060119544004, January 19,
had proposed to them a truce and they rejected it. Let them bear the consequences of their 22
Bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders have cast further doubt on the validity of their truce
proposals by simultaneously calling for further attacks on U.S. and European targets and praising
terrorist attacks that have targeted and killed civilians. In December 2004, Osama Bin Laden
released audio tapes calling for continued attacks on U.S. forces and interests and revealing his
perspectives on events in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the Palestinian territories. The first tape,
released on December 16, 2004, received media attention for its praise of an Al Qaeda-affiliated 23
group’s attack on the U.S. consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in early December 2004. The
remainder of the tape was devoted to delivering a litany of religiously based criticisms of the
Saudi royal family for its support for the United States and its insufficient commitment to the
implementation of Islamic law and moral principles. Bin Laden appealed directly to “the silent
ulema” (religious scholars) and business and community leaders in Saudi Arabia to withdraw
their support for the ruling Al Saud family. In the second tape, released on December 27, 2004,
Bin Laden underscored Al Qaeda’s interest in Iraq and support for the ongoing insurgency. Bin
Laden’s January 2006 message implied that Al Qaeda operatives had infiltrated the United States
and were preparing to strike.
In December 2004, Bin Laden identified the conflict in Iraq as “a golden and unique opportunity”
for jihadists to engage and defeat the United States, and he characterized the insurgency in Iraq as
the central battle in a “Third World War, which the Crusader-Zionist coalition began against the 24
Islamic nation.” Describing Baghdad as “the capital of the caliphate,” Bin Laden asserted that
“jihad in Palestine and Iraq today is a duty for the people of the two countries” and other
Muslims. On a strategic level, Bin Laden has employed well-known Quranic injunctions against
failing to contribute to “the cause of God” to appeal to Muslims to support Al Qaeda and its 25
jihadist affiliates in Iraq politically, financially, and militarily. He has also personally welcomed
and endorsed the late Jordanian-born terrorist leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi as an Al Qaeda 26
affiliate and the leader of Al Qaeda operations in Iraq. In January 2006, Bin Laden stated that
“Iraq has become a point of attraction and recruitment of qualified resources.”
22 “Al-Zawahiri Censures HAMAS, Discusses Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan, Other Issues,” OSC Report-
GMP20070312637002, March 12, 2007.
23 “Bin Ladin Contests Legality of Saudi Rulers, Praises Attack on US Consulate,” OSC Report-
GMP20041216000222, December 16, 2004.
24 Bin Laden described the stakes of the confrontation between coalition and jihadist forces in Iraq in the following
terms: “The whole world is watching this war and the two adversaries; the Islamic nation, on the one hand, and the
United States and its allies on the other. It is either victory and glory or misery and humiliation. The nation today has a
very rare opportunity to come out of the subservience and enslavement to the West and to smash the chains with which
the Crusaders have fettered it.” OSC Report-FEA20041227000762, December 27, 2004.
25 Bin Laden: “The one who stays behind and fails to join the Mujahidin when Jihad becomes an individual duty
commits a cardinal sin... The most pressing duty after faith is repelling the aggressor enemy. This means that the nation
should devote its resources, sons, and money to fight the infidels and drive them out of its lands.” OSC Report-
FEA20041227000762, December 27, 2004. See also the Quran-Al Tawbah, 9:42-72.
26 “Website Posts Full Version of New Audiotape Attributed to Bin Ladin,” OSC Report-FEA20041227000762,
Subsequent statements attributed to Al Zarqawi and Ayman al Zawahiri have underscored the
importance of the conflict in Iraq to the jihadist cause from Al Qaeda’s perspective. In May 2005,
Al Zarqawi reaffirmed his allegiance to Osama Bin Laden and reflected on the success of 27
insurgent operations in Iraq as a symbol of Al Qaeda’s success. Al Zawahiri reiterated the
interest of Al Qaeda’s leadership in the Iraqi insurgency and the country’s political developments
in many of his messages during 2005 and 2006. Both men vehemently denounced the successful
constitutional and electoral processes that have laid the groundwork for the formation of the new
Iraqi government: Al Zawahiri has repeatedly argued that the democratic reforms initiated by the
United States in Iraq and Afghanistan are incomplete and insincere, while Al Zarqawi adopted
more sectarian rhetoric in seeking to dissuade Iraq’s Sunni community from participating in the
country’s democratic processes and to condemn Iraq’s Shiite political organizations and
communities on religious grounds.
On a tactical level, statements from leading Al Qaeda figures have demonstrated a degree of
differentiation in their preferred methods for opposing coalition forces in Iraq and the new Iraqi
government. Bin Laden has identified “martyrdom operations,” or suicide attacks, as “the most 28
important operations” for disrupting the activities of the United States and its allies. Politically,
he has encouraged Islamist insurgents in Iraq to work with “Socialist” groups (Baathists) and
compared cooperation between Islamists and Baathists to Arab and Persian collaboration against thth29
the Byzantine empire in the 7 and 8 centuries. Bin Laden has also encouraged Muslim Iraqis
and non-Iraqis of all ethnic and linguistic backgrounds to cooperate in opposing the Iraqi
Government and coalition forces in Iraq. He has applied similar disregard for ethnic, linguistic,
and ideological differences in issuing condemnations of so-called collaborators; identifying Arabs 30
cooperating with Iraqi and coalition authorities as equally guilty parties.
While Al Zawahiri and Al Zarqawi were similarly indiscriminate in their calls for anti-U.S.
cooperation, differences appeared to have emerged in their perspectives on the targeting of
Muslims who collaborate with coalition troops or initiatives and the desirability of pursuing an
agenda of violent opposition to Iraq’s Shiite-led government on sectarian grounds. These
differences became public in October 2005 after the publication of an intercepted letter reportedly
written by Al Zawahiri to Al Zarqawi in which Al Zawahiri offered advice to Al Zarqawi on his
campaign in Iraq. Specifically, Al Zawahiri questioned the wisdom of pursuing a campaign
December 27, 2004. Bin Laden’s endorsement read, “It should be known that Mujahid brother Abu-Mus’ab al-Zarqawi
is the Amir of the Tanzim al-Qa’idah fi Bilad al-Rafidayn [Al-Qa’ida Organization in the Land of the Two Rivers]. The
brothers in the group there should heed his orders and obey him in all that which is good.”
27 “Al-Zarqawi Addresses Letter to Bin Ladin on Al-Qa’im Battle, ‘Plan,’” OSC Report-GMP20050530549008, May
28 Bin Laden urged followers to “ ... become diligent in carrying out martyrdom operations... These are the most
important operations.” OSC Report-FEA20041227000762, December 27, 2004.
29 Bin Laden sanctioned cooperation with Baathists “despite our belief in the infidelity of socialists.” “Usama Bin
Ladin’s Message to Iraq,” Al Jazirah Television, February 11, 2003.
30 “The Iraqi who is waging Jihad against the infidel Americans or Allawi’s renegade government is our brother and
companion, even if he was of Persian, Kurdish, or Tukomen origin. The Iraqi who joins this renegade government to
fight against the Mujahidin, who resists occupation, is considered a renegade and one of the infidels, even if he were an
Arab from Rabi’ah or Mudar tribes.” OSC Report-FEA20041227000762, December 27, 2004.
against Shiite Iraqis on a sectarian basis when sectarian violence may reduce overall public 31
support among the region’s Sunni Muslim population for Al Qaeda’s objectives.
Abu Musab al Zarqawi and Al Qaeda military leader Sayf al Adl have referred to the current
situation in Iraq as an opportunity for the global jihadist movement to take advantage of
insecurity in the heart of the Arab world and to spread into neighboring areas. Al Adl has
speculated that the ongoing violence in Iraq may spread into Syria and Lebanon, which could
give “the Islamic action a vast area of action and maneuvering” and help it to attract “tremendous
human and financial resources.” The expansion of violence in the Middle East could also bring
the jihadist movement close to “the border of occupied Palestine” and into direct confrontation
with Israel, according to Al Adl, which, in his opinion, would further legitimize the jihadist cause
and its supporters. Al Zarqawi’s group claimed responsibility for two 2005 terrorist attacks in
Jordan as well as a rocket attack launched against Israel from Lebanon in December 2005.
Following the death of Abu Musab al Zarqawi in 2006, leading Al Qaeda affiliates established an 32
entity known as the Islamic State of Iraq based in Iraq’s western Al Anbar province. The group’s
leaders, Abu Umar al Baghdadi and Abu Hamzah Al Muhajir, have since released a number of
statements outlining the policies and goals of the new “Islamic state” and attacking a number of 33
Iraqi groups. A ten-member cabinet was announced in April 2007. The Islamic State and its
leaders share the strict anti-Shiite sectarian views of Al Zarqawi and routinely refer to Iraqi
Shiites in hostile, derogatory terms while launching attacks against Sunni and Shiite government
officials and civilians. In July 2007, Al Baghdadi released an audiotape threatening to launch 34
attacks against Iran unless the Iranian government withdraws its support for Iraqi Shiites.
The Islamic State of Iraq’s insistence on enforcing their strict interpretations of religious law on
Iraqi civilians and targeting members of other insurgent groups, including the religiously oriented
Islamic Army of Iraq, has led to fighting that has killed insurgents and Al Qaeda operatives across 35
western and central Iraq in recent months. The Islamic Army of Iraq, the Mujahidin Army and
the Ansar al Sunna Sharia Council announced the formation of a Jihad and Reform Front in May
2007 as a means of disassociating themselves from what they reportedly considered to be Al
Qaeda’s indiscriminate targeting of Iraqi civilians. Since December 2006, Ayman Al Zawahiri has
congratulated Al Baghdadi for the establishment of the so-called Islamic State and has reiterated
his plea for fighters in Iraq to overcome their differences in the aftermath of fighting between the
31 Judging by statements made in the letter, Al Zawahiri largely shared Al Zarqawi’s disdain for Shiite Muslims
generally and Iraq’s Shiite political groups in particular. He questions the timing of Al Zarqawi’s anti-Shiite operations
because in his opinion, a majority of the Sunni community Al Qaeda is trying to mobilize on a region-wide basis do not
feel as strongly or as negatively about Shi’ism or the Shiite community in Iraq. The letter is available in Arabic and
English at http://www.dni.gov/.
32 “MSC [Mujahidin Shura Council] Announces Establishment of ‘Islamic State of Iraq,’” OSC Report
FEA20061015028735, October 15, 2006.
33 “Al Baghdadi Statement Views ‘Dividends and Losses’ After Four Years of ‘Jihad,’” OSC Report-
FEA20070417118651, April 17, 2007.
34 “Islamic State of Iraq’s Al Baghdadi on Kurds, Shiites, Iran’” OSC Report-FEA20070708220946, July 8, 2007.
35 Mussab Al Khairalla, “Fighting Exposes Rift Between Qaeda, Iraqi Groups,” Reuters, June 5, 2007.
Islamic Emirate and other Sunni insurgent groups.36 Administration and U.S. military officials
have described the divisive, violent rhetoric and operations of the Islamic State of Iraq as a
contributing factor to the increased willingness of some Iraqi Sunni Arabs to distance themselves
from Al Qaeda and in some cases to support the elected government of Iraq.
The operations of Al Qaeda affiliates continue to be complemented by centrally-planned
ideological outreach activities. In a January 30, 2005 audiotape, for example, Ayman al Zawahiri
identified “three foundations” of Al Qaeda’s political ideology and applied them to events in Iraq 37
and elsewhere. The three principles were repeated in a June 2005 video message from Al
Zawahiri and described Al Qaeda’s core principles in sharp contrast to secular and religious
reform ideologies voiced by other Muslims as well as recent U.S. support for democracy. The
“three foundations,” as outlined by Al Zawahiri are as follows:
• “The Quran-Based Authority to Govern.” According to Al Zawahiri, Al Qaeda
supports the creation of an Islamic state governed solely by sharia law. Secular
government or “man-made” law is considered unacceptable and deemed contrary
to Islamic faith.
• “The Liberation of the Homelands.” Al Zawahiri argued that reforms and free
elections will not be possible for Muslims without first establishing “the freedom
of the Muslim lands and their liberation from every aggressor.” He also
emphasized the importance of establishing control over the Middle East’s energy
resources and described the Muslim world as “impotent and exposed to the
Israeli nuclear arsenal.”
• “The Liberation of the Human Being.” Al Zawahiri articulated a vision of a
contractual social relationship between Muslims and their rulers that would
permit people to choose and criticize their leaders but also demand that Muslims
resist and overthrow rulers who violate Islamic laws and principles. He criticized
hereditary government and identified a need “to specify the power of the sharia
based judiciary, and insure that no one can dispose of the people’s rights, except
in accordance with this judiciary.”
Osama Bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri, and the late Abu Musab al Zarqawi have applied these and
other similar principles to issues of democracy, reform, and conflict in Iraq, Saudi Arabia,
36 “Thus, I believe that the brothers who didn’t agree with the decision of their brothers in the Islamic State of Iraq must
keep in touch with them and study how to mend what they deem to be flaws in the actions and plans of their brothers.
And similarly, the brothers in the Islamic State of Iraq must open their hearts to their brothers and listen to them and
take what they throw them seriously, and at the same time, they must sincerely advise their brothers about the mistakes
or shortcomings they see in them.” “Al-Zawahiri Offers ‘Advice of One Concerned,’” OSC Report
FEA20070705218946, July 5, 2007.
37 “Al-Zawahiri Denounces US, Argues for Reign of Islamic Law and Caliphate, Jihad Against Crusaders and Jews,”
OSC Report-GMP20050131000021, January 31, 2005.
Afghanistan, Egypt, and the Palestinian territories. In both of his December 2004 statements, for
example, Bin Laden clearly stated his view that democracies, constitutional governments, and
insufficiently Islamic monarchies are equally unacceptable forms of governance for Islamic
societies because they empower human rulers and man-made legal systems rather than “the law 38
of God.” Al Zarqawi expanded on these sentiments in a January 2005 statement that
characterized democracy as a rival “religion” to Islam and criticized adherence to democratic
principles such as freedom of speech and freedom of religion as un-Islamic and tantamount to 39
apostasy punishable by death. Al Zarqawi condemned the Iraqi Islamic Party and other Iraqi
Sunni groups for participating in the 2005 constitutional referenda and parliamentary elections.
He also frequently characterized the Iraqi government as illegitimate and collaborationist,
echoing to his January 2005 post-election statement that his followers in Iraq would “not accept 40
the rule of anyone but that of God and His Prophet [Mohammed].” His successors in the 41
leadership of the Islamic State of Iraq have been similarly critical of Iraqi Islamic Party leaders.
Bin Laden’s December 2004 statements urged Muslims to oppose the creation of democratic
governments in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Palestinian territories; to resist non-Islamic reform
movements in other Islamic societies; and to overturn existing regimes deemed insufficiently-42
Islamic by Al Qaeda such as the Saudi monarchy. Al Zawahiri repeated Bin Laden’s assertions
throughout 2005 and added specific criticism of U.S. detention centers at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
and Abu Ghraib, Iraq and characterized them as examples of U.S. reform plans for the Islamic
world. Al Zawahiri also dismissed Afghan, Egyptian, and Iraqi elections as incomplete and
argued that the United States and its allies would not have supported the elections if the results
may have yielded Islamist governments that could oppose U.S. policies in the region. Elected
Islamists also have received criticism for not living up to Al Qaeda leaders’ expectations. In
December 2006, Al Zawahiri pointedly criticized the Palestinian group Hamas for failing to 43
demand “that Palestine have an Islamic constitution before entering any elections.” In March
earlier it had sold out referring to sharia as the source of jurisdiction.”
Bin Laden and Al Zawahiri have based their calls for revolutionary change in Islamic societies on
a stated belief in a model of governance where Muslim citizens would empowered to choose and
38 For example, Bin Laden has linked his opposition to insufficiently Islamic governance in Saudi Arabia to his view
that under the Saudi monarchy, “absolute obedience and supremacy are given to the king and his laws, and not to God’s
religion.” OSC Report-GMP20041216000222, December 16, 2004.
39 According to Bin Laden, Muslims have a right to participate in the selection of their rulers only under certain
“conditions,” namely the absence of occupying foreign powers and the presence of candidates willing to rule solely
according to Islamic law. OSC Report-FEA20041227000762, December 27, 2004.
40 “Al Zarqawi on US Casualties in Iraq, Elections, Israel,” OSC Report-GMP20060109519001, January 9, 2006; and
“Al-Zarqawi’s Group Issues Post-Election Statement, Claims Attacks Against US Embassy, Mosul Targets,” OSC
Report-FEA20050201001026, February 1, 2005.
41 “New Audio Tape by Al Muhajir Attacks Iraqi Islamic Party Leaders,” OSC Report-GMP20070505632001, May 5,
42 Bin Laden’s critiques of Iraq’s Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) and the Palestinian Authority reflect these
sentiments: “The constitution (TAL), which was imposed by U.S. occupier Bremer, is a man-made and pagan
constitution, which insisted that Islam should not be the sole source of legislation... Palestine is under occupation and
its constitution is man-made and pagan, and Islam has nothing to do with it.” OSC Report-FEA20041227000762,
December 27, 2004.
43 OSC Report-GMP20061221635002, December 21, 2006.
44 OSC Report-GMP20070312637002, March 12, 2007.
depose their leaders according to Islamic principles and traditions of consultation, or shura.45
However, Bin Laden has specifically argued that, “all Muslims should embark on reforms,” while
cautioning that “reforms should be achieved in accordance with the religious laws.” Adherence to
and enforcement of Al Qaeda ideologues’ specific interpretation of religious law thus appears to
be the criterion on which both secular and Islamist parties are and will be judged.
Al Qaeda military commander Sayf al Adl concluded his May 2005 text with advice for Al
Zarqawi and other affiliates that includes a detailed strategic framework for the jihadist 46
movement. While Al Adl’s statement is one among many jihadist strategic documents that have
surfaced in recent years, it is noteworthy because it was issued by an individual thought to be a
key member of Al Qaeda’s scattered leadership and offered a uniquely detailed outline. Elements
of similar strategic thinking appeared in statements issued by Al Zawahiri and Al Zarqawi from
• Jihadist action must have a clear “thought or idea that outlines its means and
objectives.” Al Adl recommended that Al Zarqawi and others declare that their
strategic “objective is to reintroduce the Islamic way of life by means of
establishing the state of Islam that will solve the entire problems of the nation.”
This objective should be supported ideologically by “a circle of judicious men
and scholars” and propagated by “a special da’wah (Islamic outreach) authority.”
The goal is to better enable the jihadist movement to employ “the [Islamic]
nation’s potentials, including human and financial resources” by attracting more
• The strategic objectives of the jihadist movement should be rooted in and
motivated by what Al Adl refers to as “the clear banner of Islam—the banner of
‘there is no deity but God and Muhammad is the messenger of God.’” This
fundamental statement of Islamic faith is meant to signify the ultimate priority of
the principle of tawhid, or the unity and authority of God and religion, in Al
Qaeda’s ideological framework.
• Detailed strategic and operational plans must be developed with short-term and
long-term components. Al Adl links the failures of other “contemporary Islamic
movements” to the fact that their “actions were mostly random.” According to Al
Adl, “mujahidin should have short-term plans aimed at achieving interim goals
and long-term plans aimed at accomplishing the greater objective, which is the
establishment of a state.” Throughout his statement, Al Adl alludes to the
existence of a broad plan developed by Al Qaeda’s leaders, but he declines to
describe it in detail.
In a July 2007 statement, Al Zawahiri outlined “a near-term plan and a long-term plan” for
achieving Al Qaeda objectives:
45 “If the ruler renounces the law of God, the governed, on God’s orders, must cease to obey him... Rights cannot be
restored from a regime when the ruler becomes renegade or refuses to follow religion except by force.” OSC Report-
GMP20041216000222, December 16, 2004.
46 “Detained Al-Qa’ida Leader Sayf al-Adl Chronicles Al-Zarqawi’s Rise in Organization,” OSC Report-
GMP2005060637100, May 21, 2005.
The near-term plan consists of targeting Crusader-Jewish interests, as everyone who attacks
the Muslim Ummah must pay the price, in our country and theirs, in Iraq, Afghanistan,
Palestine and Somalia, and everywhere we are able to strike their interests... And the long-
term plan is divided into two halves: The first half consists of earnest, diligent work, to
change these corrupt and corruptive regimes.... As for the second half of the long-term plan,
it consists of hurrying to the fields of jihad like Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, for jihad
preparation and training. Thus, it is a must to hurry to the fields of jihad for two reasons: The
first is to defeat the enemies of the Ummah and repel the Zionist Crusade, and the second is 47
for jihadi preparation and training to prepare for the next stage of the jihad.
The “next stage” remains largely undefined in available statements from Al Qaeda leaders, and
efforts to define long term goals are likely to prove divisive in light of evident differences in Iraq
and other conflict zones over short term strategy and tactics.
Variations in the intensity and prominence of Al Qaeda leaders’ anti-Israeli rhetoric have fueled
suggestions that Al Qaeda’s commitment to the Palestinian cause waxes and wanes depending on
the network’s need for support—becoming more pronounced during periods when Al Qaeda’s
actions have alienated supporters or as part of a more outright ideological appeal. Bin Laden has
addressed these charges personally and argued that support for the Palestinians and all Muslims is
and will remain essential to Al Qaeda’s cause, which is the mobilization of the entire Muslim 48
world in resistance to perceived U.S. aggression.
Other Al Qaeda figures have alluded to the desirability of attacks on and eventual conflict with
Israel. In January 2006, Al Zarqawi claimed responsibility for a rocket attack on northern Israel,
which he claimed was personally ordered by Osama Bin Laden. He described the attack as “the 49
beginning of a blessed action to strike the Zionist enemy at the heart of its existence.” Ayman Al
Zawahiri stated in March 2007 that “Palestine was a land of Islam and it is an individual duty for 50
every Muslim to liberate it.” In April 2007, Islamic State of Iraq leader Abu Omar al Baghdadi
stated that the conflict in Iraq has “paved the way for invading the Jewish state and the restoration 51
of Jerusalem.” Al Qaeda operational leader Abu Layth Al Libi also has claimed that “the
preparations we [Al Qaeda] make and all the fighting in the cause of God we carry out in the east
and west is preparation and training for fighting the Jews in the Al Aqsa Mosque [in 52
47 Al Zawahiri admits that he is “unable... to offer a single prescription for change to every country, because every
country has its own circumstances and conditions.” He then says that patience, popular sympathy, the use of force,
sacrifice in service of truth, unity, and the guidance of organizational leadership are common and necessary
characteristics for success.
48 “Interview Held with Usama Bin Ladin,” Jihad Online News, January 21, 2003.
49 “Al Zarqawi on US Casualties in Iraq, Elections, Israel,” OSC Report-GMP20060109519001, January 9, 2006.
50 OSC Report GMP20070312637002, March 12, 2007.
51 OSC Report-FEA20070417118651, April 17, 2007.
52 “Al Qa’ida’s Al Libi Discusses ‘Jihad’ in Iraq, Afghanistan, Other Issues,” OSC Report GMP20070429688001,
April 28, 2007.
Al Qaeda leaders’ statements reveal sophisticated consideration of the economic and military
vulnerabilities of the United States and its allies, particularly with regard to the role of Middle 53
Eastern oil as “the basis of industry” in the global economy. Bin Laden has called for Muslim
societies to become more self-sufficient economically and has urged Arab governments to
preserve oil as “a great and important economic power for the coming Islamic state.” Bin Laden 54
also has described economic boycotts as “extremely effective” weapons. In an interview
reportedly conducted on or around the fourth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Al
Zawahiri urged “mujahidin to concentrate their campaigns on the Muslims’ stolen oil” and to “not 55
allow the thieves ruling [Muslim] countries to control this oil.”
Statements by Bin Laden and Al Zawahiri urging attacks on oil infrastructure and military supply
lines could indicate a shift in Al Qaeda’s strategic and tactical planning in favor of a more
protracted attritional conflict characterized by disruptive attacks on economic and critical energy
production infrastructure. A string of attempted attacks on oil production facilities in Saudi Arabia
and Yemen since early 2006 have been heralded by some jihadist media outlets as operations
conforming to Al Qaeda leaders’ calls for economic warfare against the United States and its
regional allies. The Saudi Arabian government has sought to discredit Al Qaeda affiliates by
portraying their attempted attacks on oil facilities as a threat to the economic lifeblood of the
Statements from Osama Bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri, the late Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, Sayf al
Adl, and Al Qaeda affiliates in Iraq display the uncompromising commitment of Al Qaeda’s
leaders and operational affiliates to a consistent ideological agenda focused on two sequential
goals: the expulsion of foreign forces and influences from Islamic societies and, ultimately, the
creation of an Islamic state ruled by sharia law. The political prescriptions outlined in the
statements are rooted in the Islamic principle known as tawhid, or the principle of the absolute
unity of God, and an identification of Islam as an all-encompassing religious, political, and social 56
system. According to this perspective, Islamic faith, adherence to Islamic law, and
implementation of conservative Islamic social and political principles are synonymous.
Throughout their statements, Al Qaeda founders and affiliates characterize as “infidels” those
who do not share these beliefs, those who oppose the creation of an Islamic state on the terms
they describe, and those supporting existing governments and coalition activities in the Islamic
53 “One of the most important reasons that made our enemies control our land is the pilfering of our oil... Be active and
prevent them from reaching the oil, and mount your operations accordingly, particularly in Iraq and the Gulf for this is
their fate.” OSC Report-GMP20041216000222, December 16, 2004.
54 “Declaration of Jihad” Al Islah (London), September 2, 1996. op. cit.
55 “Al Qa’ida’s Al Zawahiri Predicts Failure of US ‘Crusade’ Against Muslim States,” OSC Report-
GMP20051207507001, December 7, 2005.
56 According to Bin Laden, “Islam is one unit that can not be divided... a way of life revealed by God for men to abide
by all of its aspects in all their affairs.” OSC Report-FEA2004122700076, December 27, 2004.
Al Qaeda’s diverse statements contain calculated variations in tone and content that address or
appeal to various target audiences. In his early statements, for example, Osama Bin Laden
adopted a pseudo-nationalist tone in directly addressing the population of Saudi Arabia and
outlining ways that specific groups in Saudi society could support Al Qaeda. In his 2004 and
2006 statements addressed to the U.S. and European public, Bin Laden blended threats of
violence with attempts to portray himself as a statesmanlike figure more palatable to Western
audiences and appealing to moderate Muslims. Bin Laden’s earlier statements also addressed the
American public in several instances that he since has characterized as attempts to explain his
motives and outline steps the United States should have taken in order to avoid Al Qaeda attacks.
Over time, the cornerstone of Al Qaeda leaders’ religious and political rhetoric has remained
consistent: Muslims should view themselves as a single nation and unite to resist anti-Islamic
aggression on the basis of obligatory defensive jihad. Non-Islamic government is unacceptable,
and Muslims should join Al Qaeda and other sympathetic groups and movements in opposing
those seeking to establish secular democratic governments or maintain existing governments
deemed to be insufficiently Islamic. Bin Laden has often coupled his “Islamic-unity” rhetoric
with litanies of anti-Semitic statements, condemnations of Israel, and allegations of U.S.
complicity in the suffering of Muslims worldwide. In many pre-9/11 statements, Bin Laden
broadened his rhetorical outreach to appeal to non-Arab Muslims, especially those concerned
with or engaged in conflicts in Chechnya, Bosnia, Kashmir, and the Philippines. Following
September 11, 2001, Bin Laden has appealed directly to national groups on the front lines of
robust counter-terrorism operations, particularly the populations of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iraq,
and the Palestinian territories.
Although Bin Laden’s ideological rhetoric has remained relatively consistent, he and other Al
Qaeda leaders have placed varying levels of emphasis on specific strategic objectives and tactics
in their statements over the years. In statements addressed to U.S. and European audiences, Bin
Laden and others have outlined specific political demands that support an image of Al Qaeda as a
pliable, pragmatic political actor. Nevertheless, Al Qaeda’s operational record seems to indicate
that its leaders’ commitment to specific national causes and limited political objectives are
rhetorical tools designed to elicit support for their broader ideological agenda of confrontation
with the West and puritanical reform in the Islamic world. For example, Bin Laden’s rhetorical
treatment of the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia during the 1990s is largely inconsistent
with Al Qaeda’s ongoing terrorist operations there following the almost complete withdrawal of 57
U.S. military forces from Saudi Arabia in September 2003. Although only a small number of
U.S. military personnel remain in Saudi Arabia, Al Qaeda affiliates have continued a violent
campaign to topple the Saudi government and have targeted non-U.S. civilians in numerous
57 In his September 1996 declaration of jihad against the United States, Bin Laden described the presence of U.S. troops
in the Arabian peninsula as “one of the worst catastrophes to befall Muslims since the death of the Prophet
[Mohammed].” In an earlier interview, however, he indicated that the “the withdrawal of American troops” would
serve as the “solution” to the crisis between the United States and the Islamic world.
In messages to regional audiences, Bin Laden and his deputies have characterized U.S.-led
military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq as new provocations and “crusades” that justify
ongoing attacks. In his December 2004 statements, Bin Laden referred to the confrontation
between the U.S., its allies, and jihadist movements as “a war of destiny between infidelity and
Islam” and a “Third World War,” seemingly leaving little doubt about the scope or flexibility of
Al Qaeda’s strategic ambitions, grievances, and demands. From a strategic perspective,
statements from Al Zawahiri and others advocate for a phased struggle, in which the first goal is
the expulsion of U.S. military forces and proximate goals include the overthrow of “corrupt”
regional leaders, the creation of a sharia-ruled Islamic state, military confrontation with Israel,
and conflict with Shiite Muslims.
Overall, Al Qaeda leaders have displayed a pragmatic willingness to adapt the strategic and
tactical content of their statements to changing circumstances while retaining a messianic
commitment to their broader ideological agenda. Although Bin Laden’s self-professed goal is to 58
“move, incite, and mobilize the [Islamic] nation” until it reaches a revolutionary “ignition 59
point,” Al Qaeda leaders’ statements and Al Qaeda’s attacks largely have failed to effectively
mobilize widespread Muslim support for their agenda thus far. Since late 2001, however, public
opinion polling and media monitoring in the Middle East and broader Islamic world indicate that
dissatisfaction with the United States and its foreign policy has grown significantly within many
In light of this trend, Al Qaeda leaders’ shift toward more explicitly political and ideological
rhetoric seems to signal a direct attempt to broaden the movement’s appeal, solicit greater
financial and material support, and possibly inspire new and more systematically devastating
attacks. Some experts have argued however, that the uncompromising, anti-democratic tone of
some public statements by Bin Laden and Al Zawahiri may alienate Muslims who oppose
theocracy or who support secular or representative government. The anti-Shiite sectarian rhetoric
of some Al Qaeda affiliates and the persistence of terrorist attacks that kill and maim Sunni and
Shiite Muslims in Iraq also undermine Al Qaeda’s appeal among some groups.
Experience suggests that Al Qaeda’s leaders believe that regular attempts to characterize Al
Qaeda’s actions as defensive and religiously sanctioned will increase tolerance of and support for
their broader ideological program. The identification of limited political objectives and the
implication that their fulfilment will resolve broader grievances may generate broader appeal than
the group’s underlying ideological agenda. Osama Bin Laden’s truce proposals addressed to
citizens of the United States and its European allies illustrate this trend, but the proposals’ validity
has been questioned due to ongoing attacks and continuing threats.
Overall, Al Qaeda leaders’ statements from the mid-1990s through the present indicate that they
continue to see themselves and their followers as the vanguard of an international Islamic
movement primarily committed to ending U.S. “interference” in the affairs of Islamic countries
and supportive of efforts to recast Islamic societies according to narrow interpretations of Islam
58 “Usama Bin Ladin’s Message to Iraq,” Al-Jazirah Television, February 11, 2003. Op. cit.
59 “Bin Ladin Interviewed on Jihad Against U.S.,” Al Quds al Arabi, November 27, 1996.
and Islamic law. Public statements addressed to regional and international populations will likely
continue to play a prominent role in Al Qaeda’s efforts to achieve its goals.
Christopher M. Blanchard
Analyst in Middle Eastern Affairs