Cracks in the Foundation: Leadership Schisms in Al-Qaʹida from 1989–2006.

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“From its beginnings in the wake of the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan, al-Qa’ida has been at war with itself. In disputes that have largely been invisible to the broader public, its leadership has been in a constant battle over what al-Qa’ida should be, what strategy it should pursue, even who its real enemies are. Very early in al-Qa’ida’s development there emerged two factions, one committed to building an effective guerrilla organization and one bent on establishing al-Qa’ida as a global brand, a battle standard that could be taken up by any and all engaged in violent Islamist resistance. Conflict between these two poles has defined every major leadership schism in al-Qa’ida, with the latter camp, led by Usama bin Ladin, victorious nearly every time. In the end, the “brand managers” succeeded in converting al-Qa’ida from an allegiance-based paramilitary organization, complete with formalized hierarchies of command and control into an emblem, an ideological banner capable of inspiring homegrown cells of any size, the members of which pledge allegiance not to any particular person, but to the vision of jihad that al-Qa’ida embodies. The origins and consequences of this long-running conflict, even its existence, remain underappreciated by American policymakers. While the efforts of the United States and its allies to target al-Qa’ida’s organizational capacities have yielded tangible and hard-won gains, more must be done to degrade al-Qa’ida’s ability to control and project its brand – to inspire scattered and isolated Sunni militants to kill in its name.” (From the introduction.)

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Series Title
CTC report
US Military Academy, Combating Terrorism Center
West Point, NY