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 Al-Qa'ida (AQ)

(Also known as: Al-Jihad al-Qaeda, Al Qaeda, Al-Qaeda, Al-Qaida, AQ, The Base, The Group for the Preservation of the Holy Sites, International Front for Fighting Jews and Crusaders, Islamic Army, The Islamic Army for the Liberation of Holy Places, Islamic Army for the Liberation of Holy Sites, Islamic Salvation Foundation, The Jihad Group, New Jihad, Usama Bin Laden Network, Usama Bin Laden Organisation, The World Islamic Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders)

This statement is based on publicly available information about al-Qa’ida. To the Australian Government’s knowledge, this information is accurate, reliable and has been corroborated by classified information.

Basis for listing a terrorist organisation

Division 102 of the Criminal Code provides that for an organisation to be listed as a terrorist organisation, the Minister for Home Affairs must be satisfied on reasonable grounds that the organisation:

  1. is directly or indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning, or assisting in or fostering the doing of a terrorist act; or
  2. advocates the doing of a terrorist act.

For the purposes of listing a terrorist organisation under the Criminal Code, the doing of a terrorist act includes the doing of a specific terrorist act, the doing of more than one terrorist act and the doing of a terrorist act, even if a terrorist act does not occur.

Background to this listing

The Australian Government first proscribed al-Qa'ida as a terrorist organisation under the Criminal Code on 21 October 2002. Al-Qa'ida was relisted on 1 September 2004, 26 August 2006, 9 August 2008, 22 July 2010, 12 July 2013 and 28 June 2016.

Terrorist activity of the organisation

Objectives

Al-Qa'ida is a Sunni Islamic extremist organisation which seeks to establish a trans-national Islamic Caliphate by removing, through violent means if necessary, governments in Muslim countries that it deems are ‘un-Islamic'.The United States and its allies, including Australia, are believed by al-Qa'ida to represent the greatest obstacle to this objective, given their perceived support for these governments.

Directly or indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of terrorist acts

Al-Qa'ida operates through a decentralised model, where al-Qa'ida's core leadership is able to distance itself and the group from terrorist acts. It has been almost a decade since al-Qa'ida is known to have conducted a significant terrorist attack itself. However, al-Qa'ida leadership continues to assist in or foster the doing of terrorist attacks by its global affiliates.

The leaders and deputies of al-Qa'ida's global affiliates are integrated into al-Qa'ida's global strategy through deliberative and consultative processes. Al-Qa'ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri and core leadership figures outline strategic priorities and guidelines; and global affiliate leaders and the commanders of al-Qa'ida linked groups adapt these priorities to local conditions, including the directive to undertake attacks against Western interests. Al-Qa'ida's leadership is likely to seek to minimise its public links to significant attacks in the West as a deliberate strategy to avoid counter-terrorism pressure. Two recent significant attacks attributed to an al-Qa'ida affiliate or al-Qa'ida-linked group are:

  • April 2017: the bombing of the St Petersburg metro station, Russia, killing sixteen people. This attack was claimed by the Iman Shamil Battalion group who stated they carried out the attack under the direct order of Ayman al-Zawahiri.
  • January 2015: the attack on the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hedbo, in Paris, France killing ten people. This attack was claimed by al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) however due to its significance this attack would have required endorsement by al-Qa'ida.

Advocating the doing of terrorist acts

Senior al-Qa'ida leaders continue to make public statements promoting al-Qa'ida's ideology, praising attacks undertaken by other groups and encouraging and urging violent jihad against the West. Most recently, al-Qa'ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri reinforced the prevailing narrative of al-Qa'ida propaganda of unifying the global Muslim community in conflict against the US and the West.  

  • December 2018: video statement released by Ayman al-Zawahiri directs the mujahideen to concentrate on American and Israeli targets. This speech advocated the use of weapons and martyrdom. He also referenced the 11 September 2001 attacks, and stated that using commercial aircraft as weapons of mass destruction hit the US military command and led to one of the US' biggest economic disasters.  Al-Shabaab has released a statement indicating their attack against the DusitD2 hotel in Nairobi on 15 January 2019 was in direct response to Zawahiri's statement.
  • September 2018: al-Qa'ida released a video statement where Ayman al-Zawahiri reiterates his anti-American stance and continues to encourage Muslims to unify and to attack the interests abroad of the US and its allies.
  • May 2017: video statement released by Hamza bin Laden (the oldest surviving son of Usama bin Laden) directs followers to attack targets in the West and Russia instead of travelling to theatres of war within the Muslim world. The video also encouraged using alternatives to guns and bombs, such as ‘stabbing with knives and using vehicles and trucks'.
  • November 2016: al-Qa'ida addressed recent losses of senior leaders by US air strikes in the English language propaganda magazine Inspire. It stated that ‘by the killing of our brothers, we become more committed to their principles, and … we will continue clinging to the same course of jihad and da'wa…'. In addition it quoted that ‘we will never enjoy our life till we clean up our land from all oppressive infidels, till the last American soldier get[s] out from the Islamic countries…'
  • September 2016: al-Qa'ida released a speech in which Ayman al-Zawahiri stated that al-Qa'ida would ‘focus on… America and its allies, and to strive as much as possible to transfer the battle to their lands', and this was ‘the first priority in the armed jihad of today'.
  • July 2016: al-Qa'ida released a video statement in which Ayman al-Zawahiri called on al-Qa‘ida branches to kidnap Western civilians and soldiers so that these could be exchanged for jihadists jailed in the West.

Details of the organisation

Al-Qa'ida emerged in the late 1980s from the Maktab al-Khidamat, a recruitment and fundraising network for the Afghan resistance to the Soviet Union's occupation of Afghanistan. Al-Qa'ida was established to continue the jihad against perceived enemies of Islam following the end of the conflict with the Soviets.  During the late 1990s, al-Qa'ida was transformed from providing a unifying function for extremist elements into a global network of cells and affiliated groups. This decentralisation of the al-Qa'ida movement has continued, with localised affiliates taking more responsibility for their own tactical and strategic operations, and the central leadership assuming a more distant role. This is part of al-Qa'ida's three-pronged strategy of education and religious outreach, exploitation of local insurgencies against perceived apostate rulers and a terrorist campaign against the far enemy (the West and Western interests).

Leadership

Al-Qa'ida's surviving core leadership and senior commanders are dispersed across countries including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Iran, Libya and Yemen, therefore protecting the group from any one strike being able to eliminate the entire senior leadership. Usama bin Laden co-founded al‑Qa'ida with Dr Abdullah Azzam and gained full control of the organisation after the assassination of Azzam in 1989. Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, Usama bin Laden's former deputy, now leads al‑Qa'ida after the death of Usama bin Laden in May 2011. Al-Zawahiri is believed to be operating from an unknown location, possibly within the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region. This region has served as a sanctuary for al-Qa'ida's leadership since the loss of the group's facilities in Afghanistan in late 2001.

Other core al-Qa'ida leadership figures, including Saif al-Adl, a leader with extensive battlefield experience, have been located in Iran.

Hamza bin Laden, the son of Usama bin Laden, is purportedly being groomed for a leadership role within al-Qa'ida by senior figures within the group.

Membership

Excluding global affiliates, the exact size of al-Qa'ida core is unknown. While previous estimates have suggested a strength of several thousand fighters, today it is significantly less and more likely in the hundreds.

Al-Qa'ida maintains influence over the activities (and members) of other groups and has continuing relationships with official and unofficial affiliate groups around the world, who recruit independently of al-Qa'ida. Al-Qa'ida has maintained a network of affiliates and linked groups through incorporating local grievances and concerns into their global strategy. This locally-oriented strategy is exploited by affiliates and linked-groups to increase membership.

Recruitment and funding

Al-Qa'ida likely still has access to their traditional methods of funding, such as the exploitation of charities, and the reliance on donors and fundraisers in the Gulf that have long supported al-Qa'ida. It is also increasingly reliant on sources of funding obtained through its affiliates, which have diversified their methods to activities such as kidnap for ransom and extortion.

Links to other terrorist organisations

Al-Qa'ida has a number of global affiliates that have been separately proscribed as terrorist organisations under the Criminal Code,including:

  • Al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb,
  • Al-Shabaab,
  • Al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula, and
  • Al-Qa'ida in the Indian Subcontinent.

In addition to the groups al-Qa'ida has incorporated ‘officially' under its banner, al-Qa'ida also has provided encouragement and inspiration to other Islamic terrorist groups. Among such groups are: Abu Sayyaf Group, Al-Murabitun, Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Islamic Army of Aden, Asbat al-Ansar, Jemaah Islamiyah, Jamiat ul Ansar/Harakat ul-Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jaish-e-Mohammad and Ansar al-Islam.

Al-Qa'ida maintains links with Syria-based terrorist group Jabhat Fatah al-Sham.

Links to Australia

In the past Australians have been affiliated with the group; however there are no confirmed Australians currently linked to al-Qa'ida.

Threats to Australian interests

Al-Qa'ida's global strategy is focused on the end of Western influence in the Muslim world, and as part of this strategy al-Qa'ida advocates for strikes against the US and allies such as Australia. Australia has been specifically referenced or alluded to in official al-Qa'ida statements, most recently in 2016:    

  • In several audio/video statements released by al-Qa'ida in January 2016, Ayman al-Zawahiri encouraged South East Asian extremists to attack American and Western interests in the region. Previous imagery and statements from the Bali bombers were also included in which Australians are threatened with attack should they revisit Bali or other Indonesian tourist destinations.

Listed by the United Nations or like-minded countries

The United Nations Security Council ISIL (Da'esh) and al-Qa'ida Sanctions Committee (formerly the United Nations Security Council al-Qa'ida Sanctions Committee) has designated al-Qai'da for targeted financial sanctions and an arms embargo since 6 October 2001.  It is listed as a proscribed terrorist organisation by the governments of Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US. Al-Qa'ida is also listed by the European Union for the purposes of its anti-terrorism measures.

Engagement in peace or mediation processes

Al-Qa’ida is not engaged in any peace or mediation processes.

Conclusion

On the basis of the above information, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation assesses al-Qa’ida continues to be directly or indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of terrorist acts or advocates the doing of terrorist acts, involving threats to human life and serious damage to property.

In the course of pursuing its objectives, al-Qa’ida is known to have committed or threatened actions that:

  • cause, or could cause, death, serious harm to persons, serious damage to property, endangered life (other than the life of the person taking the action), or create a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public;
  • are intended to have those effects;
  • are done with the intention of advancing al-Qa’ida’s political, religious or ideological causes;
  • are done with the intention of intimidating, the government of one or more foreign countries; and
  • are done with the intention of intimidating the public or sections of the public.
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