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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 Attorney-General 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 (whether or not a terrorist act has occurred or will occur); or
  2. advocates the doing of a terrorist act (whether or not a terrorist act has occurred or will occur).

Background to this listing

The Australian Government first proscribed al-Qa’ida as a terrorist organisation under the Criminal Code in 2002, and relisted al-Qa’ida in 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2013.

Terrorist activity of the organisation

Objectives

Al-Qa’ida is a Sunni Islamic extremist organisation which seeks to remove governments, through violent means if necessary, in Muslim countries that it deems are ‘un Islamic’ in order to establish an Islamic Caliphate. The US 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.

Al-Qaida has undertaken the following to advance its ideology and achieve its objectives:

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

Al-Qa’ida has directly or indirectly engaged in a number of terrorist attacks, including assassinations, suicide bombings, aircraft hijackings and attacks using improvised explosive devices, including vehicle-borne and vessel-borne. Continued successful operations by US and other forces over the past 48 months appear to have seriously degraded al-Qa’ida’s capacity for planning and conducting large-scale terrorist operations.

Significant attacks which al-Qa’ida has claimed responsibility for, or that can be reliably attributed to individuals affiliated with al-Qa’ida, include:

  • 13 August 2011: the kidnapping of US citizen and aid worker, Warren Weinstein, from his residence in Lahore, Pakistan. Weinstein was accidentally killed in a US drone strike against an al-Qa’ida compound in January 2015;
  • 20 September 2008: the bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad, Pakistan, killing 60 people;
  • 2 June 2008: the bombing of the Danish Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, killing six people;
  • 24 February 2006: the attack on the Abqaiq oil refinery in Saudi Arabia, killing two security guards;
  • 28 November 2002: in Mombasa, Kenya, the car bombing of a hotel, killing 15 people, and the firing of two surface-to-air-missiles that missed an Israeli passenger plane after takeoff from Mombasa airport;
  • 6 October 2002: the bombing of the French oil tanker MV Limburg off the coast of Yemen, killing one sailor;
  • 14 June 2002: the car bombing outside the US Consulate in Karachi, Pakistan, killing 12 people;
  • 11 April 2002: the bombing of a synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba, killing 20 people;
  • 11 September 2001: the hijacking of four US passenger planes and crashing them into the World Trade Center buildings in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, and a field in Pennsylvania, killing approximately 3,000 people, including ten Australians;
  • 9 September 2001: the assassination of  Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Masood in Afghanistan;
  • 12 October 2000: the bombing of the USS Cole in the port of Aden, Yemen, killing 17 sailors; and
  • 7 August 1998: the bombing of the US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killing over 200 people.

Al-Qa’ida lost its primary base for training, planning, and preparing for terrorist operations following the US intervention in Afghanistan in late 2001. Since then, al Qa’ida has sought alternative locations in which to train and regroup, including in North-West Pakistan, and members continued to gain combat experience in ongoing jihadist theatres such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

Significant planned, yet disrupted, plots attributable to al-Qa’ida include:

  • September 2010: disrupted plot by Pakistan-based al-Qa’ida militants to carry out commando-style raids on cities in the UK, France and Germany involving teams taking and killing Western hostages; and
  • August 2006: disrupted plot by al-Qa’ida to bomb a number of transatlantic airliners flying from the UK to the US.

Reporting indicates al-Qa’ida has encouraged, inspired, assisted and fostered like-minded individuals. Examples of this assistance include:

  • 3 September 2014: in a video statement released by al-Qa’ida, Ayman al-Zawahiri announced the establishment of a new branch of al-Qa’ida known as al-Qa’ida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) ‘to gather the mujahideen in the Indian Subcontinent into a single entity’ for operations in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar. AQIS mounted two attacks in its first week of operations, assassinating a Pakistan Army Brigadier and attacking a Pakistan Navy dockyard. The dockyard attack, which involved an attempt to hijack a Pakistan Navy Warship and use it to attack US warships in the Indian Ocean, was foiled by the Pakistan security forces;
  • 2 March 2006: assisting in bombing a diplomatic vehicle outside the US Consulate in Karachi, Pakistan, killing three people;
  • 7 July 2005: assisting in training those involved in improvised explosive device attacks on London’s transport system, killing 56 people, including one Australian;
  • 20 November 2003: assisting in planning and preparing car bomb attacks on the HSBC Bank headquarters and the British Consulate in Istanbul, killing 30 people;
  • 15 November 2003: assisting in planning and preparing car bomb attacks on two synagogues in Istanbul, killing 20 people; and
  • 12 October 2002: assisting in funding attacks on night clubs and the US Consulate in Bali, Indonesia, killing 202 people, including 88 Australians.

Advocating the doing of terrorist acts

Senior leaders of al-Qa’ida have made numerous public statements advocating the conduct of terrorist attacks against the US and countries perceived to have allied themselves with the US and Israel. The February 1998 statement issued under the banner of the ‘World Islamic Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders’ decreed that civilians in these countries were legitimate targets for terrorist attack.

Senior al-Qa’ida leaders continue to make public statements promoting al-Qa’ida’s ideology, supporting attacks undertaken by other groups and advocating violent jihad against the West.

  • January 2016: in several audio/video statements released by al-Qa’ida, 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.
  • December 2015: al-Qa’ida released a video produced 3 to 4 months after the January 2015 Paris attacks against the Charlie Hebdo Offices and a Kosher supermarket in which Ayman al-Zawahiri praised the attacks and called on Muslims to ‘move the battle to the enemy’s own home especially the US and Europe’.
  • September 2015: al-Qa’ida released an audio statement in which Ayman al-Zawahiri criticised Islamic State Emir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi for the infighting between Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and al-Qa’ida and its affiliates. Al-Zawahiri called for unity in fighting, inter alia, Israel and the US — the common ‘Zionist crusader’ enemy.
  • January 2014: al-Qa’ida released a video statement by Ayman al-Zawahiri in which he discussed the reported massacre of Muslims in Bangladesh and called  upon  Muslims in that country to rise up against the government of Bangladesh.
  • Late October 2012: al-Qa’ida released a video in which Ayman al Zawahiri called on Muslims across the world to kidnap Western nationals in order to help secure the release of Islamist militants imprisoned across the world.
  • February 2012: al-Qa’ida has sought to align itself with anti-government forces involved in the Syrian conflict, with al Zawahiri releasing a video statement in entitled ‘To the Front, O Lions of the Levant’, in which he called on Muslims in Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan to come to the aid of anti-government forces in Syria, stating that a Muslim should help ‘his brothers in Syria with all he can, with his life, his money, [his] opinion, as well as information’.

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.

Leadership

Al-Qa’ida’s core leadership is located in the border regions in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  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-Qa’ida maintains core support networks and operations in the Afghanistan and 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.

However, due to counter-terrorism measures in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region, including unmanned drone attacks targeting senior al-Qa’ida leaders and operatives, al-Qa’ida’s core leadership has become increasingly isolated, and is likely having more trouble recruiting fighters.

Membership

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

Despite declining membership, al-Qa’ida maintains some influence over the activities (and members) of other groups. Al-Qa’ida has continuing relationships with official and unofficial affiliate groups around the world, who recruit independently of al-Qa’ida. While al-Qa’ida does not direct affiliate activity, al-Qa’ida broadly shapes global jihad and is still respected for its views on affiliates’ operations.

Recruitment and funding

Al-Qa’ida funding has typically been obtained through donations from Muslim charities and individuals. The US 9/11 Commission report attributed much of al Qa’ida’s funding to money diverted from charities. In addition, funds are also probably raised through criminal means, such as credit card fraud. It is believed al Qa'ida stopped using legitimate banking institutions for moving funds by mid 2002, turning instead to alternative systems such as the hawala system, couriers and precious stones.

Little is known about al-Qa’ida’s recruitment methods since the loss of its training camp infrastructure in Afghanistan in late 2001. It is likely a similar system has been established in cooperation with local Pakistani militant groups in the tribal areas of Pakistan, but on a smaller scale, using covert training camps and safe houses.

US unmanned drone attacks have made it more difficult for al-Qa’ida’s efforts in fundraising and recruiting. Reports suggest al-Qa’ida is struggling to raise funds and is having difficulty recruiting and equipping fighters.

Links to other terrorist organisations

In 1998, key figures of five terrorist groups, including Usama bin Laden, issued a declaration under the banner of the ‘World Islamic Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders,’ announcing a jihad and stating the US and its allies should be expelled from the Middle East.

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, 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.

Links to Australia

There are no known Australians currently linked to al-Qa’ida.

Threats to Australian interests

Since 2004, a number of statements have been made by Usama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri calling for attacks against the US and its allies, including Australia. The most recent al-Qa’ida senior leadership reference to Australia was on 2 April 2008, when as-Sahab posted an audio file to extremist Internet forums of al-Zawahiri responding to questions from forum participants. Al-Zawahiri referred to Australia when responding to a question criticising al-Qa'ida for killing Muslims in Muslim lands and not conducting attacks in Israel. Al-Zawahiri responded by citing attacks against the US and its allies, including Australia, in various locations and that these countries supported Israel.

On 11 September 2012, a general reference to Australia was made by al-Qa’ida via a video posted on jihadist forums which included the comment by the unknown narrator stating that: ‘who submitted to the religion of truth, Islam, whether from America, Australia, Germany, or any other country, is considered a brother by the fighters, and anyone, even the aborigines in Australia, would find peace and tranquillity in Islam’.

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-Qaida Sanctions Committee (formerly the United Nations Security Council Al-Qaida 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 and 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.