Home > Abu Walid al Masri, AQ General, Operational analysis > Understanding how al Qaeda functions and interacts with other groups

Understanding how al Qaeda functions and interacts with other groups

I’ve had an awful lot of emails from you all asking me about  how al Qaeda functions and why I take the position I do on matters such as radicalisation trajectories, how people come under al Qaeda’s authority and  why it is so important to delineate it from the Taliban and differentiate between al Qaeda’s core, franchises and its human base.  It’s too big to cover in a blog post. In fact it’s almost too big for my dissertation.  But this is where most of it is contained and unfortunately I can’t publish before I submit  for many reasons I’m not at liberty to discuss here but one rather compelling reason I can discuss is that if I do my supervisors will have me for dinner.

However, having said that  I have decided to place here one item from my dissertation because I think it will assist in helping people to understand these differentiations and hopefully answer a lot of your questions. As they say a picture is worth a thousand words ( and in my case probably many more because I ramble on so much!)

This diagram has really helped me to narrow down the focus of my thesis over the past few years and get to the heart of the matter.

What I am about to post here is a translated diagram from my thesis of a chart Abu Walid al Masri did, which is a broad outline of how al Qaeda functions and interacts with other groups. It’s the most amazing thing I’ve seen put out by a senior militant.

It’s been crucial to verify my line of argument in my thesis. I think it will be very useful to those of you out there wanting to get a better idea of how al Qaeda works. Because  like many things with al Qaeda, there is tremendous continuity in how it operates. Having a resource like this also provides a baseline to determine what has changed in terms of how it operates.

I also think in terms of the Al Qaeda- Taliban relations debate and also more generally in terms of delineating exactly what al Qaeda is, this document provides some much needed clarity.

As you all know I have strong feelings on the importance of delineating exactly what is al Qaeda so you can really target it. Obviously the other groups its interacts with too are important, but getting at the al Qaeda core cadre — those 200 or so people that constitute it and manage to keep replenishing at that level–is key to any successful strategy.

To do so requires understanding exactly who constitutes that core, how they fit into the leadership hierarchy, what their responsibilities are, how they carry them out and how they deal with external groups and the human base  in al Qaeda’s orbit.

So as I said I’ve decided to share this translation. I ask that you properly attribute it to me if you make reference to it.  Also I might add that I will find out if you don’t (since this has never before been published) and I will hunt you down and complain very loudly and publically.

Some quick notes follow after the translated chart. If you want the original without the watermark let me know. Here is a link to download a clearer copy of the file. Sorry still new at figuring out how to get images up etc.

thesis diagram final

Well first things first, there is the obligatory conspiracy theory with Israel at the top, but this doesn’t impact upon the credibility or accuracy of the depiction of al Qaeda that follows it. I have verified the accuracy of this chart so you’re looking at the the best insider depiction of how the group operates that I have seen in a long time, probably ever actually.

As I said I can’t really go into too much here in a short blog post but the points I would reinforce from this are:

  • It shows that al Qaeda’s relationship with other groups and organisations requires no oath of allegiance be provided to bin Laden. There is also no provison of  management services from al Qaeda’s core cadre. This means the command and control relationship is extremely limited if existing at all. Al Qaeda essentially buys support.
  • Military training is the common nexus point here and so the key vulnerability. This is why I keep harping on about delineating who is who because of the opportunities this offers up for particular types of targeting…
  • Note the two different streams of oaths of allegiance and three different manifestations of command and control stemming from bin Laden (and more generally the al Qaeda senior leadership). As I’ve already noted, relationships with groups and other organisations has the most limited C&C and no oath.
  • The Blood cadre have the strongest links and ties via oaths. This is al Qaeda core, which has stayed consistent at around 200 people, which was al Qaeda’s core size pre 9/11. They haven’t expanded their core, but they have managed to replenish it. This is what causes me the most concern and what I think has been overlooked in most analysis of the group, as I have repeatedly posted about on this blog.
  • The blood core operate under a different oath to those who are volunteer recruits or in the combat groups, which is where it gets tricky. Again I explain all of this both in terms of how it works on the ground and the doctrinal underpinnings of different oaths and their operational manifestations in my thesis. But simply put this is a critical difference and one that has important implications for analysis especially in relation to command and control issues.

So in lieu of being able to answer the questions you are asking or respond better to comments  (both of which I really do enjoy getting I might add) I humbly offer up this, which I hope you find useful.

Ok I’ve had virtually no sleep so I need to go have a nana nap before trying again to get some tech support from ZA about my data disaster.

  1. dd
    10/13/2009 at 4:45 am

    Excellent post Leah. May I ask when Abu Walid created this chart ? While I understand the important role money played/plays in befriending the local organizations/tribes, I also wonder to what extent there has grown some ‘religious alignment’ over the last couple of years ( especially in the FATA region). There’s no indication on the chart of the role of doctrine in their connections with other groups.

    • Leah Farrall, Australia
      10/13/2009 at 4:58 am

      Hi, the document was made in early 2007. Email me for further details if you want.
      Good point about the alignment. I’ll ponder that some more!
      And you’re right about no indications of doctrine. That however, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Will also give this some more thought. Good points. Thx!

  2. 10/13/2009 at 6:28 pm

    Excellent and informative post. Great read!

  3. Paul
    02/04/2010 at 3:10 am

    Hi Leah

    Are you saying that Israel USA and Saudi control Al Q to carry out its Foreign policy?If so what is USA gaining from Afghan Yemen and Somalia?


    • Leah Farrall, Australia
      02/04/2010 at 3:33 am

      Hi, it’s not my chart. It’s a translation of a chart by Abu Walid al Masri.

      • Paul
        02/04/2010 at 4:30 am

        Hi Leah

        Do you believe his chart?

        If so why are AlQ being looked after by the Taliban when they hinder their progress.

        It seems this man is close to the Taliban and realises what a pain they are.Surely they would be killed by the Talibs if they were agents of Israel Saudi and USA?

  4. Paul
    02/04/2010 at 6:29 am

    Why is your contact being held in Iran?

    Do you think the West or Saudi Control AlQ?

    This guy is close to Taliban leadership so why would they host Bin Laden & Co if they thourght they were agents of the West/Saudi/Israel?

  1. 01/19/2012 at 12:46 am

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