Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden relied on charisma, fatwas, and rhetoric to rally militants to his cause. After bin Laden’s death in 2011, Ayman al Zawahiri assumed control of the organization. It does not directly manage the daily operations of its factions. Zawahiri does not claim to have direct hierarchical control over Al Qaeda’s vast network. Instead, he works with the core leadership to centralize the organization’s messaging and strategy. The core leadership includes a Shura Council, and committees for military operations, finance, and information sharing. Leaders communicate through the respective committees. Members are required to consult with the core leadership before conducting large-scale attacks.

Al Qaeda supports a caliphate, in principle, but it views the global caliphate as a long-term objective. In the early 2000s, affiliates proposed establishing caliphates in Yemen and Iraq, but bin Laden believed that the attempts would ultimately fail. The leadership believes that foreign powers, such as Americans, must be expelled from the region in order for a caliphate to succeed.

According to cloud security firm, BatBlue, Al-Qaeda has used technology and the internet to distribute officially sanctioned propaganda since the 1980’s.  In the 1990’s, the group began to use the internet for secure communications between members. Most communications are encrypted or obfuscated in some way. When emails or messages cannot be encrypted, operatives attempt complex codes or operational strategies to obfuscate the message. Security firms have observed communications using stenography or using hidden links in apparent spam emails between members. BatBlue asserts that some Al Qaeda operatives worked for big software firms, the military, and the banking industry until around the year 2000. These operatives may possess some knowledge of coding or hacking; however, in recent years, the group has relied on younger, more innovative partner terrorist organizations, such as the Tunisian Cyber Army, whenever it launched cyber-attacks. In February 2015, Al Qaeda announced that it had developed a cyber arm, Qaedet al-Jihad al-Electroniyya, to perform electronic jihad operations under the command of “Yahya al-Nemr” and “Mahmuda al-Adnani”.

Al Qaeda remains active on Twitter and video distribution sites; nevertheless, Al Qaeda still does not have the social media presence, recruiting capabilities, or technical sophistication of novel groups, such as ISIS. Al Qaeda maintains its digital following in the region that it controls through online publications and through online communications.


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