Flag of Al Qaeda in IraqAl Qaeda (Arabic: القاعدة‎, al-qāʿidah, Arabic: [ælˈqɑːʕɪdɐ], translation: “The Base” and alternatively spelled al-Qaida and sometimes al-Qa’ida) is a global Islamist organization founded by Osama bin Laden sometime between August 1988 and late 1989. It operates as a network comprising both a multinational, stateless army and a radical Sunni Muslim movement calling for global Jihad and a strict interpretation of sharia law. It has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States, the United Kingdom, various other countries, the United Nations Security Council, the European Union, and NATO.

Al-Qaeda is believed to be behind attacks on civilian and military targets in various countries, such as the September 11 attacks, 1998 US embassy bombings and 2002 Bali bombings. The US government responded by launching the War on Terror. Al-Qaeda has continued to exist and grow through the decade from 2001 to 2011. With the loss of key leaders culminating with the death of Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda’s operations have devolved from top-down controlled, to franchise associated groups, to lone wolf operators. With the death of key communicators, like Anwar al-Awlaki, the ability of al-Qaeda’s “brand” to inspire, motivate and instill fear has sharply declined.

Characteristic techniques include suicide attacks and simultaneous bombings of different targets. Activities ascribed to it may involve members of the movement, who have taken a pledge of loyalty to Osama bin Laden, or the much more numerous “al-Qaeda-linked” individuals who have undergone training in one of its camps in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq or Sudan, but not taken any pledge. Al-Qaeda ideologues envision a complete break from all foreign influences in Muslim countries, and the creation of a new Islamic world wide caliphate. Reported beliefs include that a Christian–Jewish alliance is conspiring to destroy Islam. Under Salafist jihadism they believe that the killing of civilians is religiously sanctioned, and they ignore religious scripture which forbids the murder of civilians and also internecine fighting. Al-Qaeda also opposes man-made laws, and wants to replace it with a hardline form of sharia law.

Al-Qaeda is also responsible for instigating sectarian violence among Muslims. Al-Qaeda is intolerant of non-Sunni branches of Islam and denounces them with excommunications called “takfir”. Al-Qaeda leaders regard liberal Muslims, Shias, Sufis, Ahmadiyyas and other sects as heretics and have issued attacks on their mosques and gatherings. Examples of sectarian attacks include the Yazidi community bombings, Sadr City bombings, Ashoura Massacre and April 2007 Baghdad bombings.

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