Al Qaeda: A Threat to Homeland Security


September 11 2001, is a date familiar with a majority of the Americans. It is a day that shone the limelight on the then little-known terrorist group, Al Qaeda. Terrorism, according to Freilich, Chermak, and Simone (2009) is a systematic, unlawful, and organized use of force. Terrorists enjoy and get an upper hand when their operations instill fear in populations as they advance their doctrines, which are mostly political. Terrorists use violence, against members of the armed forces or civilians and rely heavily on the media to generate emotions amongst viewers and survivors. According to Assadi and Lorunser (2007), terrorists would want to sustain an end at which populations would live in constant psychological torture, which is inculcated into masses through fear. The target of terrorists is an end through which they intend to intimidate governments to give in to their demands, which would otherwise go unheeded. This paper will focus on the philosophy that drives Al Qaeda and their desired end of state. Various past actions of the groups will be used to support the claims raised in this paper. In the end, a strategy to mitigate potential and unconventional threats that Al Qaeda can utilize to adversely impact on security within the U.S.

History of Al Qaeda

Muslims fighting in the Afghan War against the Soviets are the most possible origin of Al Qaeda according to Turner (2010). The group served as a logistical network that was keeping the Muslims supplied during the Afghan war. Al Qaeda was not a single nation affair, rather it was a formation of people recruited and sourced from different Islamic dominated states neighboring Afghanistan. 1989 saw the Soviets end their aggression in Afghanistan and the group dispersed after the disappearance of their common enemy, which was also their bond. They nevertheless continued to oppose the invasion of Islamic land by foreigners. As of the 1990s, the group was actively based in Sudan where its leader, Osama bin Laden was staying. It then moved to Afghanistan under the Taliban, another dreaded terrorist group.

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With the increase in the number of Islamic groups in different countries, Al Qaeda was able to merge similar groups from countries such as Egypt, Jordan, and Pakistan among others. The merger of these numerous groups was to help them form a strong group that would oppose and mount a resistance against the United States.  The group trained tens of thousands of militias from different parts of the world on paramilitary skills. Some of them were commissioned to carry out attacks on U.S installations around the world, such as the U.S embassy in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in 1998. A U.S. warship, Cole came under an attack by the militias after a suicide bomber attacked it in Yemen. Rollins (2011), places Al Qaeda foundation as the engineering of Osama Bin Laden. 

Osama Bin Laden made clear his intentions when he carried out his most daring and audacious attack in the inland of America on September 11, 2001. The attack was the biggest and marked the high point of the terror group. It was also the event that would stage the group against America and have it drive towards the brink of destruction. The 9/11 event singled out the organization to the world leaders and it was time to take Osama Bin Laden seriously. To put this point across, more than 3,000 Americans had to lose their lives according to Vos, Rodríguez, Below and Guha-Sapir (2010). 

After the 9/11 attack, the U.S. responded by launching attacks in Afghanistan to drive out the militants. Thousands were killed or captured and the leaders of both Taliban and Al Qaeda went into hiding. Invading Afghanistan helped the U.S. mount a serious challenge for Al Qaeda since their training grounds were obliterated. As a response, Al Qaeda capitalized on the challenge by changing its structural organization by developing franchised units as reported by Mohamedou (2011). Using the new structural formation, orchestrating serious attacks became more possible since there was no reliance on a centralized leadership. Small groups, which pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda and its ideologies presented a fresh challenge to the war on terror. Increased attacks, as reported by Mohamedou (2011) were (as a result of franchising) witnessed in countries like Jordan, the UK, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, and Turkey among others. 

Philosophies Behind Al Qaeda 

Indispensable vanguard is a befitting description of Al-Qaeda’s ideology. It is the terrorist group that has pioneered multiple terrorism ideologies and has made people in their thousands accept difficult challenges as well as make enormous sacrifices for its sake. The vanguard involves Jihad. According to Bakker and Boer (2007), the ideology rides by making its members believe that Jihad is an obligation that every capable Muslim should undertake. They are made to believe that there are anti-Islam forces that exist, mostly led by the Western countries. As such, Al Qaeda manages to convince its targets to join the terrorist groups. Bakker and Boer (2007) explain that the targets are promised rewards being part of Jihad. The rewards are said to be offered in heaven after martial death. This is the ideology that Osama used to launch and maintain his terrorists’ empire. 

 The second ideology that Al-Qaeda uses is “the base.” The origins of ‘the base’ can be traced back to the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan as the war was not perpetrated by nationalistic ideologies, but by Islamic ideologies. Osama managed to develop an ideology that claimed that Islam superseded nationalism and as such, he was able to capture the attention of willing people outside Afghanistan. He managed to convince his militants that the Western countries led by the U.S. hate Islam and only understand the language of violence. Al Qaeda convinced its following that Western Countries fight Islam using different mechanisms and weapons, such as physical war, the UN and relief agencies, western education, multinational corporations, and the imposition of Western-allied leaders in Muslim countries. Al Qaeda, thus, called for the establishment of Caliphate practices, to perpetuate Jihadist attacks against the West. 

Goals and Strategies of Al-Qaeda 

The ambitions of Al Qaeda are to install sharia rule in Muslim countries. To do this, Al Qaeda aims to remove its enemies – the alleged Muslim governments that have been corrupted by the West. According to Jessee (2006), the main goal is to create a Pan-Islamic state. The strategy that Al Qaeda engineered is to have foreign forces in Muslim land evicted,  mostly the Americans and Israelites. In Al Qaeda strategy, Israel should be replaced by Palestinian State. As such, Al Qaeda has promoted the use of violence against Americans and other forces that they consider foreign. Following this objective, Al Qaeda adopted the Jihad strategy and has left its ideologies open for subscription by any individual or group across the globe. By franchising the ideologies to groups and individuals with hatred against Americans and the western world, including Israel, Al Qaeda has been able to wage violent attacks in every continent as reported by Bapat (2018). Jihadist stands make Al Qaeda militants perceive their actions as a defense of Islam against any form of aggression. The group requires its members to destroy the West and anything that is of importance to them. As mentioned at the beginning of this paper, violence is a strategy used by terrorists to coerce governments into submission to the demands of terrorists and Al Qaeda is no different. 

Terror Acts of Al Qaeda in the Past that can be Replicated in the Future

Al Qaeda has wagged their war for a considerable period and in many countries spread out across all the continents. To properly understand their specific actions, this paper will look at different events that have the identity of Al Qaeda, and with the potential of being replicated. 

By 1984, Osama was funding the Office of Services in Pakistan, which was established by Abdullah Azzaam to offer recruitment for militants wishing to join the Islamic army that was waging war against the Soviets in Afghanistan (Staff, 2011). In 1986, Osama started his training camp, which was called Al Masadah and it is at this time that he initiated contact with radicals from Egypt such as Ayman Zawahiri. In a way, this can be replicated. For instance, consider some lawless countries such as Yemen, Syria, and Libya. These countries are fertile for the rising of one person capable of mobilizing people and form a terrorist group, complete with financiers and operational skills and capabilities. Such groups can easily devise training camps in such countries in readiness for attacks.  

Nineteen ninety marked the beginning of a decade when Osama and his group attacked different parts of America and its allies’ military facilities. In 1993 Al Qaeda militants launched attacks against UN troops stationed in Somalia where 18 US troops were killed in the famous, ‘Black Hawk Down’. 1995 saw Al Qaeda bombing a U.S military base in Saudi Arabia and at the end, seven people, including five Americans were dead. In the following year, 1996, Osama shifted bases from Sudan to Afghanistan and with the help of Iran (CBS News, 2011). In 1998, Al Qaeda orchestrated massive attacks by bombing American embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dares-Salaam, Tanzania where 231 people were left dead and more than 5,000 injured (CBS News, 2011). All these bombing campaigns can easily be replicated on American facilities outside the United States. Due to the increased security on American military and diplomatic installations, terrorists can easily attack American civilians outside the U.S. People who tour other countries can get into contact with terrorists who are out for American blood. 

In 2001, Bin Laden released a video message, which many see as a precursor for the 9/11 attacks. On September 11, 2001, Al Qaeda pulled off their greatest attack by attacking the World Trade Center killing more than 3,000 people. In 2004, Al Qaeda posted a video of their militants beheading an American. If for any reason homeland security lets down its guards, it might be possible for terrorists to observe laxity in security and as such, launch attacks, which would be similar in effect, but of different working to what Al Qaeda used in 2001. Tourists or American business people who visit foreign places, especially unstable countries might be targets for small groups that might want to show their might. As such, they might be captured and killed on video due to the influence Al Qaeda got after doing the same. 

Strategies to Mitigate Unconventional Threats by Al Qaeda 

Due to the extensive destruction of the sanctuaries of Al Qaeda over the years, Al Qaeda has become extensively decentralized with its leaders dispersing to Iraq, Iran, and Pakistan. Majority of the global intelligence networks are working overtime to contain and destroy the terrorist’s networks. As such, Al Qaeda’s abilities to conduct large-scale attacks has been contained. However, despite these setbacks, Al Qaeda and its affiliates remain significant threats that cannot be overruled as a threat to homeland security. A France’s judge correctly summed up the changes that were happening in Al Qaeda after the killing of Osama, Louis Brigui said, the terrorists are now younger and with a menacing attitude. The new wave of terrorists includes young Muslim converts and women. 

The very first method to combat Al Qaeda is to be adaptive. Al Qaeda has survived all the years through adapting to situations and challenges. The organization is the epitome of the protean nature. The organization is well aware that its operations now cannot be supported by lawlessness in some regions of the world. In this case, they must be willing to adapt to operate covertly without notice. They have been left with the option of small but serious attacks. To capitalize on this, the group is more appealing to recruits who can pledge allegiance while they are in any part of the world, including inside the U.S. The group now encourages recruits to operate in solo missions where they just need a gun (which are legal in the U.S.), a knife, or a vehicle. Such people who have been indoctrinated to believe in the Al Qaeda philosophies can easily become mass shooters in public spaces such as schools and hospitals. This might explain a rise in such cases. Other people might take it upon themselves to use vehicles to crash into people on sidewalks. It is, therefore, necessary for homeland security agencies to adapt to such situations and respond with the necessary policies and actions. For instance, rethinking the gun control policies.

Second, with the types of attacks getting complicated over time, the need to deploy unconventional methods both within and outside the U.S to counter threats is at an all-time high. One method to do this, according to Cox (2017) is by ensuring the deployment of Special Operations Forces to foment insurgencies like Al Qaeda at the earliest possible time before such insurgencies get significant combat and operational capabilities. Using special ops also reduces collateral damage, which has been a big source of controversy in the war against terror. Shaffer (2015), offers ideas on how to deal with lone wolf extremists. To handle lone wolf extremists, Shaffer (2015) explains that taming the spread of concepts that support terrorism through conventional media and social media is necessary. The lone wolf syndrome is a cultural element that is learned from immediate surroundings, which encompass political, social, and international events. The government should curtail the spreading of material that is radicalizing especially from films, books, and other elements. Votel, Cleveland, Connett, and Irwin (2016) explain that use of local resources and forces is critical in the handling and obliteration of insurgents held in unconventional areas. 


It has been established that terrorism is an element that changes very fast to become a force worth considering. As it has been described, Al Qaeda metamorphosed into a global force that has caused thousands of deaths and destruction of facilities, assets, and infrastructure. The fast rate of change calls for a faster evolution of capabilities to handle terrorism. 


Cox, D. (2017). Conceptualizing Terrorism with the Complications of Unconventional Warfare in Mind. Special Operations Journal, 3(1), 1-10.

CBS News. (2011).TIMELINE: Key events in the history of al-Qaeda. CBS News Website. Retrieved from

Bapat, N. A. (2018). The Al-Qaeda Franchise: The Expansion of Al-Qaeda and Its Consequences. By Barak Mendelsohn. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. 288p. $29.95 paper. Perspectives on Politics, 16(2), 580-581.

Freilich, J. D., Chermak, S. M., & Simone Jr, J. (2009). Surveying American state police agencies about terrorism threats, terrorism sources, and terrorism definitions. Terrorism and Political Violence, 21(3), 450-475.

Mohamedou, M.-M. (2011). The Rise and Fall of Al Qaeda. GCSP Geneva Papers.

Shaffer, R. (2015). Unconventional Views of Terrorism: Culture, Objectives, and the Future. Terrorism and Political Violence, 27(5), 970-975.

Staff, C. W. (2011). Timeline: Osama bin Laden, over the years. CNN. Retrieved from

Turner, J. (2010). From cottage industry to international organization: the evolution of Salafi-Jihadism and the emergence of the Al Qaeda ideology. Terrorism and Political Violence, 22(4), 541-558.

Vos, F., Rodríguez, J., Below, R., &Guha-Sapir, D. (2010). Annual disaster statistical review 2009: the numbers and trends. Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED).Votel, J. L., Cleveland, C. T., Connett, C. T., & Irwin, W. (2016). Unconventional warfare in the gray zone. Joint Forces Quarterly, 80(1).

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