Al-Qaeda Organization’s History, Weapons & Tactics

Subject: Warfare
Pages: 6
Words: 1716
Reading time:
6 min
Study level: Bachelor


Al-Qaeda is a terrorist network that has jeopardized the stability of Americans with regard to homeland security for several years. It dispenses money and provides logistical support and training to an array of radical Islamic terror groups spread across the world. Al-Qaeda majorly runs as an association of Islamic extremists, whose long-term objective entails creating a unified caliphate with global links. The motivation of its founder, Osama bin Laden, was what he termed as a growing need to create a strong Islamic state that was to be guided b principles of obedience, inclusion, respect, a strong community, as well as a holy war waged by Muslims against infidels (Bergen, 2016). To date, the United States considers Al-Qaeda as one of its biggest enemies and a source of threat to its security. On this front, America has received support from international bodies such as NATO, the European Union, and the United Nations Council (Cutler, 2017). The United States has recommitted itself to ending the threat of Al-Qaeda and any other terror groups associated with the movement.


Over the years, Al-Qaeda has mounted several attacks on both military and non-military targets across the United States. Some of the most notable ones include the 9/11 attacks, as well as the 1998 United States embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania (Tankel, 2018). Following the 9/11 attacks, the American government launched a program dubbed “War on Terror”, which was aimed at undermining the efforts of the group and all its allies. This mission culminated in the killing of Al-Qaeda’s leader Osama bin Laden in 2011 following a raid on his hideout in Pakistan (Cutler, 2017). This development has since forced the group to change its mode of operation, where their attacks are less organized unlike in the past. They mainly employ tactics such as suicide attacks and the simultaneous bombing of their targets.


Al-Qaeda was founded in 1988 by the late Osama bin Laden and Abdullah Azzam along with several other Arabs who volunteered during the Soviet-Afghan War. The main reason behind the idea to create this group and promote its ideologies was the strong desire to make Muslim countries free of any form of foreign influence (Bergen, 2016). The group’s ideologues argue that an alliance between Christians and Jews has a conspiracy to destroy Islam, thus the need to protect the sovereignty of Muslim countries. One of its strongest ideologies is strong opposition to what they refer to as “man-made laws,” as they feel that countries should be governed using Sharia Laws. This explains the desire of Al-Qaeda’s leadership to expand its operations to intervene in other Islamism struggles following the conclusion of the Soviet military operations in Afghanistan.

The Gulf War is said to have triggered the enmity between Al-Qaeda and the United States. Bin Laden moved back to Saudi Arabia shortly after the end of the Soviet-Afghan War in 1989. However, trouble started again in 1990 when Iraq threatened to invade Kuwait, a move that potentially posed a risk to the stability of Saudi Arabia. In response, Saddam Hussein called upon Islamism to offer any support, but the massive Iraqi military presence overpowered them. Bin Laden offered the services of his troops, but his help was turned down as King Fahd allowed the United States allied forces to deploy their troops (Cutler, 2017). This move obviously angered Bin Laden, who felt that the sacred soil of his land was profaned by the presence of foreign troops. He was banished when he spoke publicly about the issue, which later forced him to secretly, relocate to Sudan (Bergen, 2016). While there, Bin Laden played a pivotal role in executing an Islamist coup led by Colonel Omar al-Bashir, who had recommitted himself to reorienting the political values of Muslims in the country.

Old vs. New Terrorism

The killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011 forced Al-Qaeda to reorient its operations, as the need for more tactical approaches kept growing. Studies have shown that the group has over the years transitioned from old-fashioned terrorism to new terror attacks that are executed differently (Cutler, 2017). Since 9/11 in 2001, it took Al-Qaeda 12 years before launching a successful terror attack on American soil when they bombed the Boston Marathon on April 14, 2013. Reports indicate that the Chechen Tsarnaev brothers, the alleged perpetrators, were greatly influenced by the ideologies of the Al-Qaeda movement (Cutler, 2017). The attack was executed using an explosive pressure cooker, whose design was similar to the one that was at the time being popularized online by “Inspire”, an Al-Qaeda linked magazine. The concept of new terrorism associated with this movement is characterized by religious radicalization where the western world is accused of being at war with the global Islamic community (Tankel, 2018). New terrorism is highly reliant on using the Internet to create fear and promote its ideologies where perpetrators of the various attacks record themselves with the intention of sharing the videos online.

Weapons and Tactics

The 9/11 attacks were an indicator of the great threat Al-Qaeda posed to international security, as well as the daring tactics and weapons they were willing to use in order to fulfill their mission. Over the years, Al-Qaeda has used a wide variety of weapons such as axes, knives, and box cutters in their attacks on western democracies (Cutler, 2017). Firearms are also an integral part of the arsenal used by this group in their attacks. According to the Global Terrorism Database, firearms are the second most used tool of attack in all the Al-Qaeda-linked aggressions across the world (Bergen, 2016). Explosives are also a popular weapon that Al-Qaeda uses in their missions. In the United States, Al-Qaeda has launched several notable attacks using this weapon. In 2001, Richard Reid, an affiliate of the group, unsuccessfully tried to detonate an improvised explosive device on a passenger airplane that was flying from Paris headed to Miami (Bergen, 2016). In this case, Reid was operating as a suicide bomber as the explosive was hidden in his shoe.

In 2016, the Al-Qaeda bombing attacks on New York City and New Jersey left more than thirty people seriously wounded. In the recent past, the group has been using ramming attacks to execute their missions. Although reports indicate that this tactic is not frequently used by Al-Qaeda in their attacks, it is highly successful whenever it is applied (Bergen, 2016). For example, 9/11, which is by far the most devastating attack in the history of the United States, involved the use of vehicles (Cutler, 2017). In the attacks, Al-Qaeda attackers captured four aircrafts carrying passengers. Two of the aircraft were directed towards the Word Trade Center in New York while another was steered into the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense at Pentagon House. The fourth aircraft that was targeted to attack the capitol in Washington crashed close to Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

The 9/11 attacks were tactically planned and executed using the top-down approach. The operations were characterized by the constant involvement of the top leadership of Al-Qaeda who maintained constant communication with their operatives across the western world (Tankel, 2018). In the recent past, the group has changed its tactics in a bid to be more efficient in reaching its targets. The latest trends indicate lesser involvement of the top leadership in the planning and execution of attacks. Currently, Al-Qaeda operates as a loose network governed by a specific ideology without necessarily having an influential leadership (Cutler, 2017). In the new formation, it is possible to have franchises and subgroups whose activities are guided by the same philosophy of religious extremism.

Effectiveness of the Tactics

The tactics used by Al-Qaeda to execute their missions are highly effective. This observable fact is evidenced by the several successful attacks that they have recorded and the high number of people that have lost their lives in the process. Additionally, the group has managed to destabilize the security systems of the United States, as well as other countries across Europe and Africa. However, the group has not managed to achieve its objective of expelling western influence from Islamic countries using terrorism (Cutler, 2017). Through international bodies such as the United Nations, their efforts have been limited largely as countries across the world continue offering their support to the United States in its total war on terrorism. Considering the number of countries that have managed to pick themselves up after a bombing attack by Al-Qaeda, it is satisfactory to conclude that the tactics used by the group will never be effective enough to aid them, achieve their goal.

Countering the Threat of Al-Qaeda

There is an urgent need for counterterrorism officials in the United States to reorient their approach toward addressing the threat posed by Al-Qaeda. The federal government should recommit its resources to identifying loopholes in the country’s security system that are currently being exploited by terror groups (Tankel, 2018). President Obama had an effective strategy for countering terrorism that has several elements that can be implemented to provide a long-term solution to this challenge. Some of the notable pointers that counterterrorism officials can apply include pursuing terrorists to them as in the case of Osama, isolating them from their source of funding, as well as modernizing the existing tools in a bid to increase the protection of American infrastructure and enhance the resilience of the citizens (Cutler, 2017). Additionally, improving public-private partnerships can play a pivotal role in thwarting any potential terror attacks.


Al-Qaeda has jeopardized the homeland security of Americans for a very long time. The terror group has for long created enmity around the interests of Americans in promoting democracy across the world, as well as advocating for the protection of human rights. Al-Qaeda is a terror group developed within the ideologies of religious extremism. Over the years, the group has employed several tactics in executing its missions that have led to the loss of lives. In 2011, the American government declared its commitment to totally, end all forms of terrorism. This initiative received global support from organizations such as the United Nations Security Council, NATO, and the European Union who offered their support in the fight against the global challenge. A life lost to terrorism is one too many, thus the need to put a spirited effort towards countering this threat.


Bergen, P. (2016). United States of Jihad: Who are America’s homegrown terrorists, and how do we stop them? Crown.

Cutler, L. (2017). President Obama’s counterterrorism strategy in the war on terror: An assessment. Springer.

Tankel, S. (2018). With us and against us: How America’s partners help and hinder the war on terror. Columbia University Press.