March 27, 2014

Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb: Leaders and their Networks

Degrading al Qaeda leadership is central to American counterterrorism strategy, but the leaders today are not the same as they were in 2001. Al Qaeda leaders are no longer necessarily connected by formal networks and many operate outside of any formal affiliation to the al Qaeda network. Such a development makes it insufficient to rely solely on group membership or public identification to isolate the al Qaeda leadership group. 

Instead, the al Qaeda leaders are defined by their common purpose and by common experiencesal Qaeda leaders are defined by their common purpose and by common experiences. They subscribe to a single ideology and act to support that ideology. Though they may operate under various organizational affiliations and avoid public ties to al Qaeda, they and their groups cannot be separated from the larger al Qaeda family.

Examining the developments in the Sahel region lends insight into al Qaeda’s leadership.

  • There is a human network that connects the groups in the Sahel; how individuals interact with that network helps to reveal their purpose.
  • Individuals changed their formal group affiliation over time, but that did not affect their overall purpose.
  • Groups splintered from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, but continue to coordinate activities and function with the same purpose.

Katherine Zimmerman contributed research to this product.