Al-Qaeda is a militant Sunni Islamist multi-national organization founded in 1988 by Osama bin Laden, Abdullah Azzam, and several other Arab volunteers during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
Al-Qaeda operates as a network of Islamic extremists and Salafist jihadists. The organization has been designated as a terrorist group by the United Nations Security Council, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the European Union, the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, India, and various other countries. Al-Qaeda has mounted attacks on civilian and military targets in various countries, including the 1998 US embassy bombings, the September 11 attacks, and the 2002 Bali bombings. The United States government responded to the September 11 attacks by launching the “War on Terror”, which sought to undermine Al-Qaeda and its allies. The deaths of key leaders, including that of Osama bin Laden, have lead al-Qaeda’s operations to shift from the top down organization and planning of attacks, to the planning of attacks which are carried out by associated groups and lone-wolf operators. Al-Qaeda characteristically employs attacks which include suicide attacks and the simultaneous bombing of several targets. Activities which are ascribed to Al-Qaeda involve the actions of those who have made a pledge of loyalty to bin Laden, or to the actions of “al-Qaeda-linked” individuals who have undergone training in one of its camps in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq or Sudan. Al-Qaeda ideologues envision a the removal of all foreign influences in Muslim countries, and the creation of a new caliphate ruling over the entire Muslim world.
Among the beliefs ascribed to al-Qaeda members is the conviction that a Christian–Jewish alliance is conspiring to destroy Islam. As Salafist jihadists, members of al-Qaeda believe that the killing of non-combatants is religiously sanctioned. This belief ignores the aspects of religious scripture which forbid the murder of non-combatants and internecine fighting. Al-Qaeda also opposes what it regards as man-made laws, and wants to replace them with a strict form of sharia law.
Al-Qaeda has carried out many attacks on targets which it considers kafir. Al-Qaeda is also responsible for instigating sectarian violence among Muslims. Al-Qaeda’s leaders regard liberal Muslims, Shias, Sufis and other sects as heretical and its members and sympathizers have attacked their mosques and gatherings. Examples of sectarian attacks include the Yazidi community bombings, the Sadr City bombings, the Ashoura massacre and the April 2007 Baghdad bombings.
Following the death of bin Laden in 2011, the group has been led by Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri.