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al-Qaeda: The Many Faces of an Islamist Extremist Threat

109th Congress
2d Session
Union Calendar No. 355
Report 109-615

al-Qaeda: The Many Faces of an Islamist Extremist Threat







Other Sunni Islamist Extremist Groups


Coalition success in the global war on terrorism has forced al-Qaeda's core elements increasingly to reach out to other Sunni Islamist extremist groups for support. Historically, these "other" groups have focused their efforts against local targets, but there is growing evidence that these groups are more willing to work with bin Laden. This is especially true when working with al-Qaeda serves their own particular interests. Some of these groups have received training, weapons and funding from al-Qaeda.39 Others have received only ideological inspiration while remaining organizationally and operationally distinct. Although these groups pose less danger to the U.S. homeland than al-Qaeda's core elements, they are increasingly a threat to our interests abroad. Such groups also could look for an opportunity to attack the United States in the future.40 Even if Usama bin Laden is captured or killed tomorrow, Sunni extremist groups may seek to attack U.S. interests for decades to come.41

Open source information has identified at least nineteen Sunni extremist organizations that both share al-Qaeda's ideology and have the capability to reach the United States and our interests overseas.42 However, the likelihood that all nineteen groups will look to carry out independent attacks against the United States is believed to be low. It is likely that most of these groups will continue to focus their efforts on launching attacks in their respective regions. There are, nonetheless, certain groups the Intelligence Community monitors with increasing scrutiny because they have demonstrated the capacity to carry out successful terrorist attacks. This list is not exclusive of other Sunni extremist groups, such as Hamas or the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. We offer this list as an example to show the public how certain groups that were "off the radar screen" of many intelligence analysts just a few years ago have become more dangerous under the influence of al-Qaedas ideology.


Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) is a Southeast Asia-based radical Islamist group that began plotting violent attacks against regional targets in the 1990s. JI's stated goal is a pan-Islamic state across much of the region. JI is not a stranger to violence, and has shown the willingness to inflict mass casualties against innocent civilians and those it believes to be allied with Western interests.43 JI is responsible for recent attacks in Indonesia, including the Bali bombing in 2002 that killed 202 people and wounded some 300 others, the J.W. Marriott bombing in 2003, the 2004 bombing of the Australian Embassy and the second attack on Bali in 2005. In addition, we know through information received from Khalid Sheikh Mohammad that JI operatives were supporting al-Qaeda attacks against U.S. interests after 9/11, including plans to attack sites in California using a hijacked plane.44

The Indonesian Government has successfully disrupted terrorist operations since the 2002 Bali bombing. Of noteworthy success, Indonesian courts have convicted at lead 100 members of JI or affiliated groups on terrorism chart Indonesian forces killed Azahari bin Husin, JI's chief bomb-maker. In addition, JI operations chief Hambali, was arrested in Thailand in 2003. Hambali is tied to several of the major attacks, and was thought to be Jemaah Islamiya's main link to al-Qaeda.45

The death of JI's chief bomb-maker and arrest of Hambali are major breakthroughs in the battle against terrorism in Southeast Asia, but the network is still robust. JI operatives Noordin Top, Dulmatin and Umar Patek remain at large and have the capability and experience to carry out large-scale attacks against U.S. interests in the region.46

Two events have the potential to further escalate JI's militancy in the region and against the United States. First, JI's spiritual leader, Emir Abu Bakar Bashir (also Abubakar Ba'asyir), recently was released from prison. Bashir was serving thirty-three months for his involvement in the 2002 Bali bombing. It is unclear what role Bashir will take now that he has been released, but in the past he has expressed support for bin Laden's struggle. Bashir once said, "His is the true struggle to uphold Islam, not terror-the terrorists are America and Israel."47

Second, depending on what takes place in Iraq, al-Qaeda members and other terrorist operatives could migrate to Indonesia. As the world's most populous Muslim country, Indonesia appears to be an obvious place for al-Qaeda to migrate. Indonesians traditionally have practiced a more moderate interpretation of Islam, but an increasingly militant element has emerged in some local schools. The country's porous maritime borders, weak central government, separatist movements and loosely regulated financial system make it a fertile ground for terrorist activities.48

The threat of a JI attack against U.S. interests is greatest in Southeast Asia. In the past, JI assisted al-Qaeda with attacks outside Southeast Asia and continues to share al-Qaeda's ideology.49 As was the case with al-Qaeda's plot to attack the United States using JI operatives, some terrorists increasingly are tied to the ideology rather than the group. These individuals are willing to support terrorist attacks that support their particular beliefs regardless of the affiliation to any specific organization.


The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) emerged in the early 1990s among Libyans who fought against Soviet tortes in Afghanistan. Initially organized to overthrow the Qadhafi regime and install a Sharia-based government, the LIFG subsequently has embraced the global jihadist agenda of al-Qaeda. Some LIFG members still strictly adhere to the original cause (anti Libyan/Qadhafi activities), while others have aligned themselves to Bin-Laden causes. Some senior members of LIFG are believed to be or have belonged to al-Qaeda's senior command structure. The LIFG itself calls upon Muslims inside and outside of Libya to take part in what it terms the fight of Islam against its enemies.50 Evidence suggests that the LIFG provided guidance in the planning of the 2003 bombing in Casablanca, Morocco.51 LIFG maintains a presence in Asia, Africa and Europe, primarily in the United Kingdom.52

The LIFG constitutes the most serious threat to potential U.S. investment and business in Libya. In addition, LIFG has called on Muslims everywhere to fight against the U.S. in Iraq. In response to this threat, President Bush signed Executive Order 13224 freezing the assets of the LIFG in the U.S. citing the group as a threat to America's national security. The LIFG has been added to the terrorism exclusion list and in December 2004, the U.S. designated the LIFG as a foreign terrorist organization. Most recently, on February 8, 2006, the U.S. Department of the Treasury designated five individuals and four entities for their role in financing the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. The individuals were supporting LIFG's activities through a sophisticated charitable front organization. According to the Department of the Treasury, "the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group threaten, global safety and stability through the use of violence and it, ideological alliance with al Qaeda and other brutal terrorist organizations."55


The Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) is an extremist group based in Algeria. The organization was formally created in 1996 when it broke away from the Armed Islamic Group (GIA), which was the primary terrorist organization in Algeria. It has been linked to an external network of extremists in Western Europe.56

Some GSPC members favor a global Jihad, and look to expand the group's reach beyond its current area of focus. The GSPC issued several communiqu6s on its website threatening foreigners in Algeria and pledged renewed allegiance to al-Qaeda and global Jihad.57 Kamel Bourgass, GSPC member convicted in April 2005 in the United Kingdom (where he already is serving a life sentence for murdering Detective Constable Stephen Oake in 2003) for "conspiracy to cause public nuisance by use of poisons and/or explosives," was connected with London-based GSPC leader Abu Doha, a known Jihadist linked with the foiled plot to blow up Los Angeles International Airport.58 There also are financial links between GSPC cells in Europe and Algeria.59


Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET) is a Pakistani-based militant group seeking a pan-Islamic state in South Asia. Although the group is focused primarily on the secession of Jammu and Kashmir, an ambitious sect of the group is calling for a worldwide Jihad.60 There are several reports that al-Qaeda used LET to fill some of its operational gaps after the United States successfully targeted al-Qaeda members following the attacks on September 11, 2001. The State Department annual terrorism report states that a top al Qaeda-associate Abu Zubaydah was captured at a Lashkar-e-Taiba safe house in March 2002.61

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has made the difficult and potentially regime threatening decision to support the global war on terrorism. The Pakistani Government has targeted militant Islamic groups and apprehended or detained a number of important al-Qaeda supporters. At the same time, Pakistan historically has been supportive of Kashmiri separatist movements such as LET. There is strong popular support for LET's activity in Jammu and Kashmir.62 This support has provided an opening for LET to continue operations in Pakistan.

Since 9/11, the United States has been concerned about the reportedly large number of LET members in the United States and Canada. In 2003, U.S. officials charged eleven men, nine of whom are Americans, with preparing to wage Jihad combat overseas on behalf of Lashkar-e-Taiba. Muhammad Aatique, one of the eleven men charged, told the federal judge hearing the case that he and his co-conspirators may have taken up arms against the United States had they not been arrested.63 In addition, Canadian officials arrested Raja Ghulam Mustafa, a Pakistani national and suspected LET captain with links to al-Qaeda and Usama bin Laden.64 Still, the Intelligence Community lacks a clear understanding of the group's activities in the United States.

39 James Phillips, "The Evolving Al-Qaeda Threat," The Heritage Foundation, March 17, 2006.
40 Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte, "Annual Threat Assessment of the Director of National Intelligence," Statement before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, February 2, 2006.
41 James Phillips, "Thee Evolving Al-Qaeda Threat," The Heritage Foundation, March 17, 2006.
42 "Al-Qaeda,"
43 "Jemaah Islamiya," MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base,
44 President George W. Bush, "President Discusses War on Terror at National Endowment for Democracy," October 6, 2005.
45 "Hambali Captured,"
46 "Jemaah Islamiya," Council on Foreign Relations, October 3, 2005.
47 "Profile: Abu Bakar Bashir," Council on Foreign Relations, June 14, 2006.
48 Ibid.
49 Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte, "Annual Threat Assessment of the Director of National Intelligence," Statement before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, February 2, 2006.
50 Moshe Terdman, "The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG)," The Project for the Research of Islamist Movements (PRISM), Volume 3, Number 2, June 2005.
51 US Department of State, "Libya," Country Reports on Terrorism, April 2005, p.89.
52 "Libyan Islamic Fighting Group," Dudley Knox Library Naval Postgraduate School, May 11, 2005.
53 Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte, "Annual Threat Assessment of the Director of National Intelligence," Statement before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, February 2, 2006.
54 US Department of State, "Foreign Terrorist Organization Designation Table" December 2004.
55 The United staets Depertment of Treasury, "Treasury Designated UK-Based Individuals, Entities Financing Al Qaida-Affiliated LIFG," Press Room, February 8, 2006.
56 "Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat," MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base, December 2005.
57 US Department of State, "Algeria," Country Reports on Terrorism, April 2005, pp.58-9.
58 "Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat," MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base, December 2005.
59 US Department of State, "Algeria," Country Reports on Terrorism, April 2005, pp.57-8.
60 "Kashmir Militant Extremists," Council on Foreign Relations, October 2005.
61 U.S. Department of State Global Pattern of Terrorism 2002, April 30, 2003.
62 "Lashkar-e-Taiba," MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base, March 10, 2006.
63 Jerry Markon and Mary Beth Sheridan, "Indictment Expands "VA. Jihad" Charge," Washington Post, September 26, 2003.
64 Sarah Kennedy, "Anti-terror Bust Targets T.O. Home," The Calgary Sun, March 31, 2006.



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