Terrorist Threat Blog

by Antiterrorism Consulting

Terrorist Group




aka The Harakat Shabaab al-Mujahidin; al-Shabab; Shabaab; the Youth; Mujahidin al-Shabaab Movement; Mujahideen Youth Movement; Mujahidin Youth Movement

Description: Designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization on March 18, 2008, al-Shabaab was the militant wing of the former Somali Islamic Courts Council that took over parts of southern Somalia in the second half of 2006. Since the end of 2006, al-Shabaab and disparate militias led a violent insurgency using guerrilla warfare and terrorist tactics against the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia; the group continues to fight the Government of Somalia. In February 2012, al-Qa’ida (AQ) announced that al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi aw-Mohamed had pledged obedience to Ayman al-Zawahiri and AQ. Al-Shabaab has also developed ties to al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

In some camps, AQ-affiliated foreign fighters often led the training and indoctrination of the recruits, while rank and file militia fighters from multiple clan and sub-clan factions that are aligned with al-Shabaab are predominantly interested in indigenous issues. The group’s foreign fighters were generally intent on conducting attacks outside Somalia but since 2011 have seen their operational capacity reduced due to the military campaign against al-Shabaab. In 2012, al-Shabaab’s capability to wage conventional attacks was greatly diminished. Somalia’s TFG and its successor, the Federal Government of Somalia (elected indirectly in September) – with the assistance of the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), as well as Ethiopian and allied Somali militia forces – secured areas neighboring Mogadishu and drove al-Shabaab from control of many of its urban strongholds in south-central Somalia. Most notably, the forces drove al-Shabaab from control of the port city of Kismayo on September 28. This led to al-Shabaab’s greater reliance on indirect assaults and asymmetrical tactics against AMISOM, Somali, and Kenyan forces. These attacks included the increased use of more sophisticated improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Activities: Al-Shabaab has used intimidation and violence to undermine the TFG and now the Government of Somalia, forcibly recruit new fighters, and kill activists working to bring about peace through political dialogue and reconciliation. The group has claimed responsibility for several high profile bombings and shootings throughout Somalia targeting AMISOM troops and Somali officials. It has been responsible for the assassination of numerous civil society figures, government officials, and journalists. Al-Shabaab fighters and those who have also claimed allegiance to the group have conducted violent attacks and have assassinated international aid workers and members of NGOs.

In its first attack outside of Somalia, al-Shabaab was responsible for the July 11, 2010 suicide bombings in Kampala, Uganda during the World Cup, which killed nearly 76 people, including one American citizen. Al-Shabaab’s attacks continued apace in 2012, and resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people. Among al-Shabaab’s most notable 2012 attacks in Somalia were a series of mortar attacks in March against the Somali presidential palace; an April suicide attack targeting Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali at Mogadishu’s National Theater, which killed five; a May suicide attack at a Café in Dusa Mareb, which killed seven people, including two Somali Members of Parliament; and a violent attack on the town near the Kenyan border in November, which left at least 12 dead. Outside of Somalia, al-Shabaab was also believed responsible for a number of deadly grenade attacks in Kenya.

There were frequent reports of al-Shabaab carrying out amputation of limbs for minor thievery offenses, stoning for suspected adultery, killing converts to religions other than Islam, and forced conscription of child soldiers. Al-Shabaab leaders frequently ordered beheaded corpses to be left in streets as a lesson to local communities. Shabaab forces also engaged in widespread rape and violence against women.

Location/Area of Operation: Al-Shabaab lost full control of significant areas of territory in 2011 and 2012. In September 2012, al-Shabaab lost control of Kismayo, a vital port it used to obtain supplies and funding through taxes. Despite these losses, al-Shabaab continued to control large sections of rural areas in the middle and lower Jubba regions, as well as Bay and Bakol regions, and augmented its presence in northern Somalia along the Golis Mountains and within Puntland’s larger urban areas.

Strength: Al-Shabaab is estimated to have several thousand members, including foreign fighters, a force that is augmented by allied clan militias in some areas.

Funding and External Aid: Al-Shabaab saw its income diminish due to the loss of the strategic port cities of Kismayo and Merka; furthermore, it lost a general ability to freely levy taxes in certain urban areas in southern and central Somalia. Al-Shabaab continued to have sufficient financing available, however, including funds from illegal charcoal production and exports from smaller ports along the coast, taxation of local populations and areas under al-Shabaab control, and foreign donations.

Because al-Shabaab is a multi-clan entity, it receives significant donations from the global Somali diaspora; however, the donations are not all intended to support terrorism; but also to support family members.



aka AQIM; Group for Call and Combat; GSPC; Le Groupe Salafiste Pour La Predication Et Le Combat; Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat

Description: The Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC) was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization on March 27, 2002. After the GSPC officially joined with al-Qa’ida (AQ) in September 2006 and became known as al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Department of State amended the GSPC designation on February 20, 2008, to reflect the change. AQIM remains largely a regionally-focused terrorist group. It has adopted a more anti-Western rhetoric and ideology and has aspirations of overthrowing “apostate” African regimes and creating an Islamic Caliphate. Abdelmalek Droukdel, aka Abu Mus’ab Abd al-Wadoud, is the group’s leader.

ActivitiesSince 2007, when AQIM bombed the UN headquarters building in Algiers and an Algerian government building outside of Algiers killing 60 people, AQIM had been relatively quiet and focused on its kidnapping for ransom efforts. In 2011 and 2012, however, AQIM took advantage of the deteriorating security situation in northern Africa to plan and conduct operations. In 2011, AQIM targeted Mauritanian President Muhammad Abdel Aziz and detonated a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) in Nouakchott, injuring nine soldiers, and also claimed responsibility for multiple suicide bomb attacks against Algerian military and police targets, which killed at least 20 people and wounded almost 50 others. In January 2012, Algerian authorities disrupted an AQIM plot targeting U.S. or European ships in the Mediterranean Sea. Some militants with ties to AQIM were involved in the September 11 attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi that killed J. Christopher Stevens, the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, and three staff members.

In addition to conducting attacks, AQIM also conducted kidnap for ransom operations. The targets are usually Western citizens from governments or third parties that have established a pattern of making concessions in the form of ransom payments for the release of individuals in custody. In September 2010, AQIM claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of seven people working at a uranium mine in Niger. AQIM released three of the hostages in February 2011, but at the end of 2012, four French citizens remained in captivity.

AQIM continued its kidnapping operations in 2012. In May, AQIM killed a German hostage in Nigeria during a military raid. AQIM was also believed to be behind the December kidnapping of a French engineer in northern Nigeria, an operation that resulted in the death of two Nigerians.

Strength: AQIM has under a thousand fighters operating in Algeria with a smaller number in the Sahel. It is attempting to take advantage of the volatile political situation in the Sahel, especially in Mali, to expand its membership, resources, and operations.

Location/Area of Operation: Northeastern Algeria (including but not limited to the Kabylie region) and northern Mali, Niger, and Mauritania.

Funding and External Aid: AQIM members engaged in kidnapping for ransom and criminal activities to finance their operations. Algerian expatriates and AQIM supporters abroad – many residing in Western Europe – may also provide limited financial and logistical support.



aka al-Qa’ida Group of Jihad in Iraq; al-Qa’ida Group of Jihad in the Land of the Two Rivers; al-Qa’ida in Mesopotamia; al-Qa’ida in the Land of the Two Rivers; al-Qa’ida of Jihad in Iraq; al-Qa’ida of Jihad Organization in the Land of The Two Rivers; al-Qa’ida of the Jihad in the Land of the Two Rivers; al-Tawhid; Jam'at al-Tawhid Wa’al-Jihad; Tanzeem Qa’idat al Jihad/Bilad al Raafidaini; Tanzim Qa’idat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn; The Monotheism and Jihad Group; The Organization Base of Jihad/Country of the Two Rivers; The Organization Base of Jihad/Mesopotamia; The Organization of al-Jihad’s Base in Iraq; The Organization of al-Jihad’s Base in the Land of the Two Rivers; The Organization of al-Jihad’s Base of Operations in Iraq; The Organization of al-Jihad’s Base of Operations in the Land of the Two Rivers; The Organization of Jihad’s Base in the Country of the Two Rivers; al-Zarqawi Network; Islamic State of Iraq; al-Nusrah Front; Jabhat al-Nusrah; Jabhet al-Nusrah; The Victory Front; al-Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant

Description: Al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI) was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization on December 17, 2004. In the 1990s, Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born militant, organized a terrorist group called al-Tawhid wal-Jihad to oppose the presence of U.S. and Western military forces in the Islamic world and the West's support for and the existence of Israel. In late 2004, he joined al-Qa’ida (AQ) and pledged allegiance to Usama bin Laden. After this, al-Tawhid wal-Jihad became known as AQI. Zarqawi traveled to Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom and led his group against U.S. and Coalition Forces until his death in June 2006. In October 2006, AQI publicly re-named itself the Islamic State of Iraq and has since used that name in its public statements. In 2012, AQI was led by Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri, aka Abu Du’a, who was designated by the Department of State under Executive Order 13224 on October 4.

Since late 2011, AQI has also participated in the Syrian conflict through its alias, al-Nusrah Front, which has sought to portray itself as part of the legitimate Syrian opposition. A number of al-Nusrah Front’s leaders have been members of AQI and its facilitation network that operated in Syria and Iraq from 2004-2011. [In mid-April 2013, al-Nusrah leader Muhammad al-Jawlani publicly pledged al-Nusrah’s fealty to AQ and its leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri.] Al-Nusrah works with other U.S. designated terrorist organizations, such as Lebanon based Fatah al-Islam. Al-Nusrah Front’s base of operations is probably Damascus, but the group mirrors the organizational structure of AQI in Iraq, with regional military, administrative, and local media efforts. On December 11, the Department of State amended AQI’s designation to include al-Nusrah Front as an alias.

Activities: Since its founding, AQI has conducted high profile attacks, including improvised explosive device (IED) attacks against U.S. military personnel and Iraqi infrastructure; videotaped beheadings of Americans Nicholas Berg (May 11, 2004), Jack Armstrong (September 22, 2004), and Jack Hensley (September 21, 2004); suicide bomber attacks against both military and civilian targets; and rocket attacks. AQI perpetrates the majority of suicide and mass casualty bombings in Iraq using foreign and Iraqi operatives.

Since November 2011, al-Nusrah Front has claimed nearly 600 attacks, ranging from more than 40 suicide attacks to small arms and IED operations in major city centers including Damascus, Aleppo, Hamah, Dara, Homs, Idlib, and Dayr al-Zawr. For example, on September 28, 2012, al-Nusrah Front claimed responsibility for two suicide car bombs at a military complex in Damascus that killed four and wounded 14, including civilians. On October 3, 2012, the group claimed responsibility for four bombings in Aleppo, including two suicide attacks that killed more than 50 people. Al-Nusrah Front followed up those attacks with an October 9 suicide bomb attack on a Syrian Air Force Intelligence compound in a Damascus suburb that killed and wounded at least 100, including civilians.

AQI was also active in Iraq in 2012. In a series of coordinated attacks in March, AQI struck Shia pilgrims in the city of Karbala, set cars on fire near a police headquarters in Kirkuk, and targeted security forces and government officials in Baghdad. In all, AQI struck eight cities in just under six hours, killing 46 people and wounding 200. July was the bloodiest month of AQI attacks in two years, with 325 people killed over the span of multiple bombings and attacks. In August, the Islamic State of Iraq, AQI’s political front, released a video detailing a sophisticated attack in March on five locations in Haditha and neighboring Barwana that included dozens of fighters dressed as police commandos. During the raid, AQI fighters killed 27 Iraqi policemen, including two police commanders. In November, at least 166 Iraqi civilians, police, and soldiers were killed in violence across the country, according to the Government of Iraq.

Strength: In Iraq, membership is estimated between 1,000 and 2,000, making it the largest Sunni extremist group in Iraq. Membership in Syria is unknown, though it is likely a small force within the larger Syrian armed opposition.

Location/Area of Operation: AQI’s operations are predominately Iraq-based, but it has perpetrated attacks in Jordan. In Syria, al-Nusrah Front has claimed attacks in several major city centers. The group maintains a logistical network throughout the Middle East, North Africa, Iran, South Asia, and Europe.

Funding and External AidAQI receives most of its funding from a variety of businesses and criminal activities within Iraq.



aka al-Qa’ida in the South Arabian Peninsula; al-Qa’ida in Yemen; al-Qa’ida of Jihad Organization in the Arabian Peninsula; al-Qa’ida Organization in the Arabian Peninsula; Tanzim Qa’idat al-Jihad fi Jazirat al-Arab; AQAP; AQY; Ansar al-Shari’a

Description: Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) on January 19, 2010. In January 2009, the leader of al-Qa’ida in Yemen (AQY), Nasir al-Wahishi, publicly announced that Yemeni and Saudi al-Qa’ida (AQ) operatives were working together under the banner of AQAP. This announcement signaled the rebirth of an AQ franchise that previously carried out attacks in Saudi Arabia. AQAP’s self-stated goals include establishing a caliphate in the Arabian Peninsula and the wider Middle East, as well as implementing Sharia law.

On September 30, 2011, AQAP cleric and head of external operations Anwar al-Aulaqi, as well as Samir Khan, the publisher of AQAP’s online magazine, Inspire, were killed in Yemen.

Activities: AQAP has claimed responsibility for numerous terrorist acts against both internal and foreign targets since its inception in January 2009. Attempted attacks against foreign targets include a March 2009 suicide bombing against South Korean tourists in Yemen, the August 2009 attempt to assassinate Saudi Prince Muhammad bin Nayif, and the December 25, 2009 attempted attack on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit, Michigan. AQAP was responsible for an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate the British Ambassador in April 2010, and a failed attempt to target a British embassy vehicle with a rocket in October of that year. Also in October 2010, AQAP claimed responsibility for a foiled plot to send explosive-laden packages to the United States via cargo plane. The parcels were intercepted in the UK and in the United Arab Emirates.

In 2012, the Yemeni government carried out a two-month offensive to uproot AQAP from portions of Abyan Governorate, and Yemeni forces eventually regained control over the towns of Zinjibar and Jaar. However, approximately 3,000 land mines, planted by AQAP militants before they fled, killed 72 residents in the aftermath of AQAP’s departure. Other AQAP attacks in 2012 targeted the Yemeni military, including a February 2012 suicide car bombing that killed 26 Yemeni soldiers in Hadramawt Governorate.

The FTO designation for AQAP was amended on October 4, 2012, to include the alias Ansar al-Shari’a (AAS). AAS represents a rebranding effort designed to attract potential followers in areas under AQAP’s control. AQAP, operating under the alias AAS, carried out a May 2012 suicide bombing in Sanaa that killed 96 people. AQAP/AAS claimed responsibility for the attack, which targeted Yemeni soldiers rehearsing for a parade to celebrate Yemen’s National Day, and said the bombing was intended to target the Yemeni military brass. Also in May, press reported that AQAP allegedly plotted to detonate a bomb aboard a U.S.-bound airliner using an improvised explosive device. Though there was no imminent threat to U.S. jetliners, the device, which was acquired from another government, was similar to devices that AQAP had previously used in attempted terrorist attacks.

Strength: Although it is difficult to assess the number of AQAP’s members, the group is estimated to have close to one thousand members.

Location/Area of Operation: Yemen

Funding and External Aid: AQAP’s funding primarily comes from robberies and kidnap for ransom operations and to a lesser degree from donations from like-minded supporters.


aka al Qaeda; Qa’idat al-Jihad (The Base for Jihad); formerly Qa’idat Ansar Allah (The Base of the Supporters of God); the Islamic Army; Islamic Salvation Foundation; The Base; The Group

for the Preservation of the Holy Sites; The Islamic Army for the Liberation of the Holy Places; the World Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders; the Usama Bin Laden Network; the Usama Bin Laden Organization; al-Jihad; the Jihad Group; Egyptian al-Jihad; Egyptian Islamic Jihad; New Jihad

Description: Designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization on October 8, 1999, al-Qa’ida (AQ) was established by Usama bin Laden in 1988. The group helped finance, recruit, transport, and train Sunni Islamist extremists for the Afghan resistance. AQ’s strategic objectives are to remove Western influence and presence from the Muslim world, topple “apostate” governments of Muslim countries, and establish a pan-Islamic caliphate governed by its own interpretation of Sharia law that ultimately would be at the center of a new international order. These goals remain essentially unchanged since the group’s 1996 public declaration of war against the United States. AQ leaders issued a statement in February 1998 under the banner of “The World Islamic Front for Jihad against the Jews and Crusaders,” saying it was the duty of all Muslims to kill U.S. citizens, civilian and military, and their allies everywhere. AQ merged with al-Jihad (Egyptian Islamic Jihad) in June 2001. Many AQ leaders have been killed in recent years, including bin Laden and then second-in-command Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, in May and August 2011, respectively. Al-Rahman’s replacement, Abu Yahya al-Libi, was killed in June 2012. Leader Ayman al-Zawahiri remained at large.

Activities: AQ and its supporters conducted three bombings that targeted U.S. troops in Aden in December 1992, and claim to have shot down U.S. helicopters and killed U.S. servicemen in Somalia in 1993. AQ also carried out the August 1998 bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, killing up to 300 individuals and injuring more than 5,000. In October 2000, AQ conducted a suicide attack on the USS Cole in the port of Aden, Yemen, with an explosive-laden boat, killing 17 U.S. Navy sailors and injuring 39.

On September 11, 2001, 19 AQ members hijacked and crashed four U.S. commercial jets – two into the World Trade Center in New York City, one into the Pentagon near Washington, DC; and the last into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania – leaving over 3,000 individuals dead or missing.

In November 2002, AQ carried out a suicide bombing of a hotel in Mombasa, Kenya that killed 15. In 2003 and 2004, Saudi-based AQ operatives and associated violent extremists launched more than a dozen attacks, killing at least 90 people, including 14 Americans in Saudi Arabia. Al-Zawahiri claimed responsibility on behalf of AQ for the July 7, 2005 attacks against the London public transportation system. AQ likely played a role in the unsuccessful 2006 plot to destroy several commercial aircraft flying from the UK to the United States using liquid explosives. AQ claimed responsibility for a 2008 suicide car bomb attack on the Danish embassy in Pakistan that killed six, as retaliation for a Danish newspaper re-publishing cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad and for Denmark’s involvement in Afghanistan.

In January 2009, Bryant Neal Vinas – a U.S. citizen who traveled to Pakistan and allegedly trained in explosives at AQ camps, was captured in Pakistan and extradited to the United States – was charged with providing material support to a terrorist organization and conspiracy to commit murder. Vinas later admitted his role in helping AQ plan an attack against the Long Island Rail Road in New York and confessed to having fired missiles at a U.S. base in Afghanistan. In September 2009, Najibullah Zazi, an Afghan immigrant and U.S. lawful permanent resident, was charged with conspiracy to use weapons of mass destruction, to commit murder in a foreign country, and with providing material support to a terrorist organization as part of an AQ plot to attack the New York subway system. Zazi later admitted to contacts with AQ senior leadership, suggesting they had knowledge of his plans. In February 2010, Zazi pled guilty to charges in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

In a December 2011 video, new AQ leader al-Zawahiri claimed AQ was behind the August kidnapping of American aid worker Warren Weinstein in Pakistan. As conditions for his release, al-Zawahiri demanded the end of U.S. air strikes and the release of all terrorist suspects in U.S. custody. Weinstein remained in AQ custody throughout 2012.

Strength: In South Asia, AQ’s core has been seriously degraded. The death or arrest of dozens of mid- and senior-level AQ operatives – including bin Laden in May 2011 – have disrupted communication, financial, facilitation nodes, and a number of terrorist plots. AQ serves as a focal point of “inspiration” for a worldwide network of affiliated groups – al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI), al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), al-Shabaab– and other Sunni Islamist extremist groups, including the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Islamic Jihad Union, Lashkar i Jhangvi, Harakat ul-Mujahadin, and Jemaah Islamiya. Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan and the Haqqani Network also have ties to AQ. Additionally, supporters and associates worldwide who are “inspired” by the group’s ideology may be operating without direction from AQ central leadership, and it is impossible to estimate their numbers.

Location/Area of Operation: AQ was based in Afghanistan until Coalition Forces removed the Taliban from power in late 2001. Since then, they have resided in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas. AQ’s regional affiliates – AQI, AQAP, AQIM, and al-Shabaab – work in Iraq and Syria, Yemen, the Trans-Sahara, and Somalia, respectively.

Funding and External Aid: AQ primarily depends on donations from like-minded supporters as well as from individuals who believe that their money is supporting a humanitarian cause. Some funds are diverted from Islamic charitable organizations.