INTRODUCTION  Almost six years after 11 September al-Qaeda has spread throughout the Greater Middle East with franchises from Indonesia to the Maghreb. Thanks to the war in Iraq it survived the West’s counterattack in Afghanistan. It has a secure sanctuary in Pakistan and it is building avenues of approach to attack Europe and America using the Muslim diaspora community in Western Europe. In Iraq it is the dynamic edge of the Sunni insurgency, albeit only a small minority within the movement and its goal now is to break the Iraqi state apart and create a jihadist state in the heart of the Arab world. Al-Qaeda wants to play a larger role in the Palestinian conflict but it has had a discordant relationship with Hamas. Al-Qaeda has been very critical of Hamas’s participation in electoral politics but is now supportive of the Hamas coup in Gaza. As argued below, understanding al-Qaeda’s ideology and operations is the key to defeating it.

Another version of this working paper appears in Volume 49, Number 3 of Survival (Autumn 2007) with the title “

The Return of the Knights: al-Qaeda and the Fruits of Middle East Disorder

.” This ESF Working Paper may be


in book form through the Centre for European Policy Studies.