Al-Qaeda is a global militant Islamist organization founded by Osama bin Laden, Abdullah Azzam, and several other militants, at some point between August 1988 and late 1989, with origins traceable to the Soviet war in Afghanistan. It operates as a network comprising both a multinational, stateless army and an Islamist, extremist, wahhabi, jihadist group. It has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United Nations Security Council, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), the European Union, the United States, Russia, India and various other countries (see below). Al-Qaeda has carried out many attacks on targets it considers kafir. During the Syrian civil war, al-Qaeda factions started fighting each other, as well as the Kurds and the Syrian government. Al-Qaeda has mounted attacks on civilian and military targets in various countries, including the September 11 attacks, the 1998 US embassy bombings and the 2002 Bali bombings. The US government responded to the September 11 attacks by launching the "War on Terror". With the loss of key leaders, culminating in the death of Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda's operations have devolved from actions that were controlled from the top down, to actions by franchise associated groups and lone-wolf operators.
Characteristic techniques employed by al-Qaeda include suicide attacks and the simultaneous bombing of different targets. Activities ascribed to it may involve members of the movement who have made a pledge of loyalty to Osama bin Laden, or the much more numerous "al-Qaeda-linked" individuals who have undergone training in one of its camps in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq or Sudan who have not. Al-Qaeda ideologues envision a complete break from all foreign influences in Muslim countries, and the creation of a new worldwide Islamic caliphate. Among the beliefs ascribed to al-Qaeda members is the conviction that a Christian–Jewish alliance is conspiring to destroy Islam. As Salafist jihadists, they believe that the killing of civilians is religiously sanctioned, and they ignore any aspect of religious scripture which might be interpreted as forbidding the murder of civilians 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 is also responsible for instigating sectarian violence among Muslims. Al-Qaeda leaders regard liberal Muslims, Shias, Sufis and other sects as heretics and 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. Since the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011 the group has been led by Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri.