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Al-Qaeda hot spots


Last Updated: May 4, 2011 1:39 PM ET

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In the wake of the death of al-Qaeda figurehead Osama bin Laden, attention has shifted to the other leaders and groups that fall under the broader al-Qaeda umbrella.

Most analysts agree that al-Qaeda is not a single homogenous group but rather a diverse band of groups and individuals inspired by a shared militant Islamist ideology but driven by often very different objectives and acting within different spheres of influence.

In a February 2011 report examining the future of al-Qaeda and its affiliated movements, researchers at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies divided al-Qaeda into three broad categories:

  • The core group of commanders and ideologues loyal to Osama bin Laden and, until recently, led by him, and in the future likely to be led by Ayman al-Zawahri.
  • Official affiliates that act as local or regional outposts of al-Qaeda and other like-minded groups that have links with al-Qaeda but operate independently.
  • Non-affiliated groups and individuals who act alone but claim to be inspired by al-Qaeda's ideology and broad aims.

These three "tiers," write the principal authors of the report, Rick "Ozzie" Nelson and Thomas M. Sanderson, share an "extremist interpretation of Sunni Islam" grounded in the belief that the Muslim community is in decay and must reestablish the Sharia practices used in the time of the Prophet Muhammad and oppose any influences that would compromise an Islamic revival. But beyond that broad unifying factor, they differ widely – both in tactics and objectives.

Al-Qaeda and its affiliates operate in many countries throughout the world, but there are a few areas where they have been particularly active in recent years and where they are seen to be a likely continued or potentially growing threat in the near future. The map above shows these areas

Sources: A Threat Transformed: Al-Qaeda and Associated Movements, Center for Strategic and International Studies; 9/11 Commission report; news agencies.