Date of Award

Summer 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science & Geography


Graduate Program in International Studies

Committee Director

Steve A. Yetiv

Committee Member

Peter Schulman

Committee Member

Fran Hassencahl


The attacks of September 11, 2001 by Al-Qaeda-sponsored militants represented a high- water mark for the terrorist organization in its self-styled journey to become the inspirational Islamic vanguard for disenchanted Muslims across the globe. In the years that followed these attacks, the Al-Qaeda enterprise underwent a constant rate of evolution and mutation, resulting in a phenomenon of parallel and like-minded Islamist groups pledging allegiance to Usama bin Laden and his ideological vision of a global jihad. Instead of strengthening the overall organization, this expansion diluted the command and control of Al-Qaeda senior leaders in their ability to shape the overall movement it once led, as well as displaced the locus of power for the larger movement among various powerbrokers with unpredictable agendas and worldviews. Instead, the affiliation and franchising of parallel groups proved to result in only temporary changes in organizational behavior of these affiliates, as the domestic social, political, and economic forces present in these regions and nation-states had much more effect on Al-Qaeda affiliates and their members than the traditional Al-Qaeda agenda.

This dissertation is innovative in comparing Al-Qaeda Central in 2001 to its corollary manifestations as Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) across four variables of study and across time. The findings of this study help to explain the evolution of Al-Qaeda as the most capable and feared terrorist organization that it occupied at the beginning of the decade into a vague conglomerate of affiliates and sub-groups fifteen years later. The short term gains offered by affiliation for parallel movements under the AQ brand were exploited by these affiliates for their own particular interests, but ultimately discarded for domestic welfare of the affiliates themselves, even running counter to the transnational agenda of Bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda.

Breaking new ground, this research attempts to understand the evolution of the organization through the affiliation of parallel movements, what effect this affiliation has, and to identify signposts and patterns that can be overlaid on future manifestations of the global Islamic jihadist movement, either under Al-Qaeda leadership or some other organization.


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