Name coined to describe the series of political, military and covert operations by the United States and other countries against al-Qaeda and associated Islamist groups engaged in terrorism.

It was first used on 20 September 2001 by President George W. Bush in a speech to Congress, to set the tenor how the United States would interpret and respond to terrorist threats.

Our war on terror begins with al-Qaida, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated

His speech describing what the War on Terror would be like have unfortunately turned out to be quite accurate. As he warned, the war has not turned be swift and decisive, with a minimal number of troop casualties. Much of the action has involved covert action that the public has little knowledge of. The response to terrorism has been multi-faceted, with every means of diplomacy, every tool of intelligence, every instrument of law enforcement, every financial influence, and every necessary weapon of war orchestrated together. And in what has been termed the Bush Doctrine, the United States has pushed itself to multilateralism, emphasised with the declaration that Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.

While al-Qaeda was known to be a threat well before September 11, the War on Terror (WOT) is generally accepted to have started following the spectacular and devastating nature of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, which placed counter-terrorism to the top of the political agenda in many countries in the West. Previously, al-Qaeda had attacked the U.S.S. Cole anchored in Aden, Yemen in 2000, American diplomatic missions in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998, and American combat forces in Saudi Arabia in 1996.

The WOT can also include the lengthy process of identifying all the various terrorist cells around the world linked to Al-Qaeda, and the strengthening of the United State's own defences against terrorism at home (homeland security). This has involved a greater acceleration of cooperation between different police and intelligence services internationally, to operate in a world of mass-migration, air travel, political disconnection and the Internet, al-Qaeda’s own operations have been globalised.

Using the term to describe military operations in Iraq was a bit of a stretch since the link between Al-Qaeda and the Ba'athist regime of Saddam Hussein is dubious, and may have been exaggerated by the United States to win domestic political support for its actions there. However in the post-liberation period, both US occupation forces and the fledging Iraqi state found themselves under attack from Islamist groups with links to al-Qaeda.

Like earlier ‘wars’ on drugs, poverty and other ills that are abstract or evasive, the War on Terror has been promoted as an ongoing, multi-faceted, mass-mobilisation exercise. This has led to some criticism that the actions to confront terrorism does not look at some of the root causes, in particular, a large body of young Muslim men living in the developing world or as migrants in the West unable to find employment opportunities in a world where economic success is based upon innovation, and whose misfortune can be explained through some kind of global anti-Islamic conspiracy (stories of minority Muslim populations being oppressed in Kashmir, Palestine, the Philippines and other places helps give this argument some credibility). In defence, the triggers to terrorism are as much philosophical and social (Islam's failure to co-exist with modernity) as they are economic or religious.


There are four kinds of places where Al-Qaeda and its operatives have operated, with specific goals:
Iraq and Afghanistan Against coalition forces, non-government organisations and moderate Iraqi leaders, in order to divide the country into civil war, drive out the foreigners and use these country as a surrogate base to operate from.
Allied Muslim States In order to drive their governments away from the United States, who depends on these countries for support in the War on Terror and as holding vital political and economic interests. Such countries include: Indonesia, Pakistan, Jordan, Turkey, Morocco, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Kuwait.
Non-pluralist States with Muslim Minorities In certain developing countries and transitional economies where legal and political infrastructure is weak and there is little history of ethnic pluralism, Muslims minorities have directly or indirectly been subjected to discrimination, and in response have become willing recruits to al-Qaeda, or have benefitted from their support. Such countries include The Philippines, Thailand, Palestine, Russia, China, Uzbekistan, Kosova, Bosnia and India.
The West Al-Qaeda has made no claim yet to the West; operations on September 11, in Madrid and foiled attacks in Italy, Britain, the United States, Germany and other places were designed to weaken political support against governments standing in the way of wider al-Qaeda objectives. The west has been seen as a source of fundraising, technology transfer and recruitment, largely from alienated youth who have converted to an extreme form of Islam.


September 2001:
Four aircraft are hijacked in the United States. Two are flown into the World Trade Center, toppling both towers; one hits the Pentagon and one crashes near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. 2,752 people are killed
In response the United States administration grounds all domestic and international air traffic, suspends trading on the New York Stock Exchange and enacts Operation Noble Eagle is activated - 15,000 troops are mobilised in US cities with overhead air patrols.
Six to twelve men of Muslim or Arab appearance are killed in subsequent retaliatory hate crimes in the United States.
Osama Bin Laden is shortly identified as chief suspect.
The FBI devotes 4,000 agents to follow 50,000 leads.
27 individuals and charities have their bank assets frozen.
First arrests of accomplices made in Germany.

October 2001:
Strong financial links between Al-Qaeda and the 19 hijackers established.
American and British air strikes against Afghanistan starts.
Special forces sent to Afghanistan.
The CIA is authorised to do whatever is necessary to destroy Al-Qaeda.
Over 900 people, mostly from the Middle East or South Asia are detained without charge in the United States under sweeping new legislation .

November 2001:
Kabul falls to the Northern Alliance.
Eight suspected Al-Qaeda operatives arrested in Spain.
Taliban prisoners riot at the Qala-e-Jhangi fort near Mazar-e-Sharif. 400 Taliban and a CIA operative are killed.

December 2001:
US troops sent to Yemen to assist local forces in fighting Al-Qaeda operatives.
The Indian Parliament in New Delhi is attacked by an unknown terrorist group, but is suspected to be associated with Kashmiri separatists or Pakistani intelligence. 12 killed.
Richard Reid caught trying to blow up a Paris to Miami flight.

January 2002:
First batch of Taliban and Al-Qaeda prisoners reach Guantanamo Bay

February 2002:
Four Tunisians found guilty in Italy for plotting terrorist attacks

March 2002:
CIA director George Tenet states that Iraq has links with Al-Qaeda.
America launches Operation Anaconda against several hundred Taliban fighters bunkered down in eastern Afghanistan.
US forces sent to Georgia to train local forces in operations against al-Qaeda operatives.
Macedonian forces kill six Pakistanis and an Indian, claiming that they were al-Qaeda operatives. Officials will later admit they were innocent, and that they were killed in order to demonstrate their anti-terrorist credentials.

April 2002:
Al-Qaeda officer Abu Zubaydah arrested in Pakistan Terrorist attack kills 17 people (11 German) at a synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia.
Spanish authorities arrest two men believed responsible for organising Al-Qaeda’s finances in Spain.
Israeli forces occupy Jenin.

May 2002:
Around 3,500 FBI agents working on counter-terrorism

June 2002:
Abdullah al-Muhajir (also known as Jose Padilla) is arrested in Chicago, believed to be plotting to detonate a radiological bomb.
A bomb explodes outside the US consulate in Karachi, killing 14 Pakistanis. Harkat-ul-Mujahedeen is blamed.
Three Al-Qaeda members arrested in Morocco, suspected of planning an attack on American and British naval vessels in Gibraltar.
Another thirteen are arrested in Saudi Arabia. Saudi officials claim they intented to shoot down an American aircraft using a MANPADS device.
Morocco arrests two al-Qaeda operatives - Mohammed Haydar Zammar and Abu Zabair.

July 2002:
Nine suspect Al-Qaeda members arrested in Milan.
Three Syrians are arrested in Spain, belived to be linked to Al-Qaeda.
The Office of Homeland Security opened.

August 2002:
Sixteen Al-Qaeda officers caught by Iranian authorities trying to leave Afghanistan, and are handed over to Saudi Arabia.
115 Russian soldiers killed when their helicopter is shot down in Chechnya.
A Seattle man is charged with planning to set up a training camp for al-Qaeda in Oregon.
Five local Christians and an Italian tourist are killed in separate incidents in Sulawesi, Indonesia by unknown gunmen, believed to be non-local Muslim terrorists.

September 2002:
Ramzi Binalshibh, a prime plotter of the September 11 attacks, is arrested in Karachi.
Singaporean police arrest 21 members of Jemaah Islamiah, believed to be plotting attacks on Western diplomatic missions.
A Turkish man with links to al-Qaeda and his American girlfriend are arrested, accused of planning to bomb a US military base in Germany.

October 2002:
A bomb blast at two nightclubs in Bali kills 202 (including 89 Australians). Indonesian Islamic terrorist group Jemaah Isamiah is blamed.
Muslim Cleric Abu Qatada is arrested in London. He is believed to have links to Osama Bin Laden.
A Chechen terrorist group captures a theatre in Moscow and holds the audience hostage. Russian forces storm the theatre. In total 120 hostages are killed in the ordeal.
Moro separatists with links to al-Qaeda, Abu Sayyaf, detonates several bombs in Manila and Zamboanga City. Three killed.
Australian authorities investigate a plot linked to Jemaah Isamiah to attack the Israeli embassy in Canberra.
A British Muslim cleric with suspected links to OBL, Abu Qatada, is detained under anti-terror laws.

November 2002:
A US missile kills alledged Al-Qaeda members in Yemen, including the mastermind of the August 2000 attack on the USS Cole, Ali Qaed Senyan al-Harthi.
In Mombasa, Kenya, thirteen people, mostly local Kenyans, are killed by three suicide bombers targeting Israeli tourists. Two MANPADS missiles fail to hit an Israeli airliner.
In Kuwait a 21 year old known as Mohsen F is arrested, believed to be planning to bomb a hotel in Yemen housing US soldiers.

December 2002:
US aid worker Laurence Foley killed in Amman. Two alledged Al-Qaeda members arrested in response.
50 killed in suicide bomb blast against a Chechen government building in Grozny. Three American missionaries working at a Baptist hospital are killed by an al-Qaeda cell in Yemen

January 2003:
British police arrest a number of North Africans who were discovered storing ricin in their London home.

February 2003:
Heathrow airport is put on alert after a plot to down an Israeli aircraft over London was revealed.
US forces sent to the Philippines for military exercises, but are otherwise believed to be engaged in operations against Abu Sayyaf.

March 2003:
American forces, with detachments from Britain, Australia and Poland, invade and quickly overwhelm Iraq. Start of a new front for guerilla warfare.
Senior Al-Qaeda officer Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (the guy with the hiary back and glassy 3am stare) is arrested in Pakistan.

May 2003:
34 killed in a bomb blast at the al-Hamra housing compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
41 killed in a series of bomb blasts in Casablanca.
13 Al-Qaeda suspects put on trial in the Netherlands.
9 killed by a bomb in the southern Philippines, believed planted by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

June 2003:
Two Al-Qaeda operatives picked up at an airport in Paris.
Four German peacekeepers killed in a terrorist attack in Kabul.
30 killed in clashes between the Philippines military and Abu Sayyaf forces.

July 2003:
Terrorist attacks in Iraq intensifies.
US House of Representatives approves Project Bioshield - a programme to respond to a bio-terror attack.

August 2003:
A car bomb outside the Marriott hotel in Jakarta kills 10.
A bomb planted by Chechen separatists kills 50 at a hospital within Russia.
The alledged head of Jemaah Isamiah, Hambali, is arrested in Bangkok and handed over to the US.

September 2003:
Sergio Vieira de Mello, United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights is assassinated by a bomb blast in Baghdad, along with 21 others.
Bomb blast in Mumbai kills 50 people. The Student Islamic Movement of India and the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba groups are suggested to be responsible.

October 2003:
US diplomats are killed in an ambush in the West Bank.
Over two days several terrorist attacks are launched in Iraq, including a failed assassination attempt on US Deputy Defence Secretary Carl Wolfowitz, and the bombing of the Red Cross headquarters.
Eight Christians are killed by gunmen in Sulawesi, Indonesia.

November 2003:
In Istanbul suicide bombers target the British consulate, the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation offices and two synagogues. Sixty two people people, including British Consul-General Roger Short, are killed. The most likely culprits are the Islamic Great Eastern Raiders' Front (IBDA-C), working alongside al-Qaeda.
Mohammad Hamdi al-Ahdal, suspected of being a co-conspirator of the USS Cole bombing, is arrested in Yemen.

December 2003:
Saddam Hussein is captured near Tikrit, Iraq, by US forces.
A female suicide bomber kills five near Red Square in Moscow.

January 2004:
Eleven people are killed outside Ariel Sharon's Jerusalem residence by a suicide bomber. Earlier five are killed by another suicide bomber at a Gaza Strip border crossing.
Four people are killed by a bomb blast in Sulawesi, Indonesia
Iran announces that twelve unnamed al-Qaeda suspects it is holding will go on trial.

February 2004:
Abdelghani Mzoudi a Moroccan accused of assisting and abetting the 11 September hijackers, is acquitted by a court in Germany.
A bomb goes off in a Moscow subway, killing 40. Nobody, including Chechen exiles, admits responsibility. Six days later Chechen President Zemilkhan Yandarbiev is assassinated in Qatar, in equally mysterious circumstances.
American forces in Iraq intercept and publish a memo carried on a computer owned by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi that cites al-Qaeda's intention to stir up sectarian violence between the Sunni and Shiite communities.

March 2004:
Bombs in Karbala and Baghdad kills over 140 mostly Shiite worshipers celebrating the Ashoura festival.
A series of bomb blasts on commuter trains in Madrid kills around 200 people, mostly Spanish, and injures in excess of 1,400. Initial blame is placed on ETA, but a letter allegedly from the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades is sent to an Arabic newspaper in Britain claiming responsibility, stating the attack was retaliation for Spain's participation in Iraq. In what was seen as a major political victory for al-Qaeda, the conservative government of Jose Maria Aznar is thrown out of office three days later in a national election.

April 2004:
Terrorist suspects are arrested in Britain, Australia and Spain, although one suspect kills himself and others just as Spanish police stakeout his apartment.
The kidnapping and murder of Haliburton contractors in Iraq prompts US forces to respond against Shia militants in Falluja, Iraq, leading to intense fighting in the city. In the midst several civilians from different countries who have troops in Iraq are taken hostage, but most are subsequently released.
Al-Qaeda threatens attacks in Italy if Italians do not protest against their army's deployment in Iraq.
106 die in clashes between Islamic separatists and government forces in southern Thailand.

May 2004:
Ezzedine Salim, head of the Iraqi Governing Council, is killed by a suicide bomber in Baghdad.
In the Saudi city of Khobar gunmen believed to be linked to al-Qaeda attacked and killed several people in company offices and expatriate housing complexes.

July 2005:
Four suicide bombers simultaneously detonate explosives on London Underground trains near Russell Square, Edgeware Road and Aldgate stations, and on a bus in Tavistock Square. More than 50 people are killed and 700 injured. The attack coincided with the G8 summit hosted in Gleneagles, Scotland.

Terrorist Organisations

al-Qaeda (The Base)
Seeks establish a worldwide Islamic regime by routing out "non-Islamic" governments and expelling Westerners and non-Muslims from Muslim countries. Wahabist but works with other Muslim groups. Based in Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan. Has operatives all over the world.
al-Qaeda works closely with other organisations in an alliance Osama Bin Laden formed, collectively known as the International Front for Fighting Jews and Crusaders. The International Front includes:

  • Egyptian Islamic Jihad
  • al-Gama'at al-Islamiyya (in Uzbekistan)
  • Egyptian Jihad, The Organization of Pakistani Clerics, aka Organization of Islamic Clerics
  • the Ansar Movement and Harkat-ul-Mujahedeen (both based in Kashmir)
  • Bangladesh Jihad
  • The Islamic Army for the Liberation of Holy Sites (who were responsible for the bombings of US embassies in Africa in 1998.

    Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigade
    Group named in honour of a cousin-in-law of Osama Bin Laden, Mohammad Atef (aka Abu Hafs) who was killed in a Hellfire missile attack by coalition forces in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. 'al-Masri' ('the Egyptian') refers to his nationality. Claimed responsibility for the blasts in Istanbul and Madrid, and (with little credibility) for power cuts in the north east states of the United States during the summer of 2003.

    Islamic Jihad
    Militant faction of HAMAS which plays the 'bad cop' role. Seeks the destruction of Israel and the establishment of an Islamic Palestinian state note that a significant portion of Palestinians are Christian. Based in Syria, but carries out proxy terrorist operations in Israel and Israeli occupied territories.

    Hezbollah (Army of God)
    Terrorist group with strong ties to the government of Iran. Aims to create Shia Islamic state in Lebanon. Within Hezbollah is Islamic Resistance, a highly secretive cell responsible for carrying out terrorism.

    Groupe Islamique Armé
    Ruthless Sunni guerrila movement, seeking to establish an Islamic state in Algeria.

    Jemaah Islamiyah (Islamic Community)
    Indonesian based group seeking to establish an Islamic superstate in South East Asia. Consists of many loosely connected cells, but considered al-Qaeda's far east branch office. Has strong links with Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines.