Defining al Qaeda

Al Qaeda, the group established by Osama bin Laden and his colleagues, was never very large -- there were never more than a few hundred actual members. We often refer to this group, now led by Ayman al-Zawahiri, as the al Qaeda core or al Qaeda prime. While the group's founders trained tens of thousands of men at their camps in Afghanistan and Sudan, they initially viewed themselves as a vanguard organization working with kindred groups to facilitate the jihad they believed was necessary to establish a global Islamic caliphate.

Most of the men trained at al Qaeda camps were members of other organizations or were grassroots jihadists. The majority of them received basic paramilitary training, and only a select few were invited to receive additional training in terrorist tradecraft skills such as surveillance, document forgery and bomb making. Of this select group, only a few men were invited to join the al Qaeda core organization.

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