Who was Leading Whom?
: Assessing the Organizational and Strategic Dynamics Between Al Qaeda Central and its Affiliates, 2004 - 2014

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis joins the debate over how to understand the Al Qaeda network’s organizational function and strategic coherence, with a focus on assessing the ways in which Al Qaeda’s franchising process influenced not only the regional affiliates, but also, and especially, Al Qaeda Central (AQC) itself. Analysis of affiliate actions will determine the extent to which the affiliates’ propaganda and operations were in alignment with AQC’s stated objectives, and whether the affiliates were responsive to guidance from AQC leadership. Examination of Al Qaeda’s internal documents and secret correspondence will provide insight into AQC leaders’ vision for the organization, their attempts to direct and influence the franchise groups, and their reactions to the affiliates’ behavior. Study of AQC’s internal communications and of shifts in its public messaging practices will enable assessment of how the central organization may have adapted its own organizational and propaganda strategies in response to the actions of affiliate groups. These approaches, by bringing to bear evidence that has been unavailable or overlooked in previous research, enables this thesis’ comparatively high-confidence new interpretation of Al Qaeda’s overall organizational and strategic characteristics during its prime franchising era, from the establishment of Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) in 2004, until Zawahiri’s public disavowal of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sam (ISIS) in 2014.
Date of Award1 Jul 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorJohn Gearson (Supervisor) & Michael Rainsborough (Supervisor)

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