Kevin Jackson (@alleyesonjihad) provided an excellent breakdown on who is and who is not in al Qaeda thoroughly laying out the complicated system of allegiance known as bay’a in his guest post at Jihadology entitled, “The Pledge of Allegiance and Its Implications“. If you follow the media view of terrorism, you’re likely very confused as to what is al Qaeda and who is in al Qaeda. I am equally confused at times and have my own thoughts on whom we should count in and whom we should count out of al Qaeda. The implications of this characterization, “Who is in al Qaeda?”, is quite important and defines, in some respects, the U.S. legal authority for using different counterterrorism techniques. Without al Qaeda and a War On Terror, the pursuit of terrorists becomes quite constrained to largely law enforcement approaches.
Last year, J.M. Berger ran an excellent survey on “who is in al Qaeda?” and I encourage all those interested in the debate to check it out. In the meantime, take a gander at Kevin Jackson’s post if you want the al Qaeda perspective, to include all the messy political nuances of declaring allegiance. This includes the distinction between declaring allegiance to Bin Laden and al Qaeda versus actually becoming an official member of al Qaeda: two different things according to Kevin.
On the other hand, a bay’a has to be accepted before one can be considered as a sworn member/organization. This decision falls upon the amir‘s goodwill and depends on the extent to which would-be comers meet the required criteria prescribed by the organization leadership. As a result, groups rendering their allegiance to Ayman al Zawahiri cannot be labeled al Qa’ida in the absence of an official recognition from the Pakistan-based leadership. This explains why assertions dubbing some al Qa’ida’s affiliates/franchises on the only basis that an oath has been sworn should be met with skepticism at the very least.