Al-Qaeda (/ /,; Arabic: القاعدة, romanized: al-Qāʿidah, IPA: [ælqɑːʕɪdɐ], lit. 'the Base' or 'the Foundation', alternatively spelled al-Qaida and al-Qa'ida), officially known as Qaedat al-Jihad (lit. 'Base of Jihad'), is a multinational militant Sunni Islamic extremist network composed of Salafist jihadists. Its members are mostly composed of Arabs, but may also include other peoples. Al-Qaeda has mounted attacks on civilian and military targets in various countries, including the 1998 United States embassy bombings, the September 11 attacks, and the 2002 Bali bombings; it has been designated as a terrorist group by the United Nations Security Council, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the European Union, India, and various other countries.
The network was founded in 1988 by Osama bin Laden, Abdullah Azzam, and other Arab volunteers during the Soviet–Afghan War. After fighting the "holy" war, the group aimed to expand such operations to other parts of the world, setting up bases in parts of Africa, the Arab world and elsewhere, carrying out many attacks on people whom it considers kāfir.
Al-Qaeda members believe a Christian-Jewish alliance (led by the United States) is conspiring to be at war against Islam and destroy Islam. As Salafist jihadists, members of al-Qaeda believe that killing non-combatants is religiously sanctioned. Al-Qaeda also opposes what it regards as man-made laws, and wants to replace them exclusively with a strict form of sharīʿa (Islamic religious law, which is perceived as divine law). It is also responsible for instigating sectarian violence among Muslims. Al-Qaeda regards liberal Muslims, Shias, Sufis, and other Islamic sects as heretical and its members and sympathizers have attacked their mosques, shrines, and gatherings. Examples of sectarian attacks include the 2004 Ashoura massacre, the 2006 Sadr City bombings, the April 2007 Baghdad bombings, and the 2007 Yazidi community bombings.
The United States government responded to the September 11 attacks by launching the "war on terror", which sought to undermine al-Qaeda and its allies. The deaths of key leaders, including that of Osama bin Laden, have led al-Qaeda's operations to shift from top-down organization and planning of attacks, to the planning of attacks carried out by a loose network of associated groups and lone-wolf operators. Al-Qaeda characteristically organizes attacks including suicide attacks and simultaneous bombing of several targets. Al-Qaeda ideologues envision the violent removal of all foreign and secular influences in Muslim countries, which it perceives as corrupt deviations. Following the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011, the group was led by Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri until his death in 2022. As of 2021, it has reportedly suffered from a deterioration of central command over its regional operations.