Gunaratna, researcher at Scotland's University of St. Andrews, has done a fine job analyzing al-Qa‘ida's history, strategy, and structure. What may be most important about this study is its detailed description of al-Qa‘ida's worldwide reach, drawing upon a wide body of open source material and some intelligence. This network allows al-Qa‘ida to share intelligence, operatives, and materiel across the Middle East, Europe, South America, Asia, and North America.
His is a worthwhile and thorough study of what will surely be one of America's foremost strategic enemies for years to come. In a sea of books known to regurgitate near-identical anecdotes about al-Qa‘ida, Gunaratna sets this book apart by presenting refreshingly new information. For example, he quotes Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officials as saying that "one-fifth of all Islamic NGOs [non-governmental organizations] worldwide have been unwittingly infiltrated by al-Qaeda and other terrorist support groups." He also cites Sheikh Kabbani of the Islamic Council of America as saying that "over 80 percent of the mosques in the United States" have been infiltrated by Islamists.
Also of note is the author's assertion that Usama bin Ladin ordered the assassination of his mentor and fellow al-Qa‘ida founder, ‘Abdullah ‘Azzam, on November 24, 1989. According to Gunaratna, "the power struggle between Osama and Azzam had to culminate in the removal of one of them." Thus he portrays bin Ladin as power-hungry and ruthless in his bid to take the reigns of the organization that the two founded together. It is further interesting to note Gunaratna's account of how the arrest of the "twentieth hijacker," Zaccarias Moussaoui, pushed up the date of the operation that eventually took place on September 11, 2001, and how Hizbullah operative ‘Imad Mughniyah schooled bin Ladin on the use of coordinated, simultaneous attacks.
Though his book is excellent, Gunaratna might consider making several tweaks in his next edition. For one, he labors to draw distinctions between what he calls revolutionary, ideological, utopian, and apocalyptic Islamists. At best, these distinctions remain unclear. Also, in his description of the Lebanese network, he omits mention of Asbat al-Ansar, the al-Qa‘ida affiliate now working out of the Palestinian refugee camp, Ein al-Hilwe.