Mind of a Terrorist – Communication at the Top

Research paper compare and contrast the leadership and communication techniques of former al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden with those of one other terrorist leader. Select one other terrorist leader from al Qaeda or affiliated groups such as Zawahiri, Baghdadi or Awlaki to compare and contrast with bin Laden’s leadership and communication approaches.

Ayman al-Zawahiri (al Qaeda successor of Osama bin Laden)

Gohel, S. M. (2017) Deciphering Ayman Al-Zawahiri and Al-Qaeda’s strategic and ideological imperatives. Perspectives on Terrorism, 11 (1). pp. 54-67. ISSN 2334-3745. Retrieved from http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/86743/1/Gohel_Deciphering%20Al-Qaeda_2018.pdf

Ayman al-Zawahiri (2020). The Counter Extremist Project. Retrieved from https://www.counterextremism.com/extremists/ayman-al-zawahiri

Sude, B. (2015, September). Assessing Al-Qa`ida Central’s Resilience. Retrieved from https://ctc.usma.edu/assessing-al-qaida-centrals-resilience/

Council on Foreign Relations. (2011, July 14). Profile: Ayman al-Zawahiri. Retrieved from https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/profile-ayman-al-zawahiri

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (former Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham [ISIS] leader)

McCants, W. (2015, September 1). The Believer. Retrieved from http://csweb.brookings.edu/content/research/essays/2015/thebeliever.html

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (2020). The Counter Extremist Project Retrieved from https://www.counterextremism.com/extremists/abu-bakr-al-baghdadi

Atwan, A. B. (2015). A Portrait of Caliph Ibrahim. The Cato Review. Retrieved from https://www.thecairoreview.com/essays/a-portrait-of-caliph-ibrahim/

Anwar al-Awlaki (former al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leader, online jihadist radicalizer)

Shane, S. (2017). The Enduring Influence of Anwar al-Awlaki in the Age of the Islamic State. Retrieved from https://ctc.usma.edu/the-enduring-influence-of-anwar-al-awlaki-in-the-age-of-the-islamic-state/

Anwar al-Awlaki (2020). The Counter Extremist Project Retrieved from https://www.counterextremism.com/extremists/anwar-al-awlaki

Zimmerman, K. (2010, March 12). Militant Islam’s Global Preacher: The Radicalizing Effect of Sheikh Anwar al Awlaki. Critical Threats. Retrieved from https://www.criticalthreats.org/analysis/militant-islams-global-preacher-the-radicalizing-effect-of-sheikh-anwar-al-awlaki

Assignment Specifics:

The body of your report is to be at least FOUR FULL pages in length (not counting title page and references) and is to contain the following:

A brief introduction, with the topic and your thesis

A main body, containing the “meat” of the paper, where you provide the requested information supported by class readings and with your analysis

A conclusion, summarizing your information clearly and concisely

 Technical Requirements

Your paper must be at a minimum of 4-6 pages (the Title and Reference pages do not count towards the minimum limit).

Scholarly and credible references should be used. A good rule of thumb is at least 2 scholarly sources per page of content.

Type in Times New Roman, 12 point and double space.Students will follow the current APA Style as the sole citation and reference style used in written work submitted as part of coursework.

Points will be deducted for the use of Wikipedia or encyclopedic type sources. It is highly advised to utilize books, peer-reviewed journals, articles, archived documents, etc.


Mind of a Terrorist: Leadership and Communication Technique

Proper communication underpins effective leadership. More significantly, leadership efficacy rises or falls depending on the ability to communicate efficiently. This is because the art of communication is the language of leadership. One must excel in communication to become a successful leader since the former and the latter is far more complimentary. Leaders can utilize the proper communication channels to align the team’s effort with the overall goals, build trust and confidence, and inspire positive change.

In terrorism, leadership and communication techniques are essential to forming operational terrorists’ organizations. Delving into the foundation, nature, and geography of terrorism, it is notable with satisfaction that terrorism cases are frequently premeditated criminal activities motivated by underlying causes. Except in wolf lone terrorism, other forms of terrorism (terrorists groups) have a chain of command. The uptake of effective communication and leadership techniques by terrorists’ leaders has inevitably incurred dramatic change in terrorism.

For instance, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri have manifested certain leadership and communication skills, rendering their missions successful and making them the most deadly terrorist in history. This paper provides a compare and contrast research of leadership and communication techniques used by former al Qaeda leaders, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Osama bin Laden

Osama bin Laden is the 17th of 52 children born to Mohammed bin Laden in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Born in 1957, like many Saudi men, bin Laden schooled in Jiddah, married young and later joined the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. According to Archetti (2012), since America declared war on terror after the September 11 attack, al Qaeda has been disfranchised in command and control, planning and execution. Communication and coordination among al Qaeda’s global networks have become more inconvenient. Be that as it may, Harmon & Bowdish (2018) argue that al Qaeda remains a potent threat to human rights. More successfully, this organization has used suicide bombing on land and sea to evoke instability in politics, social life, and economic progress.

Equally, it is believed the al Qaeda’s core leadership is still alive and at large, despite a third of its leaders being either dead or captured. The two most prominent figures in al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, allegedly still run operations consequential to the organization exhibiting centralized control and mid-level operational positions. During his active life, markedly, Osama bin Laden was perceived as a CEO terrorist due to his manifested leadership and communication techniques. He applied business administration, and modern management skills learned at the university and his family’s business construction.

One primary technique manifested by Osama bin Laden is transnational leadership. As previously mentioned, Osama was a university graduate since his father owned the largest construction company in Saudi. Undoubtedly, he could acquire a degree in business administration, explains Hoffman (2003). Additionally, with the experience gained from the family business, Osama could execute formal authority and responsibility in the al Qaeda organization. Therefore, he commanded with ease the vast reservoir of fighters and operatives, Sudan, Yemen, and Afghanistan camps (Scheuer, 2011). Successful participants were either rewarded or recognized, while failed fighters were punished or banished. More essentially, because the transnational leadership technique requires the followers to obey the leader’s instructions, Osama successfully mobilized and recruited fighters, supporters, and sympathizers worldwide.

Combining the art of silence, design, organizational framework, and strategy, Osama aligned his team to the overall defined goals. He would design plans, specify the frameworks, share the strategy, and go silent to watch his team implement without constant following (Hoffman, 2003). Arguably, this allowed him to identify different talents and categorize his team into multiple levels, collaboratively working to actualize a common goal. Further, Scheuer (2011) elaborates that the uptake of top-down and bottom-up leadership approaches, combined with placing an event in time or sequence communication technique, was proven effective, especially during the September 11, 2001 attack. The attacks were planned and coordinated using face to face meetings with little or no electronic communication, namely, the “radio silence technique”. Not to mention, Osama bin Laden was an active listener, granted his mild manner and soft-spoken personality, allowing him to gain sympathizers’ confidence.

Ayman al-Zawahiri

Ayman al-Zawahiri is an Egyptian terrorist, born June 19, 1951. Al-Zawahiri is known for leading the al-Qaeda terrorist group since June 2011 as Osama’s successor, according to Gohel (2017). Equally, he is believed to be a current or former member of Islamist organizations spearheading attacks in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. Following a U.S. invasion in Afghanistan, al-Zawahiri whereabouts are unknown as he is thought to be in tribal Pakistan without a specific location. Like Osama, Zawahiri utilizes various operational strategies to remain an authoritative leader in al-Qaeda. He adopts continuous process improvement by offering survival skill education and training.

Unlike Osama, who was actively involved in the organization’s activities, Zawahiri remained behind the scenes and was regarded as the brains and ideological force behind al-Qaeda. Before Osama’s death, Zawahiri was seen to appear in internet videos with long and winding speeches regularly; this is according to Innes (2020). Zawahiri is the kind of leader who likes spending more time putting across his sentiments and ideas. In most cases, he used the power of speech instead of active participation to give directions. Markedly, this played a significant role in informing team members by communicating objectives and goals early to ensure success in the long run. More importantly, Zawahiri gave more broad openings to his team as a measure to safeguard direct conversation flow between him and team members. Therefore, communication was appropriately coordinated, resulting in faster resolving issues and conveniently addressing grievances.

However, Ayman also used the sclerotic technique to execute his leadership. Compared to Osama, although he was an effective communicator, Zawahiri often exhibited unresponsiveness and the ability to adapt, which significantly affected his leadership (Gohel, 2017). Be that as it may, this trait became handy because Zawahiri could remain in the shadows and his plans were not so open to the team members. Equally, he advocated for a steady and less flashy role for al-Qaeda. Consequently, this affected the organization’s influence around the world. Recruitment and mobilization rates in the al-Qaeda have drastically reduced compared to the unmatched techniques employed by Osama.


Leadership and communication techniques between terrorists compare and contrast differently based on various factors. For instance, by focusing on the al-Qaeda group, this paper has compared Osama bin Laden’s and Ayman al-Zawahiri’s governing organization techniques. Notably, although most of al-Qaeda’s leaders are either captured or dead, there is a possibility that Osama and Zawahiri are alive due to centralized control. Arguably, leadership and communication techniques are crucial to forming operational terrorist organizations. Osama and Zawahiri each utilized contrasting and comparing techniques, ensuring the success of the al-Qaeda group. The art of communication is the language of effective leadership.


Archetti, C. (2012). Understanding terrorism in the age of global media: A communication approach. Springer.

Gohel, S. M. (2017). Deciphering Ayman Al-Zawahiri and Al-Qaeda’s strategic and ideological imperatives. Perspectives on terrorism11(1), 54-67.

Harmon, C. C., & Bowdish, R. G. (2018). The Terrorist Argument: Modern Advocacy and Propaganda. Brookings Institution Press.

Hoffman, B. (2003). The leadership secrets of Osama bin Laden. Atlantic Monthly291(3), 26-26.

Innes, M. (2020). Techniques of disinformation: Constructing and communicating “soft facts” after terrorism. The British journal of sociology71(2), 284-299.

Scheuer, M. (2011). Osama Bin Laden. Oxford University Press.