Since the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, DC, al-Qaeda and other extremist Islamist groups have become a focal point of international security debates. Drawing on the ‘levels of analysis’ theory of international relations, this paper examines the root causes of the emergence of al-Qaeda in an integrative framework which organizes the individual, group, and international level causes of this organization in a single account. This paper not only includes causes, correlations, and explanations at all three levels but also considers the significant impact of the relationship among causes belong to different levels on the emergence of al-Qaeda. Drawing on this theoretical framework, I argue that individual jihadis’ ‘quest for significance,’ Salafi-Jihadism as a group ideology, and the sole great power’s post-Cold War foreign and military policies in the Muslim world factored into the rise of al-Qaeda. Although the empirical basis of this research includes a single case study, the method used in this paper has possible implications for studying more similar cases.

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Keywords al-Qaeda, international security, Islamism, personal motivation, Terrorism, US post-cold war policy
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Journal Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression
Ibrahimi, S.Y. (S. Yaqub). (2017). Theory of the rise of al-Qaeda. Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression, 1–20. doi:10.1080/19434472.2017.1320567