Compare and Contrast Essay on Osama Bin Laden vs. Anwar al-Awlaki

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  6
Wordcount:  1588 Words
Date:  2022-11-14


Terrorism remains to be a key concern globally with the United States at the forefront of the war against terror as irregular co-ordinated attacks continue to occur. Leaders of terrorist groups utilize various techniques to perform their roles and influences audiences at local, regional and global scales. Terror leaders have different responsibilities some include to seek finances, recruit members, communicate their ideologies to targeted audiences, implementing strategic plans of attack and counter-attacks, and liaise with other groups and leaders with the same agenda. Globalization and technological development have played a critical role in influencing the way terror leaders communicated to their potential recruits and among themselves. This research investigates the similarities and differences in leadership and communication strategies between Al Qaeda's founder Osama Bin Laden and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leader, online jihadist radicalizer Anwar al-Awlaki.

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Globalization and technological development has also played a critical role in influencing the waging of Holy war. The growth of the internet, cheap travels, and freer markets have provided an avenue for the triumphant of organizations funding jihadism, travel of jihadists and radicalization process. The primary means of communication for Bin Laden for a long time was by radio as he was well aware of the possibilities of being monitored by intelligence agencies if he used a mobile phone (Bergen 2002, p.4). With the Anglo-American invasion in Iraq creating fertile recruitment for Bin Laden, Satellite TVs' and Audio cassettes were main modes used to communicate his message and inspire some of the ferocious on the occupiers of Al Qaeda's local allies. A notable example is Bin Laden's ninety minutes interview at Aljazeera (Laden, Laden, & Ibn-Ladin, 2005, p.86). Due to the few interviews of Bin Laden, it can be correctly stated that he preferred the use of untraceable technology to communicate. Al-Awlaki's teachings, on the other hand, are widely available online. Al-Awlaki's death did not put an end to the radicalization process employed as his brand still plays a critical role as an online recruiter for jihadists. Al-Awlaki also remains relevant to the new generation of the Islamic State-inspired American jihadists.

Bin Laden's leadership was also marred with fear as he could not trust even his bodyguards. Security became his primary concern as he seriously felt threatened. According to Jacquard (2002, p.86), at a certain point, Osama Bin Laden suspected prince Alman Abdel Aziz (brother to King Fahad) to be plotting against him with three Palestinian activists promised a reward of $300,000. After the discovery, Osama relied on the advice of his old friend Mollah Hafidzin Akhawandi (Taliban official) and retired Pakistani officers with close ties to president Zia. Significant developments in operations were thus communicated between Bin Laden and his closest allies. For example, Bin Laden worked with Jihadist scholars such as Abdallah Azzam (1941-1981) to set up recruitment centers with Jihadism identified as a moral obligation to Muslims. These resistance centers were meant to act against the Russian and Afghanistan posts set up in the Middle East (Laden, Laden, & Ibn-Ladin, 2005, p.26). Just like Bin Laden, Al- Awlaki's loyalty with Al-Qaeda was well established as he was working in Yemen Nasser al-Wuhayshi- former Bin Laden's secretary (Shane 2016, para 30). Creating such relations offered immense protection. Additionally, being a senior leader of Al-Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Awlaki helped recruit and train operatives, determine the group's strategic directions and organized against US interests (Zimmerman(2010, para 13). However, Al- Awlaki's persona of the famous young professor, speaking English and Arabic with eloquence, employing an explanatory and earnest manner in lectures was meant to change the face of terror to an educative approach palatable to potential domestic terrorists. Unlike, Bin Laden the popularization of Al-Awlaki (US citizen) grew even more as he was considered to have died a martyr. For example, the number of hits on his videos on youtube rose from 40,000 (2013) to 65,000 (2016) (Shane 2016, para 7). ISIS fighters also continue to quote his texts as he lives digitally.

Despite working for the same terror movement and having the same dream (the establishment of an Islamic state), Bin Laden and Al-Awlaki differed in the way they carried their operations. Bin Laden focused on the recruitment of devout Muslims to help in waging war against Muslim-governments considered "apostate" and the "crusader-Zionist alliance" which entails the west (Arielli 2018, p.61). Fighting against his government (Saudi Arabia) meant that apart from the west led by the United States, Bin Laden was also hunted by Saudi officials. Al Qaeda soldiers were thus recruited based on their ability to listen, obedience, their good manners, and their pledge to follow the orders of their superiors. As much as Al-Awlaki had the same beliefs his brand was more focused on conveying certain nobility to the so-called modern age foreign fighters. His videos and involvement in the publication of Inspire magazine were aimed at radicalizing all Muslims as he believed every Muslim had an obligation not to trust non-Muslims as the United States was at war with Islam and worked closely with other purported enemies of Islam (Conway 2012, p.5). The latter means that any Muslims regardless of their devotion to leadership, obedience or religious knowledge could be potentially recruited by the Al-Awlaki brand. Bin Laden, therefore, run Al-Qaeda as a centralized organization with Afghanistan as its base. However, after his death, Al Qaeda became a decentralized organization, and its longtime propagandist in the Arab peninsula (Al-Awlaki) became a voice to the loosely linked groups with a shared ideology rather than the top-down control and commanded bureaucracy (Ng 2011, p.2). Al-Awlaki, therefore, made it even harder to fight terrorism by increasing the potential to turn lone wolves such as Major Nidal Malik Hasan into serious threats.

Both Bin Laden and Al-Awlaki have proven to have extensive knowledge and fluency in the visual rhetoric that has been made possible by the modern communications techniques and propaganda. His messages are profoundly resonated with historical and geographical dynamics (Euben & Zaman, 2009, p.425). Bin Laden marks a dual representation of Saladin- an Iraq born who managed to wage war against the Europeans and be labeled a Muslim hero. Al-Awlaki's lectures were based on the ideology of "the hereafter" as a crucial path to the understanding of "the life of the prophet" while endorsing attacks on American civilians (Shane 2016, para 29). Tamil Tsarnaev tweeted, "Listen to Anwar Al-Awlaki ... hereafter series, you will gain an unbelievable amount of knowledge," (Shane 2016, para 28). The tweet by Tamil Tsarnaev a few weeks before the Boston Marathon bombing depicts the role played by Al-Awlaki's lectures as a religious text with the aim of radicalizing small terror groups and individuals. For his followers, al-Awlaki was a representation of the unadulterated word of God, something valued by Sunni Muslims who believe in the unfiltered teachings of the Qu'ran and the way of the prophet (Brachman & Levine 2011, p.28). Their arguments are, therefore, a derivative of the work of others but systematically quoted or put together to attain unprecedented Jihadi that collapses the distinctions defensive and offensive war, or "near" and "far" enemy by impacting the emotional level of their followers.


Osama Bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki share similarities and also portray differences in their leadership and communication strategies. Bin Laden was the founder of Al-Qaeda while Al-Awlaki worked as a radicalizer and part of the leadership of Nasir al-Wuhayshi. Both Bin Laden and Al-Awlaki shared a vision of ties with the United States and other purported enemies of Islam being a shared characteristic of the "far" and "near" enemy. Bin Laden moved from the use of radio to satellite interviews while Al-Awlaki utilized the power of the internet to disseminate recorded lectures. While Bin Laden's death dismantled the base of operations of Al-Qaeda, Al-Awlaki's death further sparked increased radicalization as he was painted a martyr whose talks are still available online. Close allies to both leaders also guaranteed their security as they disseminated their ideology with the hope of radicalizing Muslims to fight against the west and establish an Islamic state. Their messages were filled with extensive use of modern propaganda techniques in conjunction with religious quotes. While Al-Awlaki focused on recruiting followers through online presence, Bin Laden believed in militia recruitment tactics with the obedience of superiors, loyalty to the cause and good manners.


Arielli, N. (2018). From Byron to Bin Laden: A History of Foreign War Volunteers. Harvard University Press.

Bergen, P. L. (2002). Holy war, Inc.: inside the secret world of Osama bin Laden. Simon and Schuster.

Brachman, J. M., & Levine, A. N. (2011). You too can be Awlaki. Fletcher F. World Aff., 35, 25. Retrieved from

Conway, M. (2012). From al-Zarqawi to al-Awlaki: The emergence and development of an online radical milieu. CTX: Combating Terrorism Exchange, 2(4), 12-22. Retrieved from

Euben, R. L., & Zaman, M. Q. (Eds.). (2009). Princeton Readings in Islamist thought: texts and contexts from al-Banna to Bin Laden (Vol. 35). Princeton University Press.

Jacquard, R. (2002). In the name of Osama bin Laden: global terrorism & the bin Laden brotherhood. Duke University

Laden, O. B., Laden, O. B., & Ibn-Ladin, U. (2005). Messages to the world: The statements of Osama bin Laden. Verso.

Ng, A. (2011). In focus: Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and the Yemen uprisings. Counter Terrorist Trends and Analyses, 3(6), 1-4. Retrieved from

Shane, S. (2017). The Enduring Influence of Anwar al-Awlaki in the Age of the Islamic State. Retrieved from

Zimmerman, K. (2010). Militant Islam's Global Preacher: The Radicalizing Effect of Sheikh Anwar al Awlaki. Critical Threats. Retrieved from

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Compare and Contrast Essay on Osama Bin Laden vs. Anwar al-Awlaki. (2022, Nov 14). Retrieved from

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