Among the first pieces of evidence of Saudi Arabia’s conspicuous support for al-Qaeda was the so-called "Golden Chain", a list of early al-Qaeda funders seized during a 2002 raid at the premises of the Benevolence International Foundation (BIF) in Sarajevo by Bosnian police.

Documents captured in the raid on bin Laden compound in 2011, show that the core al-Qaeda membership in 2002 was 170.

According to the award-winning 2004 BBC documentary The Power of Nightmares, al-Qaeda was so weakly linked together that it was hard to say it existed apart from bin Laden and a small clique of close associates.

Marc Sageman, a psychiatrist and former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer, said that al-Qaeda is now just a "loose label for a movement that seems to target the west. We like to create a mythical entity called [al-Qaeda] in our minds, but that is not the reality we are dealing with." ... and all the true believers [mu'mineen] are brothers. So this place was called 'The Base' ['Al-Qa'idah'], as in a training base, so this name grew and became. We are the children of a nation, and we are an inseparable part of it, and from those public *** which spread from the far east, from the Philippines, to Indonesia, to Malaysia, to India, to Pakistan, reaching Mauritania... Osama bin Laden was the most historically notable emir, or commander, and Senior Operations Chief of al-Qaeda prior to his assassination on May 1, 2011, by U. Bin Laden was advised by a Shura Council, which consists of senior al-Qaeda members, estimated by Western officials to consist of 20–30 people.

So the situation isn't like the West portrays it, that there is an 'organization' with a specific name (such as 'al-Qa'idah') and so on. One of them is thought to have been Sayed Tayib al-Madani.

Activities ascribed to it may involve members of the movement who have made a pledge of loyalty to bin Laden, or the much more numerous "al-Qaeda-linked" individuals who have undergone training in one of its camps in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq or Sudan.

As Salafist jihadists, they believe that the killing of non-combatants is religiously sanctioned, but they ignore any aspect of religious scripture which might be interpreted as forbidding the murder of non-combatants and internecine fighting.When asked about the possibility of al-Qaeda's connection to the July 7, 2005 London bombings in 2005, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair said: "Al-Qaeda is not an organization. What exactly al-Qaeda is, or was, remains in dispute.Certainly, it has been obliged to evolve and adapt in the aftermath of 9/11 and the launch of the 'war on terror'.Al-Qaeda has mounted attacks on civilian and military targets in various countries, including the 1998 U. embassy bombings, the September 11 attacks, and the 2002 Bali bombings. With the loss of key leaders, culminating in the death of Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda's operations have devolved from actions that were controlled from the top down, to actions by associated groups and lone-wolf operators.Characteristic techniques employed by al-Qaeda include suicide attacks and the simultaneous bombing of different targets.This was the case, for instance, with the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) and the Muslim World League (MWL). Treasury designated Abd Al-Rahman al-Nuaimi, a Qatari citizen close to the al-Thani family and a human rights activist who founded the Swiss-based NGO Alkarama, as a global terrorist for his activities in support to al-Qaeda. Nuaimi was also accused of overseeing a million monthly transfer to al-Qaeda in Iraq for a period of time as part of his role as mediator between Iraq-based al-Qaeda senior officers and Qatari citizens. A prominent figure among AQAP ranks, he was also reported to have facilitated the flow of funding to AQAP affiliates based in Yemen.