Yemen's military, backed by US drones, has launched a major offensive in Abyan province in the south.

"There is no such thing as al-Qaeda which exists today, which is the biggest mass deception…there is Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, an insurgent group backed by the Americans, the CIA and the Indian intelligence…and there is the Afghan Taliban. There is no al-Qaeda here."

- Zaid Hamid, the head of security at Brasstacks

The aim is to recapture large parts of the province under the control of fighters affiliated with al-Qaeda.

The al-Qaeda threat is spreading in the Islamic Maghreb, Afghanistan, Somalia, as well as Yemen.

This has raised the question of whether the group is a properly structured organisation with coordinating arms everywhere in the world, or a group of franchised labels that carry the same billboard out of convenience for sharing common ideology and style.

"The US realises that the al-Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula is the best organised franchise, it has a very disciplined set up…it had a lot of influence with people in the West so for the US now the al-Qaeda in Yemen is the primary target in terms of al-Qaeda globally."

- Phil Rees, a British filmmaker and author

Inside Story discusses what this fight in Yemen means for al-Qeada and the forces battling to defeat them, and how much the group has evolved in the years since the 9/11 attacks of 2001.

How different is the al-Qaeda now, and should it be redefined?

Joining presenter Hazem Sika to discuss this are guests: Zaid Hamid, a political analyst and the head of Brasstacks, the security think tank; Phil Rees, a British filmmaker and author of Dining With Terrorists; and Robin Simcox, a research fellow on al-Qaeda and counterterrorism at the Henry Jackson Society think tank.

"The economic and social problems have been a huge problem in terms of al-Qaeda being able to recruit. For example, the central government's inability to provide basic provisions has allowed the group and its wing Ansar al-Sharia to gain a modicum of support domestically."

- Robin Simcox, a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society


THE AL-QAEDA CELLS:

The al-Qaeda has underground cells in dozens of countries.

  • In the Arabian Peninsula the al-Qaeda covers Saudi Arabia and Yemen. It was formed in 2009 when militant groups from the two countries joined forces.
  • In Iraq, al-Qaeda was formed in 2004, following the US invasion in 2003. It has been responsible for many attacks.
  • In East Africa the al-Qaeda has had a long presence, carrying out attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
  • The al-Shabab group in Somalia has been waging an insurgency against the fragile interim government since 2007 and formally became part of al-Qaeda earlier this year. It controls much of southern and central Somalia.
  • The al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has been most active in Algeria, but it has spread across the Sahara Desert to Mali and Niger.
  • The most well-known of al-Qaeda strongholds are the tribal areas of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Al-Qaeda had been co-operating with the Taliban and was given sanctuary in Afghanistan.

Source: Al Jazeera