How does membership in Al-Qaeda (and kindred groups) work in real life?

No, I do not want to join Al Qaeda or any other Islamofacist group. Anyway, I was comparing and contrasting Al Qaeda and other similar Islamist/Islamofacist groups with America’s previous Enemy #1, those dastardly Commies. It seems that Communist Parties were pretty big on formalized membership and there were significant structures in place to adjudicate membership applications (not just anyone could join) and Communist Parties issued fancy ID cards so that members could receive the benefits of membership such as employment.

How do Islamic terror organizations handle membership? Is there a “Official Al-Qaeda Membership List” somewhere in a cave in the middle east where if your name isn’t on the list, you aren’t “really” part of Al Qaeda? Does Al-Qaeda issue a membership card? Did Osama have a fancy laminated “Lifetime Membership - Al Qaeda” card on him when he was killed?

Obviously, I’m looking for publicly available information only and I am not seeking disclosure of classified material.

As I understnad it, Al Qaeda is not a monolithic global organization, but more a loose alliance of groups with similar aims.

For obvious reasons they try to keep their membership secret, although high profile members do occasionally make themselves known through videos that are released to to the media.

I can’t see comparing Al Qaeda with the Communist Party since they are aren’t officially state sponsored, so they aren’t so much a political party as an outlawed terrorist organization bent on destroying western institutions.

There was a lot of information gathered from OBL’s lair, and some of it has been released, but the most sensitive parts, such as those related to other members, such as it exists, and plans for specific attacks, are mostly kept secret. We don’t want to tip them off that we know who they are and what they are up to…

From what I recall from one of the news reports about the documents which were found with Bin Ladin, the organisation itself has a “core” which Bin Ladin was the face of an many seperate “franchise” groups in different countries (which Bin Ladin was apparently having some disagreements on policy with).

That per the late Foreign Secretary Robin Cook. So, travel back in time and sign up to fight the Soviets in 80s era Afghanistan. Otherwise, al-Qaeda never really existed as an organisation, it’s just a label meant to make out that our putative enemies are a villainous monolithic block, like SPECTRE.

Have you read “Black Banners” by Ali Soufan. It has a lot of information about how Al Qaeda works. You might want to read it. I wouldn’t say it’s a great book but, it could answer your questions about how Al Qaeda operates.

More like the Hell’s Angels organization than some state sponsored communist party I would think. Basically they are just a group of Outlaws with common interest; not much different than any other criminal organization other than there goal is to topple governments and set up ultra fundamentalist religious regimes.