Believe It or Not, Even Al Qaeda Has HR and People Management Problems

If you ever needed proof that human resources is an incredibly important function that transcends every organization and workplace, this is it.

This week, New York magazine’s Daily Intelligencer blog points to an Associated Press story as proof that even the world’s most infamous terrorist organization has to cope with mundane, people management problems.

Yes, even Al Qaeda needs some help with HR.

As the Daily Intelligencer puts it:

Al Qaeda’s mission may be “overthrowing godless regimes” and replacing them with Islamic ones, according to its handbook, but … just like any corporation, Al Qaeda has to deal with personnel problems. (Last week), the Associated Press told the story of the group’s biggest human resources headache yet, in the form of Moktar Belmoktar, an ambitious regional commander in Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb who bridled under the group’s strict structure and, after AQIM sent him a letter detailing his shortcomings, split off to form his own organization.

That scolding letter, which sounds remarkably like a corporate communique rebuking an out-of-line middle manager, was Belmoktar’s last straw.”

Basic people management problems

Every organization, it seems, no matter its goals and business model, has to cope with talent management issues. And just what were the issues that Al Qaeda leadership had with Moktar Belmoktar?

  • He was difficult for others to work with, showing an arrogant and insolent attitude as he refused to follow orders from senior leadership
  • He squandered resources he was given to work with and deviated from the organization’s business model .
  • He was insubordinate and blew off meetings.
  • He complained about the organization on social media.
  • He failed to meet previously agreed-upon performance goals.

I don’t know about you, but this sounds like some people I’ve worked with over the years, and it just goes to show you, EVERY organization needs a strong human resources department to handle sticky talent management issues no matter what line of work they’re in.

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Dealing with performance issues

Here’s a little more that gives you some insight into how Al Qaeda management tried to deal with this issue, from The Associated Press story:

After years of trying to discipline him, the leaders of al-Qaida’s North African branch sent one final letter to their most difficult employee. In page after scathing page, they described how he didn’t answer his phone when they called, failed to turn in his expense reports, ignored meetings and refused time and again to carry out orders.

Most of all, they claimed he had failed to carry out a single spectacular operation, despite the resources at his disposal.

The employee, international terrorist Moktar Belmoktar, responded the way talented employees with bruised egos have in corporations the world over: He quit and formed his own competing group. And within months, he carried out two lethal operations that killed 101 people in all: one of the largest hostage-takings in history at a BP-operated gas plant in Algeria in January, and simultaneous bombings at a military base and a French uranium mine in Niger…”

Yes, everyone needs HR help

The letter to Moktar Belmoktar was found in a building in Mali formerly occupied by Al Qaeda fighters and was eventually passed along to the AP.

This makes me wonder: is there a SHRM chapter in Al Qaeda’s future? I ask because it seems to me from reading the AP story that they have just as many pressing HR issues as they do in someplace like Cuba, where then-SHRM chair Jose Berrios led a delegation not too long ago.

All of this highlights something that many have missed: Everyone needs helps with people management and HR, whether it be a struggling business, longstanding communist regime, or even an infamous global terrorist organization.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


7 Comments on “Believe It or Not, Even Al Qaeda Has HR and People Management Problems

  1. Brilliant analogy John, creative and courageous. Not everyone who sees this would make this connection, see the HR implication, and then have the guts to write this. I applaud you!

    1. They need to introduce 360 degree appraisal – it has all but killed off many organisations – maybe it could work just as well with this one ….

  2. Great article, rather tongue in cheek, but still so relevant. A great way to bring the typical people issues to light.

  3. Great article. Good to know that employee relations’ issues are not limited to traditional business orgs.

  4. HR needs help with HR so it’s no surprise how other organisations might also need some assistance. Assistance is at hand via a free copy of “Punk Rock People Management” – the HR answer for busy people in need of disruptive innovation – not recommended for Al Qaeda tho’ 🙂

  5. I got very impressed with the title. And I’m totally agreed
    with Ron, that it is a courageous writing. I have never thought this way. In
    every organization employee are a very difficult entity to manage, you really
    need some good technologies to handle them properly. I have go through a hr
    management software named CognitoHRM, it have all the features that are needed to
    manage the employees in every way.

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