Fourteen years ago in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks a series of misconceptions about Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida became widely accepted. Some focused on the person of Bin Laden himself – his wealth health and history. The group that he led – until then relatively marginal with no real support base and only a few hundred members – was portrayed as a sprawling global terrorist organisation with obedient ‘operatives’ and ‘sleeper cells’ on every continent and an ability to mobilise radicalise and attack far beyond its real capacities. Historic incidents with no connection to the group or its leader were suddenly recast as ‘al-Qaida operations’. Any incident anywhere in the world could become an al-Qaida attack.This had an impact on the western reaction to the events of 11 September 2001. The threat posed by al-Qaida was described in apocalyptic terms and a response of an equally massive scale was seen as necessary. The group’s ideological motivations were ignored while the individual agency of its leaders was emphasised. If they were killed the logic went the problem would disappear. Al-Qaida’s links with other terrorist or extremist organisations were distorted – often by political leaders who hoped for domestic gain and international support. So too were supposed links – all imaginary – to the governments of several states. One result was the ‘global war on terror’ a monumentally misconceived strategy that is in part to blame for the spread of radical Islamic militancy over the past decade.