If you want to get a history of Al Qaeda, the key players, and their plans for the future, it seems that Lawrence Wright is the man to listen to. His material is accessible in a number of different ways: (1) you can read his new book, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11; (2) you can read his 7,000+ word essay in The New Yorker; or (3) you can read the transcript from Hugh Hewitt's two-hour interview with Wright. [Those who think that talk radio can't be informative and intellectually stimulating should definitely check out the latter!]
In his online essay, Wright summarizes Al Qaeda's chilling 20-year plan, as expressed in Fouad Hussein's “Al-Zarqawi: The Second Generation of Al Qaeda," which Wright says is "perhaps the most definitive outline of Al Qaeda’s master plan."
Phase 1 ("The Awakening") began on 9/11/01. This lasted until 2003, when the US entered Baghdad.
Phase 2 ("Eye-Opening") will last until the end of 2006, where Iraq will be the breeding ground for recruitments of terrorists against the US. These terrorists will then go back to their own countries.
Phase 3 ("Arising and Standing Up") will last from 2007 to 2010, focusing on Syria and Turkey, but also beginning to confront Israel directly.
Phrase 4 will be from 2011 to 2013, seeking to bring about an end to Arab governments. America will be continually weakened by having to continually expand its circle of confrontation. Al Qaeda will propose gold as the medium of exchange, bringing about the collapse of the dollar and the rise of an Islamic government.
Phrase 5 will take place from 2014 to 2016 and will see the changing of the international balance of power, with the collapse of Europe and the Islamists forming new economic allies like China.
Phrase 6 (2017-2019) will be "total confrontation," and "definitive victory" will be achieved, they predict, in 2020.
Wright's materials on Al Qaeda are well worth reading for those wanting to understand one of the main enemies confronting us today.