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Al-Qaida (also spelled al-Qaeda, al-Qa'ida, al-Quaida, The Base , Arabic for the foundation) is a guerrilla terrorist organisation established by Osama Bin Laden in 1987 to expand the resistance movement against the Soviet forces in Afghanistan into a pan-Islamic resistance movement. It evolved from an organisation referred to as the Makhtab al-Khidamat[?], which initially helped to finance, recruit, and train mujahedeen for the Afghan resistance. This organisation was funded partly by Osama Bin Laden himself, but also by donations from many sources in Islamic countries and the US Government. Al-Qaida is thought currently to have several thousand members.

Although "Al-Qaeda" or "Al-Qaida" is the name of the organisation used in popular culture, as of 2003 the group's official name had changed to "Qaeda-al-Jihad" - the base of the jihad.

The military leader of al-Qaida is widely reported to have been Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was reportedly arrested in Pakistan in 2003. Its previous military leader, Muhammed Atef, was allegedly killed in a U.S. bombing raid on Afghanistan in late 2001.

Al-Qaida's religious inspiration has its roots in the Wahhabi sect, the creed embraced by the current rulers of Saudi Arabia. The ultimate goal of al-Qaida is to establish a Wahhabi Caliphate across the entire Islamic world, by working with allied Islamic extremist groups to overthrow regimes it deems "non-Islamic" (ie non-Wahhabi Islamist). It sees western governments (particularly the US Government) as interfering in the affairs of Islamic nations in the interests of western corporations. The largest attack for which al-Qaida is believed to have been responsible was on the World Trade Center in New York and The Pentagon in Washington DC on September 11th, 2001. See Islamism.

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History of al-Qaida

Al-Qaida evolved from the Makhtab al-Khidamat[?] (MAK) - a mujahedeen resistance organisation fighting the Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Osama Bin Laden was a founding member of the MAK along with Palestinian militant Abdullah Azzam[?]. Towards the end of the Soviet occupation, many mujahedeen wanted to expand their operations to include Islamist struggles in other parts of the world. A number of overlapping and interrelated organistaions were formed to further those aspirations.

One of these was al-Qaida, which was formed by Osama bin Laden in 1988. (The name "al-Qaida" was not self-chosen; it was coined by the United States government based on the name of a computer file of bin Laden's that listed the names of contacts he had made at the MAK.) Bin Laden wished to extend the conflict to non-military operations in other parts of the world; Azzam, in contrast, wanted to remain focused on military campaigns. After Azzam was killed in 1989, the MAK split, with a significant number joining bin Laden's organization.

Since other parts of the world were often not in such open warfare as Afghanistan under the Soviet occupation, the move from MAK to al-Qaida involved more training in terrorist tactics. Other organisations were formed, including others by Osama Bin Laden, to carry out different types of terrorism in different countries.

After the Soviet union withdrew from Afganistan, Osama Bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia, while al-Qaida continued training operations in Afghanistan. He spoke against the Saudi Government during the Gulf War, and was encouraged to leave Saudi Arabia. In 1991 he moved to Sudan, whose Islamic government was fighting a civil war at the time. In 1996 he was expelled from Sudan after possible participation in an attempted assassination of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Osama Bin Laden returned to Afghanistan with some of his Sudan operatives.

Al-Qaida training camps trained thousands of militant Muslims from around the world; some of whom later applied their training in various conflicts around the world such as Algeria, Chechnya, the Philippines, Egypt, Indonesia, Tajikistan, Somalia, Yemen, Kosovo and Bosnia.

In February 1998, bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri[?] of Egyptian Islamic Jihad issued a statement under banner of "the World Islamic Front for Jihad Against the Jews and Crusaders" saying that it was the duty of all Muslims to kill US citizens, either civilian or military, and their allies everywhere.

Al-Qaida Terrorist Actions

Al-Qaida is believed to have conducted the bombings in August 1998 of the US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killing more than 300 people and injuring more than 5,000 others. Al-Qaida also planned attacks against US and Israeli tourists visiting Jordan for millennial celebrations, however the Jordanian authorities thwarted the planned attacks and put 28 suspects on trial. They also attempted the bombing of the Los Angeles airport during the millennium holiday although the bomber was caught at the US-Canadian border.

They claim to have shot down US helicopters and killed US servicemen in Somalia in 1993, and also to have carried out three bombings which were targeted at US troops in Aden, Yemen, in December 1992. They are also thought to be responsible for the October 2000 USS Cole bombing. The most destructive terrorist act ascribed to al-Qaida was the series of attacks in the USA on September 11th, 2001.

It is also sometimes suggested that they were involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1996 bomb attacks on American military personnel in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia[?]. Several attacks and attempted attacks since September 11, 2001 have been attributed to al-Qaida include the attempted shoe bomber Richard Reid (who proclaimed himself a follower of Osama bin Laden), the synagogue bombing in Djerba[?], Tunisia and attempted attacks in Jordan, Indonesia, Morocco, and Singapore. The network has also been implicated of complicity in the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl and suspected of complicity in the October 2002 bombing of a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia.

Al-Qaida has a worldwide reach, with cells in a number of countries and strong ties to Sunni extremist networks. Bin Laden and his lieutenants took shelter in Afghanistan during the Taliban regime in the 1990s. The group had a number of terrorist training camps there. Since the American attack, members of the group are suspected of fleeing to the tribal areas of the Northwest Frontier Province and Baluchistan, Pakistan.

Al-Qaida has strong links with a number of other Islamic terrorist organisations including the Indonesian Islamic extremist group Jemaah Islamiyah.

Organizational specialists point out al-Qaida's network structure, as opposed to hierarchical structure is both its strength and a weakness. The decentralized structure enables al-Qaida to have a worldwide base; however, acts involving a high degree of organization, such as the September 11 attacks, take time and effort. American efforts to disrupt al-Qaida have been partially successful. Attacks made by al-Qaida since then have been simpler and involved fewer persons.

The UN Security Council, on January 16, 2002, unanimously established an arms embargo and the freezing of assets of bin Laden, Al-Qaida, and the remaining Taliban.

Did America create al-Qaida?

Many believe that al-Qaida would not have come into being without the US funding and training given to the Afghan mujahedeen fighting the Soviet invasion of 1979 to 1989. Some claim that several key US politicians, such as George H. W. Bush, have been involved in corporations, such as the Carlyle Group, which funded al-Qaida.

Critics of US and Western actions in the Middle East and worldwide also claim that the actions have caused a great deal of opposition among Arab and Islamic people, and that terrorism is the extreme end of the resulting reactions. Such actions include the following:

  • US support of Israel, whilst activities such as the on-going occupation of the West Bank transpire;
  • US support of some dictators in the Middle East, including Saddam Hussein in Iraq before the Gulf War;
  • The mistaken US bombing of a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan in 1997, followed by US enforced embargoes of essential medicines killing several thousand people;
  • The use of Saudi Arabian bases by allied forces attacking Iraq in 1991. As the birthplace of Islam, the Arabian Peninsula is seen as a Holy Land under Islam: thus in the eyes of some Muslims making it against Islam for non-believers to be physically present there; and
  • Continued bombing of Iraq by the US and the UK since 1991 which has never been explicitly mandated by the UN and many claim is illegal
See also: terrorism, terrorist incidents, Carlyle Group, Ramzi Binalshibh, Mohammed Atta

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