Established By: Osama bin Laden and Abdullah Azzam
Also Known As: Al-Qaida, The Base, The Foundation, The Database
Country Of Origin: Afghanistan
Leaders: Ayman al-Zawahiri
Key Members: Abdullah Azzam, Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Sayed Tayib al-Madani, Saif al-Adel, Nasir al-Wuhayshi
Operational Area: Worldwide
Number Of Members: 57,600 ++
Involved In: Terrorist Attacks, Drug Trafficking, Money Laundering, Terror Financing
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Al-Qaeda (translation: “The Base”, “The Foundation” or “The Fundament”) is a global militant Islamist organization founded by Osama bin Laden, Abdullah Azzam, and several other militants,at some point between August 1988 and late 1989, with origins traceable to the Soviet war in Afghanistan. It has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United Nations Security Council, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the European Union, the United States, Russia, India and various other countries.
Al-Qaeda has carried out many attacks on targets it considers kafir. During the Syrian civil war, al-Qaeda factions started fighting each other, as well as the Kurds and the Syrian government. Al-Qaeda has mounted attacks on civilian and military targets in various countries, including the 1998 US embassy bombings, the September 11 attacks, and the 2002 Bali bombings. The US government responded to the September 11 attacks by launching the “War on Terror”. With the loss of key leaders, culminating in the death of Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda’s operations have devolved from actions that were controlled from the top down, to actions by franchise associated groups and lone-wolf operators.Characteristic techniques employed by al-Qaeda include suicide attacks and the simultaneous bombing of different targets.
Activities ascribed to it may involve members of the movement who have made a pledge of loyalty to Osama bin Laden, or the much more numerous “al-Qaeda-linked” individuals who have undergone training in one of its camps in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq or Sudan who have not. Al-Qaeda ideologues envision a complete break from all foreign influences in Muslim countries, and the creation of a new worldwide Islamic caliphate. Among the beliefs ascribed to al-Qaeda members is the conviction that a Christian–Jewish alliance is conspiring to destroy Islam. As Salafist jihadists, they believe that the killing of non-combatants is religiously sanctioned, and they ignore any aspect of religious scripture which might be interpreted as forbidding the murder of non-combatants and internecine fighting.
Al-Qaeda also opposes what it regards as man-made laws, and wants to replace them with a strict form of sharia law. Al-Qaeda is also responsible for instigating sectarian violence among Muslims. Al-Qaeda leaders regard liberal Muslims, Shias, Sufis and other sects as heretics and have attacked their mosques and gatherings. Examples of sectarian attacks include the Yazidi community bombings, the Sadr City bombings, the Ashoura Massacre and the April 2007 Baghdad bombings. Since the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011 the group has been led by Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri.
The radical Islamist movement in general and al-Qaeda in particular developed during the Islamic revival and Islamist movement of the last three decades of the 20th century, along with less extreme movements. Some have argued that “without the writings” of Islamic author and thinker Sayyid Qutb, “al-Qaeda would not have existed.” Qutb preached that because of the lack of sharia law, the Muslim world was no longer Muslim, having reverted to pre-Islamic ignorance known as jahiliyyah. To restore Islam, he said a vanguard movement of righteous Muslims was needed to establish “true Islamic states”, implement sharia, and rid the Muslim world of any non-Muslim influences, such as concepts like socialism and nationalism. Enemies of Islam in Qutb’s view included “treacherous Orientalists” and “world Jewry,” who plotted “conspiracies” and “wicked” opposed Islam.
Qutb had an even greater influence on bin Laden’s mentor and another leading member of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Zawahiri’s uncle and maternal family patriarch, Mafouz Azzam, was Qutb’s student, then protégé, then personal lawyer, and finally executor of his estate—one of the last people to see Qutb before his execution. “Young Ayman al-Zawahiri heard again and again from his beloved uncle Mahfouz about the purity of Qutb’s character and the torment he had endured in prison.” Zawahiri paid homage to Qutb in his work Knights under the Prophet’s Banner.
One of the most powerful of Qutb’s ideas was that many who said they were Muslims were not. Rather, they were apostates. That not only gave jihadists “a legal loophole around the prohibition of killing another Muslim,” but made “it a religious obligation to execute” these self-professed Muslims. These alleged apostates included leaders of Muslim countries, since they failed to enforce sharia law.
Al-Qaeda’s management philosophy has been described as centralization of decision and decentralization of execution.It is thought that al-Qaeda’s leadership, following the War on Terror, has “become geographically isolated, leading to the emergence of decentralized leadership of regional groups using the al-Qaeda brand. Many terrorism experts do not believe that the global jihadist movement is driven at every level by al-Qaeda’s leadership. Although bin Laden still held considerable ideological sway over some Muslim extremists before his death, experts argue that al-Qaeda has fragmented over the years into a variety of regional movements that have little connection with one another. Others see al-Qaeda as an integrated network that is strongly led from the Pakistani tribal areas and has a powerful strategic purpose.
Al-Qaeda has the following direct affiliates:
– Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb
– Al-Qaeda in Somalia
– Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula
– Al-Qaeda in Syria
– Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent
Al-Qaeda has the following indirect affiliates:
– Abdullah Azzam Brigades; – Al-Mulathameen Brigade;
– Al-Mourabitoun; – Ansar Dine;
– Abu Sayyaf; – Ansar al-Islam;
– East Turkestan Islamic Movement; – Caucasus Emirate;
– Fatah al-Islam; -Islamic Jihad Union;
– Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan;
– Jaish-e-Mohammed; – Jemaah Islamiyah;
– Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa;
– Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group; – Rajah Sulaiman movement
– Al-Qaeda Kurdish Battalions;
Information mostly acquired from Jamal al-Fadl provided American authorities with a rough picture of how the group was organized. While the veracity of the information provided by al-Fadl and the motivation for his cooperation are both disputed, American authorities base much of their current knowledge of al-Qaeda on his testimony. Osama bin Laden was the most historically notable emir, or commander, and Senior Operations Chief of al-Qaeda prior to his assassination on May 1, 2011 by US forces. Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s Deputy Operations Chief prior to bin Laden’s death, assumed the role of commander, according to an announcement by al-Qaeda on June 16, 2011. He replaced Saif al-Adel, who had served as interim commander.
Bin Laden was advised by a Shura Council, which consists of senior al-Qaeda members, estimated by Western officials to consist of 20–30 people. Atiyah Abd al-Rahman was alleged to be second in command prior to his death on August 22, 2011. On June 5, 2012, Pakistan intelligence officials announced that al-Rahman’s alleged successor Abu Yahya al-Libi had been killed in Pakistan.
Al-Qaeda’s network was built from scratch as a conspiratorial network that draws on leaders of all its regional nodes “as and when necessary to serve as an integral part of its high command.The Military Committee is responsible for training operatives, acquiring weapons, and planning attacks.
The Money/Business Committee funds the recruitment and training of operatives through the hawala banking system. U.S-led efforts to eradicate the sources of terrorist financing were most successful in the year immediately following the September 11 attacks. Al-Qaeda continues to operate through unregulated banks, such as the 1,000 or so hawaladars in Pakistan, some of which can handle deals of up to $10 million. It also provides air tickets and false passports, pays al-Qaeda members, and oversees profit-driven businesses. In the 9/11 Commission Report, it was estimated that al-Qaeda required $30 million-per-year to conduct its operations.
The Law Committee reviews Sharia law, and decides whether particular courses of action conform to it. The Islamic Study/Fatwah Committee issues religious edicts, such as an edict in 1998 telling Muslims to kill Americans.
Some financing for al-Qaeda in the 1990s came from the personal wealth of Osama bin Laden. By 2001 Afghanistan had become politically complex and mired. With many financial sources for al-Qaeda, bin Laden’s financing role may have become comparatively minor. Sources in 2001 could also have included Jamaa Al-Islamiyya and Islamic Jihad, both associated with Afghan-based Egyptians. Other sources of income in 2001 included the heroin trade and donations from supporters in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other Islamic countries.
On March 11, 2005, Al-Quds Al-Arabi published extracts from Saif al-Adel’s document “Al Qaeda’s Strategy to the Year 2020”. Abdel Bari Atwan summarizes this strategy as comprising five stages to rid the Ummah from all forms of oppression:
– Provoke the United States and the West into invading a Muslim country by staging a massive attack or string of attacks on US soil that results in massive civilian casualties.
– Incite local resistance to occupying forces.
– Expand the conflict to neighboring countries, and engage the US and its allies in a long war of attrition.
– Convert al-Qaeda into an ideology and set of operating principles that can be loosely franchised in other countries without requiring direct command and control, and via these franchises incite attacks against the US and countries allied with the US until they withdraw from the conflict, as happened with the 2004 Madrid train bombings, but which did not have the same effect with the July 7, 2005 London bombings.
– The US economy will finally collapse by the year 2020, under the strain of multiple engagements in numerous places, making the worldwide economic system, which is dependent on the U.S, also collapse, leading to global political instability, which in turn leads to a global jihad led by al-Qaeda, and a Wahhabi Caliphate will then be installed across the world, following the collapse of the U.S and the rest of the Western world countries.
-Atwan also noted, regarding the collapse of the U.S, “If this sounds far-fetched, it is sobering to consider that this virtually describes the downfall of the Soviet Union. According to Fouad Hussein, a Jordanian journalist and author who has spent time in prison with Al-Zarqawi, Al Qaeda’s strategy plan consists of 7 phases and is similar to the plan described in Al Qaeda’s Strategy to the year 2020.
-The Awakening – This phase was supposed to last from 2001 to 2003. The goal of the phase is to provoke the United States to attack a Muslim country by executing an attack on US soil that kills many civilians.
-Opening Eyes -This phase was supposed to last from 2003 to 2006. The goal of this phase was to recruit young men to the cause and to transform the al-Qaeda organization into a movement. Iraq was supposed to become the center of all operations with financial and military support for bases in other states.
-Arising and Standing up – was supposed to last from 2007 to 2010. In this phase, al-Qaeda wanted to execute additional attacks and focus their attention on Syria. Hussein believed that other countries in the Arabian Peninsula were also in danger.
-In the fourth phase, al-Qaeda expected a steady growth among their ranks and territories due to the declining power of the regimes in the Arabian Peninsula. The main focus of attack in this phase was supposed to be on oil suppliers and Cyberterrorism, targeting the US economy and military infrastructure.
-The fifth phase is the declaration of an Islamic Caliphate, which was projected between 2013 and 2016. In this phase, al-Qaeda expected the resistance from Israel to be heavily reduced.
-The sixth phase is described as the declaration of an “Islamic Army” and a “fight between believers and non-believers”, also called “total confrontation”.
-Definitive Victory – the seventh and last phase is projected to be completed by 2020. The world will be “beaten down” by the Islamic Army. According to the 7 phase strategy, the war isn’t projected to last longer than 2 years.
Campaign of violence:
Al-Qaeda has carried out a total of six major terrorist attacks, four of them in its jihad against the United States. In each case the leadership planned the attack years in advance, arranging for the shipment of weapons and explosives and using its privatized businesses to provide operatives with safehouses and false identities. Al-Qaeda usually does not disburse funds for attacks, and very rarely makes wire transfers.
On December 29, 1992, al-Qaeda’s first terrorist attack took place as two bombs were detonated in Aden, Yemen. The first target was the Movenpick Hotel and the second was the parking lot of the Goldmohur Hotel. The bombings were an attempt to eliminate American soldiers on their way to Somalia to take part in the international famine relief effort, Operation Restore Hope. Internally, al-Qaeda considered the bombing a victory that frightened the Americans away, but in the US the attack was barely noticed. No Americans were killed because the soldiers were staying in a different hotel altogether, and they went on to Somalia as scheduled.
However little noticed, the attack was pivotal as it was the beginning of al-Qaeda’s change in direction, from fighting armies to killing civilians. Two people were killed in the bombing, an Australian tourist and a Yemeni hotel worker. Seven others, mostly Yemenis, were severely injured. Two fatwas are said to have been appointed by the most theologically knowledgeable of al-Qaeda’s members, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, to justify the killings according to Islamic law. Salim referred to a famous fatwa appointed by Ibn Taymiyyah, a 13th-century scholar much admired by Wahhabis, which sanctioned resistance by any means during the Mongol invasions.
1993 World Trade Center bombing:
In 1993, Ramzi Yousef used a truck bomb to attack the World Trade Center in New York City. The attack was intended to break the foundation of Tower One knocking it into Tower Two, bringing the entire complex down. Yousef hoped this would kill tens of thousands of people. The towers shook and swayed but the foundation held and he succeeded in killing only six people (although he injured 1,042 others and caused nearly $300 million in property damage).
After the attack, Yousef fled to Pakistan and later moved to Manila. There he began developing the Bojinka plot plans to implode a dozen American airliners simultaneously, to assassinate Pope John Paul II and President Bill Clinton, and to crash a private plane into CIA headquarters. He was later captured in Pakistan. None of the US government’s indictments against bin Laden have suggested that he had any connection with this bombing, but Ramzi Yousef is known to have attended a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan. After his capture, Yousef declared that his primary justification for the attack was to punish the US for its support for the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and made no mention of any religious motivations. A follow-up attack was planned by Omar Abdel-Rahman – the New York City landmark bomb plot. However, the plot was foiled by the authorities.
In 1996, bin Laden personally engineered a plot to assassinate Clinton while the president was in Manila for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation. However, intelligence agents intercepted a message just minutes before the motorcade was to leave, and alerted the US Secret Service. Agents later discovered a bomb planted under a bridge. The 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa resulted in upward of 300 deaths, mostly locals. A barrage of cruise missiles launched by the U.S. military in response devastated an al-Qaeda base in Khost, Afghanistan, but the network’s capacity was unharmed.
In late 1999/2000, Al-Qaeda planned attacks to coincide with the millennium, masterminded by Abu Zubaydah and involving Abu Qatada, which would include the bombing Christian holy sites in Jordan, the bombing of Los Angeles International Airport by Ahmed Ressam, and the bombing of the USS The Sullivans (DDG-68). In October 2000, al-Qaeda militants in Yemen bombed the missile destroyer U.S.S. Cole in a suicide attack, killing 17 U.S. servicemen and damaging the vessel while it lay offshore. Inspired by the success of such a brazen attack, al-Qaeda’s command core began to prepare for an attack on the U.S. itself.
September 11 attacks:
The September 11, 2001 attacks were the most devastating terrorist acts in American history, killing 2,977 victims, including 2,507 civilians, 72 law enforcement officers, 343 firefighters, and 55 military personnel. Two commercial airliners were deliberately flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center, a third into the Pentagon, and a fourth, originally intended to target either the United States Capitol or the White House, crashed in a field in Stonycreek Township near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The event was also the deadliest foreign attack on American soil since the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7,1941.
The attacks were conducted by al-Qaeda, acting in accord with the 1998 fatwa issued against the U.S. and its allies by persons under the command of bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, and others. Evidence points to suicide squads led by al-Qaeda military commander Mohamed Atta as the culprits of the attacks, with bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and Hambali as the key planners and part of the political and military command. Messages issued by bin Laden after September 11, 2001, praised the attacks, and explained their motivation while denying any involvement. Bin Laden legitimized the attacks by identifying grievances felt by both mainstream and Islamist Muslims, such as the general perception that the U.S. was actively oppressing Muslims.
Bin Laden asserted that the U.S. was massacring Muslims in ‘Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir and Iraq’ and that Muslims should retain the ‘right to attack in reprisal’. He also claimed the 9/11 attacks were not targeted at people, but ‘America’s icons of military and economic power’, despite the fact he planned to attack in the morning where most of the people in the intended targets were present and thus generating massive amount of human casualties. Evidence has since come to light that the original targets for the attack may have been nuclear power stations on the east coast of the U.S. The targets were later altered by al-Qaeda, as it was feared that such an attack might get out of hand.