Society

What is Al-Qaeda?

Al-Qaeda is a large militant Sunni Islamist multi-national organization, active since the 1980s.

Al Qaeda is an Arabic name which can be loosely translated to English to mean “the base” or “the foundation”. It can also be written as Al Qaida. It is a multi-nationalist terror group which was founded in 1988 by several Arabic volunteers including Osama bin Laden and Abdulla Azam. They were against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Members of the group are Islamic extremists and Salafists who advocate for ultra-conservative Islamic culture and traditions. Several international bodies including the NATO, EU, and UN Security Council have designated the group as a terror group.

Organization Of The Al Qaeda

The organization of the group is not well known but the philosophy of centralization of decision and decentralization of execution is known to be used in the group. Many security and terror experts argue that after the death of the group's leader Osama bin Laden, the group has fragmented into different regional groups with little or no connection to one another. According to Marc Sageman, who is a former CIA officer, there is no longer a group called Al Qaeda but there is “a loose label for a movement that seems to target the West”. He argues that Al Qaeda as an umbrella organization is a mythical entity which we have created in our minds. This view is further supported by the slain Al Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden, who argued that Al Qaeda was a creation of the west. Osama, in 2011, said that their leader was Prophet Muhammad and they were all believers. However, according to Bruce Hoffmann, a lecturer at Georgetown University, Al Qaeda s a very cohesive network and its leaders are based in Pakistan.

Al Qaeda Affiliate Groups

Al Qaeda is believed to have other groups which are directly affiliated with the group. The groups are also known as Al Qaeda but have the name of the region they operate in. For example, the group is known as Al Qaeda in West Africa. Other areas where the group has its presence directly is Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, the Arabian Peninsula, Syria, the Indian subcontinent, Lebanon, the Malay Archipelago, Kurdistan, Bosnia, Gaza, Spain, Sinai Peninsula, Mali, and Russia. The network has other groups which are indirectly affiliated with it. They include Ansar Dine, Abu Sayyaf, Turkistan Islamic Party, Caucasus Emirate, Islamic Jihad Union, and Jemaah Islamiyah.

History Of Al Qaeda

The history of the terror group can be traced back to 1979 when the Soviet Union invaded the country. A section of Arabs drawn from the Sunni Islamic branch were against the invasion and started recruiting and training militants to combat the Soviet invasion. The US viewed the invasion as a case of Soviet aggression and channeled funds to the group via the Pakistani inter-service intelligence agency to help them in the combat. The US financial assistance was substantial estimated to be more than $600 million dollars which are a very conservative figure. The support was later withdrawn in the 1990s and international Muslim organizations took over. The Saudi Arabian government together with individual wealthy business people also started funding the activities of the group. Experts predict that these entities contributed over $600 million to Al Qaeda.

One of the most notable Islamic groups aiding the activities of Al Qaeda was the Maktab al-khidamat (MAK) which organized guest houses in Pakistan near the Afghan border and organized supplies for construction of paramilitary training camps in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden used his connections with the Saudi royal family as well as Saudi oil merchants to source for funds and in some instances using his own money. He was now the chief financier to the group. In 1986, MAK set up recruiting offices in the US with the main one being in a refugee camp at Farouq Mosque. There were 250,000 militiamen who took part in the Soviet war with only 35,000 coming from outside Afghanistan. In total, there were fighters from 43 different countries who fought for Al Qaeda. The Soviet finally pulled out of the country in 1989 and the Afghan government only served for three years before being overthrown by the al Qaeda. The Al Qaeda leaders were unable to agree on a structure of governance and hence chaos ensued leaving the country a devastated.

Al Qaeda Fall Out With The US

After the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden went back to Saudi Arabia which is his home country. In 1990, Iraq forces invaded Kuwait in a two-day operation which later led to Iraq occupying the country for over seven months. The invasion put the Saudi royal family, House of Saud, at risk. Saudi’s oil fields were also at risk since they were a striking distance from the Iraq forces. Although the Saudi Arabian troops were well equipped to combat the Iraqi forces, they were outnumbered by far by the massive enemy forces. Bin Laden offered the monarch the services of his Al Qaeda fighter but the offer was turned down. The monarch instead opted to use the US forces. This decision angered Osama as he believed that allowing foreign troops in “the land of two mosques” was irreverent to the sacred soil. He spoke strongly against the Saudi government for allowing foreign troops publicly and he was banished and sought refuge in Sudan.

Major Attacks

In total, the group has carried six major attacks with four of them being against America. These attacks are said to be planned for years before they are executed. Leaders facilitate the shipment of weapons and explosives using several privatized businesses. The first major attack took place in 1992 in Yemen where two bombs were detonated. They were aimed at American troops on their way to Somalia. According to Al Qaeda, the bombing frightened Americans and was a major victory for them. However, in the US, the attack was not even noticed and no American was killed as the soldiers were staying in a different hotel. Two people died in the attack and several others were fatally injured.

In 1966, there was an attempt to assassinate the American president, Bill Clinton. The attempt was however thwarted by intelligence agents who notified secret service agents several minutes before the presidential motorcade left Manila. A bomb was later found planted under a bridge. In 1998, the group bombed US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania killing 224 people and injuring many others. A few days into 2000, Al Qaeda planned to bomb Holy Christian sites in Jordan to coincide with the new millennium. Other attacks were planned at Los Angeles International Airport and the USS The Sullivans (a warship).

On September 11, 2001, Al Qaeda launched the worst terror attack of all time on America soil. The attack consisted of four airliners in which two were deliberately flown into the World Trade Center twin towers. A third plane flew into the Pentagon while the fourth, which originally targeted the US Capitol or the White House, crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. The attack left 2,977 people dead. Although evidence pointed to Osama bin Laden as the key planner of the attack, he denied having any involvement in the attacks. He, however, praised the attacks and legitimized them by saying the US was oppressing Muslims all over the world.

Al Qaeda After Osama bin Laden

In May 2011, US Special Forces raided a walled compound in Pakistan and killed Osama bin Laden who was the most wanted terrorist ever in history. The operation, named Operation Neptune Spear, was ordered by the then US President Barrack Obama and executed by the US navy seals. Although his death dealt a major blow to the group, Al Qaeda is still seen as a dangerous outfit, more dangerous than it was during Laden’s leadership. The group is now active in more than 60 countries across the world. This is what bin Laden had envisioned. According to Jeremy Littlewood, a professor at Carleton University, Al Qaeda is the most resilient terror group to ever appear on the face of the world.

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