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Al Qaeda and Islam
Al-Qaeda (pronounced al-KYE-da. Arabic meaning, "the base") is an Islamist group founded sometime between August 1988 and late 1989/early 1990.
It operates as a network comprising both a multinational, stateless arm, and a fundamentalist Sunni movement calling for al-qaeda al-sulbah (a vanguard of the strong).
Osama bin Laden explained the origin of the term in a videotaped interview with Al Jazeera journalist, Tayseer Alouni, in October 2001.
"The name 'al-Qaeda' was established a long time ago by mere chance. The late Abu Ebeida El-Banashiri established the training camps for our mujahedeen against Russia's terrorism. We used to call the training camp al-Qaeda. The name stayed."
Background of Al-Qaeda
Toward the end of the Soviet military mission in Afghanistan, some mujahedeen wanted to expand their operations to include Islamist struggles in other parts of the world, such as Israel and Kashmir. A number of overlapping and interrelated organizations were formed to further those aspirations.
One of these was the organization of Osama bin Laden. In the beginning, he wished to establish non-military operations in other parts of the world. However, another organization, in contrast, wanted to remain focused on military campaigns. This was known as The Maktab al-Khidamat, MAK, and was known as the Afghan Services Bureau, also.
The MAK organization was founded in 1984 by Abdullah Azzam along with, oddly enough, Osama bin Laden to raise funds, and recruit foreign mujahedeen for the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. After Azzam was assassinated in 1989, the MAK split, with a significant number joining bin Laden's organization.
Another organization, The Egyptian Islamic Jihad (formerly called simply Islamic Jihad) was organized to be a liberation army for Holy Sites. This is an Egyptian Islamist group active since the late 1970s, with origins in the Muslim Brotherhood (a transnational Sunni movement, and the largest political opposition organization in many Arab states). It was led by Ayman al-Zawahiri, later to become one of the leaders in al-Qaeda.
All these combined organizations would eventually merge, and be called al-Qaeda. Osama bin Laden would become its leader.
As an aside, MAK was instrumental in the creating the recruitment network and the fundraising network (By way of example: according to Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA's first bin Laden unit, about $600 million was passed through bin Laden's MAK charity fronts from 1980 to 1989.), and therefore, this was a great benefit to this combined al-Qaeda organization during the 1990s.
The Beginnings of Osama Bin Laden
The Radical Islam Movement
The radical Islamist movement in general, and al-Qaeda in particular, developed during the Islamic revival and the Islamist movement of the last three decades of the 20th century.
Islamic revival refers to a revival of the Islamic religion throughout the Islamic world, that began roughly sometime in 1970s. It is manifested in greater religious piety and community feeling, and in a growing adoption of Islamic culture: dress, terminology, separation of the sexes, and values by Muslims.
The Islamist movement, or Islamism, is a set of ideologies holding that Islam is not only a religion, but also a political system; therefore, modern Muslims must return to their roots of their religion, and unite politically.
Some have argued that "without the writings of Sayyid Qutb (1906 - 1966), an Egyptian author, educator, Islamist, poet, and a leading intellectual of the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda would not have existed." These writings had tremendous impact on the Arab people, and were used by leaders such as Osama bin Laden. Qutb preached that because of the lack of shari'a law the Muslim world was no longer Muslim, having reverted to pre-Islamic ignorance known as jahiliyyah. (Jahiliyyah, or al-Jahiliyah, is an Islamic concept of "ignorance of divine guidance," referring to the condition Arabs found themselves in pre-Islamic Arabia; i.e., prior to the revelation of the Qur'an to Muhammad. By extension, it means the state of anyone not following Islam and the Qur'an.)
Then in 1996...
In 1996, al-Qaeda announced its jihad to expel foreign troops and interests from what they felt were Islamic lands. This amounted to a public declaration of war against the United States and any of its allies, and began to focus al-Qaeda's resources towards attacking the United States and its interests.
While neither bin Laden nor al-Zawahiri possessed the traditional Islamic scholarly or theological qualifications to issue a fatwa of any kind, they decided to take it upon themselves to issue one anyway. (A fatwa, in the Islamic faith, is a religious opinion concerning Islamic law issued by an Islamic scholar. It can be a binding religious edict.)
So, on February 23, 1998, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, a leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, along with three other Islamist leaders, co-signed and issued a fatwa under the banner of the World Islamic Front for Combat Against the Jews and Crusaders declaring:
"The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies (civilians and military) is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque (in Jerusalem) and the holy mosque (in Mecca) from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim. This is in accordance with the words of Almighty Allah, 'and fight the pagans all together as they fight you all together,' and 'fight them until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah.' "
The Al-Qaeda Organization
Al-Qaeda is arguably one of the world's most formidable and resilient terrorist movements.; however, following the September 11 attacks and the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, al-Qaeda lost its training camps, operational bases, and command headquarters in that country. Thousands of its fighters and many of its leaders were killed, or captured. Nevertheless, al-Qaeda has demonstrated a remarkable ability to continue its violent attacks.
The current organizational structure of al-Qaeda is unknown because of two factors:
- The War on Terror has had a severe impact, and disrupted the organization;
- Because it has been disrupted, the organizational structure is simply not known.
However, based on information from captured leaders, the organization was along these lines:
- Osama bin Laden is the emir and Senior Operations Chief of al-Qaeda,
- He is advised by a Shura Council (a legislative, governing council in some Arab countries), which consists of senior al-Qaeda members, estimated by Western officials at about twenty to thirty people.
- He also seeks ideas for attacks from below, encouraging creative approaches, and "out of the box" thinking from al-Qaeda operatives and sympathizers.
- Ayman al-Zawahiri is al-Qaeda's Deputy Operations Chief.
Thence, these were the main committees:
- The Military Committee is responsible for training operatives, acquiring weapons, and planning attacks.
- The Money/Business Committee funds operations through hawalas (a hawala, also known as hundi, is an informal value transfer system based on the performance and honor of a huge network of money brokers, which are primarily located in the Near East, North and Northeast Africa, and South Asia.), provides air tickets and false passports, pays al-Qaeda members, and oversees profit-driven businesses. In the 9/11 Commission Report, it is estimated that al-Qaeda requires $30,000,000 USD per year to conduct its operations.
- The Law Committee reviews Islamic law, and decides if particular courses of action conform to the law.
- The Islamic Study/Fatwah Committee issues religious edicts, such as an edict in 1998 telling Muslims to kill Americans.
- In the late 1990s there was a publicly known Media Committee, which ran the now-defunct newspaper Nashrat al Akhbar (Newscast), and handled public relations.
- In 2005, al Qaeda formed As-Sahab, a media production house, to supply its video and audio materials.
An Overview of Al-Qaeda from Writer Lawrence Wright At Princeton Symposium
As to where al-Qaeda established operations, the current situation is hazy; again, the effectiveness of the War on Terror. However, from 1991 to 1996, bin Laden quietly built al-Qaeda into a formidable international terrorist network, with cells and operations in at least 45 countries.
The available information as to effective and organized operations in these areas is very sketchy, and not reliable (many groups are splinter groups aligned with al-Qaeda, but no direct reporting lines); so, it is best summarized by the director of the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) November 14, 2008 along these lines:
WASHINGTON -- General Michael Hayden, the director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, has said that Al-Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden, remain isolated in the remote mountains of Pakistan near the Afghan border. (Note: this is the North-West Frontier Province.)
Hayden said there are three important points to remember about the U.S. fight against Al-Qaeda. First, while the group has suffered serious setbacks, it remains determined and adaptive. Second, it's resilient and vulnerable. And third, it remains the most serious threat to the United States.
This leaves Al-Qaeda somewhat isolated in Pakistan's rugged tribal area. While this arduous existence contributes to the organization's resilience and its ability to threaten the West, Hayden said, it also represents Al-Qaeda's key vulnerability.
"The truth is, it's not all that easy to build a worldwide terrorist network, and manage a global fight, from an isolated outpost in northwestern Pakistan," he said. "And to the extent that the United States and its allies deepen that isolation, disturb the safe haven, target terrorist leaders there, we keep Al-Qaeda off-balance."
It needs to be noted that al-Qaeda has lost significant support. However, while many major Arab political and religious leaders have condemned al-Qaeda's terrorist's activities and its leaders, many have not (particularly those in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran). On the other hand, the leaders in non-Arab Islamic world have denounced these actions, and condemned al-Qaeda.
According to a number of sources there has been a "rising tide of anger in the Islamic world toward al-Qaeda and its affiliates" by "religious scholars, former fighters, and militants ... alarmed" by al-Qaeda's takfir (Takfir is the practice of declaring either individuals or a group as unbelievers, those previously considered Muslim), and killing of Muslims in Muslim countries, especially Iraq.
According to Pew polls, support for Al Qaeda has been dropping around the Muslim world in recent years. The numbers supporting suicide bombings in Indonesia, Lebanon, and Bangladesh, for instance, has dropped by half, or more, in the last five years. In Saudi Arabia, only 10 percent now have a favorable view of al-Qaeda, according to a December 2007 poll by Terror Free Tomorrow, a Washington-based think tank.
The United States reacted to the September 11 attacks by declaring a global war against terrorism. Offensive military operations started on October 7, 2001. In addition, the United States and its allies mounted a worldwide campaign to block al-Qaeda's funding, and hamper its ability to obtain and transfer money. Front organizations and charities from which contributions were diverted to fund terrorism were closed down.
A global counterterrorist law enforcement effort was also put into effect, resulting in the arrests of nearly 1,000 al-Qaeda operatives in more than 60 countries. By the end of 2002, more than 3,000 members of the international terrorist network were reported to have been apprehended, and a third of its top leadership had been either killed or captured. By the end of 2004, the U.S. government claimed that two-thirds of the top leaders of al-Qaeda from 2001 were apprehended
Despite the capture or death of many senior al-Qaeda operatives, the U.S. government continues to warn that the organization is not yet defeated, and battles between U.S. forces and al-Qaeda-related groups continue.
With this background, these are some of the major attacks that have been ordered by al-Qaeda:
- On December 29, 1992, al-Qaeda's first terrorist attack took place as two bombs were detonated in Aden, Yemen. 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. 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.
- 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 250,000 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 blow up 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.
- Also occurring on June 25, 1996, after al Qaeda announced its "jihad to expel foreign troops and interest form Islamic lands," was the bombing of the Khobar towers, located in Khobar, Saudi Arabia. This is in reference to United States military being in Saudi Arabia.
- On August 7, 1998, the U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa occurred. These were simultaneous truck bomb explosions at the United States embassies in the East African capital cities of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya. This resulted in upwards of 300 deaths, mostly locals. The embassy bombings were the major anti-American terrorist attacks that preceded the September 11, 2001 attacks.
- The USS Cole bombing was a suicide attack against the U.S. Navy destroyer on October 12, 2000 while it was harbored in the Yemeni port of Aden. Seventeen American sailors were killed. In June 2001, an al-Qaeda recruitment video, featuring bin Laden, boasted about the attack, and encouraged similar attacks
- The September 11, 2001 attacks were the most devastating terrorist acts in American and world history, killing approximately 3,000 people. Two commercial airliners were deliberately flown into the World Trade Center towers, a third into The Pentagon, and a fourth, originally intended to target the United States Capitol, crashed in Pennsylvania.
Al-Qaeda's spokesman, Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, said in a video, sent to al-Jazeera and broadcast in October 2001, the following: "The Americans should know that the storm of plane attacks will not abate, with God's permission. There are thousands of the Islamic nation's youths who are eager to die just as the Americans are eager to live."
- October 12, 2002: A bomb explodes in a Bali nightclub killing 202 people, many of them Westerners. Islamic group Jemaah Islamiah is blamed for the blasts. In the months following the attacks about 30 alleged JI members are arrested, and put on trial. This group is widely believed to be affiliated with al-Qaeda.
- October 28, 2002: U.S. diplomat Laurence Foley is gunned down in front of his house in Amman as he walks to his car. Two men were involved. They confessed to membership in al-Qaeda, and confessed that they received their orders from a senior al Qaeda leader, Abu Musa'ab Al-Zarqawi.
- November 15, 2003: At least 23 people are killed, and more than 300 injured, in two attacks on synagogues in Istanbul.
- November 20, 2003: In coordinated attacks on the British Consulate and the HSBC bank offices in Istanbul, 27 people die, and more than 450 are injured.
- March 11, 2004: Bombs in Madrid city trains kill 192. The Abu Hafs al-Masri group took credit and claimed it was affiliated with al-Qaeda. Apparently, this is the same group that was involved in Turkish and Saudi bombings. The announced aim of the terrorist acts is to persuade the Spanish government to withdraw its troops from Iraq.
- As to the April 11, 2007 bombing in the Algerian capital city of Algiers, the al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility. Two suicide car bombs exploded within a short time of each other, one at the headquarters of the Algerian prime minister, and the other at an eastern suburb police station of the city, near the international airport. The blasts killed 33 people. The large explosions could be heard more than 10 miles away.
- The al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb, previously known as the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat is an Islamist militia which aims to overthrow the Algerian government, and institute an Islamic state. To that end, it is currently engaged in an insurgent campaign. The group has declared its intention to attack Algerian, French, and American targets.
- Again, on December 11, 2007, there were two near simultaneous bombings in Algiers which occurred on when two car bombs, containing 1,700 pounds of explosives, exploded 10 minutes apart. The al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb again claimed responsibility for the attacks, stating that it was "another successful conquest, carried out by the Knights of the Faith with their blood in defense of the wounded nation of Islam."
- On June 2, 2008, al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the bombing of the Danish embassy in Pakistan. A car bomb killed six persons and injuring several others. Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, a high-ranking member of Al-Qaeda, issued a statement after the bombing, claiming that the attack was a response to the 2005 publication of the Muhammad Cartoons.
The Muhammad cartoons controversy began after twelve editorial cartoons were published in a Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, on September 30, 2005. Most of these cartoons depicted the Islamic prophet Muhammad in a comical manner, being critical of Islam. In addition, examples of the cartoons were soon reprinted in newspapers in more than fifty other countries, further deepening the controversy.
In 2009, worldwide counterterrorism units have interrupted the most serious attempts. That effort continues.
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