Al-Qaida (Al Qaeda)

Since the attack of September 11th 2001 Al Qaeda has been the bogey man for the West. Although important Al Qaeda’s influence and power has been distorted by the western press, seeking an identifiable enemy and a name for the shadowy terrorist groups that target the West. Al-Qaeda is a multi-national support group which funds and orchestrates the activities of Islamic militants worldwide. It grew out of the Afghan war against the Soviets, and its core members consist of Afghan war veterans from all over the Muslim world. Al-Qaeda was established around 1988 by the Saudi militant Osama bin Ladin. Originally based in of Afghanistan, Bin Ladin uses an extensive international network to maintain a loose connection between Muslim extremists in diverse countries. Working through high-tech means, such as faxes, satellite telephones, and the internet, he is in touch with an unknown number of followers all over the Arab world, as well as in Europe, Asia, the United States and Canada a far cry from the western image of the primitive religious fanatic that the Muslim terrorist is often portrayed as. The organization's primary goal is the overthrow of what it sees as the corrupt and heretical governments of Muslim states, and their replacement with the rule of Sharia (Islamic law). Al-Qaeda is intensely anti-Western, and views the United States in particular as the prime enemy of Islam. Bin Ladin has issued three "fatwahs" or religious rulings calling upon Muslims to take up arms against the United States. Other main causes/ aims for the organisation include; the radicalization existing Islamic groups and to create radical Islamic groups where none exist, the destruction of the United States, which is seen as the chief obstacle to reform in Muslim societies, and support for Muslim fighters in Afghanistan, Algeria, Bosnia, Chechnya, Eritera, Kosova, Pakistan, Somalia, Tajikistan and Yemen. In February 1998, bin Ladin announced the formation of an umbrella organization called “The Islamic World Front for the struggle against the Jews and the Crusaders” (Al-Jabhah al-Islamiyyah al-`Alamiyyah li-Qital al-Yahud wal-Salibiyyin) Among the members of this organization are the Egyptian al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya and the Egyptian al-Jihad. Both of these groups were have been active in terrorism over the past decade. Like Bin Ladin himself Al Qaeda grew out of the resistance movements fighting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Bin Ladin moved to Afghanistan determined to help free the country from the infidel invader. He quickly set up camps and recruited thousands of young Muslims from all over the world to come to Afghanistan and become freedom fighters or mujahedin. Gaining considerable US finance Bin ladins force quickly rose in power and was a well established power base thanks to CIA money by the time the Soviets abandoned Afghanistan. Of These veterans of the Afghan war many returned to their own countries and got on with their lives. Others returned to their own countries steeped in Islamic fundamentalism and a will to topple “western-influenced, infidel governments” in favour of Islamic regimes. They used the knowledge gleaned in the Afghan war to set up guerrilla and terror cells. In Egypt and Algeria, the “Afghan Veterans,” as they came to be called, aided Islamic extremists in their fight against the secular governments. In most Arab countries, the veterans were not at all welcome, and the governments kept a close eye on their doings. However, in some countries the Afghan veterans were accorded a warm welcome. Such was the case in Sudan, where the government gave them jobs, helped them to set up training camps, and appointed some of them to government posts. In addition to these facilities established in “friendly” Arab countries, the majority of the mujahedin training camps in Afghanistan continued to operate, supplying Islamic mercenaries to conflicts in a number of countries. Afghanistan was still seen as the hearth-stone of the mujahedin, from whence trained fighters could be sent out to fight wherever they were needed. Mujahedin veterans began showing up in Islamic struggles in such places as Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Chechnya.

After Bin Ladin was expelled from his native Saudi Arabia for stirring insurrection and anti government activities he moved his businesses to the Sudan, here he set up several companies which are believed to not only earn money for the Al Qaeda network but also serve as logistic support for the terrorist network. The US lead operations in Afghanistan shattered the Al Qaeda power base there destroying an estimated 75% of the Al Qaeda command structure and the vast majority of the training camps and resources, yet some sources estimate nearly 20,000 recruits passed through the terrorist training camps in Afghanistan before military action shut them down. Al-Qaeda is a network of many different fundamentalist organizations in diverse countries. The common factor in all these groups is the use of terrorism for the attainment of their political goals, and an agenda whose main priority is the overthrow of the “heretic governments” in their respective countries and the establishment of Islamic governments based on the rule of “Shariah.” Al-Qaeda has been connected to a number of terrorist attacks throughout the world the attacks in Riyadh (November 95) and Dhahran (June 96), that left about 30 people dead, the attacks on a Yeminite hotel (December 92) that injured several tourists; the assassination attempt on Egyptian president Mubarak in Ethiopia (June 95); the World Trade Center bombing (February 93) that killed 3 and injured hundreds as well as the infamous 9/11 attack. Although Osama bin Ladin is suspected of involvement in a whole string of terrorist attacks on American targets, it’s interesting to note that no one was able to produce incontrovertible proof that his hand was the one on the trigger. At least this was the case until the August 7th bombing of the American embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam. The breakthrough in proving bin Ladin's role in that attack came on August 15th, 1998 when Mohammed Sadiq Odeh was arrested at Karachi International Airport in Pakistan. Odeh’s description of bin Ladin’s international network--and his role in the bombing of the American embassies--finally brought conclusive evidence of the extent of bin Ladin's activities. This provided the opportunity for the U.S. to put into play a whole stable of electronic eavesdropping measures from U.S. spy satellites and ground-based facilities. The U.S. had been trying for some time to “get connected” to bin Ladin’s network. The East Africa bombings provided them with the opportunity. In the aftermath of 9/11 Al Qaeda remains a shadowy organisation and the failure of US intelligence services to track down Bin Ladin has further demonstrated this. What parts of the organisation that been captured have shown it to be a highly organised terrorist organisation making good use of the ‘Cell’ system. Some of these terrorist cells have proven to be not only self contained but highly specialised with one cell in Italy specialising in the forging of documents and passports, while others focused on bomb making or recruitment as in a cell detected in the UK. Links between the cells have proven difficult to follow up so the capture of one group has not always lead to a breakthrough. A good example of this was the capture of the Frankfurt cell in 2000 which lead to the detection of a cell planning to bomb Los Angeles airport but links from the Frankfurt cell to the cell which carried out the 9/11 attack were not detected in time to prevent that horrific attack. With the shear number of terrorists cells produced by the Afghan training camps the battle against Al Qaeda is not a short term prospect, the organisation has proven to be like the mythical hydra, as one head is cut off, two more grow in its place, and the organisations ability to regenerate itself after the capture of a cell is impressive. Hopefully as the intelligence net closses in and Bin Ladin’s assets are frozen or seized and with the destruction of the training camps in Afghanistan the ability of Al Qaeda to heal itself will degrade. It is also clear that the death or capture of Bin Ladin would do little real harm to such a complex and resilient organisation.

How to cite this article: Dugdale-Pointon, T. (8 May 2005), Al-Qaida (Al Qaeda), http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_alqaida.html

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