Al-Qaida 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-Qaida was established around 1988 by the Saudi militant Osama bin Laden. Based in of Afghanistan, bin Laden 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.
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-Qaida is intensely anti-Western, and views the United States in particular as the prime enemy of Islam. Bin Laden has issued three “fatwahs” or religious rulings calling upon Muslims to take up arms against the United States.
Attempts to radicalize existing Islamic groups and create Islamic groups where none exist.
Advocates destruction of the United States, which is seen as the chief obstacle to reform in Muslim societies.
Supports Muslim fighters in Afghanistan, Algeria, Bosnia, Chechnya, Eritera, Kosova, Pakistan, Somalia, Tajikistan and Yemen.
In February 1998, bin Laden 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.
Osama bin Laden entered on his current path of holy warrior in 1979, the year Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan. He transfered his business to Afghanistan–including several hundred loyal workmen and heavy construction tools–and set out to liberate the land from the infidel invader. Recognizing at once that the Afghans were lacking both infrastructure and manpower to fight a protracted conflict, he set about solving both problems at once. The first step was to set up an organized program of conscription. Together with Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood leader Abdallah Azzam, he organized a recruiting office–Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK – Services Office).
MAK advertised all over the Arab world for young Muslims to come fight in Afghanistan and set up branch recruiting offices all over the world, including in the U.S. and Europe. Bin Laden paid for the transportation of the new recurits to Afghanistan, and set up facilities to train them. The Afghan government donated land and resources, while bin Laden brought in experts from all over the world on guerilla warfare, sabotage, and covert operations. Within a little over a year he had thousands of volunteers in training in his private bootcamps. It is estimated that as many as 10,000 fighters received training and combat experience in Afghanistan, with only a fraction coming from the native Afghan population. Nearly half of the fighting force came from bin Laden’s native Saudi Arabia. Others came from Algeria (roughly 3,000), from Egypt (2,000), with thousands more coming from other Muslim countries such as Yemen, Pakistan and the Sudan.
Superpower vs. superpower
The war in Afghanistan was the stage for one of the last major stand-offs between the two superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union. The Americans at that time had the same goals as bin Laden’s mujahedin–the ousting of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. In what was hailed at the time as one of its most successful covert operations, America’s Central Intelligence Agency launched a $500 million-per-year campaign to arm and train the impoverished and outgunned mujahedin guerrillas to fight the Soviet Union. The most promising guerilla leaders were sought out and “sponsored” by the CIA. U.S. official sources are understandably vague on the question of whether Osama bin Laden was one of the CIA’s “chosen” at that time. Bin Laden’s group was one of seven main mujahedin factions. It is estimated that a significant quantity of high tech American weapons, including “stinger” anti-aircraft missiles, made their way into his arsenal. The majority of them are reported to be still there.
The Mujahedin were wildly successful. In ten years of savage fighting they vanquished the Soviet Union. What had begun as a fragmented army of tribal warriors ended up a well-organized and equipped modern army–one capable of beating a super power. The departing Soviet troops left behind an Afghanistan with a huge arsenal of sophisticated weapons and thousands of seasoned Islamic warriors from a variety of countries.
The Afghan Veterans
Some of these veterans 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 favor of Islamic regimes. They used the knowledge gleaned in the Afghan war to set up guerilla 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.
A state unto himself
Toward the end of the war in Afghanistan, bin Laden split with MAK co-founder Azzam in the late 1980s, and in 1988 formed al-Qaida to continue the work of the Jihad. While Azzam continued to focus on support to Muslims in Afghanistan, bin Laden turned his attention to carrying the war to other countries. In late 1989 Abdallah Azzam died in the explosion of a car bomb, generally blamed on a rival Afghani faction. Several rumours circulating at the time blamed bin Laden himself for the attack.
After the victory in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden returned to his native Saudi Arabia to take up the fight against the infidel government there. The Saudis were not disposed to tolerate his calls to insurrection, and quickly acted against him. In April 1994, his Saudi citizenship was revoked for “irresponsible behavior,” and he was expelled from the country. Together with his family and a large band of followers, Bin Laden moved to Khartoum in Sudan. There he set up factories and farms, some of which were established solely for the purpose of supplying jobs to out-of-work mujahedin. He built roads and infrastructure for the Sudanese government and training camps for the Afghan Veterans. Among bin Laden’s numerous Sudanese commercial interests are: a factory to process goat skins, a construction company, a bank, a sunflower plantation, and an import-export operation.
His construction company “el-Hijrah for Construction and Development Ltd.”–in partnership with the National Islamic Front and the Sudanese military–built the new airport at Port Sudan, as well as a 1200 km-long highway linking Khartoum to Port Sudan.
Another company reputed to be owned by bin Laden is the “Wadi al-Aqiq” Company, an export-import firm. He also runs the Taba Investment Company Ltd. and the “el-Shamal Islamic Bank” in Khartoum, a joint effort with the NIF, in which bin Laden is said to have invested $50 million.
For many years, bin Laden lived in Khartoum, in a residence guarded by the local security forces, while he was arranging for many of the “Afghan veterans” to move to Sudan. Bin Laden is said to be close to Sudanese leader Omar Albashir, and to Hassan Turabi, the head of the National Islamic Front (NIF) in Sudan.
However, Sudan–long on the U.S. State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism–in recent years began to thaw toward the West. As a gesture toward the United States, the Sudanese government requested that bin Laden depart. In May 1996, he moved to Afghanistan, leaving behind him in Sudan a network of Afghan Veterans and several successful factories and corporations. Several major companies in Sudan are linked to him, and are believed to be doing double-duty as logistics support for bin Laden’s network.
The Islamic Front for the struggle against the Jews and the Crusaders
In February 1998, bin Laden 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. (see Attacks of al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya and al-Jihad). The founder members of the Front include, besides bin Laden; Dr. Ayman al- Zawahiri, leader of the Egyptian Jihad; Rifa’i Ahmad Taha, a leader of the Islamic Group. The Islamic Group is linked with the al-Dir al-Bahri massacre in Luxor in November 1997,which claimed the lives of 58 tourists; and some leaders of extremist fundamentalist movements in Pakistan.
On May 28, 1998 the Islamabad daily, The News reported that Osama bin Laden had announced the formation of an International Islamic Front for Jihad against America and Israel. Talking to a group of journalists who had traveled from Pakistan to meet him at his base in Khost in southern Afghanistan, he said leaders of Islamic movements in several countries, including Pakistan had evinced interest in joining the front. He stated that Dr Aiman Al-Zawahiri, leader of the Jamaat-ul-Jihad in Egypt who was present at the time, had played a crucial role in launching the front.
Bin Laden justified the formation of the anti-American and anti-Israeli front by arguing that Muslims everywhere in the world were suffering at the hands of the U.S. and Israel. He said the Muslims must wage holy war against their real enemies not only to rid themselves of unpopular regimes backed by the Americans and Israelis but also protect their faith. When a reporter maintained that bin Laden and his colleagues could not possibly take on the world’s onlsuperpower, bin Laden contended that the US was vulnerable and could be defeated in war. This would happen in the same way as the USSR suffered humiliation at the hands of the Afghan and Arab “mujahideen” in Afghanistan and was eventually dismembered
On 14 May 1998, The London Al-Quds al-’Arabi published an article to the effect that clerics in Afghanistan had issued a fatwa stipulating the necessity to move U.S. forces out of the Gulf region. Addressing Muslims the world-over, the Afghan ulema said: “The enemies of Islam are not limited to a certain group or party; all atheists are enemies of Islam, and they take one another as friends.” The Afghan ulema declared “jihad — based on the rules of the Shari’ah — against the United States and its followers.” They urged Islamic governments to perform the duty of “armed jihad against the enemies of Islam,” pointing out that “if Muslims are lax in their responsibility, the enemies of Islam will occupy the two holy mosques as well, just as they occupied the al- Aqsa Mosque.” They stressed, in a statement attached to the fatwa, that: “This fatwa–with the evidence and the rulings issued by early and current ulema, on which it is based–is not merely a fatwa issued by the ulema of a Muslim country, but rather a religious fatwa that every Muslim should adopt and work under.”
There are probably a few hundred Arab volunteers still living in Afghanistan. They are the leftovers of the several thousand Arabs who came to Afghanistan via Pakistan in the 1980s to take part in the “jihad” against the USSR’s Red Army and the Afghan communists. Those left behind have nowhere else to go because they risk being caught should they venture to return home. No other country would be willing to accept them. In any case, present-day Afghanistan continues to be their safest hideaway. The ones who have returned to their countries have mostly joined the political and military struggle aimed at bringing an Islamic change there. Known as Arab-Afghans, these battle-hardened Islamists have come to be known as the most radical and dangerous of the fighters who have taken up arms against the Algerian and Egyptian governments.
The Paris al-Watan al-’Arabi estimated on 26 June 1998, that “the fact that bin-Laden has shown up again in the press clearly indicates his emergence as a leader of the revolutionary council that was eventually established.” According to the newspaper, a Dutch official who closely follows developments in the new Islamic Front, in cooperation with European organs, believes that relations were actually reorganized among the organizations–which used to cooperate and coordinate with each other on the organizational and logistical levels–on a new basis that gives an organizational working configuration to past relations. This is a new and important development. According to the Dutch official, this confirms the seriousness of this event, which requires larger and more accurate coordination between the European and U.S. authorities. It also calls for cooperation by some of the Middle Eastern authorities.
The organizations whose membership in the Islamic Front was announced are the Egyptian Jihad, the Egyptian Armed Group, the Pakistan Scholars Society, the Partisans Movement in Kashmir, the Jihad Movement in Bangladesh, and the Afghan military wing of the “Advice and Reform” commission led by Osama bin Laden. All these organizations once cooperated and coordinated with one another, but without any specific configuration or mechanism for such cooperation. Moreover, each of these organizations had freedom of action, and they determined their own objectives independently. Cooperation among these organizations was only at the level of “those who carry arms,” which is one of the organizational levels of each organization. There were no means of cooperation and coordination among “the people of the call,” another of the organizational levels. This is due to the fact that Afghanistan enhanced relations among the “carriers of arms” and created a kind of interpersonal cohesion.
According to this evaluation, the threat posed by this new front is due to the fact that it combines all the organizational levels, by establishing a shura [consultative] council. According to most assessments, this council is led by Osama Bin Laden. This increases the front’s effectiveness. It can be said that the Islamic Front has now moved from the constituent and organizational phase to the operational phase.
Al-Qaida 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.”
Much of the driving philosophy behind al-Qaida was no doubt formed during the Afghan war of 79-89. Al-Qaida’s leader, Osama bin Laden came to see that conflict in the light of “Muslim believers vs. heretics.” In his view, the term, “heretics” embraces the “pragmatic” Arab regimes (including his homeland, Saudi Arabia), and the United States, which he sees as taking over the Muslim holy sites of Mecca and Medina, and assisting the Jews in their conquest of Palestine. Throughout bin Laden’s public statements and declarations runs one fundamental and predominant strategic goal: the expulsion of the American presence, military and civilian, from Saudi Arabia and the whole Gulf region.
According to the “Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places,”
“the latest and the greatest of [the] aggressions, incurred by the Muslims since the death of the Prophet . . .is the occupation of the land of the two Holy Places – the foundation of the house of Islam, the place of therevelation, the source of the message and the place of the noble Ka’ba, the Qiblah of all Muslims – by the armies of the American Crusaders and their allies.”
The declaration is presented as the first step in “correcting what had happened to the Islamic world in general, and the Land of the two Holy Places in particular. . . Today . . . the sons of the two Holy Places, have begun their Jihad in the cause of Allah, to expel the occupying enemy out of the country of the two Holy places.”
In an interview with Nida’ul Islam several months later bin Laden details the work that has been done in this direction:
“There were important effects to the two explosions in Riyadh on both the internal and external aspects. Most important amongst these is the awareness of the people to the significance of the American occupation of the country of the two sacred mosques, and that the original decrees of the regime are a reflection of the wishes of the American occupiers. So the people became aware that their main problems were caused by the American occupiers and their puppets in the Saudi regime.”
However, these terrorist attacks had a larger strategic importance, as bin Laden reveals in the same interview:
“. . . these missions also paved the way for the raising of the voices of opposition against the American occupation from within the ruling family and the armed forces; in fact we can say that the remaining Gulf countries have been effected to the same degree, and that the voices of opposition to the American occupation have begun to be heard at the level of the ruling families and the governments of the . . . Gulf countries.”
Bin Laden sees the new Islamic Front as the vehicle that will eventually vanguish the American enemy:
“The movement is driving fast and light forward. And I am sure of our victory with Allah’s help against America and the Jews. . . After the Americans entered the Holy Land, many emotions were roused in the Muslim world, more than we have seen before. . .The co-operation is expanding between general supporters of this religion. From this effort, the International Islamic Front for the Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders was formed, which we are a member of with other groups.”
Bin Laden’s name has come up in connection with a number of terror attacks around the world, among them the attacks in Riyadh (November 95) and Dhahran (June 96), that left about 30 people dead. It is doubtful whether he had any direct connection with these two attacks. He is also implicated in 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; and the Somali attack on American forces that left hundreds wounded.
The following list of American grievances against bin Laden and his network was taken from a U.S. State Department Fact Sheet:
Bin Laden’s followers conspired to kill US servicemen in Yemen who were on their way to participate in the humanitarian mission “Operation Restore Hope” in Somalia in 1992, and plotted the deaths of American and other peacekeepers in Somalia who were there to deliver food to starving Muslim people.
Bin Laden’s network assisted Egyptian terrorists who tried to assassinate Egyptian President Mubarak in 1995 and who have killed dozens of tourists in Egypt in recent years.
The Egyptian Islamic Jihad, one of the key groups in the network, conducted a car bombing against the Egyptian embassy in Pakistan in 1995 that killed over 20 Egyptians and Pakistanis.
Members of bin Laden’s network plotted to blow up US airliners in the Pacific and separately conspired to kill the Pope.
His followers bombed a joint US and Saudi military training mission in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 1995.
Bin Laden’s network has publicly and repeatedly articulated a clear and violent anti-US agenda:
In August 1996, bin Laden issued a “declaration of war” against the United States.
In February 1998, bin Laden stated “If someone can kill an American soldier, it is better than wasting time on other matters.”
In February 1998, the bin Laden network’s World Islamic Front for Jihad Against the Jews and Crusaders declared its intention to attack Americans and our allies, including civilians, anywhere in the world.
In May 1998, bin Laden stated at a press conference in Afghanistan that we would see the results of his threats “in a few
Although Osama bin Laden 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 Laden’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 Laden’s international network–and his role in the bombing of the American embassies–finally brought conclusive evidence of the extent of bin Laden’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 Laden’s network. The East Africa bombings provided them with the opportunity. Reportedly, the U.S. had intercepted communications linking bin Laden to the bombings within a few days after they occurred, something that was impossible to attain in connection with previous attacks.
On August 20, 1998, the U.S. military struck a number of facilities associated with bin Laden’s network. The targets included six training camps belonging to al-Qaida and a pharmaceuticals factory in Sudan which the intelligence sources suspected of producing components of chemical weapons. The American administration has since admitted that the attack on the factory was a mistake.