Federation of American
al-Qa'ida (The Base)
Islamic Army for the Liberation of the Holy Places
World Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders
Islamic Salvation Foundation
Usama bin Laden Network
Al-Qa'ida is multi-national, with members from
numerous countries and with a worldwide presence. Senior leaders in the
organization are also senior leaders in other terrorist organizations, including
those designated by the Department of State as foreign terrorist organizations,
such as the Egyptian al-Gama'at al-Islamiyya and the Egyptian al-Jihad. Al-Qa'ida
seeks a global radicalization of existing Islamic groups and the creation of
radical Islamic groups where none exist.
Al-Qa'ida supports Muslim fighters in
Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, Tajikistan, Somalia, Yemen, and Kosovo. It also
trains members of terrorist organizations from such diverse countries as the
Philippines, Algeria, and Eritrea.
Al-Qa'ida's goal is to "unite all Muslims and
to establish a government which follows the rule of the Caliphs." Bin Laden has
stated that the only way to establish the Caliphate is by force. Al-Qa'ida's
goal, therefore, is to overthrow nearly all Muslim governments, which are viewed
as corrupt, to drive Western influence from those countries, and eventually to
abolish state boundaries.
Established by Usama Bin Ladin in the late
1980s to bring together Arabs who fought in Afghanistan against the Soviet
Union. Helped finance, recruit, transport, and train Sunni Islamic extremists
for the Afghan resistance. Current goal is to establish a pan-Islamic Caliphate
throughout the world by working with allied Islamic extremist groups to
overthrow regimes it deems “non-Islamic” and expelling Westerners and
non-Muslims from Muslim countries–particularly Saudi Arabia. Issued statement
under banner of “the World Islamic Front for Jihad Against the Jews and
Crusaders” in February 1998, saying it was the duty of all Muslims to kill US
citizens—civilian or military—and their allies everywhere. Merged with Egyptian
Islamic Jihad (Al-Jihad) in June 2001.
In 2003, carried out the assault and bombing on
12 May of three expatriate housing complexes in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that
killed 20 and injured 139. Assisted in carrying out the bombings on 16 May in
Casablanca, Morocco, of a Jewish center, restaurant, nightclub, and hotel that
killed 41 and injured 101. Probably supported the bombing of the J.W. Marriott
Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia, on 5 August that killed 17 and injured 137.
Responsible for the assault and bombing on 9 November of a housing complex in
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that killed 17 and injured 100. Conducted the bombings of
two synagogues in Istanbul, Turkey, on 15 November that killed 23 and injured
200 and the bombings in Istanbul of the British Consulate and HSBC Bank on 20
November that resulted in 27 dead and 455 injured. Has been involved in some
attacks in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In 2002, carried out bombing on 28 November of
hotel in Mombasa, Kenya, killing 15 and injuring 40. Probably supported a
nightclub bombing in Bali, Indonesia, on 12 October that killed about 180.
Responsible for an attack on US military personnel in Kuwait, on 8 October, that
killed one US soldier and injured another. Directed a suicide attack on the MV
Limburg off the coast of Yemen, on 6 October that killed one and injured four.
Carried out a firebombing of a synagogue in Tunisia on 11 April that killed 19
and injured 22. On 11 September 2001, 19 al-Qaida suicide attackers hijacked and
crashed four US commercial jets, two into the World Trade Center in New York
City, one into the Pentagon near Washington, DC, and a fourth into a field in
Shanksville, Pennsylvania, leaving about 3,000 individuals dead or missing.
Directed the 12 October 2000 attack on the USS Cole in the port of Aden, Yemen,
killing 17 US Navy members, and injuring another 39. Conducted the bombings in
August 1998 of the US Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania,
that killed at least 301 individuals and injured more than 5,000 others. Claims
to have shot down US helicopters and killed US servicemen in Somalia in 1993 and
to have conducted three bombings that targeted US troops in Aden, Yemen, in
Al-Qaida is linked to the following plans that
were disrupted or not carried out: to assassinate Pope John Paul II during his
visit to Manila in late 1994, to kill President Clinton during a visit to the
Philippines in early 1995, to bomb in midair a dozen US trans-Pacific flights in
1995, and to set off a bomb at Los Angeles International Airport in 1999. Also
plotted to carry out terrorist operations against US and Israeli tourists
visiting Jordan for millennial celebrations in late 1999. (Jordanian authorities
thwarted the planned attacks and put 28 suspects on trial.) In December 2001,
suspected al-Qaida associate Richard Colvin Reid attempted to ignite a shoe bomb
on a transatlantic flight from Paris to Miami. Attempted to shoot down an
Israeli chartered plane with a surface-to-air missile as it departed the Mombasa
airport in November 2002.
Al-Qaida probably has several thousand members
and associates. The arrests of senior-level al-Qaida operatives have interrupted
some terrorist plots. Also serves as a focal point or umbrella organization for
a worldwide network that includes many Sunni Islamic extremist groups, some
members of al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and the
Location/Area of Operation
Al-Qaida has cells worldwide and is reinforced
by its ties to Sunni extremist networks. Was based in Afghanistan until
Coalition forces removed the Taliban from power in late 2001. Al-Qaida has
dispersed in small groups across South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East
and probably will attempt to carry out future attacks against US interests.
Al-Qaida maintains moneymaking front
businesses, solicits donations from likeminded supporters, and illicitly siphons
funds from donations to Muslim charitable organizations. US and international
efforts to block al-Qaida funding has hampered the group’s ability to obtain
International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism
Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK - Services Office)
International Islamic Front for Jihad Against the Jews and Crusaders
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 Ladin. 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
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 Ladin has issued three "fatwahs" or religious rulings calling
upon Muslims to take up arms against the United States. (see
Bin Ladin’s Declaration of War).
- 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 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
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
Osama bin Ladin 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 Ladin 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 Ladin 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
Ladin'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 Ladin’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 Ladin was
one of the CIA’s “chosen” at that time. Bin Ladin’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 Ladin 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
Ladin 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 Ladin
himself for the attack.
After the victory in Afghanistan, Osama bin Ladin 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 Ladin 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 Ladin’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 Ladin 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 Ladin is said to have invested $50 million.
For many years, bin Ladin 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 Ladin 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
Ladin 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 Ladin’s network.
The Islamic Front for the struggle against the Jews and the
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. (see Attacks of
al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya and
al-Jihad). The founder members of the Front include, besides bin Ladin; 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 Ladin 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 Ladin 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 Ladin and his colleagues could not possibly take
on the world's onlsuperpower, bin Ladin 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-Ladin 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
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 Ladin. 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
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 Ladin. 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.
Ideology and Strategy
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 Ladin 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 Ladin’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
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 Ladin 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 Ladin 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 Ladin 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 Ladin'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 Ladin
and his network was taken from a U.S. State Department Fact Sheet:
- Bin Ladin'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 Ladin'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 Ladin'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 Ladin's network has publicly and repeatedly articulated
a clear and violent anti-US agenda:
- In August 1996, bin Ladin issued a "declaration of war"
against the United States.
- In February 1998, bin Ladin stated "If someone can kill an
American soldier, it is better than wasting time on other matters."
- In February 1998, the bin Ladin 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 Ladin stated at a press conference in
Afghanistan that we would see the results of his threats "in a few
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. Reportedly, the U.S. had intercepted communications linking bin
Ladin 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 Ladin'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.
Council on Foreign
What is al-Qaeda?
Al-Qaeda is an international
terrorist network led by
Osama bin Laden. It seeks to rid Muslim countries of what it sees as the
profane influence of the West and replace their governments with fundamentalist
Islamic regimes. After al-Qaeda’s September 11, 2001, attacks on America, the
United States launched a war in
to destroy al-Qaeda’s bases there and overthrow the
the country’s Muslim fundamentalist rulers who harbored bin Laden and his
followers. “Al-Qaeda” is Arabic for “the base.”
What are al-Qaeda’s origins?
Al-Qaeda grew out of the Services
Office, a clearinghouse for the international Muslim brigade opposed to the 1979
Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In the 1980s, the Services Office—run by bin
Laden and the Palestinian religious scholar Abdullah Azzam—recruited, trained,
and financed thousands of foreign mujahedeen, or holy warriors, from more
than 50 countries. Bin Laden wanted these fighters to continue the “holy war”
beyond Afghanistan. He formed al-Qaeda around 1988.
Who are al-Qaeda’s leaders?
According to a 1998 federal
indictment, al-Qaeda is administered by a council that “discussed and approved
major undertakings, including terrorist operations.” At the top is bin Laden.
Ayman al-Zawahiri, the head of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, is thought to be bin
Laden’s top lieutenant and al-Qaeda’s ideological adviser. At least one senior
al-Qaeda commander, Muhammad Atef, died in the U.S. air strikes in Afghanistan,
and another top lieutenant, Abu Zubaydah, was captured in Pakistan in March
2002. In March 2003, the alleged mastermind of the September 11 attacks, Khalid
Shaikh Muhammad, and al-Qaeda’s treasurer, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, were also
captured in Pakistan.
Where does al-Qaeda operate?
We don’t know if it has a
headquarters anymore. From 1991 to 1996, al-Qaeda worked out of
1996 until the collapse of the Taliban in 2001, al-Qaeda operated out of
Afghanistan and maintained its training camps there. U.S. intelligence officials
now think al-Qaeda’s senior leadership is trying to regroup in lawless tribal
regions just inside
Pakistan, near the Afghan border, or inside Pakistani cities. Al-Qaeda has
autonomous underground cells in some 100 countries, including the United States,
officials say. Law enforcement has broken up al-Qaeda cells in the United
Kingdom, the United States, Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Albania, Uganda, and
How big is al-Qaeda?
It’s impossible to say precisely,
because al-Qaeda is decentralized. Estimates range from several hundred to
several thousand members.
Is al-Qaeda connected to other
Yes. Among them:
These groups share al-Qaeda’s Sunni Muslim fundamentalist views. Some terror
experts theorize that Al-Qaeda, after the loss of it Afghanistan base, may be
increasingly reliant on sympathetic affiliates to carry out it agenda.
Intelligence officials and terrorism experts also say that al-Qaeda has stepped
up its cooperation on logistics and training with
Lebanese militia drawn from the minority Shiite strain of Islam.
What major attacks has al-Qaeda
been responsible for?
The group has targeted American and
other Western interests as well as Jewish targets and Muslim governments it saw
as corrupt or impious — above all, the Saudi monarchy. Al-Qaeda linked attacks
- The May 2003 car bomb attacks on three residential compounds in Riyadh,
- The November 2002 car bomb attack and a failed attempt to shoot down an
Israeli jetliner with shoulder-fired missiles, both in Mombasa, Kenya
- The October 2002 attack on a French tanker off the coast of Yemen Several
spring 2002 bombings in Pakistan
- The April 2002 explosion of a fuel tanker outside a synagogue in Tunisia
- The September 11, 2001, hijacking attacks on the World Trade Center and
- The October 2000 U.S.S. Cole bombing
- The August 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar
es Salaam, Tanzania
Al-Qaeda is suspected of carrying out or directing sympathetic groups to
carry out the May 2003 suicide attacks on Western interests in Casablanca,
Morocco; the October 2002 nightclub bombing in Bali, Indonesia; and the 1993
World Trade Center bombing.
Plots linked to al-Qaeda that were disrupted or prevented include: a 2001
attempt by Richard Reid to explode a shoe bomb on a transatlantic flight; a 1999
plot to set off a bomb at Los Angeles International Airport; a 1995 plan to blow
up 12 transpacific flights of U.S. commercial airliners; a 1995 plan to kill
President Bill Clinton on a visit to the Philippines; and a 1994 plot to kill
Pope John Paul II during a visit to Manila.
How is al-Qaeda connected to the
1993 World Trade Center bombing?
There are strong links. Sheikh Omar
Abdel Rahman, the militant cleric convicted in the 1993 plot, once led an
Egyptian group now affiliated with al-Qaeda; two of his sons are senior al-Qaeda
officials. And Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, who was convicted of masterminding the 1993
attack, planned al-Qaeda’s foiled attack on American airliners over the Pacific
Ocean. He is also the nephew of the former senior al-Qaeda terrorist Khalid
Shaikh Muhammad, who is now in U.S. custody.