Al-Qaeda, an Arabic word for “the base” was a terrorist group started in 1988 by a wealthy Saudi named Osama Bin Laden. The members of Al-Qaeda believe an extremist form of Islam known as Wahhabi. This is one of the most traditional forms of Islam which teaches that the only respectable word is that of the Muslim God “Allah”. In this form of Islam, Wahhabi is taught that all those who do not follow in this branch of Islam are known as “infidels”. The Wahhabi believes that all wars in the 20th century were brought on by democracy as well. Through these beliefs Al-Qaeda expanded over the 1990’s, and began to establish a strict set of values and beliefs. Al-Qaeda also evolved over the years in terms of the tactics that they used to carry out their terrorism.
Al-Qaeda was started by Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan in 1988 (Brief History of Al Qaeda). Bin Laden, born in 1957 was the seventh son of Muhammad awad Bin Laden. Bin Laden came from a wealthy family, as his father was a successful construction man with close ties to the Saudi royal family. Bin Laden was raised as a devout Sunni Muslim, and after the events of the Islamic revolution in 1979, Bin Laden became inspired (Osama Bin Laden Biography). Bin Laden originally joined a group called the MAK, but he did not believe that they had enough of an active military presence. As a result of this Bin Laden decided to start Al-Qaeda (Osama Bin Laden Biography).
In 1979, the USSR invaded Afghanistan resulting in the formation of a group of people called the Mujahedeen warriors. Mujahedeen is the Arabic term for “holy warriors” (Mujahedeen). These warriors faced off against an allied group of Soviets, and Afghan Marxists. The United States saw the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan as another example of Soviet expansionism, and did everything short of going to war to stop the aggressors (Afghanistan and the CIA). One of these steps was to funnel money through to these mujahedeen warriors through a fund in Pakistan as part of Operation Cyclone. As a result of this new wealth the mujahedeen were able to launch a full scale “jihad”, or holy war against the Soviets (Jihad). From the emergence of the mujahedeen, Osama Bin Laden was able to open up training camps in Afghanistan which ultimately led to the formation of Al-Qaeda. Through much persistence in 1989, the mujahedeen were able to drive the USSR out of Afghanistan, and within three years defeated the Afghan Marxists.
At this point in time, the US was seen as an ally to Al Qaeda. However, in the following two years Bin Laden’s opinion of the US would change greatly. Following the victory in Afghanistan, Bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia. However, after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Saudi Arabia was put at great risk. Saudi Arabia contains the world’s most valuable oil fields, which was exactly the purpose of Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. The Saudi forces were greatly outnumbered, so as a result Bin Laden offered his mujahedeen forces to protect the Saudi homeland. However, Bin Laden was refused, and King Faud instead summoned the US, and Allied forces to protect the Saudi homeland (A Nation Challenged: Saudi Arabia). Bin Laden was extremely angry that foreign troops were in the presence of the two holiest mosques in the world. He believed that this made Saudi soil profane, and he decided to speak out against the Saudi decision (A Nation Challenged: Saudi Arabia). As a result of his public outrage Bin Laden was exiled to Sudan, and his hate for the US was fuelled even more.
Bin Laden developed a new motive to start doing terrorist attacks against American soldiers in the Middle East. After opening militant training camps in Sudan, Al-Qaeda’s first attack took place in 1992, in the city of Aden, Yemen. The bombings occurred in two hotels which Bin Laden believed were housing American soldiers on their way to Somalia to help with famine relief (Al-Qaeda’s Global Context). Unfortunately for Bin Laden, the US soldiers were staying in a different hotel and no American was injured in the incident (Al-Qaeda’s Global Context). Despite no Americans being injured Al-Qaeda had now registered itself on the American radar, and more attacks were to follow.
Al-Qaeda made a big splash the following February as they did their first attack on American soil. In February 1993, Ramzi Yousef, an associate of Osama Bin Laden detonated a car bomb below the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City (World Trade Center Bombing). Yousef, and a Jordanian friend drove a Ryder truck containing a 1500 lb bomb with a twenty foot fuse into the basement of the North tower (World Trade Center Bombing). Yousef then lit the fuse and vacated the premises immediately. After 12 minutes, the bomb detonated and ripped a thirty meter hole in the foundational concrete, killing six people and injuring 1042 (World Trade Center Bombing). As a result of this attack there was a lot of outrage in the United States, and Bin Laden became a household name.
After these attacks Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda experienced a quiet period in which they did not initiate any new conflicts. During this time, Al-Qaeda faced turmoil, as they failed in an attempt to assassinate Egyptian Prime Minister Hosni Mubarak. This assassination attempt angered the Sudanese government who then exiled Bin Laden. Bin Laden could not return to Saudi Arabia, as he had his citizenship revoked. After a brief period of uncertainty, Bin Laden was able to find refuge in Afghanistan which had recently been overrun by an extremist Islam group known as the Taliban. In 1996, Bin Laden officially moved Al-Qaeda operations to Afghanistan where they would remain for the following five years.
1998 was the next major year of Al-Qaeda growth and initiative. Three major events occurred during this year. In February, 1998 Bin Laden and 2nd in command Ayman al-Zawahiri issued a fatwa, which is a binding religious contract. The fatwa was issued against the United States. In this fatwa, Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda called for Muslims all over the globe to kill Americans at any opportunity. Bin Laden made the following statement: “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 Makka] 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.”(Al-Qaeda`s 1998 fatwa)
After this decree Bin Laden carried out two major attacks against the United States. In August, 1998, Al-Qaeda simultaneously bombed two American embassies in different locations in Africa. In the US embassy in Kenya, 212 people were killed and 400 were wounded when a van parked outside the complex detonated (African Embassy Bombings). At the exact same time, a van outside the US embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania detonated a bomb which killed 11 people and wounded 85 (African Embassy Bombings). As a result of these attacks, the US under Bill Clinton launched attacks on Al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan. Despite destroying one base, Al-Qaeda remained essentially intact and was able to plan future attacks on the US.
In October, Al-Qaeda attacked an American warship called the USS Cole, killing seventeen people (USS Cole Casualties). This attack was followed by a period of relative calm for Al-Qaeda, in which they did not open any new operations. Finally, in August, 2001, Bin Laden warned the White House that he would attack soon. On September 11th, 2001, Al Qaeda attacked the United States on American soil, in the first major milestone of the 21st century.
Al Qaeda sent 19 hijackers aboard four planes, and hijacked them to be used as missiles for various landmarks. American Airlines Flight 11, and United Airlines Flight 175 smashed into both the World Trade Center towers, in New York City, destroying them both, by 10:28 AM EST (TIME: Day of Infamy). American Airlines Flight 77 smashed into the Pentagon, in Washington DC and destroyed one of the five rings of the building. United Airlines Flight 93 was hijacked, but stormed by passengers, and driven into the ground near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Its destination was believed to be the Capitol building or the White House (TIME: Day of Infamy). Approximately 3000 people were killed in the attack, and the two largest buildings in New York City collapsed completely. As a result of this attack, the United States and the world were changed forever. This attack gave way for President George Bush to launch the War on Terror, which the US is still involved in today.
After the attack on the US, Bush responded on October 7th, 2001 by bombing Afghanistan. At this point Al-Qaeda went into hiding, and Bin Laden has rarely been heard from since. Some believe Bin Laden is dead, while others believe he is hiding. Within a month, the Taliban, the governing body in Afghanistan had been ousted, and the US, and Northern Alliance army officially took over. Although it is uncertain as to whether or not Bin Laden is alive, one thing is certain. Since the US invasion of Afghanistan, Bin Laden, and Al Qaeda has not had nearly the same impact on the world stage. Bin Laden has also not been seen in person since the invasion.
When one sees the different attacks that Al-Qaeda orchestrated over the course of the 1990’s, and early 2000’s, it is hard to believe anyone could do this without a strong belief in their ideals. Al-Qaeda outlines four main goals as long as they exist. The first of these goals is establishing the role of God on earth (Al-Qaida) To Al-Qaeda, this means that anyone who is not Muslim is an enemy of them. Anyone who does not subscribe to the beliefs of Islam does not understand the role of God on earth. As a result of American influence in the area, and their lack of subscription to Islam, they have become a great enemy of Al-Qaeda. Anyone who does not subscribe to this believe in the role of God is seen as an “infidel”, or person who does not accept the Islamic faith. A country like the US is viewed as infidels, and has become a desirable target for Al Qaeda as a result.
The second major goal of Al Qaeda is attaining martyrdom in the cause of God (Al-Qaida). Al Qaeda has gone to incredible lengths to achieve this goal. This goal justifies the variety of attacks over the course of the last twenty years. As a result of believing in going to incredible lengths to achieve martyrdom for God, a new phenomenon has occurred. This new phenomenon is known as the suicide bomber. During the early parts of the Iraq War, Al-Qaeda did large amounts of suicide bombings in order to disrupt US operations. This concept also carried over to September 11th, as Al-Qaeda terrorists showed no fear in ramming a plane into a building at speeds of 500 miles per hour. Al-Qaeda terrorists have gone to incredible length to sacrifice their body to defeat their enemies in combat.
Al-Qaeda’s third major goal is the purification of Islam (Al Qaida). Over the course of the last century Islam has become much more modernized in some parts of the globe. Al-Qaeda stands to destroy this new movement, and revert to traditional methods of worshipping Islam. Countries like Turkey which have taken a more modern approach to Islam are seen as an enemy to Al-Qaeda. For this reason, Afghanistan became a very logical place for Bin Laden and his associates to set up camp in 1996. Afghanistan, which is run by the Taliban shares a very similar ideology when it comes to the purification of Islam. Upon their rise to prominence and takeover of the capital city Kabul, in 1996, several reforms were instituted. The following things were completely outlawed by the Taliban: “pork, pig, pig oil, anything made from human hair, satellite dishes, cinematography, and equipment that produces the joy of music, pool tables, chess, masks, alcohol, tapes, computers, VCRs, television, anything that propagates sex and is full of music, wine, lobster, nail polish, firecrackers, statues, sewing catalogs, pictures, Christmas cards.“ (A Nation Challeged). This is in accordance with the most traditional and pure form of Islam, which is something that Al Qaeda supports strongly.
The final major goal for Al-Qaeda is the destruction of the state of Israel (Al-Qaida). The US is a great supporter of Israel, and this has always been a point of tension between the US and Al-Qaeda. Israel, which was founded in 1948, is located on the Mediterranean Sea, surrounded entirely by Arab states. The area is also inhabited by an Arab group known as the Palestinians, who also lay claim to the Jewish state. Upon Israel’s inception, most neighbouring states such as Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia waged war against Israel. The only real supporter of Israel at this time was the United States. Israel defeated these nations in the first war in 1948, and has been a nation ever since. According to Muslim extremists such as Al-Qaeda, this goes against the Qu’ran, as it is a holy area to Muslims. The capital city of Jerusalem is where the Muslim prophet Muhammad ascended into heaven on a chariot. Due to the fact that US supports Israel, on a site Muslims deem holy, the will continue to remain an enemy of Al-Qaeda.
Throughout the years as Al-Qaeda has evolved along with their tactics. During the earlier parts of their history, Al Qaeda preferred to use bombings, involving trucks, or other forms of motor vehicles. The attack on the World Trade Center, in 1993, as well as the bombings of the US embassies in Africa, in 1998, used this method. However, over time Al-Qaeda began to use newer more creative methods, such as suicide attacks. Al-Qaeda was inspired after the Hamas and Fatah terrorist groups in Israel began to support suicide bombings in Israel around 2000. After this revelation of suicide bombings in late 2000, Al-Qaeda performed a suicide bombing attack on the USS Cole in Yemen. In 2001, Al-Qaeda developed a completely revolutionary idea of the suicide pilot as part of the 9/11 attacks. The idea of hijacking commercial airliners, and flying them into buildings had not really been seen before 9/11. This idea was revolutionary and still remains a threat at any airport in the world. Also, as the US invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, Al-Qaeda began to resort to kidnappings. Al-Qaeda would either ambush US military squads or journalists who were travelling with the military and kidnap them. The terrorists would then post videos on Islamic websites of them beheading these “infidels”, and send them to major news companies as well.
Since the American invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, Al-Qaeda is nowhere near as powerful as it once was. Al-Qaeda no longer has a government who provides them with asylum as well as a noticeable face of leadership. As a result of this Al-Qaeda has no longer been able to pull off attacks at a consistent level. However, they still have helped bring “Jihad” to the west at some points. Now however, Al-Qaeda does not claim sole responsibility.
For example, in 2004, several bombs were put in backpacks and detonated on subway trains throughout Madrid, Spain. The attack resulted in 190 deaths and 250 injuries (Madrid Bomb Death Toll Lowered to 190). Al-Qaeda did not take direct responsibility for the attack, but the blame eventually was laid on them. The responsibility was given to a Spanish terrorist cell, which was Al-Qaeda inspired. This is the most common way in which Al-Qaeda affects the world today. They either inspire a group, or they help finance groups to do terrorist attacks for them. A bombing which took place in London, England, in 2005 was also done by Al-Qaeda inspired men protesting British involvement in Iraq.
Asides from Al-Qaeda using other groups to work for them, more recent developments involve their work in Yemen. On December 25, 2009, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab unsuccessfully attempted to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam, en route to Detroit. Although Abdulmutallab was from Nigeria, most of his education, training and financing came from within Yemen. As a result of this Al Qaeda in Yemen has become a major terrorist threat to the US.
A major crackdown has occurred by both Yemen and the US on Al-Qaeda operatives within Yemen. Since Christmas time, the Yemenite government has done several operations to destroy the Al-Qaeda organization in Yemen. Several raids, and bombings have taken place in order to capture and kill terrorists. Two operations occurring in late December after the Northwest incident led to the deaths of sixty Al-Qaeda operatives(Yemen Asserts 34 Rebels Killed in Raid on Qaeda). Yemen also has now refused to issue visas without the permission of their embassy as a result of recent incidents. Muslim youth from around the world have flocked to Yemen to study and be trained. However, as a result of this crackdown Al- Qaeda continues to search for a safe haven and a better opportunity to plan attacks.
The future of Al Qaeda holds great uncertainty for the coming years. Al-Qaeda; which achieved the height of its power in 2001, is unlikely to reach those levels again. After September 11th, Al-Qaeda caught the attention of the United States; the most powerful nation on the planet. As a result of awakening this sleeping giant, Al- Qaeda will always be under heavy scrutiny from the US and will fail to go undetected in their planning in the near future. Also, as long as the US occupies Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda will not be able to work at its potential.
However, as a result of the US being in Afghanistan, and the Middle East, the conflict will continue. Although Al-Qaeda is not able to fight at its best, they will always continue to exist under these conditions. The US being on holy soil such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia angers many Muslims and gives them reason to want to fight the US. The US remains a source of anger for many Muslims, including those in Al Qaeda, who see their involvement in the Middle East as occupational and unnecessary. This makes the conflict into a circle that cannot realistically end. There will be times of tension such as 9/11, where terrorism is a large issue. There will also be times of lower tension in which terrorism and Al Qaeda are not a major issue. However, tensions over an issue like this cannot ever completely subside, and the conflict will never be completely over with. As soon as the matter is forgotten about, a new attack or issue will come around which brings Al-Qaeda to the front of the news. Also, the existence of Israel, and American support for Israel, means that tensions between terrorists and the west could explode at any time. As a result of this, it is never a good idea to think that Al-Qaeda will ever be completely disbanded.
Over the course of the last twenty years Al-Qaeda has really made a dent in the fabric of our society. They have been displayed as the great enemy to our society, and one of the greatest threats to our freedom. Under Osama Bin Laden the group has evolved over their history. They have performed many attacks, some of which have changed the world forever. Al-Qaeda has established its goals, which include, the purification of Islam, establishing the role of God on earth, attaining martyrdom in the cause of God, and the destruction of the state of Israel. Al-Qaeda has also greatly improved their tactics over the years, which ranged from car bombs, to hijacked airliners used as missiles. The conflict between Al-Qaeda and the rest of the world remains one of great uncertainty and only time will tell the results. One certainty about the issue is that far too many innocent people have been killed as a result of this problem, and that needs to be fixed.
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