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Al-Qaeda (Arabic: القاعدة, al-Qā‘idah; "the foundation" or "the base") is the name given to an international Islamic fundamentalist campaign comprised of independent and collaborative cells that all profess the same cause of reducing outside influence upon Islamic affairs. Though al-Qaeda is philosophically heterogeneous, prominent members of the movement are considered to have Salafi beliefs. [1]

The origins of al-Qaeda can be traced to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, when a cadre of Muslim fighters joined the largely United States and Pakistani-funded Afghan mujāhidīn resistance movement. Al-Qaeda was a leading fundraiser and recruitment agency for the Afghan cause in Muslim countries; it channelled Islamic fighters to the conflict, distributed money and provided logistical skills and resources. But before the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989 al-Qaeda was already beginning to place itself in opposition to the United States and the United Kingdom, specifically in their sending troops to Saudi Arabia in preparedness for ending the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Al-Qaeda claims that both the U.S. and U.K. are oppressive toward Muslims, citing the invasion and occupation of Iraq, ("Iraq war"), the presence of military bases in several Islamic countries and U.S. support for Israel in the Arab-Israeli conflict, when attempting to recruit people to their cause.

Al-Qaeda is widely regarded as responsible for the attacks of September 11, 2001 on the World Trade Center in New York City and The Pentagon in Arlington, and the campaign is believed to provide the inspiration for many other international attacks against military and civilian targets. Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are senior members of al-Qaeda's shura council, and are believed to be in contact with some of al-Qaeda's other cells.



Although "al-Qaeda" is the name of the organization used in popular culture, the organization rarely uses the name to refer to itself. In formal communications Bin Laden has called the organization the International Front for Jihad against the Jews and Crusaders. Indeed the use of the name "al-Qaeda" dates from early 2001, when the American government decided to prosecute Bin Laden in his absence and had to use anti-Mafia laws that required the existence of a named criminal organisation. Bin Laden himself said in 2001, "We used to call the training camp al-Qaeda ["the base"]. And the name stayed." [2].

Al-Qaeda's philosophical inspiration comes from the writings of Sayed Qutb, a prominent thinker from the Muslim Brotherhood, whose essays inspired most of the principal militant Islamist movements in the Middle East today. Though it adheres to no particular sect, in general its philosophy is Salafist. Various traits have been found that are close to the ancient Hassan-i-Sabah cult. According to an article in The Times

Like other cults, such as Jim Jones's People's Temple, the Heaven's Gate sect or the Order of the Solar Temple, members are persuaded to give up their own lives for the promise of a paradise beyond. This technique was used a millennium ago by Hassan i Sabbah, a mystic, alchemist and master terrorist on whom bin Laden probably models himself. Hassan's Order of Assassins was made up of suicide killers with poisoned daggers who believed that their leader had the key to the gates of Heaven.

According to statements broadcast by al-Qaeda on the internet and on satellite TV channels, the ultimate goal of al-Qaeda is to re-establish the Caliphate across the Islamic world, by working with allied Islamic extremist groups to overthrow secular or Western-supported regimes. Anti-Israeli sentiments are often expressed by al-Qaeda members in those speeches and messages.

Al-Qaeda believes that western governments, and particularly the American government, interfere in the affairs of Islamic nations against the interests of Muslims. Their grievances have included: the provision of economic and military support to regimes perceived by al-Qaeda as oppressive of Muslims (particularly the US and its support for Israel), the vetoing of United Nations condemnations of Israel, attempts to influence the affairs of Islamic governments and communities, direct support by means of arms or loans for anti-Islamist Arab regimes, troop presence in Muslim countries (especially Saudi Arabia), and (although al-Qaeda has a long history of opposition to Saddam Hussein) the American and British 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Besides the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., al-Qaeda is believed to have been implicitly involved in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania, the attack on the USS Cole, the 7 July 2005 London bombings, as well as many attacks on people in and of other nations around the world.

The military leader of al-Qaeda is widely reported to have been Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who was arrested in Pakistan in 2003. Its previous military leader, Mohammed Atef, was killed in a U.S. bombing raid on Afghanistan in late 2001.

History of al-Qaeda

Afghan jihad

Al-Qaeda evolved from the Maktab al-Khadamat (MAK) — a Mujahidin resistance organization fighting against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Osama bin Laden was a founding member of the MAK, along with Palestinian militant Abdullah Yusuf Azzam. The role of the MAK was to channel funds from a variety of sources (including donations from across the Middle East) into training Mujahidin from around the world in guerrilla combat, and to transport the combatants to Afghanistan. Bin Laden and the MAK have allegedly been aided by the governments of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and by the United States, which channelled all of its support via the Pakistani intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Directorate, for the ultimate goal of fighting communism. The Arab contingent in Afghanistan during the latter half of the 1980s was quite small and not generally involved in the fighting, rather limiting its activities to logistics, housing, recruitment and financing of the mujahideen. Bin Laden, the MAK, and most of the Arab volunteers were largely unknown to the CIA and the American government during the war to oust the Soviet from Afghanistan; only later would the Arab element come to U.S. attention.

Toward the end of the Soviet occupation, some Mujahidin wanted to expand their operations to include Islamist struggles in other parts of the world. A number of overlapping and interrelated organizations were formed to further those aspirations.

One of these was the organization that would eventually be called al-Qaeda, which was formed by Osama bin Laden in 1988. Bin Laden wished to extend the conflict to nonmilitary operations in other parts of the world; Azzam, in contrast, wanted to remain focused on military campaigns. After Azzam was assassinated in 1989, the MAK split, with a significant number joining bin Laden's organization.

Since other parts of the world were often not in such open warfare as Afghanistan under the Soviet occupation, the move from MAK to al-Qaeda involved more training in terrorist tactics. Other organizations were formed, including others by Osama bin Laden, to carry out different types of terrorism in different countries.

Gulf War and start of US enmity

After the Soviet union withdrew from Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia, while training operations in Afghanistan continued. Once the Gulf War began, Saudi Arabia appeared to be under a very real threat of invasion from Iraqi forces. He offered the services of his mujahideen (holy warriors) to protect the Saudi Arabia from the Iraqi army. After careful deliberation the Saudi Monarch (King Fahd) opted to allow United States (and coalition forces) to protect his country.

Bin Laden considered this a treacherous deed; allowing infidels to set foot on the soil of the land of the two mosques. He spoke against the Saudi government during the Gulf War for harboring American troops on Saudi soil and was exiled from Saudi Arabia with the renunciation of his Saudi citizenship. The presence of foreign troops in the "land of the two mosques" (Mecca and Medina) was perceived by many Islamists as profaning sacred soil and exemplified the corruption that they believed typified Arab governments.

From these roots the al-Qaeda movement formed.


In 1991, Sudan's National Islamic Front, an Islamist group that had recently gained power, invited al-Qaeda to move operations to their country. For several years, al-Qaeda ran several businesses (including an import/export business, farms, and a construction firm) in Sudan. They also ran a number of camps where they trained aspirants in the use of firearms and explosives.

In 1996, Osama bin Laden was expelled from Sudan after possible participation in the 1994 attempted assassination of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak while his motorcade was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. A controversy exists regarding whether Sudan offered to turn bin Laden over to the U.S. prior to the expulsion. A tape recording of Bill Clinton appears to confirm the offer [3], however Clinton later said that was not true.[4]


The secession of Bosnia from the Serb dominated Yugoslavian Federation and the subsequent declaration of Bosnia-Herzegovinan sovereignty in October 1991 opened up a new ethnic and quasi-religious conflict at the heart of Europe.

Bosnia and Herzegovina was ethnically diverse, with a nominal Muslim majority but with significant numbers of ethnic (Orthodox Christian) Serbs and (Roman Catholic) Croats distributed across its territory. It comprised a large, but militarily weak component of the former Yugoslavia and Yugoslavian disintegration saw some ethnic Serbs and some ethnic Croats within Bosnia, supported by their rump adjacent states, engage in a three way conflict against the Bosnian Muslim dominated core.

Radical Arab veterans of the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan seized on Bosnia as a new opportunity to "defend Islam". Besieged on two fronts and seemingly abandoned by the West, the Bosnian regime was willing to accept any help it could get, military or financial, including that of a number of Islamic organisations, of which al-Qaeda was one.

Several close associates of Osama bin Laden (most notably, Saudi Khalid bin Udah bin Muhammad al-Harbi, alias Abu Sulaiman al-Makki) joined the conflict in Bosnia, but while al-Qaeda might initially have seen Bosnia as a possible bridgehead enabling the radicalisation of European Muslims for operations against other European states and America, Bosnian Muslims had been secularised for generations and their interest in fighting was largely limited to securing the survival of their nascent state.

The "Bosnian Mujahidin" (comprising largely Arab veterans of the Afghan war and not necessarily members of al-Qaeda) thus operated as a largely autonomous force within central Bosnia. While their bravery in the fray initially attracted a small number of native Bosnians to join them, their brutality and a rising number of atrocites committed against civilians came to appal many native Bosnians and repelled new recruits. At the same time their vigorous attempts to Islamicize the local population with rules on appropriate dress and behaviour were widely resented and largely went unheeded. In his book Al-Qaida’s Jihad in Europe: the Afghan-Bosnian network, Evan Kohlmann sums up: ‘In spite of vigorous efforts to ‘Islamicise’ the nominally Muslim Bosnian populace, the locals could not be convinced to abandon pork, alcohol, or public displays or affection. Bosnian women persistently refused to wear the hijab or follow the other mandates for female behaviour prescribed by extreme fundamentalist Islam.’

The signing of the Washington Agreement in March 1994 brought to an end the Bosnian-Croatian conflict. While the "Bosnian Mujahidin" remained to fight on in the war against the Serbs, the Dayton Peace Accord of November 1995 brought that conflict to an end and required that foreign fighters disband and leave the country, with aid being conditional on this taking place. With Bosnian government support, NATO forces took effective action to close their bases and deport them. A limited number of former Mujahidin who had either married native Bosnians or who could not be found a country to go to were permitted to stay in Bosnia and granted Bosnian citizenship, but with the war in Bosnia over, many committed battle-hardened veterans had already returned to familiar territory.

Return to Afghanistan

Taking advantage of an invitation from some Afghan warlords, al-Qaeda returned to Afghanistan. There, bin Laden quickly established ties with the fledgling Taliban group, led by Mohammed Omar, and by providing funds and weapons at a crucial time helped the group rise to power. Thereafter al-Qaeda enjoyed the Taliban's protection and a measure of legitimacy as part of their Ministry of Defense, although only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan.

Al-Qaeda training camps trained militant Muslims from around the world, some of whom later applied their training in various conflicts in places such as India, Algeria, Chechnya, the Philippines, Egypt, Indonesia, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Somalia, Yemen, Kosovo, and Bosnia. Other terrorists came from Pakistan, parts of Africa, the People's Republic of China (Uighurs), and the United Kingdom. These terrorists intermingled at their camps, causing all of those causes to become one. Despite the perception of some people, al-Qaeda members are ethnically diverse and are connected by their radical version of Islam.

Start of militant operations against civilians

World Map of terrorist attacks attributed to al-Qaeda
World Map of terrorist attacks attributed to al-Qaeda

On February 23, 1998, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri of Egyptian Islamic Jihad issued a fatwa under the banner of the World Islamic Front for Jihad Against the Jews and Crusaders saying that "to kill Americans and their allies, civilians, and military is an individual duty of every Muslim who is able." Although neither man possessed the Islamic credentials, education or stature to issue a fatwa of any kind, this seems to have been overlooked in the enthusiasm of the moment. This was also the year of the first major terrorist act reliably attributed to al-Qaeda, the embassy bombings in East Africa, which resulted in upward of 300 deaths. In 1999, Egyptian Islamic Jihad officially merged with al-Qaeda, and al-Zawahiri became bin Laden's right-hand man.

September 11 attacks

United Airlines Flight 175 crashing into the South World Trade Center Tower
United Airlines Flight 175 crashing into the South World Trade Center Tower

Following the September 11, 2001 attacks by al-Qaeda, the United States began to build up military forces in preparation for an attack on Afghanistan (whose government harboured bin Laden's organization) in response. In the weeks before the United States invaded, the Taliban twice offered to turn over bin Laden to a neutral country for trial if the United States would provide evidence of bin Laden's complicity in the attacks. The Americans, however, refused, and soon thereafter invaded Afghanistan and, together with the Afghan Northern Alliance, deposed the Taliban government.

Battles between the United States and the Taliban and al-Qaeda forces continue as of 2005. As a result of this invasion, the al-Qaeda training camps were destroyed, and much of the existing operating structure of al-Qaeda was disrupted. The American government now claims that two-thirds of the top leaders of al-Qaeda in 2001 are currently in custody (including Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, Saif al Islam el Masry, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri) or dead (including Mohammed Atef), though it warns the organization is not yet defeated and is still very determined to continue the fight.

Activity in Iraq

 Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi
Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi

See also Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda

Osama bin Laden first took interest in Iraq when that country invaded Kuwait in 1990 (giving rise to concerns that the secular, socialist Baathist government of Iraq might next set its sights on Saudi Arabia, homeland of bin Laden and of Islam itself). In a letter he sent to King Fahd, he offered to send an army of mujahideen to defend Saudi [5].

During the Gulf War, the organization's interests became split between outrage with the intervention of the United Nations in the region and hatred of Saddam Hussein's secular government, as well as expression of concern for the suffering that Islamic people in Iraq were undergoing.

Bin Laden referred, in his speeches and recorded/written announcements, to Hussein (and the Baathists) as evil, a demon or devil worshipper, calling for his overthrow by the people of Iraq. Organizations such as Ansar al-Islam would be founded in Kurdish northern Iraq with the encouragement of Osama bin Laden.

Ansar al-Islam -- a reactionary, Taliban-like terrorist organization -- was established by dogmatized Muslim Kurdish fighters who had fought against the Russians in Afghanistan. In presenting the case for the invasion of Iraq to the United Nations the then Secretary of State Colin Powell cited Ansar al-Islam as one of the missing links between Osama bin Laden and Saddam. This viewpoint has been dismissed by most commentators as Ansar al-Islam has a long history of violent actions against the Baathist regime. Indeed the organisation has received support from both Iran and Syria as it offered the dual attraction of providing an irritant to Saddam as well as a buttress against the aspirations of the larger secular Kurdish organisations for a wider Kurdish state.

During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, al-Qaeda took more formal interest in the region and is known to have been responsible for actively organising and aiding local resistance to the occupying coalition forces and the emerging democracy. During Iraq's historic elections in January 2005 al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for nine suicide blasts in the Iraqi capital Baghdad.

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, founder of Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad and alleged ally of al-Qaeda, formally merged with al-Qaeda on 17th October 2004. The organization started to use the banners of "Al-Qaeda in the Land Between the Two Rivers", instead of old Jama'at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad banners. In the merger al-Zarqawi declared loyalty to Osama bin Laden.

Since the US led invasion of Iraq, Ansar al-Islam has undertaken some military operations against coalition forces but counter-insurgency measures taken by the coalition and the larger Kurdish group the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, have restricted its effectiveness as a formal fighting force in Iraq although it continues to operate covertly.

Incidents for which al-Qaeda is believed by some to be responsible

Note: Al-Qaeda does not have a habit of taking credit for actions, resulting in a great deal of ambiguity over how many attacks the group has actually conducted. In addition following the U.S. declaration of the War on Terrorism in 2001, at least one of the U.S. government's branches has made a great effort to highlight connections of as many groups and actions as possible to al-Qaeda. This might result in erroneous attributions. In this respect, some prefer to attribute to Al-Qaedaism actions that might not be directly planned by Al-Qaeda as a military headquarter, but which are inspired by its tenets and strategies.

The first militant attack that al-Qaeda allegedly carried out consisted of three bombings which were targeted at U.S. troops in Aden, Yemen, in December 1992. A Yemeni and an Austrian tourist died in the bombing.

There are claims that al-Qaeda operatives assisted in the shooting down of U.S. helicopters and the killing of U.S. servicemen in Somalia in 1993. (see: Battle of Mogadishu)

Ramzi Yousef, who was involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (though probably not an al-Qaeda member at the time), and Khalid Sheik Mohammed planned Operation Bojinka, a plot to destroy airplanes in mid-Pacific flight using explosives. An apartment fire in Manila, Philippines exposed the plan before it could be carried out. Youssef was arrested, but Mohammed evaded capture until 2003.

Al-Qaeda is believed to be responsible for a bombing at a U.S. military facility in Riyadh in November 1995, which killed two people from India and five Americans. Al-Qaeda is also thought by some to be responsible for the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing which killed American military personnel in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia; this attack and the previous one are usually ascribed to Hizbullah.

Al-Qaeda is believed to have conducted the bombings in August 1998 of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killing more than 200 people and injuring more than 5,000 others.

In December 1999 and into 2000, al-Qaeda planned attacks against U.S. and Israeli tourists visiting Jordan for millennial celebrations; however, the Jordanian authorities thwarted the planned attacks and put 28 suspects on trial. Al-Qaeda also attempted the bombing of the Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles, California during the millennium holiday, although the bomber Ahmed Ressam was caught at the US-Canadian border with bombs in the trunk of his car. Also, al-Qaeda planned to attack the USS The Sullivans on January 3, 2000, but that effort failed due to too much weight being put on the small boat meant to bomb the ship.

For more information about those three plots, see: 2000 millennium attack plots

They are also thought to be responsible for the October 2000 USS Cole bombing. German police foiled a plot to destroy a cathedral in Strasbourg, France in December 2000. Al-Qaeda is thought to be responsible. See: Strasbourg cathedral bombing plot

The most destructive act ascribed to al-Qaeda was the series of attacks in the USA on September 11th, 2001.

Several attacks and attempted attacks since September 11, 2001 have been attributed to al-Qaeda. The first of which was the Paris embassy attack plot, which was foiled. The second of which involved the attempted shoe bomber Richard Reid, who proclaimed himself a follower of Osama bin Laden, and got close to destroying American Airlines Flight 63).

More subsequent plots included the El Ghriba synagogue bombing in Djerba, Tunisia and attempted attacks in Jordan, Indonesia, Morocco, and Singapore. See: Singapore embassies attack plot. The network has also been implicated in the Limburg tanker bombing, of complicity in the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl and in numerous bombings in Pakistan. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, al-Qaeda's affiliate in Iraq, and his group, Beyyiat el-Imam, was responsible for the assassination of US diplomat Laurence Foley in Jordan; Al-Qaeda is responsible for the terrorist car bombing in Mombasa in November 2002, the Riyadh Compound Bombings, and the Istanbul Bombings in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2003.

Al-Qaeda has strong alliances with a number of other Islamic militant organizations including the Indonesian Islamic extremist group Jemaah Islamiyah. That group was responsible for the October 2002 Bali bombing, and the 2005 Bali bombings.

Although there have been no identified al-Qaeda attacks within the territory of the United States since the September 11, 2001 attacks, numerous al-Qaeda attacks in the Middle East, Far East, Africa and Europe have caused extensive casualties and turmoil. In the aftermath of several March 11, 2004 attacks on commuter trains in Madrid, a London newspaper reported receiving an email from a group affiliated with al-Qaeda, claiming responsibility and a videotape claiming responsibility was also found.

It is also believed that al-Qaeda was involved in the 7 July 2005 London bombings, a series of attacks against mass transit in London which killed 52 people. A statement from a previously unknown group, "The Secret Organization of al-Qaeda in Europe", claimed responsibility; however, the authenticity of the statement and the group's connection to al-Qaeda has not been independently verified. The suspected perpetrators have not been definitively linked to al-Qaeda, although the contents of a video tape made by one of the bombers Mohammad Sidique Khan prior to his death and subsequently sent to Al Jazeera gives strong credence to an al-Qaeda connection. An apparently separate terrorist cell attempted to duplicate the attack later that month, but their bombs failed to detonate.

Al-Qaeda is suspected in being involved with the 2005 Sharm el-Sheikh attacks in Egypt. On July 23, 2005, a series of suspected car bombs killed about 90 people and wounded over 150. The attack was the deadliest terrorist action in the history of Egypt.

The chain of command

Though the current structure of al-Qaeda is unknown, information mostly acquired from the defector Jamal al-Fadl provided American authorities with a rough picture of how the group was organized. While the veracity of the information provided by al-Fadl and the motivation for his cooperation are both disputed, American authorities base much of their current knowledge of al-Qaeda on his testimony.

Bin Laden is the emir of al-Qaeda (although originally this role may have been filled by Abu Ayoub al-Iraqi), advised by a shura council, which consists of senior al-Qaeda members, estimated by Western officials at about twenty to thirty people.

  • The Military committee is responsible for training, weapons acquisition, and planning attacks.
  • The Money/Business committee runs business operations. The travel office provides air tickets and false passports. The payroll office pays al-Qaeda members, and the Management office oversees money-making businesses. In the US 911 Commission Report it is estimated that al-Qaeda requires 30,000,000 USD / year to conduct its operation.
  • 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 did public relations. It is currently assumed that media operations are now outsourced to internally redundant parts of the organization.

Political revolt or structured terrorist organization: unknown

Some organizational specialists have said that Al Qaeda's network structure, as opposed to a hierarchical structure is its primary strength. The decentralized structure enables Al Qaeda to have a worldwide distributed base while retaining a relatively small core. While an estimated 100,000 Islamist militants are said to have received instruction in Al Qaeda camps since its inception, the group is believed to retain only a small number of militants under direct orders. Estimates seldom peg its manpower higher than 20,000 world wide.

For its most complex operations (such as the 9/11 attacks on the US) all participants, planning and funding are believed to have been directly provided by the core Al Qaeda organisation. But in many attacks around the world where there appears to be an Al Qaeda connection, its precise role has been less easy to define. Rather then handling these operations from conception to delivery, Al Qaeda often appears to act as an international financial and logistical support-network, channelling income obtained from a network of fundraising activities to provide training capital and coordination for local radical groups. In many cases it is these local groups, only loosely affiliated to core Al Qaeda, which actually undertake the attacks.

The 2002 Bali bombing and subsequent bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta in 2003 provide some insight into Al Qaeda's decentralized method of operations: the attacks showed far greater coordination and effectiveness than might historically have been expected from regional terrorist networks. But police investigations and subsequent trials showed that while Al Qaeda was believed to have provided expertise and coordination, much of the planning and all the personnel who undertook the attacks came from local radical Islamist groups.

Al Qaeda has been known to establish and foster new groups to further the radical Islamic interest in local conflicts. Indeed the Taliban might be deemed to fall into this category, the roots of the organisation formed from radicalised students from the Bin-Laden funded medressas of the Afghan refugee camps at the time of the Russian occupation.

Is al-Qaeda real?

Al-Qaeda has no clear structure, and this permits debate as to how many members make up the organization, whether it is millions scattered across the globe, or whether it is even zero. According to the controversial BBC documentary The Power of Nightmares, al-Qaeda is so weakly linked together that it is hard to say it exists apart from Osama bin Laden and a small clique of close associates. The lack of any significant numbers of convicted al-Qaeda members despite a large number of arrests on terrorism charges is cited by the documentary as a reason to doubt whether a widespread entity that meets the description of al-Qaeda exists at all. Still, the extent and nature of al-Qaeda remains a topic of dispute.

The al-Qaeda name itself does not seem to have been used by bin Laden himself to apply to his organization until after the September 11 attacks. Previous attacks attributed to bin Laden and al-Qaeda were, at the time, claimed by organizations under a variety of names. Bin Laden himself has since attributed the al-Qaeda name to the MAK base in Pakistan, dating from the Afghan war days. Daniel Benjamin in "The Age of Sacred Terror" cites an incident in the early 1990s where a document titled "The Foundation", Arabic "Al-Qa'eda", was found on an associate of Ramzi Youssef. [6]

Other alleged al-Qaeda leaders include:

Internet activities

In the wake of its evacuation from Afghanistan, al-Qaeda and its successors have migrated online to escape detection in an atmosphere of increased international vigilance. As a result, the organization’s use of the Internet has grown more sophisticated, encompassing financing, recruitment, networking, mobilization, publicity, as well as information dissemination, gathering, and sharing. More than other terrorist organizations, al-Qaeda has embraced the Web for these purposes. For example, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda movement in Iraq regularly releases short videos glorifying the activity of jihadist suicide bombers. This growing range of multimedia content includes terrorist training clips, stills of victims about to be murdered, testimonials of suicide bombers, and epic-themed videos with high production values that romanticize participation in jihad through stylized portraits of mosques and stirring musical scores. A website associated with al-Qaeda, for example, posted a video of a man named Nick Berg being decapitated in Iraq. Other decapitation videos and pictures, including those of Paul Johnson, Kim Sun-il, and Daniel Pearl, were first posted onto jihadist websites.

With the rise of “locally rooted, globally inspired” terrorists, counterterrorism experts are currently studying how al-Qaeda is using the Internet – through websites, chat rooms, discussion forums, instant messaging, and so on – to inspire a worldwide network of support. The July 7, 2005 bombers, some of whom were well integrated into their local communities, are an example of such “globally inspired” terrorists, and they reportedly used the Internet to plan and coordinate, but the Internet’s precise role in the process of radicalization is not thoroughly understood. A group called the Secret Organization of al-Qaeda in Europe has claimed responsibility for these London attacks on a militant Islamist website – another popular use of the Internet by terrorists seeking publicity.

The publicity opportunities offered by the Internet have been particularly exploited by al-Qaeda. In December 2004, for example, bin Laden released an audio message by posting it directly to a website, rather than sending a copy to al-Jazeera as he had done in the past. Some analysts speculated that he did this to be certain it would be available unedited, out of fear that his criticism of Saudi Arabia — which was much more vehement than usual in this speech, lasting over an hour — might be edited out by al-Jazeera editors worried about offending the touchy Saudi royal family.

In the past, and were perhaps the most significant of al-Qaeda websites. Alneda was initially taken down by an American, but the operators resisted by shifting the site to various servers and strategically changing content. The US is currently attempting to extradite an IT specialist, Babar Ahmad, from the UK, who is the creator of various English language al-Qaeda websites such as[9][10] Ahmad's extradition is opposed by various British Muslim organizations, such the Muslim Association of Britain.

Finally, at a mid-2005 presentation for US government terrorism analysts, Dennis Pluchinsky called the global jihadist movement “Web-directed,” and former CIA deputy director John E. McLaughlin has also said it is now primarily driven today by “ideology and the Internet.”

Notes on naming

Al-Qaeda's name can also be transliterated as al-Qaida, al-Qa'ida, el-Qaida, or al Qaeda. In Arabic it is spelled القاعدة. Its Arabic pronunciation (IPA /ɛlˈqɑːʕidʌ/) can be approximated as IPA /ɛl 'kɑ:-idʌ/, which for American English speakers could be spelled "el-kAW-ee-deh," with the emphasized "AW" and "ee" clearly separated. However, English speakers more commonly pronounce it in a manner influenced by its spelling - IPA /ɑɫ 'kaɪdɑ/ for American English, /ɑ:ɫ 'kaɪdɑ:/ in British English. Listen to the US pronunciation (RealPlayer).

Al-Qaeda has other names, such as:

  • Islamic Army
  • Islamic Army for the Liberation of the Holy Places
  • Osama bin Laden Network
  • Osama bin Laden Organization
  • Islamic Salvation Foundation
  • The Group for the Preservation of the Holy Sites

See also

External links

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