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Al-Qaida (القاعده, Arabic for the foundation; see notes on naming for more details) is an Islamist terrorist organization that is involved in terrorist plots around the world.

The terrorist group gained notoriety after the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001. It is led by Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri. A group called the International Institute of Strategic Studies states in a 2004 report that Al-Qaida has more than 18,000 potential terrorists scattered around the world operating in more than 60 countries.

Table of contents
1 Overview
2 History of al-Qaida
3 Recent Activities
4 Al-Qaida terrorist actions
5 The chain of command
6 Internet activities
7 Did US actions create and/or support al-Qaida?
8 Notes on naming
9 See also
10 External links


Al-Qaida was established by Osama bin Laden in 1988 to expand the resistance movement against the Soviet forces in Afghanistan into a pan-Islamic resistance movement.

Although "al-Qaida" is the name of the organization used in popular culture, the organization does not use the name to formally refer to itself. The name al-Qaida was coined by the United States government based on the name of a computer file of bin Laden's that listed the names of contacts he had made in Afghanistan, which talks about the organization as the "Qaida-al-Jihad" — the base of the jihad.

Al-Qaida's religious inspiration comes mostly from the philosophy of the Muslim Brotherhood, from whence many of its senior members came. Though it adheres to no particular sect, in general its philosophy is Salafist; the ultimate goal of al-Qaida is to establish a Caliphate across the entire Islamic world, by working with allied Islamic extremist groups to overthrow secular or Western-supported regimes. It sees western governments (particularly the US Government) as interfering in the affairs of Islamic nations in the interests of western corporations. The largest attacks for which al-Qaida is believed to have been responsible were the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack on the World Trade Center in New York and The Pentagon in Washington DC. Al-Qaida is also suspected of carrying out the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania.

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

History of al-Qaida

Al-Qaida evolved from the Maktab al-Khadamat (MAK) — a mujahedeen resistance organization fighting the Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s after Osama bin Laden had Abdullah Azzam assassinated. Osama bin Laden was a founding member of the MAK along with Palestinian militant Abdullah Azzam. The role of the MAK was to channel funds from a variety of sources (including donations from across the Middle East as well as American funding) into training mujahedeen from around the world in guerrilla combat.

Towards the end of the Soviet occupation, many mujahedeen wanted to expand their operations to include Islamist struggles in other parts of the world. A number of overlapping and interrelated organisations were formed to further those aspirations.

One of these was al-Qaida, which was formed by Osama bin Laden in 1988. Bin Laden wished to extend the conflict to non-military 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-Qaida 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.

After the Soviet union withdrew from Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia, while al-Qaida continued training operations in Afghanistan. He spoke against the Saudi Government during the Gulf War for harboring American troops on Saudi soil, and was encouraged to leave Saudi Arabia. In 1991, Sudan's National Islamic Front, an Islamist group which had recently gained power, invited al-Qaida to move operations to their country. For several years, al-Qaida 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 al-Qaida 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. Taking an advantage of an invitation from some Afghan warlords, al-Qaida 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-Qaida enjoyed the Taliban's protection and a measure of legitimacy as part of their Ministry of Defense.

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

In February 1998, bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri of Egyptian Islamic Jihad issued a fatwa under 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." This was also the year of the first major terrorist act reliably attributed to al-Qaida, the embassy bombings in East Africa, which resulted in upwards of 300 deaths.

Following the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack, which was immediately blamed on al-Qaida, the United States invaded Afghanistan and deposed the Taliban government for harboring Osama bin Laden. Battles between the U.S. and remnants of the Taliban and al-Qaida forces continue till 2004. As a result of this invasion the al-Qaida training camps were destroyed and much of the operating structure of al-Qaida was disrupted. The United States government now claims that two-thirds of the top leaders of al-Qaida are in custody (including Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, Saif al Islam el Masry, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri) or dead (including Mohammed Atef).

Recent Activities

On July 27, 2004, it was discovered that Al-Qaida militants illegally obtained a large number South African passports, which South African authorities believe came from crime syndicates operating with the passport office. The bearer of a South Africa passport can travel to many African countries and Britain without visas. "Boxes and boxes" of the documents were discovered in a London dwelling. Barry Gilder, director general of the Department of Home Affairs states: "We do not want our country to be used either as a staging post or haven for terrorists". (AP)

Al-Qaida terrorist actions

Note: Al-Qaida 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, the U.S. government has made a great effort to connect as many groups and actions as possible to al-Qaida, which might result in erroneous attributions.

The first terrorist attack that al-Qaida allegedly carried out consisted of three bombings which were targeted at US troops in Aden, Yemen, in December 1992. Two Austrian tourists died in the bombing.

They claim to have shot down US helicopters and killed US servicemen in Somalia in 1993.

Ramzi Yousef, who was involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (though probably not an al-Qaida 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.

They are 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-Qaida is also thought to be responsible for the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing which killed American military personnel in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. This attack is usually ascribed to Hizbullah.

Al-Qaida is believed to have conducted the bombings in August 1998 of the US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killing more than 300 people and injuring more than 5,000 others.

On January 3, 2000, al-Qaida also planned attacks against US and Israeli tourists visiting Jordan for millennial celebrations, however the Jordanian authorities thwarted the planned attacks and put 28 suspects on trial. Al-Qaida 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-Qaida planned to attack USS The Sullivans, 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 celebration terrorist attacks plot

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-Qaida is thought to be responsible. See: Strasbourg cathedral bombing plot

The most destructive terrorist act ascribed to al-Qaida 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-Qaida. The first of which was the Paris embassy terrorist 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 — he got close to destroying American Airlines Flight 63)

More subsequent plots included the synagogue bombing in Djerba, Tunisia and attempted attacks in Jordan, Indonesia, Morocco, and Singapore. See: Singapore embassies terrorist 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 suspected of complicity in the October 2002 Bali car bombing of a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia. Al-Qaida was also involved in the assassination of US diplomat Laurence Foley in Jordan, a terrorist car bombing in Kenya in November 2002, the Riyadh Compound Bombings, and the Istanbul Bombings in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2003.

Al-Qaida has strong links with a number of other Islamic terrorist organizations including the Indonesian Islamic extremist group Jemaah Islamiyah.

Organizational specialists point out al-Qaida's network structure, as opposed to hierarchical structure is both its strength and a weakness. The decentralized structure enables al-Qaida to have a worldwide base; however, acts involving a high degree of organization, such as the September 11 attacks, take time and effort. American efforts to disrupt al-Qaida have been partially successful. Attacks made by al-Qaida since then have been simpler and involved fewer persons.

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-Qaida, claiming responsibility and a videotape claiming responsibility was also found.

The chain of command

Though the current structure of al-Qaida is unknown, information mostly acquired from the defector Jamal al-Fadl provided American authorities with a rough picture of how the group was organized.

Bin Laden is the emir of al-Qaida (although originally this role may have been filled by Abu Ayoub al-Iraqi), advised by a shura council, which consists of senior al-Qaida members.

There was once a Media committee, which ran the now-defunct newspaper Nashrat al Akhbar and did public relations.

Internet activities

Al-Qaida has allegedly run several websites. Several others offered al-Qaida content. Some of the websites were taken over by American hackers.

Alneda.com and Jehad.net were perhaps the most significant of the websites, and both were probably owned by al-Qaida. Alneda was initially taken down by an American, but the operators kept trying to put the website back up.

Al-Qaida also claimed responsibility for two of its attacks on Jehad.net. Its members had also allegedly signed up for free electronic mail accounts and used steganography to transmit messages.

Some believe that al-Qaida is actively trying to recruit members using the Internet. They are believed to use public internet cafes.

A website associated with Al-Qaida posted a video of a man named Nick Berg being decapitated in Iraq. Other decapitation videos and pictures, namely that of Paul Johnson and Kim Sun-il, were first posted onto internet websites. The Daniel Pearl video was leaked to a jihadist site and also has a presence on the internet.

Did US actions create and/or support al-Qaida?

Some people believe that al-Qaida would not have come into being without the US funding and training given to the Afghan mujahedeen fighting the Soviet invasion of 1979 to 1989. The Pakistani military regime may have tended to supply the most extreme Islamist Afghan fighters with the lion's share of the imported weaponry.

Critics of US and Western policies in the Middle East and worldwide note that some actions have caused a great deal of opposition among Arab and Islamic people, and regard terrorism as a predictable reaction. Examples of controversial policies are

Notes on naming

Al-Qaida's name can also be
transliterated as al-Qaeda, al-Qa'ida, al-Quaida, el-Qaida, l-Qaida, or al Qaeda. Its Arabic pronunciation (SAMPA "El qA:?\\idV", IPA ɛlˈqɑːʕidʌ) can be approximated as "El kA:-idV" (notated in SAMPA), which for American English speakers could be spelled "el-KAW-ee-duh". However, English speakers more commonly pronounce it in a manner influenced by its spelling - "A5 kaIdA" (notated in SAMPA) for American English, "A:5 kaIdA:" in British English. Listen to the US pronunciation (RealPlayer).

Al-Qaida has other names, such as:

See also

External links