Al-Qaeda (pronounced /ælˈkaɪdə/ al-KYE-də or /ælˈkeɪdə/ al-KAY-də; Arabic: القاعدة, al-qāʿidah, “the base”), alternatively spelled Al-Qaida and sometimes Al-Qa’ida, is an Islamist group founded sometime between August 1988 and late 1989. It operates as a network comprising both a multinational, stateless arm and a fundamentalist Sunni movement calling for global jihad.
Al-Qaeda has attacked civilian and military targets in various countries, the most notable being the September 11 attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. in 2001. The US government responded by launching the War on Terrorism.
Characteristic techniques include suicide attacks and simultaneous bombings of different targets. Activities ascribed to it may involve members of the movement, who have taken a pledge of loyalty to Osama bin Laden, or the much more numerous “al-Qaeda-linked” individuals who have undergone training in one of its camps in Afghanistan or Sudan, but not taken any pledge.
Al-Qaeda ideologues envision a complete break from the foreign influences in Muslim countries, and the creation of a new Islamic caliphate. Reported beliefs include that a Christian-Jewish alliance is conspiring to destroy Islam, which is largely embodied in the U.S.-Israel alliance, and that the killing of bystanders and civilians is religiously justified in jihad..Organization
Al-Qaeda’s management philosophy has been described as “centralization of decision and decentralization of execution.” Following the War on Terrorism, it is thought that al-Qaeda’s leadership has “become geographically isolated”, leading to the “emergence of decentralized leadership” of regional groups using the al-Qaeda “brand name.”
Many terrorism experts do not believe that the global jihadist movement is driven at every level by Mr bin Laden and his followers. Although Mr bin Laden still has huge ideological sway over some Muslim extremists, experts argue that al-Qaeda has fragmented over the years into a variety of disconnected regional movements that have little connection with each other. Marc Sageman, a psychiatrist and former CIA officer, said that Al-Qaeda would now just be a “loose label for a movement that seems to target the west”. “There is no umbrella organisation. We like to create a mythical entity called [al-Qaeda] in our minds but that is not the reality we are dealing with.”
Others, however, see Al-Qaeda as an integrated network that is strongly led from the Pakistani tribal areas and has a powerful strategic purpose. Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University, said “It amazes me that people don’t think there is a clear adversary out there, and that our adversary does not have a strategic approach.”
In Arabic, al-Qaeda has four syllables. However, since two of the Arabic consonants in the name (the voiceless uvular plosive [q] and the voiced pharyngeal fricative [ʕ]) are not phones found in the English language, the closest naturalized English pronunciations include /ælˈkaɪdə/, /ælˈkeɪdə/, and less commonly four syllables, Al-Qaeda’s name can also be transliterated as al-Qaida, al-Qa’ida, el-Qaida, or al Qaeda.
The name comes from the Arabic noun qā’idah, which means foundation or basis and can also refer to a military base. The initial al- is the Arabic definite article the, hence the base.
Osama bin Laden explained the origin of the term in a videotaped interview with Al Jazeera journalist Tayseer Alouni in October 2001:
The name ‘al-Qaeda’ was established a long time ago by mere chance. The late Abu Ebeida El-Banashiri established the training camps for our mujahedeen against Russia’s terrorism. We used to call the training camp al-Qaeda. The name stayed.
It has been argued that two documents seized from the Sarajevo office of the Benevolence International Foundation prove that the name was not simply adopted by the mujahid movement and that a group called al-Qaeda was established in August 1988. Both of these documents contain minutes of meetings held to establish a new military group and contain the term “al-qaeda”.
Former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook wrote that the word Al Qaeda should be translated as “the database”, and originally referred to the computer file of the thousands of mujahideen militants who were recruited and trained with CIA help to defeat the Russians. In April 2002, the group assumed the name Qa’idat al-Jihad, which means “the base of Jihad”. According to Diaa Rashwan, this was “apparently as a result of the merger of the overseas branch of Egypt’s al-Jihad (Egyptian Islamist Jihad, or EIJ) group, led by Ayman El-Zawahiri, with the groups Bin Laden brought under his control after his return to Afghanistan in the mid-1990s.”
The radical Islamist movement in general and al-Qaeda in particular developed during the Islamic revival and Islamist movement of the last three decades of the 20th century along with less extreme movements.
Some have argued that “without the writings” of Islamic author and thinker Sayyid Qutb “al-Qaeda would not have existed.” Qutb preached that because of the lack of sharia law the Muslim world was no longer Muslim, having reverted to pre-Islamic ignorance known as jahiliyyah.
To restore Islam, a vanguard movement of righteous Muslims was needed to establish “true Islamic states”, implement Sharia, and rid the Muslim world of any non-Muslim influences, such as concepts like socialism or nationalism. Enemies of Islam included “treacherous Orientalists” and “world Jewry”, who plotted “conspiracies” and “wicked[ly]” opposed Islam.
In the words of Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, a close college friend of Osama bin Laden: Islam is different from any other religion; it’s a way of life. We [Khalifa and bin Laden] were trying to understand what Islam has to say about how we eat, who we marry, how we talk. We read Sayyid Qutb. He was the one who most affected our generation.
Qutb had an even greater influence on Osama bin Laden’s mentor and another leading member of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Zawahiri’s uncle and maternal family patriarch, Mafouz Azzam, was Qutb’s student, then protégé, then personal lawyer and finally executor of his estate—one of the last people to see Qutb before his execution. “Young Ayman al-Zawahiri heard again and again from his beloved uncle Mahfouz about the purity of Qutb’s character and the torment he had endured in prison.” Zawahiri paid homage to Qutb in his work Knights under the Prophet’s Banner.
One of the most powerful effects of Qutb’s ideas was the idea that many who said they were Muslims were not, i.e., they were apostates, which not only gave jihadists “a legal loophole around the prohibition of killing another Muslim,” but made “it a religious obligation to execute” the self-professed Muslim. These alleged apostates included leaders of Muslim countries, since they failed to enforce sharia law.
Researchers have described five distinct phases in the development of al-Qaeda: the beginning in the late 1980s, the “wilderness” period in 1990–1996, its “heyday” in 1996–2001, the network period 2001–2005, and a period of fragmentation from 2005 to today.
Founding in Pakistan
Notes of a meeting of bin Laden and others on August 20, 1988, indicate al-Qaeda was a formal group by that time: “basically an organized Islamic faction, its goal is to lift the word of God, to make His religion victorious.” A list of requirements for membership itemized the following: listening ability, good manners, obedience and making a pledge (bayat) to follow one’s superiors.
According to Wright, the group’s real name wasn’t used in public pronouncements because “its existence was still a closely held secret.” His research suggests that al-Qaeda was formed at an August 11, 1988, meeting between “several senior leaders” of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Abdullah Azzam, and Osama bin Laden, where it was agreed to join bin Laden’s money with the expertise of the Islamic Jihad organization and take up the jihadist cause elsewhere after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan.
The origins of al-Qaeda as a network inspiring terrorism around the world and training operatives can be traced to the Soviet war in Afghanistan (December 1979 – February 1989). The United States viewed the conflict in Afghanistan, with the Afghan Marxists and allied Soviet troops on one side and the native Afghan mujahideen on the other, as a blatant case of Soviet expansionism and aggression. The U.S. channelled funds through Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency to the native Afghan mujahideen fighting the Soviet occupation in a CIA program called Operation Cyclone.
At the same time, a growing number of Arab mujahideen joined the jihad against the Afghan Marxist regime, facilitated by international Muslim organizations, particularly the Maktab al-Khidamat, whose funds came from some of the $600 million a year donated to the jihad by the Saudi Arabia government and individual Muslims – particularly independent Saudi businessmen who were approached by Osama bin Laden.[page needed]
Maktab al-Khidamat was established by Abdullah Azzam and Bin Laden in Peshawar, Pakistan, in 1984. From 1986 it began to set up a network of recruiting offices in the United States, the hub of which was the Al Kifah Refugee Center at the Farouq Mosque in Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue. Among notable figures at the Brooklyn center were “double agent” Ali Mohamed, whom FBI special agent Jack Cloonan called “bin Laden’s first trainer,” and “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel-Rahman, a leading recruiter of mujahideen for Afghanistan.
Al-Qaeda evolved from the Maktab al-Khidamat, or the “Services Office”, a Muslim organization founded in 1980 to raise and channel funds and recruit foreign mujahideen for the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. It was founded by Abdullah Yusuf Azzam, a Palestinian Islamic scholar and member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
MAK organized guest houses in Peshawar, near the Afghan border, and gathered supplies for the construction of paramilitary training camps to prepare foreign recruits for the Afghan war front. Azzam persuaded Bin Laden to join MAK.[when?] Bin Laden became a “major financier” of the mujahideen, spending his own money and using his connections with “the Saudi royal family and the petro-billionaires of the Gulf” in order to improve public opinion of the war and raise more funds.
Beginning in 1987, Azzam and bin Laden started creating camps inside Afghanistan. The role played by MAK and foreign mujahideen volunteers, or “Afghan Arabs”, in the war was not a major one. While over 250,000 Afghan mujahideen fought the Soviets and the communist Afghan government, it is estimated that were never more than 2,000 foreign mujahideen in the field at any one time. Nonetheless, foreign mujahideen volunteers came from 43 countries and the total number that participated in the Afghan movement between 1982 and 1992 is reported to have been 35,000.
The Soviet Union finally withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989. To the surprise of many, Mohammed Najibullah’s communist Afghan government hung on for three more years before being overrun by elements of the mujahideen. With mujahideen leaders unable to agree on a structure for governance, chaos ensued, with constantly reorganizing alliances fighting for control of ill-defined territories, leaving the country devastated.
Toward the end of the Soviet military mission in Afghanistan, some mujahideen wanted to expand their operations to include Islamist struggles in other parts of the world, such as Israel and Kashmir. 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, formed by Osama bin Laden with an initial meeting held on August 11, 1988. Bin Laden wished to establish 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.
In November 1989, Ali Mohamed, a former special forces Sergeant stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, left military service and moved to Santa Clara, California. He traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan and became “deeply involved with bin Laden’s plans.”
A year later, on November 8, 1990, the FBI raided the New Jersey home of Mohammed’s associate El Sayyid Nosair, discovering a great deal of evidence of terrorist plots, including plans to blow up New York City skyscrapers. Nosair was eventually convicted in connection to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and for the murder of Rabbi Meir Kahane on November 5, 1990. In 1991, Ali Mohammed is said to have helped orchestrate Osama bin Laden’s relocation to Sudan.
Gulf War and the start of U.S. enmity
Following the Soviet Union’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in February 1989, Osama bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 had put the kingdom and its ruling House of Saud at risk. The world’s most valuable oil fields were within easy striking distance of Iraqi forces in Kuwait, and Saddam’s call to pan-Arab/Islamism could potentially rally internal dissent.
In the face of a seemingly massive Iraqi military presence, Saudi Arabia’s own forces were well armed but far outnumbered. Bin Laden offered the services of his mujahideen to King Fahd to protect Saudi Arabia from the Iraqi army. The Saudi monarch refused bin Laden’s offer, opting instead to allow U.S. and allied forces to deploy troops into Saudi territory.
The deployment angered Bin Laden, as he believed the presence of foreign troops in the “land of the two mosques” (Mecca and Medina) profaned sacred soil. After speaking publicly against the Saudi government for harboring American troops, he was banished and forced to live in exile in Sudan.
From around 1992 to 1996, al-Qaeda and bin Laden based themselves in Sudan at the invitation of Islamist theoretician Hassan al Turabi. The move followed an Islamist coup d’état in Sudan, led by Colonel Omar al-Bashir, who professed a commitment to reordering Muslim political values. During this time, bin Laden assisted the Sudanese government, bought or set up various business enterprises, and established camps where insurgents trained.
A key turning point for bin Laden, further pitting him against the Sauds, occurred in 1993 when Saudi Arabia gave support for the Oslo Accords which set a path for peace between Israel and Palestinians.
Zawahiri and the EIJ, who served as the core of al-Qaeda but also engaged in separate operations against the Egyptian government, had bad luck in Sudan. In 1993, a young schoolgirl was killed in an unsuccessful EIJ attempt on the life of the Egyptian prime minister, Atef Sedki. Egyptian public opinion turned against Islamist bombings and the police arrested 280 more of al-Jihad’s members and executed six.
Due to bin Laden’s continuous verbal assault on King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, on 5 March 1994 Fahd sent an emissary to Sudan demanding bin Laden’s passport; bin Laden’s Saudi citizenship was also revoked. His family was persuaded to cut off his monthly stipend, the equivalent of $7 million a year, and his Saudi assets were frozen. His family publicly disowned him. There is controversy over whether and to what extent he continued to garner support from members of his family and/or the Saudi government.
In June 1995 an even more ill-fated attempt to assassinate Egyptian president Mubarak led to the expulsion of EIJ, and in May 1996, of bin Laden, by the Sudanese government.
Refuge in Afghanistan
Main articles: Background of the Taliban’s rise to power and Al-Qaeda training camps
After the Soviet withdrawal, Afghanistan was effectively ungoverned for seven years and plagued by constant infighting between former allies and various mujahideen groups.
Throughout the 1990s, a new force began to emerge. The origins of the Taliban (literally “students”) lay in the children of Afghanistan, many of them orphaned by the war, and many of whom had been educated in the rapidly expanding network of Islamic schools (madrassas) either in Kandahar or in the refugee camps on the Afghan-Pakistani border.
According to Ahmed Rashid, five leaders of the Taliban were graduates of Darul Uloom Haqqania, a madrassa in the small town of Akora Khattak. The town is situated near Peshawar in Pakistan but largely attended by Afghan refugees. This institution reflected Salafi beliefs in its teachings, and much of its funding came from private donations from wealthy Arabs. Bin Laden’s contacts were still laundering most of these donations, using “unscrupulous” Islamic banks to transfer the money to an “array” of charities which serve as front groups for al-Qaeda or transporting cash-filled suitcases straight into Pakistan. Another four of the Taliban’s leaders attended a similarly funded and influenced madrassa in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Many of the mujahideen who later joined the Taliban fought alongside Afghan warlord Mohammad Nabi Mohammadi’s Harkat i Inqilabi group at the time of the Russian invasion. This group also enjoyed the loyalty of most Afghan Arab fighters.
The continuing internecine strife between various factions, and accompanying lawlessness following the Soviet withdrawal, enabled the growing and well-disciplined Taliban to expand their control over territory in Afghanistan, and they came to establish an enclave which it called the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. In 1994, they captured the regional center of Kandahar, and after making rapid territorial gains thereafter, conquered the capital city Kabul in September 1996.
After the Sudanese made it clear, in May 1996, that bin Laden would never be welcome to return,[clarification needed] Taliban-controlled Afghanistan—with previously established connections between the groups, administered with a shared militancy, and largely isolated from American political influence and military power—provided a perfect location for al-Qaeda to relocate its headquarters. 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.
By the end of 2008, the Taliban had severed any remaining ties with al-Qaeda. According to senior U.S. military intelligence officials, there are fewer than 100 members of Al-Qaeda remaining in Afghanistan.
The call for a global jihad
Wiki letter w.svg This section requires expansion.
Around 1994, the Salafi groups waging “jihad” in Bosnia entered into a seemingly irreversible decline. As they grew less and less aggressive, groups such as EIJ began to drift away from the Salafi cause in Europe. Al-Qaeda decided to step in and assumed control of around 80% of the terrorist cells in Bosnia in late 1995.
At the same time, al-Qaeda ideologues instructed the network’s recruiters to look for Jihadi international, Muslims who believed that jihad must be fought on a global level. The concept of a “global Salafi jihad” had been around since at least the early 1980s. Several groups had formed for the explicit purpose of driving non-Muslims out of every Muslim land, at the same time and with maximum carnage. This was, however, a fundamentally defensive strategy.
Al-Qaeda sought to open the “offensive phase” of the global Salafi jihad. Bosnian Islamists today call for “solidarity with Islamic causes around the world”, supporting the insurgents in Kashmir and Iraq as well as the groups fighting for a Palestinian state.
In 1996, al-Qaeda announced its jihad to expel foreign troops and interests from what they considered Islamic lands. Bin Laden issued a fatwa, which amounted to a public declaration of war against the United States of America and any of its allies, and began to refocus al-Qaeda’s resources towards large-scale, propagandist strikes. Also occurring on June 25, 1996, was the bombing of the Khobar towers, located in Khobar, Saudi Arabia.
On February 23, 1998, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, a leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, along with three other Islamist leaders, co-signed and issued a fatwa (binding religious edict) calling on Muslims to kill Americans and their allies where they can, when they can. Under the banner of the World Islamic Front for Combat Against the Jews and Crusaders they declared:
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. This is in accordance with the words of Almighty Allah, ‘and fight the pagans all together as they fight you all together,’ and ‘fight them until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah’.
Neither bin Laden nor al-Zawahiri possessed the traditional Islamic scholarly qualifications to issue a fatwa of any kind; however, they rejected the authority of the contemporary ulema (seen as the paid servants of jahiliyya rulers) and took it upon themselves.[unreliable source?] Assassinated former FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko alleged that the Russian FSB trained al-Zawahiri in a camp in Dagestan eight months before the 1998 fatwa.
Way to Somalia and Yemen
While Al Qaeda leaders are hiding in the tribal areas along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, the middle-tier of the extremist movement display heightened activity in Somalia and Yemen. “We know that South Asia is no longer their primary base,” a source in the US defense agency said to the Washington Times. “They are looking for a hide-out in other parts of the world and continue to expand their organization.“ In Somalia, Al Qaeda agents closely collaborate with the Shahab group, actively recruit children for suicide-bomber training and export young people to participate in military actions against Americans at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. In January 2009, Al Qaeda’s division in Saudi Arabia merged with its Yemeni wing to form Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Centered in Yemen, the group takes advantage of the country’s poor economy, demography and domestic security. In August 2009, they made the first assassination attempt against a member of the Saudi royal dynasty in decades. President Obama in a letter asked his Yemen counterpart Ali Abdullah Saleh to ensure closer cooperation with the USA in the struggle against the growing activity of Al Qaeda in Yemen’s territory, and promised to send additional international aid. Because of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States is unable to pay sufficient attention to Somalia and Yemen, which may cause the US some serious problems in the near future. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for the 2009 bombing attack on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. The group released photos of Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab smiling in a white shirt and white Islamic skullcap with the Al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula banner in the background.
American operationsAnwar al-Awlaki, an American-born imam, has been identified by Western media[specify] as a “9/11 Imam” and an “al Qaeda recruiter”, although counterterrorism investigation by the FBI did not collect sufficient evidence for full investigation or prosecution. He has most recently been associated with Iman University in Yemen where he currently resides. The university’s students have allegedly been linked to assassinations, and it is headed by Abdul Majeed al-Zindani, who appears on US and United Nations lists as being associated with Al-Qaeda, and is wanted for questioning in connection with the USS Cole attack in Yemen. Awlaki’s sermons in the United States were attended by three of the 9/11 hijackers, as well as accused Fort Hood shooter Nidal Malik Hasan. US intelligence intercepted emails from Hasan to Awlaki between December 2008 and early 2009. On his website, Awlaki has praised Hasan’s actions in the Fort Hood shooting.
Awlawki was possibly killed in a US sponsored Yemeni airstrike in late December 2009.
US officials called Awlaki an “example of al-Qaeda reach into” the United States in 2008 after probes into his ties to the September 11 hijackers. A former FBI agent identifies Awlaki as a known “senior recruiter for al Qaeda”, and a spiritual motivator.
An unnamed official claimed there was good reason to believe Awlaki “has been involved in very serious terrorist activities since leaving the United States [after 9/11], including plotting attacks against America and our allies.”
Though the current structure of al-Qaeda is unknown, information mostly acquired from 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.
Osama bin Laden is the emir and Senior Operations Chief of al-Qaeda (although originally this role may have been filled by Abu Ayoub al-Iraqi). Bin Laden is advised by a Shura Council, which consists of senior al-Qaeda members, estimated by Western officials at about twenty to thirty people. Ayman al-Zawahiri is al-Qaeda’s Deputy Operations Chief and Abu Ayyub al-Masri is possibly the senior leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Al-Qaeda’s network was built ex nihilo (from scratch) as a conspiratorial network that draws on leaders of all its regional nodes “as and when necessary to serve as an integral part of its high command.”
* The Military Committee is responsible for training operatives, acquiring weapons, and planning attacks.
* The Money/Business Committee funds the recruitment and training of operatives through the hawala banking system. U.S-led efforts to eradicate the sources of terrorist financing were most successful in the year immediately following September 11; al-Qaeda continues to operate through unregulated banks, such as the one thousand or so hawaladars in Pakistan, some of which can handle deals of up to $10 million. It also provides air tickets and false passports, pays al-Qaeda members, and oversees profit-driven businesses. In the 9/11 Commission Report, it is estimated that al-Qaeda requires $30 million per year to conduct its operations.
* 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 handled public relations.
* In 2005, al Qaeda formed As-Sahab, a media production house, to supply its video and audio materials.
When asked about the possibility of Al Qaeda’s connection to the 7 July 2005 London bombings in 2005, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair said: “Al Qaeda is not an organization. Al Qaeda is a way of working … but this has the hallmark of that approach … Al Qaeda clearly has the ability to provide training … to provide expertise … and I think that is what has occurred here.”
However, on August 13, 2005 The Independent newspaper reported, quoting police and MI5 investigations, that the 7 July bombers acted independently of an al-Qaeda terror mastermind some place abroad.
What exactly al-Qaeda is, or was, remains in dispute. Author and journalist Adam Curtis contends that the idea of al-Qaeda as a formal organization is primarily an American invention. Curtis contends the name “al-Qaeda” was first brought to the attention of the public in the 2001 trial of Osama bin Laden and the four men accused of the 1998 United States embassy bombings in East Africa:
The reality was that bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri had become the focus of a loose association of disillusioned Islamist militants who were attracted by the new strategy. But there was no organization. These were militants who mostly planned their own operations and looked to bin Laden for funding and assistance. He was not their commander. There is also no evidence that bin Laden used the term “al-Qaeda” to refer to the name of a group until after September the 11th, when he realized that this was the term the Americans had given it.
As a matter of law, the U.S. Department of Justice needed to show that Osama bin Laden was the leader of a criminal organization in order to charge him in absentia under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, also known as the RICO statutes. The name of the organization and details of its structure were provided in the testimony of Jamal al-Fadl, who claimed to be a founding member of the organization and a former employee of Osama bin Laden.
Questions about the reliability of al-Fadl’s testimony have been raised by a number of sources because of his history of dishonesty and because he was delivering it as part of a plea bargain agreement after being convicted of conspiring to attack U.S. military establishments. Sam Schmidt, a defense lawyer from the trial, had the following to say about al-Fadl’s testimony:
There were selective portions of al-Fadl’s testimony that I believe was false, to help support the picture that he helped the Americans join together. I think he lied in a number of specific testimony about a unified image of what this organization was. It made al-Qaeda the new Mafia or the new Communists. It made them identifiable as a group and therefore made it easier to prosecute any person associated with al-Qaeda for any acts or statements made by bin Laden.
The number of individuals in the organization who have undergone proper military training, and are capable of commanding insurgent forces, is largely unknown. In 2006, it was estimated that al-Qaeda had several thousand commanders embedded in forty different countries. As of 2009, it is believed no more than two hundred to three hundred members are still active commanders.
According to the award winning 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. Therefore the extent and nature of al-Qaeda remains a topic of dispute.
According to Robert Cassidy, al-Qaeda controls two separate forces deployed alongside insurgents in Iraq and Pakistan.
The first, numbering in the tens of thousands, was “organized, trained, and equipped as insurgent combat forces” in the Soviet-Afghan war. It was made up primarily of foreign mujahideen from Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Many went on to fight in Bosnia and Somalia, where their deeds helped raise the banner of global jihad.
Another group, approximately ten thousand strong, live in Western states and have received rudimentary combat training.
Other analysts have described al-Qaeda’s rank and file as changing from being “predominantly Arab,” in its first years of operation, to “largely Pakistani,” as of 2007. It has been estimated that 62% of al-Qaeda members have university education.
AttacksAl-Qaeda has carried out a total of six major terrorist attacks, four of them in its jihad against America. In each case the leadership planned the attack years in advance, arranging for the shipment of weapons and explosives and using its privatized businesses to provide operatives with safehouses and false identities.
Al-Qaeda usually does not disburse funds for attacks, and very rarely makes wire transfers.
On December 29, 1992, al-Qaeda’s first terrorist attack took place as two bombs were detonated in Aden, Yemen. The first target was the Movenpick Hotel and the second was the parking lot of the Goldmohur Hotel.
The bombings were an attempt to eliminate American soldiers on their way to Somalia to take part in the international famine relief effort, Operation Restore Hope. Internally, al-Qaeda considered the bombing a victory that frightened the Americans away, but in the United States the attack was barely noticed.
No Americans were killed because the soldiers were staying in a different hotel altogether, and they went on to Somalia as scheduled. However little noticed, the attack was pivotal as it was the beginning of al-Qaeda’s change in direction, from fighting armies to killing civilians. Two people were killed in the bombing, an Australian tourist and a Yemeni hotel worker. Seven others, mostly Yemenis, were severely injured.
Two fatwas are said to have been appointed by the most theologically knowledgeable of al-Qaeda’s members, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, to justify the killings according to Islamic law. Salim referred to a famous fatwa appointed by Ibn Taymiyyah, a thirteenth-century scholar much admired by Wahhabis, which sanctioned resistance by any means during the Mongol invasions.[unreliable source?]
1993 World Trade Center bombing
Main article: World Trade Center bombing
In 1993, Ramzi Yousef used a truck bomb to attack the World Trade Center in New York City. The attack was intended to break the foundation of Tower One knocking it into Tower Two, bringing the entire complex down.
Yousef hoped this would kill 250,000 people. The towers shook and swayed but the foundation held and he succeeded in killing only six people (although he injured 1,042 others and caused nearly $300 million in property damage).[page needed]
After the attack, Yousef fled to Pakistan and later moved to Manila. There he began developing the Bojinka Plot plans to blow up a dozen American airliners simultaneously, to assassinate Pope John Paul II and President Bill Clinton, and to crash a private plane into CIA headquarters. He was later captured in Pakistan.
None of the U.S. government’s indictments against Osama bin Laden have suggested that he had any connection with this bombing, but Ramzi Yousef is known to have attended a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan. After his capture, Yousef declared that his primary justification for the attack was to punish the United States for its support for the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and made no mention of any religious motivations.
Main articles: 1998 United States embassy bombings and USS Cole bombing
In 1996, bin Laden personally engineered a plot to assassinate Clinton while the president was in Manila for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation. However, intelligence agents intercepted a message just minutes before the motorcade was to leave, and alerted the United States Secret Service. Agents later discovered a bomb planted under a bridge.
The U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa, resulting in upward of 300 deaths, mostly locals. A barrage of cruise missiles launched by the U.S. military in response devastated an al-Qaeda base in Khost, Afghanistan, but the network’s capacity was unharmed.
In October 2000, al-Qaeda militants in Yemen bombed the missile destroyer U.S.S. Cole in a suicide attack, killing 17 U.S. servicemen and damaging the vessel while it lay offshore. Inspired by the success of such a brazen attack, al-Qaeda’s command core began to prepare for an attack on the United States itself.
September 11 attacksThe September 11 attacks were the most devastating terrorist acts in American and world history, killing approximately 3,000 people. Two commercial airliners were deliberately flown into the World Trade Center towers, a third into The Pentagon, and a fourth, originally intended to target the United States Capitol, crashed in Pennsylvania.
The attacks were conducted by al-Qaeda, acting in accord with the 1998 fatwa issued against the United States and its allies by military forces under the command of bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, and others. Evidence points to suicide squads led by al-Qaeda military commander Mohamed Atta as the culprits of the attacks, with bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and Hambali as the key planners and part of the political and military command.
Messages issued by bin Laden after September 11, 2001, praised the attacks, and explained their motivation while denying any involvement. Bin Laden legitimized the attacks by identifying grievances felt by both mainstream and Islamist Muslims, such as the general perception that the United States was actively oppressing Muslims.
Bin Laden asserted that America was massacring Muslims in ‘Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir and Iraq’ and that Muslims should retain the ‘right to attack in reprisal’. He also claimed the 9/11 attacks were not targeted at women and children, but ‘America’s icons of military and economic power’.
Evidence has since come to light that the original targets for the attack may have been nuclear power stations on the east coast of the U.S. The targets were later altered by al-Qaeda, as it was feared that such an attack “might get out of hand”.
Designation as terrorist organization
Al-Qaeda has been designated a terrorist organization by a number of organizations, including:
* United Nations Security Council,
* North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary General,
* Commission of the European Communities of the European Union,
* United States Department of State,
* Australian Government,
* Government of India,
* Public Safety Canada,
* Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs,
* Japan’s Diplomatic Bluebook,
* South Korean Foreign Ministry,
* French General Secretary for National Defence,
* Dutch Military Intelligence and Security Service,
* United Kingdom Home Office,
* Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs,
* Turkish Police Forces
* Swiss Government.
War on Terrorism
In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, the United States government decided to respond militarily, and began to prepare its armed forces to overthrow the Taliban regime it believed was harboring al-Qaeda. Before the United States attacked, it offered Taliban leader Mullah Omar a chance to surrender bin Laden and his top associates. The first forces to be inserted into Afghanistan were Paramilitary Officers from the CIA’s elite Special Activities Division (SAD).
The Taliban 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. U.S. President George W. Bush responded by saying: “We know he’s guilty. Turn him over”, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair warned the Taliban regime: “Surrender bin Laden, or surrender power”.
Soon thereafter the United States and its allies invaded Afghanistan, and together with the Afghan Northern Alliance removed the Taliban government in the war in Afghanistan.
As a result of the United States using its special forces and providing air support for the Northern Alliance ground forces, both Taliban and al-Qaeda training camps were destroyed, and much of the operating structure of al-Qaeda is believed to have been disrupted. After being driven from their key positions in the Tora Bora area of Afghanistan, many al-Qaeda fighters tried to regroup in the rugged Gardez region of the nation.
Again, under the cover of intense aerial bombardment, U.S. infantry and local Afghan forces attacked, shattering the al-Qaeda position and killing or capturing many of the militants. By early 2002, al-Qaeda had been dealt a serious blow to its operational capacity, and the Afghan invasion appeared an initial success. Nevertheless, a significant Taliban insurgency remains in Afghanistan, and al-Qaeda’s top two leaders, bin Laden and al-Zawahiri, evaded capture.
Debate raged about the exact nature of al-Qaeda’s role in the 9/11 attacks, and after the U.S. invasion began, the U.S. State Department also released a videotape showing bin Laden speaking with a small group of associates somewhere in Afghanistan shortly before the Taliban was removed from power. Although its authenticity has been questioned by some, the tape appears to implicate bin Laden and al-Qaeda in the September 11 attacks and was aired on many television channels all over the world, with an accompanying English translation provided by the United States Defense Department.
In September 2004, the U.S. government commission investigating the September 11 attacks officially concluded that the attacks were conceived and implemented by al-Qaeda operatives. In October 2004, bin Laden appeared to claim responsibility for the attacks in a videotape released through Al Jazeera, saying he was inspired by Israeli attacks on high-rises in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon: “As I looked at those demolished towers in Lebanon, it entered my mind that we should punish the oppressor in kind and that we should destroy towers in America in order that they taste some of what we tasted and so that they be deterred from killing our women and children.”
By the end of 2004, the U.S. government proclaimed that two-thirds of the most senior al-Qaeda figures from 2001 had been captured and interrogated by the CIA: Abu Zubaydah, Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri in 2002; Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in 2003; and Saif al Islam el Masry in 2004. Mohammed Atef and several others were killed.
Al-Qaeda involvement in Africa has included a number of bombing attacks in North Africa, as well as supporting parties in civil wars in Eritrea and Somalia. From 1991 to 1996, Osama bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda leaders were based in Sudan.
Islamist rebels in the Sahara calling themselves Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb have stepped up their violence in recent years. French officials say the rebels have no real links to the al-Qaeda leadership, but this is a matter of some dispute in the international press and amongst security analysts. It seems likely that bin Laden approved the group’s name in late 2006, and the rebels “took on the al Qaeda franchise label”, almost a year before the violence began to escalate.
Main articles: Al-Qaeda involvement in Europe, 2003 Istanbul bombings, and 2006 transatlantic aircraft plot
In 2003, Islamists carried out a series of bombings in Istanbul killing fifty-seven people and injuring seven hundred. Seventy-four people were charged by the Turkish authorities. Some had previously met Osama Bin Laden, and although they specifically declined to pledge allegiance to Al-Qaeda they asked for its blessing and help.
In 2009, three Londoners, Tanvir Hussain, Assad Sarwar and Ahmed Abdullah Ali, were convicted of conspiring to detonate bombs disguised as soft drinks on seven airplanes bound for Canada and the United States. The massively complex police and MI5 investigation of the plot involved more than a year of surveillance work conducted by over two hundred officers. British and U.S. officials said the plan—unlike many recent homegrown European terrorist plots—was directly linked to al-Qaeda and guided by senior Islamic militants in Pakistan.
Main article: Al-Qaeda involvement in the Middle East
Following the Yemeni unification in 1990, Wahhabi networks began moving missionaries into the country in an effort to subvert the capitalist north. Although it is unlikely bin Laden or Saudi al-Qaeda were directly involved, the personal connections they made would be established over the next decade and used in the USS Cole bombing.
In Iraq, al-Qaeda forces loosely associated with the leadership were embedded in the Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad organization commanded by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Specializing in suicide operations, they have been a “key driver” of the Sunni insurgency. Although they played a small part in the overall insurgency, between 30% and 42% of all suicide bombings which took place in the early years were claimed by Zarqawi’s organization.
Significantly, it was not until the late 1990s that al-Qaeda began training Palestinians. This is not to suggest that resistance fighters are underrepresented in the network as a number of Palestinians, mostly coming from Jordan, wanted to join and have risen to serve high-profile roles in Afghanistan. Rather, large groups such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad—which cooperate with al-Qaeda in many respects—have had difficulties accepting a strategic alliance, fearing that Al-Qaeda will co-opt their smaller cells. This may have changed recently, as Israeli security and intelligence services believe al-Qaeda has managed to infiltrate operatives from the Occupied Territories into Israel, and is waiting for the right time to mount an attack.
Main article: Kashmir Conflict
Many of the militants active in Kashmir were trained in the same Madrasahs as Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Fazlur Rehman Khalil of Kashmiri militant group Harkat-ul-Mujahideen was a signatory of Al-Qaeda’s 1998 declaration of Jihad against America and its allies. In a ‘Letter to American People’ written by Osama bin Laden in 2002 he stated that one of the reasons he was fighting America is because of her support to India on the Kashmir issue. In November 2001 Kathmandu airport went on high alert after threats that Osama Bin Laden planned to hijack a plane from there and crash it into a target in New Delhi. In 2002 U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on a trip to Delhi suggested that Al-Qaeda was active in Kashmir though he did not have any hard evidence. He proposed hi tech ground sensors along the line of control to prevent militants from infiltrating into Indian administered Kashmir. An investigation in 2002 unearthed evidence that Al-Qaeda and its affiliates were prospering in Pakistan-administered Kashmir with tacit approval of Pakistan’s National Intelligence agency Inter-Services Intelligence In 2002 a special team of Special Air Service and Delta Force was sent into Indian Administered Kashmir to hunt for Osama Bin Laden after reports that he was being sheltered by Kashmiri militant group Harkat-ul-Mujahideen which had previously been responsible for 1995 Kidnapping of western tourists in Kashmir. Britain’s highest ranking Al-qaeda operative Rangzieb Ahmed had previously fought in Kashmir with the group Harkat-ul-Mujahideen and spent time in Indian prison after being captured in Kashmir.
U.S. officials believe that Al-Qaeda was helping organize a campaign of terror in Kashmir in order to provoke conflict between India and Pakistan. Their strategy was to force Pakistan to move its troops to the border with India thereby relieving pressure on Al-Qaeda elements hiding in northwestern Pakistan. In 2006 Al-Qaeda claim they have established wing in Kashmir this has worried the Indian government. .However the Indian Army Lt. Gen. H.S. Panag, GOC-in-C Northern Command said to reporters that the army has ruled out the presence of Al Qaeda in Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir furthermore he said that there is nothing that can verify reports from the media of Al Qaeda presence in the state. He however stated that Alqaeda had strong ties with Kashmir militant groups Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed based in Pakistan. It has been noted that Waziristan has now become the new battlefield for Kashmiri militants who were now fighting NATO in support of Al-Qaeda and Taliban. Dhiren Barot who wrote he Army of Madinah In Kashmir was an Al-Qaeda operative convicted for involvement in 2004 financial buildings plot had received training in weapons and explosives at a militant training camp in Kashmir.
Maulana Masood Azhar the founder of another Kashmiri group Jaish-e-Mohammed is believed to have met Osama bin laden several times and received funding from him. In 2002 Jaish-e-Mohammed organized the kidnapping and murder of Daniel Pearl in an operation run in conjunction with Al-qaeda and funded by Bin Laden. According to American counter terrorism expert Bruce Riedel Al-Qaeda and Taliban were closely involved in the 1999 hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight 814 to Kandahar which led to release of Maulana Masood Azhar & Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh from an Indian prison in exchange for the passengers. This hijacking Riedel stated was rightly described by then Indian Foreign minister Jaswant Singh as a ‘dress rehearsal’ for September 11 attacks  Osama Bin laden personally welcomed Azhar and threw a lavish party in his honor after his release, according to Abu Jandal bodyguard of Bin Laden. Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh who had been in Indian prison for his role in 1994 kidnappings of Western tourists in India went on to murder of Daniel Pearl and was sentenced to death by Pakistan. Al-Qaeda operative Rashid Rauf who was one of the accused in 2006 transatlantic aircraft plot was related to Maulana Masood Azhar by marriage.
Lashkar-e-Taiba a Kashmiri militant group which is thought to be behind 2008 Mumbai attacks is also known to have strong ties to senior Al-qaeda leaders living in Pakistan. In Late 2002 top Al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah was arrested while being sheltered by Lashkar-e-Taiba in a safe house in Faisalabad. FBI believes that Al-Qaeda and Lashkar have been ‘intertwined’ for a long time while CIA has said that Al-Qaeda funds Lashkar-e-Taiba. French investigating magistrate Jean-Louis Bruguière who was the top French counter terrorism official told Reuters in 2009 that ‘Lashkar-e-Taiba is no longer a Pakistani movement with only a Kashmir political or military agenda. Lashkar-e-Taiba is a member of al Qaeda.'
On September 2009 U.S. Drone strike reportedly killed Ilyas Kashmiri who was the chief of Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami a Kashmiri militant group associated with Al Qaeda. Kashmiri was described by Bruce Riedel as a ‘prominent’ Al-qaeda member. while others have described him as head of military operations for Al-Qaeda. Kashmiri was also charged by U.S. in a plot against Jyllands-Posten the Danish newspaper which was at the center of Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons controversy.. U.S. officials also believe that Kashmiri was involved in the Camp Chapman attack against CIA. In January 2010 Indian authorities notified Britain of an Al-qaeda plot to hijack and Indian airlines or Air India plane and crash it into a British city. This information was uncovered from interrogation of Amjad Khwaja on operative of Harkat-ul-Jihad al-Islami who had been arrested in India.
In January 2010 U.S. Defense secretary Robert Gates while on a visit to Pakistan stated that Al-qaeda was seeking to destabilize the region and planning to provoke a nuclear war between India and Pakistan..
Timothy L. Thomas claims that 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.
Abu Ayyub al-Masri’s al-Qaeda movement in Iraq regularly releases short videos glorifying the activity of jihadist suicide bombers. In addition, both before and after the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (the former leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq), the umbrella organization to which al-Qaeda in Iraq belongs, the Mujahideen Shura Council, has a regular presence on the Web where pronouncements are given by Murasel. The range of multimedia content includes guerrilla training clips, stills of victims about to be murdered, testimonials of suicide bombers, and videos that sho participation in jihad through stylized portraits of mosques and musical scores. A website associated with al-Qaeda posted a video of captured American entrepreneur 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 on jihadist websites.
In December 2004 an audio message claiming to be from Bin Laden was posted directly to a website, rather than sending a copy to al Jazeera as he had done in the past.
Al Qaeda turned to the Internet for release of its videos in order to be certain it would be available unedited, rather than risk the possibility of al Jazeera editors editing the videos and cutting out anything critical of the Saudi royal family. Bin Laden’s December 2004 message was much more vehement than usual in this speech, lasting over an hour.
In the past, Alneda.com and Jehad.net were perhaps the most significant al-Qaeda websites. Alneda was initially taken down by American Jon Messner, but the operators resisted by shifting the site to various servers and strategically shifting content.
The U.S. is currently attempting to extradite a British information technology specialist, Babar Ahmad, on charges of operating a network of English-language al-Qaeda websites, such as Azzam.com. Ahmad’s extradition is opposed by various British Muslim organizations, such as the Muslim Association of Britain.
Al-Qaeda is believed to be operating a clandestine aviation network including “several Boeing 727 aircraft”, turboprops and executive jets, according to a Reuters story. Based on a US Department of Homeland Security report, the story said that Al-Qaeda is possibly using aircraft to transport drugs and weapons from South America to various unstable countries in West Africa. A Boeing 727 can carry up to 10 tons of cargo. The drugs eventually are smuggled to Europe for distribution and sale, and the weapons are used in conflicts in Africa and possibly elsewhere. Gunmen with links to Al-Qaeda have been increasingly kidnapping some Europeans for ransom. The profits from the drug and weapon sales, and kidnappings can, in turn, fund more terrorism activities.
Alleged CIA involvement
Main article: Allegations of CIA assistance to Osama bin Laden
Experts debate whether or not the al-Qaeda attacks were blowback from the American CIA’s “Operation Cyclone” program to help the Afghan mujahideen. Robin Cook, British Foreign Secretary from 1997 to 2001, has written that al-Qaeda and Bin Laden were “a product of a monumental miscalculation by western security agencies”, and that “Al-Qaida, literally “the database”, was originally the computer file of the thousands of mujahideen who were recruited and trained with help from the CIA to defeat the Russians.”
Munir Akram, Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the United Nations from 2002 to 2008, wrote in a letter published in the New York Times on January 19, 2008:
“The strategy to support the Afghans against Soviet military intervention was evolved by several intelligence agencies, including the C.I.A. and Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI. After the Soviet withdrawal, the Western powers walked away from the region, leaving behind 40,000 militants imported from several countries to wage the anti-Soviet jihad. Pakistan was left to face the blowback of extremism, drugs and guns.” 
A variety of sources—CNN journalist Peter Bergen, Pakistani ISI Brigadier Mohammad Yousaf, and CIA operatives involved in the Afghan program, such as Vincent Cannistraro—deny that the CIA or other American officials had contact with the foreign mujahideen or Bin Laden, let alone armed, trained, coached or indoctrinated them.
This runs counter to the account of Milton Bearden, the CIA Field Officer for Afghanistan from 1985 to 1989, who distinctly recalls the unease he used to feel when meeting the Jihadi fighters: “The only times that I ran into any real trouble in Afghanistan was when I ran into ‘these guys’ – You know there’d be kind of a ‘moment’ or two that would look a little bit like the bar scene in Star Wars, ya know. Each group kinda jockeying around and finally somebody has to diffuse [sic] the situation.”
But Bergen and others argue that there was no need to recruit foreigners unfamiliar with the local language, customs or lay of the land since there were a quarter of a million local Afghans willing to fight; that foreign mujahideen themselves had no need for American funds since they received several hundred million dollars a year from non-American, Muslim sources; that Americans could not have trained mujahideen because Pakistani officials would not allow more than a handful of them to operate in Pakistan and none in Afghanistan; and that the Afghan Arabs were almost invariably militant Islamists reflexively hostile to Westerners whether or not the Westerners were helping the Muslim Afghans.
According to Peter Bergen, known for conducting the first television interview with Osama bin Laden in 1997, the idea that “the CIA funded bin Laden or trained bin Laden …[is] a folk myth. There’s no evidence of this. … Bin Laden had his own money, he was anti-American and he was operating secretly and independently. … The real story here is the CIA didn’t really have a clue about who this guy was until 1996 when they set up a unit to really start tracking him.” But as Bergen himself admitted, in one “strange incident” the CIA did appear to give visa help to mujahideen-recruiter Omar Abdel-Rahman.
According to a number of sources there has been a “wave of revulsion” against Al Qaeda and its affiliates by “religious scholars, former fighters and militants” alarmed by Al Qaeda’s takfir and killing of Muslims in Muslim countries, especially Iraq.
Noman Benotman, a former Afghan Arab and militant of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, went public with an open letter of criticism to Ayman al-Zawahiri in November 2007 after persuading imprisoned senior leadership of his former group to enter into peace negotiations with the Libyan regime. While Ayman al-Zawahiri announced the affiliation of the group with Al Qaeda in November 2007, the Libyan government released 90 members of the group from prison several months later after “they were said to have renounced violence.”
In 2007, around the sixth anniversary of September 11 and a couple of months before Rationalizing Jihad first appeared in the newspapers, the Saudi sheikh Salman al-Ouda delivered a personal rebuke to bin Laden. Al-Ouda, a religious scholar and one of the fathers of the Sahwa, the fundamentalist awakening movement that swept through Saudi Arabia in the 1980s, is a widely respected critic of jihadism. Al-Ouda addressed Al Qaeda’s leader on television asking him
My brother Osama, how much blood has been spilt? How many innocent people, children, elderly, and women have been killed … in the name of Al Qaeda? Will you be happy to meet God Almighty carrying the burden of these hundreds of thousands or millions [of victims] on your back?
According to Pew polls, support for Al Qaeda has been dropping around the Muslim world in the years leading to 2008. The numbers supporting suicide bombings in Indonesia, Lebanon, and Bangladesh, for instance, have dropped by half or more in the last five years. In Saudi Arabia, only 10 percent now have a favorable view of Al Qaeda, according to a December poll by Terror Free Tomorrow, a Washington-based think tank.
In 2007, the imprisoned Sayyed Imam Al-Sharif, an influential Afghan Arab, “ideological godfather of Al Qaeda”, and former supporter of takfir, sensationally withdrew his support from al Qaeda with a book Wathiqat Tarshid Al-‘Aml Al-Jihadi fi Misr w’Al-‘Alam (Rationalizing Jihad in Egypt and the World).
Although once associated with al-Qaeda, in September 2009 LIFG completed a new “code” for jihad, a 417-page religious document entitled “Corrective Studies”. Given its credibility and the fact that several other prominent Jihadists in the Middle East have turned against al Qaeda, the LIFG’s about face may be an important step toward staunching al Qaeda’s recruitment.
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