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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.[1]

Founding in PakistanEdit

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.[2]

According to Wright, the group's real name wasn't used in public pronouncements because "its existence was still a closely held secret."[3] 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.[4]

Jihad in AfghanistanEdit

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 Wikipedia[5] (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 Wikipedia agency to the native Afghan mujahideen fighting the Soviet occupation in a CIA program called Operation Cyclone.[6][7]

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,[8] 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.[9]Template: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,"[10] 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.[11]

Beginning in 1987, Azzam and bin Laden started creating camps inside Afghanistan.[12] 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.[13] 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.[14]

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.

Expanding operationsEdit

...the correlation between the words and deeds of bin Laden, his lieutenants and their allies was close to perfect – if they said they were going to do something, they were much more than likely to try to do it. Their record in this regard puts Western leaders to shame.

Michael Scheuer Wikipedia, CIA Station Chief[15]

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.[16] 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."[17]

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.[18] Nosair was eventually convicted in connection to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing Wikipedia, 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.[19]

Gulf War and the start of U.S. enmityEdit

Main article: Gulf War

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.[20]

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.[21]

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[22] 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.[23][24] 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.[25]

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.

According to Pakistani-American businessman Mansoor Ijaz, the Sudanese government offered the Clinton Administration numerous opportunities to arrest bin Laden. Those opportunities were met positively by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright but spurned when Susan Rice and counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke persuaded National Security Advisor Sandy Berger Wikipedia to overrule Albright.

Ijaz’s claims in this regard appeared in numerous Op-Ed pieces including one in the Los Angeles Times [26] and one in the Washington Post co-written with former Ambassador to Sudan Timothy Carney .[27]

Similar allegations have been made by Vanity Fair contributing editor David Rose[28] and Richard Miniter, author of Losing bin Laden, in a November 2003 interview with World.[29]

Several sources dispute Ijaz's claim, including the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks on the United States (the 9–11 Commission) which concluded in part “Sudan's minister of defense, Fatih Erwa, has claimed that Sudan offered to hand Bin Ladin over to the United States. The Commission has found no credible evidence that this was so. Ambassador Carney had instructions only to push the Sudanese to expel Bin Ladin. Ambassador Carney had no legal basis to ask for more from the Sudanese since, at the time, there was no indictment out-standing.” [30]

Refuge in AfghanistanEdit

Main article: Background of the Taliban's rise to power

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 (madrassa Wikipedias) 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.[31] The town is situated near Peshawar in Pakistan but largely attended by Afghan refugees.[31] 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.[32] 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,[33] 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, some sources reported that the Taliban had severed any remaining ties with al-Qaeda,[34] while others cast doubt on this.[35] According to senior U.S. military intelligence officials, there are fewer than 100 members of Al-Qaeda remaining in Afghanistan.[36]

The call for a global jihadEdit

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.[37] 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.[38]


In 1996, al-Qaeda announced its jihad to expel foreign troops and interests from what they considered Islamic lands. Bin Laden issued a fatwa,[39] 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.[40] Under the banner of the World Islamic Front for Combat Against the Jews and Crusaders they declared:

[T]he 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'.[41]

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.[42][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.[43][44]

Way to Somalia and YemenEdit

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 Wikipedia.[45] 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.[46] Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for the 2009 bombing attack on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.[47] 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 operationsEdit

Awlaki 1008

Anwar al-Awlaki

In December 1998, the Director of Central Intelligence Counterterrorist Center reported to the president that al-Qaeda was preparing for attacks in the USA, including the training of personnel to hijack aircraft.[48]

[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.[49] 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.[50]

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.”[51] 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.[52]

  1. Jason Burke and Paddy Allen (2009-09-11). ""The five ages of al-Qaida"". London: Guardian. Retrieved 2010-03-22. 
  2. Wright 2006, pp. 133–134.
  3. Wright 2006, p. 260.
  4. Wright 2008.
  5. Cooley, John K. (Spring 2003). "Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, America and International Terrorism" (reprint). Demokratizatsiya. 
  6. "How the CIA created Osama bin Laden". Green Left Weekly. 2001-09-19. Retrieved 2007-01-09. 
  7. "1986–1992: CIA and British Recruit and Train Militants Worldwide to Help Fight Afghan War". Cooperative Research History Commons. Retrieved 2007-01-09. 
  8. "Maktab al-Khidamat". 2006-01-11. Retrieved 2007-02-11. 
  9. Wright 2006.
  10. Cloonan Frontline interview, PBS, July 13, 2005.
  11. Gunaratna 2002, p. 19. Quotes taken from Riedel 2008, p. 42 and Wright 2006, p. 103.
  12. Sageman 2004, p. 35.
  13. Wright 2006, p. 137.
  14. "The War on Terror and the Politics of Violence in Pakistan". The Jamestown Foundation. 2004-07-02. Retrieved 2007-01-09. 
  15. Scehuer, Michael. "Marching Towards Hell", 2008. p. 10
  16. "The Osama bin Laden I know". 2006-01-18. Retrieved 2007-01-09. 
  17. Wright 2006, p. 181.
  18. "MIPT Terrorism Knowledge Base". Retrieved 2010-03-22. 
  19. "Osama bin Laden: The Past". Retrieved 2007-01-12. 
  20. Jehl, Douglas (2001-12-27). "A Nation Challenged: Holy war lured Saudis as rulers looked away". The New York Times: pp. A1, B4. Retrieved 2009-09-05. 
  21. Riedel 2008, p. 52.
  22. Wright 2006, p. 186.
  23. Wright 2006, p. 195.
  24. "Osama bin Laden: A Chronology of His Political Life". PBS. Retrieved 2007-01-12. 
  25. "Context of 'Shortly After April 1994'". Cooperative Research History Commons. Retrieved 2007-01-12. 
  26. Ijaz, Mansoor (2001-12-05). "Clinton Let Bin Laden Slip Away and Metastasize – Los Angeles Times". Retrieved 2010-03-22. 
  27. Carney, Timothy; Mansoor Ijaz (June 30, 2002). "Intelligence Failure? Let's Go Back to Sudan". Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-12-01. 
  28. Rose, David (January, 2002). "The Osama Files". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 2008-12-01. 
  29. Belz, Mindy (November 1, 2003). "'Clinton did not have the will to respond'". World. Retrieved 2008-12-01. 
  30. "National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States". Retrieved 2010-03-22. 
  31. 31.0 31.1 Rashid 2002.
  32. Napoleoni 2003, pp. 121–123; Akacem 2005 ("[Napoleoni] does a decent job of covering al-Qaida and presents some numbers and estimates that are of value [to terrorism scholars].").
  33. Kronstadt & Katzman 2008.
  34. By Nic Robertson CNN Senior International Correspondent. "". Retrieved 2010-03-22. 
  35. Roggio, Bill Taliban have not split from al Qaeda: sources October 7, 2008 The Long War Journal
  36. Partlow, Joshua. In Afghanistan, Taliban surpasses al-Qaeda" November 11, 2009
  37. Sageman 2004, pp. 48, 51.
  38. Trofimov 2006, p. 282.
  39. "Bin Laden's Fatwa". Al Quds Al Arabi. August 1996. Retrieved 2007-01-09. 
  40. Summary taken from bin Laden's May 26, 1998 interview with American journalist John Miller. Most recently broadcast in the documentary Age of Terror, part 4, with translations checked by Barry Purkis (archive researcher).
  41. "Text of Fatwah Urging Jihad Against Americans". Retrieved 2006-05-15. 
  42. Benjamin & Simon 2002, p. 117. "By issuing fatwas, bin Laden and his followers are acting out a kind of self-appointment as alim: they are asserting their rights as interpreters of Islamic law."
  43. Nyquist, J.R. (August 13, 2005). "Is Al Qaeda a Kremlin Proxy?". Retrieved 2008-04-17. 
  44. "Obituary: Alexander Litvinenko". BBC News. November 24, 2006. Retrieved 2008-04-16. 
  45. "". 2010-01-03. Retrieved 2010-03-22. 
  46. "Al-Qaeda Slowly Makes Its Way to Somalia and Yemen". Retrieved 2009-09-23. 
  47. Font size Print E-mail Share 1 Comment (2009-12-28). "CBS News Dec. 28, 2009 Al Qaeda: We Planned Flight 253 Bombing Terrorist Group Says It Was In Retaliation for U.S. Operation in Yemen; Obama Orders Reviews of Watchlist and Air Safety". Retrieved 2010-03-22. 
  48. "Bin Ladin Preparing to Hijack US Aircraft and Other Attacks". Director of Central Intelligence Wikipedia. 1998-12-04. Retrieved 2010-04-18. 
  49. Chucmach, Megan, and Ross, Brian, "Al Qaeda Recruiter New Focus in Fort Hood Killings Investigation Army Major Nidal Hasan Was In Contact With Imam Anwar Awlaki, Officials Say," ABC News, November 10, 2009, accessed November 12, 2009
  50. Esposito, Richard, Cole, Matthew, and Ross, Brian, "Officials: U.S. Army Told of Hasan's Contacts with al Qaeda; Army Major in Fort Hood Massacre Used 'Electronic Means' to Connect with Terrorists," ABC News, November 9, 2009, accessed November 12, 2009
  51. February 27, 2008 Imam From Va. Mosque Now Thought to Have Aided Al-Qaeda.
  52. "CBS News January 21, 2009 7:44 PM Al Qaeda Unveils Plan To Strike Supply Lines to U.S. Forces in The Arab "Zindani, who is wanted for questioning by the FBI over the attack on USS Cole"". 2009-01-21. Retrieved 2010-03-22. 
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