Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Al Qaeda is a militant Islamic organization that has engaged in terrorist activities since its creation in 1988. Al Qaeda is a global network with worldwide influence stationed largely in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and various African nations. Western powers have largely been a target of Al Qaeda attacks with the U.S. being its primary threat and enemy. Through the use of jihad Al Qaeda stretched its authority and scope to the far reaches of Islamic society and has only recently been on the decline. Al Qaeda is important to study because of its impact on today’s world and in its interpretation of Islam.
“Established around 1988 by bin Laden, Al Qaeda helped finance, recruit, transport and train thousands of fighters from dozens of countries to be part of an Afghan resistance to defeat the Soviet Union.”[i] During this time period the Soviet Union was still a large superpower with enormous military and economic power. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 a decade of guerilla warfare ensued. Many Muslims saw the Soviet invasion as an attack on Islam itself and thus used this moment as a rallying cry for the cause of their people. Radical Muslims from across the Middle East joined the cause and waged jihad against the Soviets.
Osama bin Laden was one of the Muslims that joined the Mujhadeen cause like thousands of other radical holy fighters. Lester Grau and Michael Gress argue that “faced with this imposing security challenge, and burdened with a military doctrine, strategy, and operational and tactical techniques suited to a European or Chinese theater of war, the Soviet Army was hard-pressed to devise military methodologies suited to deal with the Afghan guerrillas.”[ii] This type of warfare proved to be too frustrating for the Soviets and thus they withdrew in 1989. With the end of the war there were still thousands of fighters looking to continue jihad and fight for their ideals. Many returned to their homes only to return later to join Al Qaeda.
Throughout the 1990’s bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri expanded the influence of Al Qaeda through radical jihadist literature. Terrorist manuals were given out and the internal structure of Al Qaeda began to take shape.[iii] Afghanistan in 90’s was wrought with civil war and warring factions. Al Qaeda however was able to unite several ideas and factions by continuing the jihad and refocusing its attention towards the U.S. Al Qaeda operated in Sudan for much of the 90’s and then moved headquarters to Afghanistan up until 2001 when the U.S. invaded.[iv]
Al Qaeda since 2001 has largely been a nomadic, tribal, terrorist network that relies on Sunni extremism and those sympathetic to their cause.[v] They no longer have a viable, physical headquarters but rather operate underground and in secret. They have engaged in multiple acts of terrorism since this time including the attack on the World Trade Center, the London bus bombings, and other bombings throughout Europe and the Middle East. After the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011, al-Zawahiri took command of Al Qaeda and their mission continues. They are no longer as powerful or influential as they used to be, however they still have significant impact on jihadist doctrine and similar terrorist organizations still in operation.
As mentioned above, Osama bin Laden was the primary founder of Al Qaeda and exerted the most influence and control over the organization for the majority of its existence. Bin Laden came from a wealthy Saudi Arabian family but was exiled from his homeland after the Soviet-Afghan War for speaking out against the Saudi government.[vi] Osama began forming Al Qaeda following the war and recruited Muslim extremists to join his cause. His first attacks were on Egypt, Tanzania, and Kenya; all of which were cooperating with the U.S.[vii] He further pushed a holy war against the West and took credit for the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. He was unquestionably the most important authority within Al Qaeda and shaped the organization’s goals, tactics, and operations.
Khaled Sheik Mohammed was also a very important leader of Al Qaeda. By most accounts he is considered to be the mastermind behind 9/11. He also confessed to being the head of the Al Qaeda military committee as well as its propaganda wing.[viii] Khaled Sheik Mohammed is heralded as an efficient organizer and is said to have participated in over 30 plots of terror before his detention in Guantanamo Bay.[ix]
The ideology of Al Qaeda is fundamentalist, political, and very radical. They are predominantly a Sunni movement that further expanded the views of Sayid Qutb and radical Islamists. Bin Laden wanted to forcibly convert all people to the Islam religion and establish Islamic governments across the world. Bin Laden believed that the U.S. was the primary enemy of Muslims and thus focused terrorist attacks towards the West and those under western influence. This differed from previous radical Islamists because the enemy was now a foreign power that was not in the Middle East. Al Qaeda promoted jihad against all non-Muslims and those who did not believe in the same radical Islam as they did. This was certainly a step in a new direction and paved the way for an increase of bombings and attacks.
Type of Activism
Al Qaeda certainly uses terrorism as its means for activism. It can be argued that Al Qaeda started off with political goals of removing non-Islamist governments but this soon expanded to include jihad and fatwa of all non-Muslims. They are organized in a cell structure that decreases centralization but increases secretiveness. This allows Al Qaeda to carry out attacks with considerably more effectiveness. “Although the network of terrorist cells has an established leadership and command structure, direct approval from the top is not necessarily needed to commit an act of terrorism in Al Qaeda’s name.”[x] Al Qaeda is very mobile and nomadic and stretches across many continents.
They are highly trained in suicide bombings and making explosives. Many are used for the purpose of assassination of political leaders and the destruction of U.S. embassies. The events of September 11 were certainly the largest terrorist act committed by Al Qaeda. This has further been used as a recruiting tool to bring in more radical Islamists. The future of Al Qaeda depends on its ability to stay organized and recruit new members. The majority of Muslims strongly oppose terrorist organizations but they must work with the West in rooting out Al Qaeda at its core.
[i] GlobalSecurity.org, Al Qaeda Military, 2012, available from http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/para/al-qaida.htm.
[ii] Lester Grau & Michael Gress, The Soviet-Afghan War: How a Superpower Fought and Lost, 2002, available from http://www.kansaspress.ku.edu/grasovpreface.html.
[vi] Biography.com, Osama Bin Laden, 2012, available from http://www.biography.com/people/osama-bin-laden-37172?page=1.
[viii] BBC News World, Profile: Khalid Sheik Mohammed-al-Qaida’kingpin’, 2012, available from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-12964158.
[x] Center for Defense Information, In the Spotlight: Al Qaeda (The Base), 2002, available from http://www.cdi.org/terrorism/alqaeda.cfm.
“Al Qaeda Military.” GlobalSecurity.org, 2012. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/para/al-qaida.htm.
This source was used to explain the military aspect of Al Qaeda including its organizational structure as well as its tactics and leaders. This was helpful in understanding the theory behind their acts.
Grau, Lester and Gress, Michael. “The Soviet-Afghan War: How a Superpower Fought and Lost.” 2002. http://www.kansaspress.ku.edu/grasovpreface.html.
This source was used to understand the relationship between the Afghan guerillas and the Russian military. This was the precursor to the formation of Al Qaeda.
“In the Spotlight: Al Qaeda (The Base).” Center for Defense Information, 2002, http://www.cdi.org/terrorism/alqaeda.cfm.
This source further examined the Al Qaeda command structure and their style of organization. It also looked at the military and logistical aspects of their attacks.
“Osama Bin Laden,” Biography.com, 2012, http://www.biography.com/people/osama-bin-laden-37172?page=1.
This source was used get a background on Bin Laden and to understand his ideas about Islam and terrorism.
“Profile: Khalid Sheik Mohammed-al-Qaida ‘kingpin’.” BBC News World, 2012. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-12964158.
This source gave great insight into the role KSM played in the 9/11 terrorist attack. He was one of the most vital aspects of Al Qaeda and this source detailed both his exploits and torture.
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