Osama Bin Laden is known to have been the mastermind behind Al Qaeda in Afghanistan in 1980s. Born in the year 1957, Osama Bin Laden was the seventh son in a family of twenty brothers born to A Saudi construction entrepreneur from Yemen (Hayes, Brunner and Rowen 1). Since most Saudis are Sunni Muslims, known for being strong conservatives, Osama Bin Laden adopted the views of militant Islamist while undertaking his studies at King Abdul Aziz University in Saudi Arabia (Katzman 1). While at the University, Osama remained under Muhammad Qutb, who was a brother to the famous Sayyid Qutb, a key idealist for the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni Islamist movement. Dr Abdullah Azzam was another instructor at the University. During this time Azzam was a major player in the Jordanian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. Notably, Azzam has been recognized by some people as the mind behind Jihad between 1979 and 1989 as it resisted the inhabitation of Afghanistan by the Soviet and ultimately, an architect of the Al Qaeda terror group. He considered the invasion by the Soviet as conquering the Muslim sacred territory by a non-Muslim power (Rabasa et al. 17).
Osama Bin Laden joined Azzam in Afghanistan in December 1979 after the Soviet invasion. However, this was not to be his permanent destination. Osama sacrificed his funds to get established as a donor to the Mujahedin and as a key enroller of Arabs and several Islamic volunteers into war (Katzman 2). Together with Azzam, they strengthened this assistance by developing a network that was aimed at raising funds and recruiting warriors in Europe, the United States and within the Arab World. The network was referred to as the Maktab al-Khidamat or Al Khifar. Based on this analogy, Maktab was considered as a higher-profile personality in the formation of Al Qaeda (Hayes, Brunner and Rowen 1). Umar Abd al-Rahman also utilized the established network to recruit people into the Anti-Soviet Jihad. Additionally, Bin Laden participated in 1987 during an assault on the Soviet armor by numerous foreign volunteers. During his confession, Bin Laden mentioned that he suffered injuries during the battle after encountering a chemical attack by Soviet fighters (Katzman 2).
It was during this time that the United States viewed the recruitment network positively as it thought that its only aim was to expel Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (Hayes, Brunner and Rowen 1). As a result, the U.S. did not consider any threat or problem with non-Afghan joining the war through an Islamic network of recruitment. Although several U.S. officials have denied American support of the volunteers, it spent close to $3bn on financing Islamic fundamentalist who were fighting the fierce Soviet forces (Katzman 3). While Laden and other players had not been known for any participation in the attacks against the U.S., the group was opposed to the support, which Israel was getting from the United States.
In late 1980s when Soviet ended its occupation in Afghanistan, Osama and Azzam wondered how they were to utilize the established network. Even though the population of the network was approximated to be 20,000, all these did not actively participate in Al-Qaeda activities (Blanchard 2). According to Azzam, there was a need to develop the network into a “rapid reaction force” that would protect Muslims during anytime of the threat. However, Azzam and Bin Laden differed on this view as Osama supported the dispatch of network members to their respective countries and plan for the toppling of pro Western Arab leaders who included Hussein Mubarak of Egypt and the Royal family of Saudi Arabia. This difference was somehow attributed to Bin Laden’s influence in Egypt through his inner circle. This influence purposefully targeted the installation of an Islamic State in Egypt by Abd al-Rahman (William 20).
Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri was also a top confidant of Bin Laden in Egypt. The two had been imprisoned and acquitted for the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in the year 1981. He had relocated to Afghanistan in 1985, considering it a safe haven. While in Afghanistan, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri attended to al-Qaeda fighters using his medical skills. The assassination of Azzam in 1989 was linked to Osama’s quest to resolve power conflict between them. Following this, Bin Laden resumed full management of Muktab and the chief finance controller of the network.
Having moved to Sudan and exiled by Saudi Arabia, Bin Laden relocated the operations of Al Qaeda operational base in the region. From Sudan, he coordinated with other groups from North Africa and the Middle East and laid a foundation for the anti-West Jihad. Bin Laden launched a fatwa against the U.S. deployment to Somalia and continuously planned attacks against the United States. It was blamed for the downing of two U.S. helicopters in the year 1993 and the bombing of the World Trade Center in the same year (William 20).
Due to pressure from all over, Osama was forced to return to Afghanistan where he struggled to reorganize his Al Qaeda network. With the rise of Taliban in Afghanistan, Al Qaeda was confident to issue another fatwa to the United States and its citizens around the globe in 1998. By this time, the Egyptian Islamist Jihad emerged under the leadership of Ayman al-Zawahri, second in ranking after Bin Laden. As a result, Al Qaeda upgraded to become the home of international terrorism.
Before this stage, Al Qaeda had focused on funding, training and aiding of other terror groups around the world. However, its safe haven in Afghanistan allowed it to advance and acquire a new status in terrorism. In 1998, the group launched an attack on U.S embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. It was later discovered that the attack was directed and executed principally by Osama Bin Laden (Hayes, Brunner and Rowen 1). Furthermore, Al Qaeda was responsible for the attack in Yemen, which targeted the U.S.S. Cole, an incident that left seventeen sailors from America dead.
Throughout the history of Al Qaeda, it is believed that its 2001 attack on the United States, dabbed 911 was the most devastating success of the group under the command of Osama Bin Laden. The attack left at least three thousand civilians dead. Despite its evident responsibility in that fierce attack, the U.S. military force got determined to cripple and uproot the terror group in Afghanistan in response to 911 (Blanchard 4). With the termination of Taliban and the hiding of Osama Bin Laden, Al Qaeda’s operations became paralyzed and more decentralized, with several commanders being in command of some of the key command responsibilities formerly held by Bin Laden.
The command and structure of Al Qaeda was made up of Majlis shura, a consultation council that analyzed and authorized the operations of the terror group. Notably, Bin Laden and Atef were members of the council. Bin Laden was killed on May 1, 2011 by U.S. Navy Seals in Pakistan. Nevertheless, his death might not be the end of Al Qaeda, based on its established network around the world.
Al Qaeda People
As implied in the previous section, Al Qaeda started as a network of Muslim and non-Muslim volunteers who were fighting against Soviet invasion. Led by Osama Bin Laden, the group grew to become a global network with members from all walks of life. Being at the helm of its leadership, Osama remained a public and influential figure in and outside the operations of the terror group. With his background recorded above, Osama’s citizenship was revoked in 1994 by Saudi Arabia after his intentions and activities were known.
Osama was also known as Usama bin Muhammed bin Laden, Abu Adullah, The Engineer, Manager, Director and The Shayhk (Bajoria and Bruno 1). As a powerful leader of the organization, all Al Qaeda members were required to respect him and honor his commands. Before his capture and death, a $25 million reward was announced by the U.S. government for any information that would lead to his arrest. Outside Al Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden was married to five wives and had a single divorce. He is believed to have had more than twenty children, some of whom have fought alongside him. Others disowned him after his divorce and marrying a young seventeen years-old woman from Yemen (Bruce 38).
On the other hand, Ayman al Zawahiri was an Egyptian also known as Dr. Ayman al Zawahiri, Abu Mohammed Nur al-Deen, Muhammad Ibrahim, Abu Muhammad among other names. He formerly served as the head of Islamic Jihad in Egypt before the group joined forces within Al Qaeda in mid 2001. Besides being the leader of Egyptian Jihad, Ayman al Zawahiri was its founder (Bajoria and Bruno 1). The Egyptian Islamic Jihad was opposed to leadership of Egypt, terming it as secular and pro Western ideologies. As a result, the group severally tried to topple the government and was directly linked to the assassination of President Anwar Sadat. While in Al Qaeda, Ayman al Zawahiri played an advisory role to the commander of the group and a personal physician. A reward of $25 million was also put on his head by the U.S. government for being part of the Al Qaeda mastermind (Rabasa et al 69).
Similarly, Saif Saif al-Din al-Ansari al-Adel or Mohammed Makkawi was the third in hierarchy. He was the head of military operations and strategist. He succeeded Mohamed Atef, who died in 2001 and Khalid Sheik Mohamed who was captured in the year 2003. He had previously served as the security boss of the group. He attempted to hijack as a commercial aircraft in 1987 to fly it into Egyptian parliament (Bajoria and Bruno 1). Saif Saif al-Din al-Ansari al-Adel wrote a detailed analysis giving advice on how Iraq could successfully attack the United States. His head also carried a $25 million reward. Other personalities included Amin al-Haq from Afghanistan, Suleiman Abu Ghaith the spokesman from Kuwait, Mafouz Ould Walid from Mauritania, Mafouz Ould Walid from Egypt and Abu Musab al Zarqawi to name but a few (Hayes, Brunner and Rowen 1).
Although the initial reason for the formation of Al Qaeda was to resist Soviet invasion, many believe that its ideology changed long ago and shifted towards resisting the influence of America in all Islamic countries around the world (Rabasa et al. 19). The group targeted Arab countries, which appeared to support the West and organized a series of directed and well planned strategies to oust leaders like the former Egyptian President, Hussein Mubarak, Saudi Arabian Royal Family and the complete destruction of Israel. Bin Laden also believed in uniting all Muslim countries and form a single nation that would adhere to the initial Caliphs (Rabasa et al. 19).
According to his 1998 fatwa, it was the responsibility of all Muslims in the world to join together and lead a holy war that would cripple the U.S., kill its citizens around the world and wipe all the Jews in the Middle East (Rabasa et al. 20). The declaration further stated that defaulters of the fatwa were to be considered as apostates. Al Qaeda’s ideology, Jihadism is principally rooted in the willingness to kill non Muslims especially from the West and fully emphasizes Jihad. Although Muslims have distanced from Jihadism, it is closely affiliated to the works of Sayyid Qutb and Mohammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab who were Sunni thinkers (Rabasa et al. 20).
Moreover, Al-Wahhab, a reformer in the 18th century argued that there was corruption of a generation after the death of Mohammed. He, therefore, failed to recognize any form of theology that was developed after Mohammed. Together with his supporters, he took over the current Saudi Arabia and the home of Wahhabism (Bajoria and Bruno 1). Similarly, Sayyid Qutb denounced Western Civilization, terming it as an Islamic enemy. He also condemned Muslim leaders for ignoring Islam to the latter and argued that Jihad was not only to be used in defense of Islam but also in the purification process.
Besides having thousands of members around the world, Al Qaeda too is affiliated to other terror groups. Due to its decentralized structure, it is impossible to tell the origin of Al Qaeda’s strength (Rabasa et al. 21). It has countless associates around the globe and has trained over five thousand militants in Afghanistan since its establishment in 1980s. It further serves as the control center for other organized terror groups like the Harakat ul-Mujahidin, al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya members, and the the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Financially, the group benefited from sacrifices made by Bin Laden after he inherited massive wealth from his billionaire father. The group further mobilizes funds from its businesses, donations from like-minded groups and people and illegal siphoning of money from charitable organizations in Arab countries (Rabasa et al. 21). However, most of these paths have been blocked by the United States in paralyzing its operations.
In addition, little is known about Al Qaeda’s current status after the killing of its leader, Osama Bin Laden in May this year together with others who have been captured and or killed. Analysts argue that his death is likely to affect its operations and strength since most members and other leaders of the group derived high inspiration from him (Bajoria and Bruno 1). Its ultimate task and challenge are to find a successor who will not only drive its agenda but unite its members and associate parties. However, with its influence and membership having expanded to every part of the world, Al Qaeda slogan, “one man one bomb” remains a major security threat.
Al Qaeda Activities
In most of its operations, Al Qaeda has mainly targeted United States and its citizens around the world. Additionally, its ideology aimed at destroying Israel. Its attacks have also aimed on Muslim governments and leaders whom it considers corrupts and bends towards Westernization (Bajoria and Bruno 1). Not to mention the Saudi Monarchy which Bin Laden planned to topple before his citizenship was revoked. Throughout its operations, the attacks have either been successful or fatal to the group as enumerated below:
In October 2007, Al Qaeda carried out a suicide bombing attack in Pakistan which narrowly missed. The main outcome of this attack was the death of then Pakistani Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto. Two months later, Pakistani experienced another attack that left the former Prime Minister dead. Pakistani officials solely blamed Baitullah Mahsud for the attacks. Although he was not a member of Al Qaeda, Mahsud was a top leader of Taliban in Pakistan, a close ally of Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda (Bajoria and Bruno 1). Another successful attack by the group was carried out in the February 2006 against the Abqaiq petroleum plant in Saudi Arabia, this facility is the largest in the world. The 2004 attack on Madrid commuter trains was also considered successful, leaving two hundred people dead and almost two thousand others nursing serious injuries. In November 2002, Al Qaeda recorded car attacks and failed attack on Israeli Jetliner in Mombasa, Kenya.
The 911 Al Qaeda Attack is still regarded as the most devastating terrorist attack in the history of the United States, which left close to three thousand people dead (Blanchard 4). During the attack, two commercial airlines were flown into the World Trade Center intentionally while a third in Pentagon. A fourth airline was to hit the United States Capitol but failed after it crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania (Bajoria and Bruno 1). The attack was mainly conducted by the outlawed terror group, Al Qaeda with respect to the 1998 fatwa which had been given by its leader Bin Laden. The proclamation declared war against the United States and its allies. There was enough investigative evidence that narrowed down to suicide squads led by Mohamed Atta, Al Qaeda’s military commander. Other leaders like Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri played key roles at the planning stage (William 20).
After this fatal attack, there were messages believed to have been sent by Bin Laden praising the operation and how it was a source of motivation to their continued fight and resistance against the United States and its allies (William 21). Ironically, Bin Laden denied Al Qaeda‘s involvement even after stating the motivating impact of the event. He legitimized the 911 attack arguing that the expressed grievances by Islamist Muslims and the mainstream was a clear sign of America’s oppressive nature. He reiterated that America was massively killing Muslims in Iraq, Kashmir, Palestine and Chechnya, making it a ground to call Muslims to retain the attacking spirit (Bajoria and Bruno 1).
In dealing with Al Qaeda and trying to wipe it, the U.S. has engaged some strategies like trade ban on Taliban and freezing its assets in the United States. The use of cruise missiles on terror camps has also been witnessed, leading to several casualties and death of some leaders (Katzman 4). The UN has also supported these efforts through banning of arm shipment or advice to terror groups. These continuous efforts led to the capture and killing of Osama Bin Laden in May 1 2011, bringing down curtains on his reign. Though weakened by his absence, Al Qaeda remains a threat to global security due to its decentralized network.
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