A Short History of al-Qaeda
The history of the Sunni-Muslim organization al-Qaeda ("The Base") can be traced to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Osama bin Laden, a young, wealthy Islamic idealist from Saudi Arabia, felt compelled to assist his fellow Muslims in their struggle against these "infidels." He moved his factories to Afghanistan, and joined the resistance group Maktab al-Khadamat (MAK), led by Abdullah Yusuf Azzam. Together they organized a world-wide recruiting program which advertised for young Muslims to fight against the Soviets. The Afghan government donated land for training bases, while bin Laden paid for the volunteers' transportation, facilities and training. He brought in experts from all over the world on guerilla warfare, sabotage and covert operations. The United States government, wishing to limit any further expansion of the Soviet Union, began a $500 million-per-year program to support the Afghan guerillas, providing them with both cash and high-tech weapons. After ten years of intense fighting, MAK drove the Soviets from Afghanistan.
As the war was winding down, Azzam and bin Laden decided not to disband, using their forces instead to work toward increasing Islam's influence in government affairs. Azzam felt their efforts should be focused on Afghanistan, but bin Laden disagreed, feeling it should be an international endeavor. In 1988 he split from MAK to form his own group: al-Qaeda.
Bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia, but the al-Qaeda guerilla camps remained open and active, supplying fighters to Muslim struggles in Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Chechnya. Bin Laden continued to speak out against what he felt were apostate governments those that said they were Muslim, but which did not obey the laws of Sharia (Islamic religious law) as he interpreted them. In 1990, Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait. Bin Laden offered his fighters to King Fahd of Saudi Arabia (which borders Kuwait). Fahd turned him down, turning instead to the United Stated for aid. Bin Laden advocated against allowing infidel soldiers on Saudi Arabian land. The Saudis retaliated by exiling him from the country.
Bin Laden moved to Sudan in 1992, where he set up factories and farms. It is believed that several of these were, in fact, al-Qaeda training facilities. The group began organizing terrorist attacks, the first of which was the bombing of a hotel in Aden, Yemen in which U.S. servicemen were supposed to be staying. No Americans were killed, but the attack marked a change in the group's tactics from fighting armies to killing civilians as a justified act of jihad (holy war). The first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 was also planned while bin Laden was in Sudan.
The United States pressured the Sudanese government into cracking down on the terrorists within their boarders and bin Laden was expelled from the country in 1996. The Taliban, which had filled the leadership void created when the Soviets departed Afghanistan, welcomed him. In 1998 he announced the formation of an umbrella organization that undertook sponsorship of other Middle Eastern terrorist organizations. International involvement was justified by the argument that Muslims everywhere in the world were suffering because of the United States. He continued planning attacks against non-Muslim countries, culminating in the destruction of the World Trade Center Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.
The United States reacted by asking the Afghan government to turn bin Laden over to them for trial. The Taliban countered by offering to release him to a neutral country if the US could prove bin Laden was responsible. The US refused to provide details, and invaded Afghanistan, removing the Taliban from power. While they have been unable to locate bin Laden, the US claims to have killed or captured two-thirds of the al-Qaeda leadership, decentralizing their operations. This has led to the formation of many smaller, independent al-Qaeda cells responsible for bombings such as the one that took place on London's subway system on July 7, 2005.
Also of interest: A short history of Afghanistan in the sidebar to A Thousand Splendid Suns.
This article is from the July 11, 2008 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.
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