al Qaeda, Arabic for "the base," is an international terrorist network led by extremist Osama bin Laden. Its main goal is to rid Muslim countries of what it sees as the direct influence of the West, and replace it with fundamentalist Islamic regimes. Attacking outside of Muslim countries in acts of violence is directed by high-ranking members of that extremist group.
After al Qaeda’s September 11, 2001, attacks on America, the United States launched a war in Afghanistan to clean out al Qaeda’s bases there, and overthrow the Taliban, the country’s Muslim fundamentalist rulers who harbored bin Laden and his followers.
The birth of al Qaeda
After fighting Soviet Army occupiers in Afghanistan (with U.S. backing) from 1979 to 1989, Osama bin Laden would take the concept of holy war (jihad) elsewhere in order to liberate other occupied Muslim lands.
Throughout the Afghan jihad, bin Laden answered to Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, who ran a paramilitary group of mujahideen (holy warriors) called "The Office of Services."
Just prior to the Soviets' ignominious withdrawal, Osama bin Laden quietly separated with Azzam's mujahideen to create al Qaeda in 1988. The CIA soon became aware of Azzam's and bin Laden's separation. Several months later, Azzam was assassinated. Ironically, Osama and many of the mujahideen had been trained, militarily equipped, and funded by the CIA during the decade-long conflict with the Soviets.
After the Soviet withdrawal, al Qaeda went underground for a couple of years to build up financial and operational assets. bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia as a hero, where he easily raised money for his new terrorist program.
al Qaeda strikes the U.S. for the first time
Osama was outraged by the outbreak of the Gulf War in 1991. He was convinced that the United States' presence in the Persian Gulf was a personal attack on his own Muslim people. In 1992, he declared a jihad and committed al Qaeda to forcing the permanent withdrawal of U.S. forces and business interests from the Gulf.
al Qaeda launched a series of terrorist attacks against the United States. The first was a failed attempt in 1992 to take out U.S. troops in Yemen. Other attacks included sporadic embassy bombings, a gunboat attack on the USS Cole, and bombings of airplanes and movie theaters in the Philippines. al Qaeda also has been linked to recent attacks on a nightclub in Bali, and on the U.S. Consulate in Karachi, Pakistan.
Still a threat to humanity
In early 2002, U.S. forces attacked many of al Qaeda's terrorist camps throughout Afghanistan. There is still no verifiable intelligence about what sort of headquarters operation might remain, but many of al Qaeda's top leaders were captured in Pakistan during 2002 and 2003, and several more are suspected to be hiding in the region.
The whereabouts or even existence of Osama bin Laden are uncertain, but the al Quaeda terrorist cells are confirmed viable in some 100 countries and associated with at least 24 other terrorist groups, including the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Abu Sayyaf, Jemaah Islamiah, Hezbollah, Hamas, Hesb' I Islami, and the Islamic Group.
al Qaeda's other top leaders
Ayman Al-Zawahiri is al Qaeda's second in command. The highly intelligent Zawahiri is a former surgeon and a lifelong jihadist. At one time, he was a high-ranking official of Islamic Jihad until he joined with bin Laden in the early 1990s. Also during the early '90s, Zawahiri traveled to the U.S., where he raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for terrorist operations through fraudulent charity organizations. According to the FBI, Ayman Al-Zawahiri is the second most-wanted terrorist in the world, and the agency has posted $25 million reward for his capture.
al Qaeda's third-in-command was Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, until his March 2003 capture in Pakistan. Kahlid was a higher-up terrorist who eventually became linked to nearly every major al Qaeda attack from the early 1990s until his capture. Kahlid masterminded the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the September 11 attack. For security reasons, he is currently being held incommunicado by the United States.
A murder manual
The following is a small section from an al Qaeda handbook recovered by police from a terrorist's home in Manchester, England.
In the name of Allah, the merciful and compassionate. The main mission for which the military organization is responsible is the overthrow of the godless regimes and their replacement with Islamic regimes. Other missions consist of the following:
Gathering information about the enemy, the land, the installations, and the neighbors.
Kidnapping enemy personnel, documents, secrets, and arms.
Assassinating enemy personnel as well as foreign tourists.
Freeing the brothers who are captured by the enemy.
Spreading rumors and writing statements that instigate people against the enemy.
Blasting and destroying the places of amusement, immorality, and sin.
Blasting and destroying the embassies and attacking vital economic centers.
Blasting and destroying bridges leading into and out of the cities.
---- Selected Quotes ----
Quotes regarding al Qaeda.
By George W. Bush
Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.
Speech to Congress, September 20, 2001