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The terrorism we practice is of the most commendable kind for it is directed at tyrants, the traitors who commit acts of treason against their own countries and their faith and their own prophet and their own nation. Terrorizing those and punishing them are necessary measures to straighten things and to make them right.
~ Osama bin Laden, May 1998

Al-Qaeda ( /ælˈkaɪdə/ al-ky-də; Arabic: القاعدة‎ al-qāʿidah, Arabic: [ælqɑːʕɪdɐ], translation: "The Base" and alternatively spelled al-Qaida and sometimes al-Qa'ida) is a global militant Islamist organization founded by Osama bin Laden at some point between August 1988 and late 1989. It operates as a network comprising both a multinational, stateless army and a radical Sunni Muslim movement calling for global jihad and a strict interpretation of sharia law. It has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, the United Kingdom, various other countries, the United Nations Security Council, the European Union, and NATO.

Background

The origins of al-Qaeda can be traced to the Soviet War in Afghanistan (December 1979 – February 1989). The United States viewed the conflict in Afghanistan in terms of the Cold War, with Marxists on one side and the native Afghan mujahideen on the other. This view led to a CIA program called Operation Cyclone, which channeled funds through Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency to the Afghan Mujahideen. The US government provided substantial financial support to the Afghan Islamic militants. Aid to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, an Afghan mujahideen leader and founder of the Hezb-e Islami, amounted to more than $600 million. In addition to American aid, Hekmatyar was the recipient of Saudi aid. In the early 1990s, after the US had withdrawn support, Hekmatyar "worked closely" with bin Laden.

At the same time, a growing number of Arab mujahideen joined the jihad against the Afghan Marxist regime, which was facilitated by international Muslim organizations, particularly the Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK). In 1984, MAK was established in Peshawar, Pakistan, by bin Laden and 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. MAK was funded by the Saudi government as well as by individual Muslims including Saudi businessmen. Bin Laden also became a major financier of the mujahideen, spending his own money and using his connections to influence public opinion about the war.

Toward the end of the Soviet military mission in Afghanistan, some foreign mujahideen wanted to expand their operations to include Islamist struggles in other parts of the world, such as Palestine 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.

Research suggests that al-Qaeda was formed on August 11, 1988, when a meeting between leaders of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Abdullah Azzam, and bin Laden took place. An agreement was reached to link 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.

Notes indicate al-Qaeda was a formal group by August 20, 1988. A list of requirements for membership itemized the following: listening ability, good manners, obedience, and making a pledge (bayat ) to follow one's superiors. In his memoir, bin Laden's former bodyguard, Nasser al-Bahri, gives the only publicly available description of the ritual of giving bayat when he swore his allegiance to the al-Qaeda chief. According to Wright, the group's real name was not used in public pronouncements because "its existence was still a closely held secret."

After Azzam was assassinated in 1989 and MAK broke up, significant numbers of MAK followers joined bin Laden's new organization.

Al-Qaeda's philosophy calls for the centralization of decision making, while allowing for the decentralization of execution. However, after the War on Terror, al-Qaeda's leadership has become isolated. As a result, the leadership has become decentralized, and the organization has become regionalized into several al-Qaeda groups.

Many terrorism experts do not believe that the global jihadist movement is driven at every level by al-Qaeda's leadership. However, bin Laden held considerable ideological sway over some Muslim extremists before his death. Experts argue that al-Qaeda has fragmented into a number of disparate regional movements, and that these groups bear little connection with one another

Al-Qaeda has attacked civilian and military targets in various countries. For example, it carried out the September 11 attacks, 1998 US embassy bombings and the 2002 Bali bombings. The US government responded to the September 11 attacks by launching the War on Terror. With the loss of key leaders, culminating in the death of Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda's operations have devolved from actions that were controlled from the top-down, to actions by franchise associated groups, to actions of lone wolf operators. With the death of key communicators, like Anwar al - Awlaki, the ability of al-Qaeda's "brand" to inspire, motivate and instill fear has sharply declined.

Characteristic techniques employed by Al-Qaeda include suicide attacks and simultaneous bombings of different targets. Activities ascribed to it may involve members of the movement, who have taken a pledge of loyalty to Osama bin Laden, or the much more numerous "Al-Qaeda-linked" individuals who have undergone training in one of its camps in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq or Sudan, but who have not taken any pledge. Al-Qaeda ideologues envision a complete break from all foreign influences in Muslim countries, and the creation of a new world-wide Islamic caliphate. Among the beliefs ascribed to Al-Qaeda members is the conviction that a Christian–Jewish alliance is conspiring to destroy Islam. As Salafist jihadists, they believe that the killing of civilians is religiously sanctioned, and they ignore any aspect of religious scripture which might be interpreted as forbidding the murder of civilians and internecine fighting. Al-Qaeda also opposes man-made laws, and wants to replace them with a strict form of sharia law.

Al-Qaeda is also responsible for instigating sectarian violence among Muslims. Al-Qaeda is intolerant of non-Sunni branches of Islam and denounces them by means of excommunications called "takfir". Al-Qaeda leaders regard liberal Muslims, Shias, Sufis, Ahmadiyyas and other sects as heretics and have attacked their mosques and gatherings. Examples of sectarian attacks include the Yazidi community bombings, the Sadr City bombings, the Ashoura Massacre and the April 2007 Baghdad bombings.

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