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al Qaeda Overview
In 1979, the Soviets invade Afghanistan in the last full-scale battle of the Cold War. The Mujahedeen vow to fiercely defend their land against the Communists, but they need funding, resources, and support from other Muslim countries to expel the communist enemy.
Help for the Afghani fighters is delivered by a well-connected Saudi. Osama bin Laden, the 22-year-old son of a wealthy construction tycoon, ambitiously solicits support from other Muslim nations. For five years, bin Laden continues his contributions and visits to the Mujahedeen army, bearing gifts of heavy machinery and money and promoting his passion for jihad. All the while, bin Laden is slowly fueling a fire in his Muslim brothers-in-arms. It is one that will rage for decades.
Sharing bin Laden's conviction for an Islamic state in Afghanistan, Sheik Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian religious scholar, establishes an organization in 1984 to funnel money and recruit Islamic armies. bin Laden financially supports Makhtab al Khadimat, the "Office of Services," and he endows the group with thousands of fighters from Egypt, Lebanon, and Turkey. But as bin Laden's urgency for jihad gains momentum, his vision begins to focus outside Afghanistan.
Bin Laden begins associating with Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and other Egyptian radicals who advocate holy war on an international scale. In 1986, bin Laden establishes a training camp for Persian Gulf Arabs called Al Masadah, meaning "The Lion's Den." That same year, the Islamic Center of Tucson, Arizona circulates a journal published by the Office of Services. It is America's prologue to the principles of jihad.
In 1989, Osama bin Laden establishes al Qaeda. "The Base" initially operates out of Afghanistan and Pakistan but will eventually infiltrate more than 30 countries. In November, a car bomb kills Sheik Abdullah Azzam, and the Office of Services and al Qaeda decide to unify in their cause. But Azzam supporters believe jihad should focus on the creation of an Islamic state in Afghanistan, and al Qaeda wants to expand the struggle to include any and all nations. The extremist vision eventually prevails. By February, al Qaeda's confidence soars when the Soviets, disgraced and defeated by Mujahedeen forces, retreat from Afghanistan after 10 long years.
Only a year later, authorities discover bomb manuals and photographs of the World Trade Center and the Empire State Building in the apartment of an Egyptian, El-Sayyid Nosair. This information connects Osama bin Laden with terrorist activity in the United States. Then bin Laden pays for Nosair's legal bills in the ensuing WTC bombing trial, solidifying the suspected al Qaeda link.
al Qaeda's first strike against America takes place on December 29, 1992. A bomb targeting US soldiers detonates at a hotel in Aden, Yemen, killing two Austrian tourists. Just two months later, on February 26, 1993, an explosion rocks the underground of the World Trade Center (WTC) in New York City. A truck bomb blows up in the parking garage, killing six and injuring hundreds. Several men linked to the Office of Service are convicted in the WTC bombing. Four suspects are connected to Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman. Authorities believe Ramzi Yousef is the mastermind behind the attack and start a worldwide manhunt to find him.
al Qaeda is never mentioned during the 1993 WTC bombing trial although Osama bin Laden's name surfaces on two occasions. He shows up as being a financier of the Office of Services and as someone conspirators called from a safe house. bin Laden also appears as a potential co-conspirator who was not indicted, but the government will not let bin Laden go uncharged in the coming months.
October 3 and October 4, 1993 become two of the darkest dates in military history. The infamous "Black Hawk Down" incident occurs on the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia. The impending US indictment against bin Laden details how eighteen American soldiers are viciously attacked and murdered, their bodies mutilated at the hands of guerrillas trained by a network of al Qaeda specialists.
al Qaeda's violence is clearly borderless, as is its operations system. Associates set up an al Qaeda media information office in London on July 11, 1994. Khalid al-Fawwaz runs the message center, providing coverage for the terrorist group's operations. A month later, three French Muslims open fire on tourists in a Moroccan hotel lobby, killing two Spaniards. European investigators reportedly trace phone calls between the suspects and the Office of Services, unraveling a network of al Qaeda fighters in Europe.
A continent away, in January 1995, Philippine police search a Manila apartment following an explosion and uncover an al Qaeda plot. The operation, Bojinka, or "Big Bang," is detailed in computer documents and involves blowing up 12 US-bound commercial airliners. Authorities arrest Abdul Hakim Murad, an associate of Ramzi Yousef.
On May 22, 1997, senior government officials publicly acknowledge terrorist groups are operating inside America's borders. Eight months later, al Qaeda issues a declaration with other extremist groups calling on Muslims to kill Americans anywhere in the world. The Egyptian Jihad, led by Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, warns of a message they will be sending to Americans "which we hope they read with care because we will write it, with God's help, in a language they will understand." The very next day, American embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania are bombed almost simultaneously. The Kenya bombing kills 213 and injures 4,500. The Dar es Salaam bombing kills 11 and injures 85.
A group calling itself The Islamic Army for the Liberation of the Holy Places faxes a claim of responsibility for the attacks to various media outlets. But one of the bombers, Mohamed Al-'Owhali, an al Qaeda member trained in explosives, hijacking, and kidnapping, has fled the scene. A British investigation reveals someone submitted the fax through a telephone number linked to Osama bin Laden. More al Qaeda members surface in the inquiry: Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, Mohamed Sadeek Odeh, and Wadih el Hage are among the 22, including bin Laden, who will be charged in the bombings.
Six months later, Jordanian officials intercept a phone conversation between Abu Zubaydah, a senior Al Qaeda lieutenant, and members of a Jordanian sect detailing a plot. "The day of the millennium" would be executed using explosives to blow up the Radisson Hotel in Amman and other sites in 1999. Jordanian officials thwart the plan and al Qaeda activity for 10 months.
On October 12, 2000, a small craft pulls alongside the USS Cole as it refuels in the southern port city of Aden, Yemen. The boat contains al Qaeda operatives and a cache of explosives. The operatives detonate the explosives by slamming into the Cole. The blast slashes through the destroyer's hull and kills 17 US sailors. Yemeni authorities identify several suspects, including Tawfiq bin-Atash, the former head of bin Laden's bodyguards, and two other al Qaeda members who were also involved in the 1998 embassy bombings. During the next 11 months, al Qaeda quietly awaits its biggest coup to date, an assault inside the borders of America.
In the most devastating terrorist attack in the US since Pearl Harbor, al Qaeda suicide hijackers seize four US commercial flights, crashing two of the jumbo jets into the World Trade Center buildings in New York. Both towers collapse. One flight is commandeered into the Pentagon in Washington. The fourth airliner is downed in a Pennsylvania field. In total, nearly 3,000 people are murdered by al Qaeda on September 11, 2001.
Seven months later, al Qaeda is linked to a suicide bombing on the resort island of Djerba, Tunisia. 18 people die, including 12 German tourists, when a driver detonates a truck full of explosives near the entrance of a tourist-packed synagogue. The complexity and severity of al Qaeda's suicide missions heightens in the months to come. Kuta, Bali is targeted by Jemaah Islamiyah in October 2002. Two bombings at popular nightclubs leave 202 people dead and more than 300 injured. Suicide bombings continue into 2003 in quiet vacation towns in Morocco and Indonesia. al Qaeda targets restaurants and hotels and more innocent people.
Assorted branches of al Qaeda seemingly stem from everywhere, but the exact number of affiliates in existence today is unknown. The figure is surely staggering. al Qaeda trained 100,000 fighters in camps throughout the 80s and 90s, and each terrorist returned to one of 15 Arab countries with the experience and mindset to wage jihad. And with the current situation in Iraq, Muslim extremists like Abu Musab Zarqawi and Abdul Aziz al-Muqrin are more inspired to instigate a holy war and become rising stars within al Qaeda’s layers of officials. Such a succession of status is a necessity for al Qaeda's survival. Since 9/11, authorities have detained about 3,000 al Qaeda members and frozen $140 million in al Qaeda assets. They have also removed the Taliban regime-al Qaeda's operational base - in Afghanistan.
According to the FBI's chief counterterrorism official, al Qaeda is still the number one terrorist threat to the US today. The organization's ability to mount synchronized and large-scale terrorist attacks by switching locations, tactics, and leadership means al Qaeda's wrath-and the need for a war on terror-could continue for years to come.
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