Al – Qaeda


Al-Qaeda is a militant organization that adheres to Sunni pan-Islamism. It is mostly led by Salafi jihadists who perceive themselves as a vanguard, aiming to initiate a worldwide Islamist revolution. Their ultimate goal is to unite the Muslim community under a supra-national Islamic state referred to as the Caliphate. The majority of its members consist of individuals of Arab descent, while there is also representation from many other ethnic groups. Al-Qaeda has conducted acts of aggression against both civilian and military objectives in multiple nations, such as the 1998 bombings of United States embassies and the September 11 attacks. As a result, it has been officially classified as a terrorist organization by the United Nations Security Council, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the European Union, and numerous other countries globally.

Origins of Al – Qaeda

1. Afghan Jihad Against the Soviets: The primary catalyst for the formation of al-Qaeda was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. Thousands of foreign volunteers, including Osama bin Laden, traveled to Afghanistan to join the Afghan Mujahideen in their fight against the Soviets. Bin Laden was instrumental in financing and supporting this resistance effort.

2. Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK): In 1984, bin Laden, along with Palestinian scholar Abdullah Azzam, co-founded Maktab al-Khidamat, also known as the Afghan Services Bureau. This organization served as a clearinghouse for recruiting and financing foreign fighters in the Afghan Jihad. It played a pivotal role in mobilizing and organizing jihadists from around the world.

3. Transition to Al-Qaeda: After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, Osama bin Laden and his associates, including Ayman al-Zawahiri, who later became the group’s ideological and operational leader, transitioned from MAK to form al-Qaeda (Arabic for “The Base”) in the late 1980s. Al-Qaeda was initially established to continue the global jihad beyond Afghanistan and to combat what they saw as the perceived threats to Islam and Muslim lands.

4. 1990s Activities: Throughout the 1990s, al-Qaeda expanded its reach and conducted a series of attacks against U.S. interests. Notable among these was the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed over 200 people.

5. 9/11 Attacks: Al-Qaeda’s most infamous and devastating act came on September 11, 2001, when 19 al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners in the United States, crashing them into the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon near Washington, D.C., and a field in Pennsylvania. Nearly 3,000 people were killed in the 9/11 attacks.

6. Global Jihadist Movement: Al-Qaeda has since become synonymous with the global jihadist movement. The organization’s ideology, as outlined in its founding documents, aims to establish a strict interpretation of Islamic law across the Muslim world and remove what it perceives as Western influence and occupation in Muslim-majority countries.

7. Role of Osama bin Laden: Osama bin Laden, a Saudi Arabian national, played a central role in the formation of Al-Qaeda. He provided significant financial and logistical support to the Afghan Mujahideen during the Soviet-Afghan War. His experiences in Afghanistan and his dedication to jihad against perceived enemies of Islam contributed to the creation of Al-Qaeda.

8. Ideological Influence: Al-Qaeda’s ideology was heavily influenced by a radical interpretation of Islam, which called for the establishment of a global Islamic Caliphate governed by strict Islamic law (Sharia). This ideology was shaped by figures like Abdullah Azzam, who emphasized the obligation of Muslims to engage in jihad to defend Islam.

9. Global Ambitions: Unlike many other jihadist groups, Al-Qaeda from its inception had a global outlook. While its roots were in Afghanistan, it sought to expand its influence and operations far beyond the Afghan borders. This global ambition marked it as a unique and dangerous entity in the realm of extremist groups.

10. Anti-Western Sentiment: Al-Qaeda’s founding principles included a vehement opposition to Western influence in Muslim-majority countries. It saw the United States and its allies as primary adversaries, viewing them as responsible for the perceived oppression and exploitation of Muslims worldwide.

11. Development of a Global Network: Al-Qaeda’s formation marked the beginning of a complex and interconnected global jihadist network. It established training camps and cells in various countries, attracting militants from around the world. This network facilitated the spread of its extremist ideology and the planning of international attacks.

12. Declaration of War Against the United States: In 1996, Al-Qaeda issued a fatwa (religious edict) declaring war against the United States, which further underscored its global aspirations and intent to target American interests.

Leadership of Al Qaeda

  • Osama bin Laden assumed the role of emir inside Al-Qaeda at the establishment of the group in 1988, and held this position until his demise at the hands of US soldiers on May 1, 2011. It has been stated that Atiyah Abd al-Rahman held the position of second in command till his demise on August 22, 2011.
  • Bin Laden received counsel from a Shura Council comprised of high-ranking people of the Al-Qaeda organization.The estimated size of the gathering ranged from 20 to 30 individuals.
  • Ayman al-Zawahiri served as the deputy emir of Al-Qaeda and subsequently took the position of emir after the demise of Osama bin Laden. Al-Zawahiri assumed the position of commander, succeeding Saif al-Adel, who had previously held the role on an interim basis.
  • The demise of Abu Yahya al-Libi, who was purportedly the successor to al-Rahman as the second in leadership, was revealed by Pakistani intelligence officials on June 5, 2012.
  • It has been stated that Nasir al-Wuhayshi assumed the position of Al-Qaeda’s second in command and general manager in 2013. The individual in question held the position of leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) simultaneously until his demise as a result of a United States airstrike in Yemen during the month of June in the year 2015.
  • Abu Khayr al-Masri, who was purportedly designated as the successor to Ayman al-Zawahiri in the position of deputy, met his demise as a result of a United States airstrike conducted in Syria during the month of February in the year 2017.
  • The purported second-in-command of Al Qaeda, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, was reportedly eliminated by operatives believed to be affiliated with the Israeli government. The individual in question, known by the moniker Abu Muhammad al-Masri, met his demise in Iran during the month of November in the year 2020. He was implicated in the 1998 bombings of the United States embassies located in Kenya and Tanzania.
  • On July 31, 2022, Al-Zawahiri met his demise as a result of a targeted drone attack conducted in Afghanistan. According to a report released by the United Nations in February 2023, it was determined, based on intelligence provided by member states, that Saif al-Adel had assumed de-facto leadership of Al-Qaeda. It was further noted that he was conducting operations from within Iran. Adel, a former officer in the Egyptian army, assumed the role of a military teacher within Al-Qaeda training facilities throughout the 1990s.
  • He gained recognition for his active participation in the Battle of Mogadishu. According to the report, the official declaration of al-Adel’s leadership by al-Qaeda was hindered by “political sensitivities” surrounding the Afghan government’s acknowledgment of Al-Zawahiri’s death. Additionally, the position of al-Adel in Iran presented both “theological and operational” obstacles.

Objectives of Al Qaeda

1. Establishment of an Islamic Caliphate: Al-Qaeda’s primary goal is to establish a global Islamic Caliphate governed by its strict interpretation of Islamic law (Sharia). This would involve the unification of all Muslim-majority countries under a single Islamic state.

2. Jihad Against the West: Al-Qaeda views Western countries, particularly the United States and its allies, as its primary enemies. The group believes that these nations are responsible for what it perceives as the oppression of Muslims and the undermining of Islamic values worldwide. Consequently, Al-Qaeda seeks to wage jihad (holy war) against the West.

3. Removal of Western Influence: Al-Qaeda aims to remove Western military, political, and economic influence from Muslim-majority countries. This includes the withdrawal of foreign troops from Muslim lands and the overthrow of governments seen as puppets of the West.

4. Retaliation for Perceived Aggressions: Al-Qaeda justifies its acts of terrorism as retaliation for perceived injustices and aggressions against Muslims. This includes actions such as military interventions, support for Israel, and perceived cultural and moral decay in the Muslim world.

5. Inspire and Mobilize Jihadists Worldwide: Al-Qaeda seeks to inspire and mobilize individuals and groups worldwide to join its cause and engage in acts of terrorism. The group has been instrumental in propagating its extremist ideology through the internet and other means.

6. End of Western Support for Israel: Al-Qaeda has consistently called for the end of Western support for Israel and the liberation of Palestinian territories, which it views as a central issue in the broader conflict between Islam and the West.

7. Resistance Against Apostate Regimes: Al-Qaeda opposes governments in Muslim-majority countries that it considers un-Islamic or apostate. It seeks to overthrow these regimes and replace them with Islamist governments.

8. Crisis of Leadership: Al-Qaeda has historically called for a change in leadership in the Muslim world, criticizing existing governments as corrupt and unfaithful to Islamic principles. The group envisions Islamist leaders who adhere to its extremist ideology.

Major attacks by Al – Qaeda

1. 1993 World Trade Center Bombing: In February 1993, a truck bomb exploded in the parking garage of the World Trade Center in New York City. While the attempt to bring down the towers failed, the attack still resulted in six deaths and over a thousand injuries.

2. 1998 U.S. Embassy Bombings: Al-Qaeda orchestrated nearly simultaneous bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in August 1998. These attacks killed more than 200 people and injured thousands.

3. USS Cole Bombing: In October 2000, an attack on the USS Cole, a U.S. Navy destroyer, occurred while it was refueling in the Yemeni port of Aden. The bombing killed 17 U.S. sailors and wounded many others.

4. September 11, 2001 Attacks: The most infamous of all Al-Qaeda attacks, on September 11, 2001, 19 Al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners in the United States. They crashed two planes into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and another into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. A fourth plane, United Airlines Flight 93, crashed in Pennsylvania after passengers attempted to regain control. Nearly 3,000 people were killed in these attacks.

5. 2002 Bali Bombings: Al-Qaeda-affiliated group Jemaah Islamiyah carried out bombings in Bali, Indonesia, in October 2002. The attacks targeted a nightclub and a popular tourist area, resulting in over 200 deaths, including many foreign tourists.

6. 2004 Madrid Train Bombings: A series of coordinated bombings on commuter trains in Madrid, Spain, in March 2004 killed 191 people and injured thousands. Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for these attacks.

7. 2005 London Bombings: In July 2005, suicide bombings occurred in London’s public transportation system, killing 52 people and injuring hundreds. Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attacks.

8. 2008 Mumbai Attacks: While the group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) carried out the 2008 Mumbai attacks, there were reported connections to Al-Qaeda. The attacks in Mumbai, India, lasted for several days, resulting in over 160 deaths.


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