It would not at all be surprising if this decade comes to be known as the decade of terrorism in years to come. Since the turn of the millennium, terrorism, maybe more than any other global issue or topic, has plagued the world stage with constant news and horror. It can be argued that terrorism is a problem with no solution and no end in sight. The Islamic militant group, Al-Qaeda, is the most well known terrorist organization in the world. Al-Qaeda has been held accountable for some of the most tragic and horrifying acts of terror in history.
Still, many people do not fully understand what Al-Qaeda is, who is behind it, and why it exists. A fluid, agreed-upon definition does not exist for the extremist organization, run by Osama bin Laden and responsible for the September 11th terrorist attacks, but rather a multitude of beliefs on the number, strength, and whereabouts of Al-Qaeda. Most researchers and historians point to August 11th, 1988 as the origin of Al-Qaeda as an organized group.
However, it was the events leading up to this meeting that caused Osama bin Laden and a small group of extremist leaders to officially organize what had grown into a large, strong Islamic following. From December 1979 through February 1989, the Soviet Union was engaged in a war with Afghanistan. The communist Soviet Union allied with the Afghan Marxist regime in order to fight the native Afghan mujahideen (Burke and Allen). The United States channeled funds to the native Afghanis in order to stop the spread of communism by the Soviet Union in a CIA program called Operation Cyclone.
There are many people today that are of the belief that it was this CIA program that kick started Al-Qaeda, and that the US was directly responsible for the growth and success of the same terrorist organization that executed the most devastating attack on US soil (Dixon). Once the war ended, Osama bin Laden met with the leader of the Egyptian Islamic-Jihad, Abdullah Azzam and planned to expand their newly founded organization. Al-Qaeda relocated to Sudan from 1992 to 1996.
During this time, Al-Qaeda grew through various forms of terrorist attacks, until the Saudi Arabian government exiled Osama bin Laden and forced him and his followers to once again relocate to avoid conflict (Bergen). After the Soviets left Afghanistan, there was a period of great turmoil and anarchy that took hold. There was no established form of government, and many separate groups claimed the rights to certain territories throughout the country. This was the perfect time for bin Laden and Al-Qaeda to return home and regain power in Afghanistan.
They teamed up with the Taliban, an organization that garnered its strength through the education and training of children. The Taliban had been the most successful group to rise to power, and many recognized them as the governing entity in Afghanistan. With the protection and support from the Taliban, bin Laden was able to mobilize and organize Al-Qaeda into a dominant and strategically planned terrorist organization (Burke and Allen). Al-Qaeda’s mission has been summarized as “centralization of decision and decentralization of execution.
” In other words, bin Laden hoped to form a group in which he and a few close advisors would set out guidelines and make decisions for the smaller cells that would then spread around throughout the world and execute his attacks. Structurally, Al-Qaeda is formed just like any other corporation, with senior executives at the top and then smaller, less powerful roles towards the bottom. Bin Laden is the emir, which is the highest power in the organization, almost king-like. Ayman al-Zawahiri is Al-Qaeda’s Deputy Operations Chief, and is known as bin Laden’s second in command.
Similar to other organizations and corporations, Al-Qaeda has several divisions that handle issues specific to their role. First, the Military Operative is the most destructive and infamous. It is responsible for training soldiers, acquiring weapons, and planning attacks around the world. Second, the Money/Business Committee is responsible for providing the funding for the training operatives and attacks, using the hawala banking system (informal value transfer system that is not used in the United States).
The Law Committee rules on whether certain actions follow Islamic law. The Islamic Study/Fatwa Committee issues religious edicts, also known as fatwas, that the rest of the organization and even the territory it controls must follow. For example, in 1998, Al-Qaeda issued a fatwa that all Muslims should kill any American if given the chance. The most recent addition to Al-Qaeda has been the formation of As-Sahab, Al-Qaeda’s media outlet that supplies video and audio recordings and sends them out to the rest of the world (Inside Al-Qaeda).
Tapes of bin Laden have been released to the United States where he takes responsibility for the September 11th attacks, as well as numerous other hateful speeches about the evils of Western culture and perceived Muslim intolerance. Although there is a large following of people that believe Al-Qaeda has been dismantled and broken down since the War on Terror, evidence still points to a structurally organized and strategically planned organization in which each department works in conjunction with each other to carry out acts of terror.
Osama bin Laden is advised by a Shura Council, estimated to consist of twenty to thirty members, who make plans and decisions for the entire organization. They recently released a document called “Al-Qaeda’s Strategy to the Year 2020” in which they outlined their military, political, and religious goals for the organization in the upcoming years. The strategy can be summarized into five stages. First, provoke the United States into invading a Muslim country. This was successfully executed once the United States invaded Afghanistan following the September 11th attacks.
Second, incite local resistance to occupying forces. This way, Al-Qaeda creates the enemy and turns the natives against the foreign invaders, thereby leaving them as the only reliable solution to restore “peace”. Third, engage surrounding countries in the war so that the United States is trapped in a “long war of attrition”. Fourth, convert Al-Qaeda into a set of operating principles and ideologies that can be franchised into smaller countries and smaller cells. Then, these cells will engage the United States and its allies until they can no longer fight and must withdraw.
Al-Qaeda was able to do this with the 2004 Madrid train bombings, but failed to impact British involvement with the July 7, 2005 London bombings. Finally, the fifth stage, which has thankfully yet to occur, is that the United States’ economy will crumble due to too many engagements in too many areas, and any allied nations supported by the United States will fall as well. Al-Qaeda will then be able to take control and set up the desired form of government, a Wahabi Caliphate, throughout the region (Atwan).
Al-Qaeda has been responsible for several acts of terror in the 1990’s and 2000’s that were designed with the intent of furthering Al-Qaeda’s mission. In 1992, Al-Qaeda successfully executed its first terrorist attack. Two bombs were detonated in Aden, Yemen. The first target was Movenpick Hotel and the second was the parking lot of the Goldmohur Hotel. Although no Americans were killed and it went with little notice in the United States, the attack did signify the first attack on Western culture by Al-Qaeda.
Then, in 1993, Ramzi Yousef used a truck bomb to explode one of the World Trade Center towers. The plan was that the bomb would crumble the foundation of the first tower, sending it into the second tower and resulting in the collapse of both. Although the plan did not work to perfection, it did kill six people and put Al-Qaeda on the radar as a potential threat to American security. There were several other attacks in the late 1990’s, such as the bombing of the U. S. S. Cole, a military destroyer based off of Yemen that killed 17 US servicemen (Terrorism Project).
However, no attack in history has come close to the tragedy of September 11th, 2001. The September 11th attacks were the culmination and result of Al-Qaeda’s growth, organization, and mission. Once bin Laden was able to mobilize the extremist followers, he was ready to execute the first stage of its mission strategy. On September 11th, Al-Qaeda hijacked four commercial airliners. The hijackers flew two planes into both towers of the World Trade Center, eventually collapsing both towers into debris and destruction.
Another plane crashed into the Pentagon, and a fourth was originally intended for Washington, D. C. , but crash-landed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. These attacks left 3,000 people dead and countless injured, allowing it to be the worst attack in American history (Bin Laden). Following the attacks, an extreme sense of national unity erupted in the United States, and George Bush’s administration had no choice but to wage war against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban regime. The War on Terror began on October 7, 2001 with the first set of US troops landing in Afghanistan.
The original plan was executed swiftly and successfully, and by early 2002, Al-Qaeda had been dealt a serious blow. Many of its top executives and leaders were either captured or killed, and many of its training facilities and bases were destroyed. By the end of 2004, the United States government estimated that two-thirds of Al-Qaeda’s most senior figures had been captured and interrogated by the CIA. However, Osama bin Laden was able to escape each attempt at capture, and is still believed to be hiding out in an undisclosed location.
Overall, the initial strike in the War on Terror was deemed a success, even though the aftermath has divided the nation and raised serious questions about the United States’ involvement in the Middle East (9/11 Commission Report). The world changed forever on September 11th, 2001. Aside from the tragic consequences and the unfathomable death toll, a new evil was officially born into the world. There had been terrorist attacks before, but none that shook the United States, and the world stage, as much as September 11th did. As a result, this decade has been plagued by fear of terror.
New organizations and strategies have emerged that solely engage in counter-terrorist activities. Airport security has been completely revamped following an extreme fear in almost all Americans that caused aviation activity to decrease significantly after the attacks. So, after all that Al-Qaeda has been accused of, and after all the intense fear that spread throughout the country, why is it that there are still such differing beliefs and theories on Al-Qaeda? Why do some people believe that, for the most part, it has become a brand name that smaller terrorist groups use, but in reality have no real affiliation with the defeated organization?
And on the other hand, why are there people who strongly contest these views and believe that Al-Qaeda is still a functioning, organized militia run by Osama bin Laden? I am not sure whether there is a right or wrong answer, but a serious concern in the minds of both beliefs is that terrorism, as a threat, could be one that proves insolvable. Works Cited “The 9/11 Commission Report. ” National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. Web. 15 Oct. 2010. . Atwan, Abdel Bari. The Secret History of Al-Qaeda. Los Angeles, California: University of California, 2006. Google Books. Bergen, Peter.
“The Osama Bin Laden I Know. ” Internet Archive: Wayback Machine. Web. 14 Oct. 2010. . “Bin Laden Claims Responsibility for 9/11. ” CBC News. Web. 15 Oct. 2010. . Burke, Jason, and Paddy Allen. “The Five Ages of Al-Qaida. ” Latest News, Comment and Reviews from the Guardian | Guardian. co. uk. Web. 14 Oct. 2010. . Dixon, Norm. “How the CIA Created Osama Bin Laden. ” Green Left Weekly. Web. 14 Oct. 2010. . “Inside the Alqaeda Terrorist Network. ” Middle East: MidEastWeb. Web. 15 Oct. 2010. . “List of Known Terrorist Organizations. ” CDI – Center for Defense Information – Security Policy Research Organization. Web. 15 Oct. 2010. .