Al Qaeda - the hydra of international terrorism
Osama bin Laden and his top aide Ayman al-Zawahiri pictured here at a secret location believed to be their hideaway on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Al Qaeda - the organisation
Al Qaeda, meaning "The Base" was created in 1989 as Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan. The organisation grew out of the network of Arab volunteers who had gone to Afghanistan to fight under the banner of Islam against Soviet Communism.
In the early 1990s Al Qaeda operated in Sudan and after 1996 its headquarters and about a dozen training camps moved to Afghanistan, where Bin Laden forged a close relationship with the Taliban.
Al Qaeda's main mission is the "overthrow of godless regimes and their replacements with an Islamic regime." This is further explained by the Al Qaeda training manual which was discovered during a series of police raids in the United Kingdom between 2001 and 2002.
"The confrontation that we are calling for with the apostate regimes does not know Socratic debates..., Platonic ideals..., nor Aristotelian
diplomacy. But it knows the dialogue of bullets, the ideals of assassination, bombing, and destruction, and the diplomacy of the cannon and machine-gun....Islamic governments have never and will never be established through peaceful solutions and co-operative councils. They are established as
they [always ] have been by pen and gun, by word and bullet, by tongue and teeth"
This aim is made more specific by Osama Bin Laden who says the objective is to "launch a guerrilla war against American forces and expel the infidels from the Arabian Peninsula".
The terror network operates on a need to know basis to protect the organisation's mission and martyrs for the cause. This is reiterated in the
"Cell or cluster methods should be adopted by the Organisation. It should be composed of many cells whose members do not know one another, so that if a cell member is caught the other cells would not be affected, and work would proceed normally.
The organisation should be composed of many cells whose members do not know one another. "
Terrorism experts believe that the Al Qaeda network supports Muslim fighters in
Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, Tajikistan, Somalia, Yemen, and Kosovo. It also trains members of terrorist organisations from such diverse countries as the Philippines, Algeria, and Eritrea.
All in all, the organisation is thought to operate in 40 to 50 countries, not only in the Middle East and Asia but in North America and Europe.
In western Europe there have been known or suspected cells in London, Hamburg, Milan and Madrid. These have been important centres for
recruitment, fundraising and planning operations.
Al Qaeda's expansive network was evidenced in September 11, 2001 in organised plane attacks on New York and Washington.
Later that year, the United States launched a campaign to topple the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
U.S. authorities believed that the Taliban were harbouring Bin Laden who was the main suspect behind the 9/11 attacks.
However, rather than destroying the Al Qaeda network, the US war in Afghanistan has dispersed the organisation and driven it underground.
Analysts wonder about what Al Qaeda is. Is the organisation an actual network with Osama Bin Laden at the helm or is it the name for a philosophical way of thinking which brings together like-minded groups.
Support for this theory comes from experts who point out that many senior leaders in the organisation are also senior leaders in other terrorist organisations, including those designated by the US as foreign terrorist organisations.
Analysts suggest that the word Al-Qaeda is now used to refer to a variety of groups connected by little more than shared ideals or aims.
This is evidenced by the series of attacks by Al Qaeda or groups affiliated with the terror network after 9/11.
Post 9/11 atrocities
In October 2002, a bomb exploded in a Bali nightclub killing 202 people, many of them Westerners. Islamic group Jemaah Islamiah (JI) is blamed for the blasts.
In Kenya, two attacks were launched against Israeli targets in Mombasa. A hotel blast had killed 16 - including the three suicide bombers - and an
Israeli plane narrowly missed a missile fired towards it.
A message on a website purporting to come from al-Qaeda had claimed responsibility for the attack.
In May 2003, in Morocco, Casablanca was hit by a series of suicide bombings that killed 41 people, including 12 attackers. Moroccan authorities said the attacks were linked to "international terror". Four men were convicted and sentenced to death in September for the attacks and Moroccon authorities said the men were members of the Salafia Jihadia which is widely believed to be linked to Al-Qaeda.
In Saudi Arabia, also in May 2003, at least 34 people were killed in a series of bomb attacks in the capital Riyadh. The attacks were carried out against luxury compounds housing foreign nationals and the offices of a US-Saudi company. The US and Saudi Governments pointed the finger at al-Qaeda.
In Indonesia, twelve people died in a bomb attack at the US-run Marriot hotel in the capital Jakarta in August 2003. The Southeast Asian terror network, Jemaah Islamiah was blamed for the attack. Authorities said that Jemaah Islamiah members had trained with members of Al Qaeda in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In November 2003, US and Saudi official said that a bomb attack on a housing complex in Riyadh had all the hallmarks of al-Qaeda. Seventeen people were killed and more than 100, mostly foreign Arab workers were injured in the blast.
In Turkey, at least 23 people were killed and more than 300 injured in two devastating attacks on synagogues in Istanbul also in November 2003. A week after that blast, 27 people died and more than 450 were injured in co-ordinated attacks on the British Consulate and the HSBC bank offices in Istanbul.
There were separate claims of responsibility from two groups allegedly connected to al-Qaeda.
It is difficult to ascertain whether any of these attacks were in any way planned, financed or organised by Osama Bin Laden himself of the
organisation he leads.
Leader Osama bin Laden - a man with a deadly mission
Bin Laden was born in Saudi Arabia in 1957 to a wealthy Yemeni father and a Syrian mother. The Al Qaeda fugitive became a millionaire after making his fortune from the construction business. At school and university he was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, he went to Pakistan, where he met Afghan rebel leaders or Mujahideen resisting the occupation. Later he returned to Saudi Arabia to recruit young Muslims to fight with the Mujahideen, to raise funds and collect supplies.
He eventually joined in the fight against the Soviets. The Afghan jihad against the Soviet army was backed by American dollars and had the blessing of the governments of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. After the Soviet withdrawal, the "Arab Afghans", as Bin Laden's faction came to be known returned to Saudi Arabia.
Bin Laden had offered the Saudi government to provide an army of mujahideen to defend the kingdom after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. However this offer was turned down and the Saudi government invited instead half a million US soldiers to defend the kingdom.
This angered Bin Laden who then became an opponent of the Saudi regime. He began to target US and its allies in the Middle East. In 1991, he was expelled from the country because of his anti-government activities. He spent the next five years in Sudan, where he used his money to fund a number of infrastructure projects for the Islamist government in Khartoum.
The US put pressure on Sudan's government to expel him, prompting Bin Laden's return to Afghanistan where he became increasingly messianic and radical.
By the mid-1990s, he was calling for a global war against Americans and Jews. From his perspective the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon in Washington were ideal targets because they symbolised everything he has declared war on.