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masked al Qaeda terrorists
Al Qaeda has targeted the US and its allies since the 1990sImage: AP

Al Qaeda timeline

May 2, 2011

Osama bin Laden was the world's most wanted terrorist long before the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. A timeline shows the global struggle between bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorist network and the United States.



Osama bin Laden raises funds, supplies arms, and organizes mujahedeen groups to fight the Soviet Union after its 1979 invasion of Afghanistan.


Al Qaeda is formed with the goal of implementing Islamic fundamentalist governments in Muslim countries and to fight against Israel, the United States, and Western-allied Muslim leaders.


Bin Laden returns to his native Saudi Arabia after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and becomes involved in the opposition against the Saudi monarchy.


Bin Laden flees Saudi Arabia for Afghanistan due to his opposition to Riyadh's alliance with the United States against Iraq during the First Gulf War.


Bin Laden moves to Khartoum, Sudan where he forges ties with the governing National Islamic Front and sets up several legitimate businesses that employ ex-mujahedeen fighters leaving Afghanistan.

February 26, 1993

A truck bomb is detonated in the World Trade Center. The perpetrators received financing from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the future September 11 attacks.

January 1994

Bin Laden sets up at least three terrorist training camps in Northern Sudan.

May 1996

The Sudanese government expels bin Laden under US and international pressure. Bin Laden returns to Afghanistan.

August 1996

Bin Laden signs a Declaration of Jihad against the United States and Muslim governments allied with Washington.

August 7, 1998

Al Qaeda simultaneously bombs the US embassies in the East African nations of Kenya and Tanzania.

The attack in Nairobi, Kenya kills 213 people including 12 US nationals and injures more than 4,500. The attack in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania kills 11 people and injures 85 others. None of the dead are Americans.

August 20, 1998

The Clinton Administration retaliates to al-Qaeda's attack on the US embassies in East Africa.

Operation Infinite Reach targets several terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan with cruise missiles. US intelligence claims the factory helped produce chemical weapons for bin Laden.

October 12, 2000

Al Qaeda strikes the USS Cole, an American warship, which is harbored at the Yemeni port of Aden. 17 US sailors are killed in the attack.

Smoke rising from Manhattan after September 11 attacks
Bin Laden's al-Qaeda masterminded the September 11 attacks, the opening salvo in a decade of warImage: DPA

September 11, 2001

Al-Qaeda operatives hijack three US passenger planes and crash them into the World Trade and the Pentagon. A fourth hijacked plane crashes in Pennsylvania after passengers resist the al-Qaeda hijackers. The attacks claim over 3,000 lives.

September 17, 2001

President George W. Bush announces that Osama bin Laden is wanted dead or alive.

September 20, 2001

President Bush declares the War on Terrorism.

October 7, 2001

The United States invades Afghanistan.

December, 2001

Bin Laden narrowly escapes the US bombing campaign in the Tora Bora mountains in Afghanistan and escapes to Pakistan.

March 2002

Abu Zubaydah, al-Qaeda's chief of operations, is captured in Pakistan.

March 1, 2003

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the operational mastermind of the September 11 terrorist attacks, is captured in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.

March 17, 2003

The United States invades Iraq under the pretense that Saddam Hussein could provide deadly weapons of mass destruction(WMD) to al-Qaeda. WMD are never found and a link to al-Qaeda is never proven. Many security experts consider the invasion and subsequent insurgency a distraction from Afghanistan and a boon to al-Qaeda recruitment.

October 2004

Islamic militants in Iraq led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi declare their allegiance to bin Laden and launch an insurgency against US forces and an ethno-religious war against Shiite Muslims.

July 7, 2005

Four suicide bombers kill 52 people in attacks on London's transport network. Al-Qaeda says the strikes were aimed at British "arrogance."

June 7, 2006

Zarqawi is killed in a raid by US forces. His death marks the beginning of al-Qaeda's relative decline in Iraq as Sunni tribes ally with the US to eliminate al-Qaeda militants.

December 1, 2009

President Obama orders a surge of 30,000 US troops to Afghanistan in order to turn the tide of the war. Drone strikes are also dramatically increased against Taliban militants and al-Qaeda terrorists along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

May 2, 2011

President Barack Obama confirms Osama bin Laden has been killed in his compound outside of Islamabad by a small group of US special forces.

Compiled by Spencer Kimball
Editor: Rob Mudge

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