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Osama bin Laden

Al Qaeda was founded in 1988 by Osama bin Laden to consolidate the international network he established during the Afghan war. Its goals were the advancement of Islamic revolutions throughout the Muslim world and repelling foreign intervention in the Middle East.

Bin ladenBin Laden, son of a billionaire Saudi businessman, became involved in the fight against the Soviet Union’s invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, which lasted from 1979 to 1988 and ended with a Soviet defeat at the hands of international militias of Muslim fighters backed by the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Together with Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood leader, Abdullah Azzam, bin Laden ran one of seven main militias involved in the fighting. They established military training bases in Afghanistan and founded Maktab Al Khidamat, or Services Office, a support network that provided recruits and money through worldwide centers, including in the U.S.

Bin Laden and Azzam had different visions for what to do with the network they had established. Bin Laden decided to found Al Qaeda, based on personal affiliations created during the fighting in Afghanistan as well as on his own international network, reputation and access to large sums of money. The following year Azzam was assassinated. After the war ended, the Afghan-Arabs, as the mostly non-Afghan volunteers who fought the Soviets came to be known, either returned to their countries of origin or joined conflicts in Somalia, the Balkans and Chechnya. This benefited Al Qaeda’s global reach and later helped cultivate the second and third generations of Al Qaeda terrorists.

Following the first Gulf War, Al Qaeda shifted its focus to fighting the growing U.S. presence in the Middle East, particularly in Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s most sacred shrines. Al Qaeda vociferously opposed the stationing of U.S. troops on what it considered the holiest of Islamic lands and waged an extended campaign of terrorism against the Saudi rulers, whom bin Laden deemed to be false Muslims.  The ultimate goal of this campaign was to depose the Saudi royal family and install an Islamic regime on the Arabian peninsula.  The Saudi regime subsequently deported bin Laden in 1992 and revoked his citizenship in 1994.

In 1991 bin Laden moved to Sudan, where he operated until 1996.  During this period, Al Qaeda established connections with other terror organizations with the help of its Sudanese hosts and Iran.  While in Sudan, Al Qaeda was involved in several terror attacks and guerrillaactions carried out by other organizations.  In May 1996, following U.S. pressure on the Sudanese government, bin Laden moved to Afghanistan where he allied himself with the ruling Taliban.

Between 1991 and 1996, Al Qaeda took part in several major terror attacks. Al Qaeda was involved in the bombing of two hotels in Aden, Yemen, which targeted American troops en route to Somalia on a humanitarian and peacekeeping mission. It also gave massive assistance to Somali militias, whose efforts brought the eventual withdrawal of U.S. forces in 1994. Bin Laden was also involved in an assassination attempt against Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in Ethiopia in June 1995. Two major terrorist actions against the U.S. military in Saudi Arabia, a November 1995 attack in Riyadh and the June 1996 Khobar Towers bombing, also fit Al Qaeda’s strategy at the time, but their connection to Al Qaeda is not entirely clear. There is little evidence to suggest a significant connection between bin Laden and the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993.

After moving to Afghanistan, bin Laden escalated his anti-American rhetoric.  In an interview with the Independent in July 1996, bin Laden praised the Riyadh and Dhahram attacks on U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia, saying it marked “the beginning of war between Muslims and the United States.”  He did not take responsibility for the attacks, but said that “not long ago, I gave advice to the Americans to withdraw their troops from Saudi Arabia.”  On August 23, 1996, bin Laden issued Al Qaeda’s first “declaration of war” against America, his “Message from Osama bin Laden to his Muslim brothers in the whole world and especially in the Arabian Peninsula: declaration of jihad against the Americans occupying the Land of the Two Holy Mosques (Saudi Arabia); expel the heretics from the Arabian Peninsula.”

In February 1998 bin Laden and several leading Muslim militants declared the formation of a coalition called the International Islamic Front for Jihad Against the Jews and Crusaders to fight the U.S.  Member organizations included Al Qaeda, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad led by Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian Islamic Group, and organizations engaged in Kashmir and Bangladesh. Bin Laden was appointed to head the Front’s council (shura). The militants signed a fatwa (religious opinion) outlining the Front’s ideology and goals. The fatwa was published in a London-based Arabic paper, Al Quds Al Arabi; it called on all Muslims to “kill the Americans and their allies - civilians and military,” wherever they may be.

Subsequently, Al Qaeda escalated its war against the U.S. In August 1998, Al Qaeda bombed two U.S. embassies in East Africa (Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania) killing more than 200 people, including 12 Americans. In retaliation, the U.S. attacked targets in Sudan and Afghanistan. In October 2000, Al Qaeda bombed the U.S.S. Cole, an American guided-missile destroyer at Aden, Yemen, killing 17 American servicemen. It committed its most devastating attack on September 11, 2001, when 19 Al Qaeda operatives hijacked four passenger planes and drove two into the Twin Towers in New York City and one into the Pentagon; a fourth plane crashed in rural Pennsylvania. Nearly 3,000 people were killed in the attack.
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