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Al Qaeda

Al Qaeda, or 'The Base', was formed in 1988 by Osama bin Laden and his associate Mohammed Atef to bring together Arabs who fought in Afghanistan against the Soviet invasion. It serves as a focal point or umbrella outfit for a global network that includes terrorist cells in various - currently estimated at over 60 - countries. The Al Qaeda gradually emerged out of the Maktab al-Khidimat (MAK - the "Services Office") which had maintained and continues to maintain offices in various parts of the world, including Afghanistan, Pakistan (especially Peshawar) and the United States - specifically the Alkifah Refugee Centre in Brooklyn. With the aim of spreading Islamic Caliphate as against the influence of the West, al Qaeda has evolved considerably to emerge as a primary umbrella outfit, which funds and carries out terrorist activity of Islamist terrorists worldwide. The Al Qaeda is reported to have a global reach, and the countries where it maintains a presence include Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Turkey, Jordan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Syria, Xinjiang in China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Myanmar, Indonesia, Mindanao in the Philippines, Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, Tunisia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya, Dagestan, Jammu and Kashmri, Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Azerbaijan, Eritrea, Uganda, Ethiopia, as also in parts of the West Bank and Gaza. The dispersed nature of Al Qaeda cadres around the globe has provided Osama bin Laden command over a global terror network with capabilities to carry out lethal terrorist attacks. Osama bin Laden was killed in a military operation by the US Navy Seals in the intervening night of May 1-2, 2011 in his Abbottabad compound in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. This gave a blow to the organisation, but, al Qaeda still remains a threat to international security with its network spread all over the world.

Al Qaeda has forged alliances with like-minded fundamentalist groups such as Egypt's Al Jihad, Iran's Hezbollah, Sudan's National Islamic Front, as also terrorist outfits in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Somalia. Al Qaeda also has ties to the "Islamic Group," led at one time by Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, the Egyptian cleric serving a life sentence since his 1995 conviction for his role in the bombing of the World Trade Centre in New York in February 1993 in which six persons were killed and thousands injured as also for hatching a plot to bomb the United Nations, FBI offices, and other New York landmarks. Two of Sheik Rahman's sons are reported to have joined forces with bin Laden in the late 1990s. Since 1992 bin Laden and other Al Qaeda cadres have targeted US military forces in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, as also those stationed in the Horn of Africa, including Somalia.

A common factor in all these groups is the use of terror for the attainment of their goal of the overthrow of what they perceive to be 'heretic' regimes and the establishment of an Islamist regime in such countries. The Al Qaeda sees the United States as providing support to the various 'heretic' regimes of the world, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel and the United Nations. The Al Qaeda has opposed the involvement of the US forces in the 1991 Gulf War and in Somalia in 1992. It has also opposed the continuing presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia after the Gulf War.

Presently, the al Qaeda hierarchy has Ayman al Zawahri (June 19, 1951-present) as the leader of the organisation. Al-Zawahri is an Egyptian physician and was the second and last leader of Al Jihad, (the Egyptian Islamic Jihad), a terrorist outfit responsible for the Luxor tourist massacre in 1997. In the wake of Osama bin Laden's demise, Zawahri became the new 'emir' (chief) of the organisation, though, earlier he served as Laden's deputy and al Qaeda's ideological advisor. Laden was the undisputed leader, referred to as 'emir-general' or 'prince' by his followers, who were to take a sworn oath to him, violation of which was punishable by death. The core membership of Al Qaeda consists of Afghan war veterans from various countries of the Islamist world. According to reports, the Al Qaeda is horizontally integrated informally with over 24 constituent outfits. Following the emir is the Shura Majlis (a consultative council). Four committees concerning the aspects of military, religio-legal, finance and media report to the Shura Majlis. Selected cadres of these committees, especially from the military committee are reported to carry out the operational commands vis--vis terrorist attacks across the world.

The Al Qaeda is reported to rely to a great extent on differentiation of cadres as also secrecy in order to achieve maximum operational effectiveness in terrorist attacks. While the basic organisational structure has remained more or less the same, holistically the outfit is reported to have evolved considerably since its inception in 1988. Using hi-tech means, Osama bin Laden is reported to be constantly monitoring the activities of the various constituent groups. The Al Qaeda group is not a small, tightly knit group with a clear command structure. It is a loose coalition of terror groups operating across continents. Al-Qaeda's terrorist operations are not carried out by one group led by one person, but are rather conducted by various groups with support and guidance from Al-Qaeda. Members of one terror cell of Al Qaeda do not necessarily know members of others. Al Qaeda terror cells are reported to remain inactive for long periods of time engaging only in fundraising and propagation activities. A terror cell may be suddenly called into action to carry out lethal terrorist operations. Sympathisers are recruited primarily to perform logistical activities. Unlike conventional terrorist organisations, the operational groups and Al-Qaeda are linked, not through direct chains of command, but by their common experience in the Afghan war against Russia as also a shared belief in a pan-Islamist identity, cemented further through communication of experience and provision of funds.

From 1988 until in or about 1991, the Al Qaeda was headquartered in Afghanistan and Peshawar, Pakistan. In 1992, the Al Qaeda leadership as also its military command shifted its headquarters to Khartoum, the capital city of Sudan, in North Africa. With increasing US pressure on Sudan, bin Laden reverted to Afghanistan in 1996, by which time the Taliban regime were controlling a major portion of that country's territory. From his hideouts in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden provided financial and other material support, religious fervour and 'inspiration' to thousands of Al Qaeda cadres and affiliates throughout the world.

The avowed goal of Al Qaeda is to "unite all Muslims and establish a government which follows the rule of the Caliphs." The underlying rationale is the overthrow of what it perceives as the corrupt and heretical regimes of the various Islamist states, and their replacement with regimes that are based on the rule of Shari'ah (Islamic law). Al Qaeda is vehemently anti-Western, with the United States of America perceived as an enemy of Islam. Al Qaeda seeks to overthrow nearly all Muslim governments, because bin Laden regards most of them as being corrupted by Western influences. Another rallying aspect for the Al Qaeda network is the 'liberation' of Islam's three holiest places -- Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia as also Jerusalem.

Over the past five years, the Al-Qaeda has evolved from being a regional threat to US troops in the Persian Gulf to a global threat to US as also other countries it perceives as being enemies of Islam. The foundational strength of the Al Qaeda network is the ideological and personal bond among the Arab cadres who were recruited by bin Laden for the fight against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda currently encompasses members and factions of several major Islamist terrorist outfits, including Egypt's Islamic Group and Al-Jihad, Algeria's Armed Islamic Group, Pakistan's Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and opposition groups in Saudi Arabia. It is also linked to the Abu Sayyaf Islamic terror outfit in the Philippines.

In December 1999, US and Jordanian law enforcement authorities ascertained and thwarted two alleged attempts, one in the United States and one in Jordan, to attack US citizens celebrating the new millennium. The US attempt was masterminded by a pro-bin Laden terror cell of Algerian Armed Islamic Group cadres coming from Canada. In June 2000, Jordan began trying its 28 alleged millennium plotters, but 15 of those charged are still at large. Also in June 2000, Lebanon placed 29 suspected bin Laden associates on trial for planning terrorist attacks in Jordan. Recent reports have indicated that Al Qaeda has also ventured into experimenting with chemical and biological warfare.

Bin Laden's death has strengthened al Qaeda's resolve of dismantling secular democratic Government's all over the world. The pro-democracy uprising in the Arab world today discredits ideological underpinnings of al Qaeda, but there is a major possibility of an escalation in terrorist threats from al Qaeda, specifically to the West, as substantial numbers of recruits remain to sustain this ideological movement.





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