Al-Qaeda, alternatively spelled al-Qaida, al-Qa`ida or al-Qa`idah, (Arabic: ; al-qāʿidah; translation: The Base) is an international Sunni Islamic movement founded in 1988. Al-Qaeda have attacked civilian and military targets in various countries, the most notable being the September 11 attacks in 2001. These actions were followed by the US government launching a military and intelligence campaign against al-Qaeda called the War on Terror.
Characteristic techniques include suicide attacks and simultaneous bombings of different targets. Activities ascribed to it may involve members of the organization, who have taken a pledge of loyalty to Osama bin Laden, or the much more numerous "al-Qaeda-linked" individuals who have undergone training in one of its camps in Afghanistan or Sudan but not taken any pledge. Al-Qaeda's objectives include the end of foreign influence in Muslim countries and the creation of a new Islamic caliphate. Reported beliefs include that a Christian-Jewish alliance is conspiring to destroy Islam, and that the killing of bystanders and civilians is Islamically justified in jihad. Its management philosophy has been described as "centralization of decision and decentralization of execution. Following 9/11 and the launching of the War on Terrorism, it is thought al-Qaeda's leadership has "become geographically isolated", leading to the "emergence of decentralized leadership" of regional groups using the al-Qaeda "brand name.
Al-Qaeda has been labeled a terrorist organization by the United Nations Security Council, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary General, the Commission of the European Communities of the European Union, the United States Department of State, the Australian Government, Government of India, Public Safety Canada, the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan's Diplomatic Bluebook, South Korean Foreign Ministry, the Dutch Military Intelligence and Security Service, the United Kingdom Home Office, Pakistan, Russia, the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, and the Swiss Government.
The name 'al-Qaeda' was established a long time ago by mere chance. The late Abu Ebeida El-Banashiri established the training camps for our mujahedeen against Russia's terrorism. We used to call the training camp al-Qaeda. The name stayed.
Saad Al-Faqih, a Saudi expert in al-Qaida, has stated that the name al-Qaida, "...originated from a documentation system in the Bait al-Ansar guesthouse back in the 1980s." The United Kingdom politician Robin Cook, who served as the United Kingdom Foreign Secretary and Leader of the House of Commons described Al-Qaeda as meaning "the database" and a product of western miscalculation. Cook wrote, "Al-Qaida, literally "the database", was originally the computer file of the thousands of mujahideen who were recruited and trained with help from the CIA to defeat the Russians."
The name al-Qaida could have been introduced to the U.S. intelligence community by Jamal al-Fadl, who had been providing the Central Intelligence Agency with intelligence about bin Laden since 1996. The defecting Al-Fadl was debriefed by the CIA's Bin Laden Station ("Alex Base"). In the 1998 United States embassy bombings, al-Fadl testified that al-Qaeda was established in either late 1989 or early 1990 to continue the jihad after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. He said during the war against the Soviets, bin Laden had been funding a group called Maktab al-Khadamat, which was led by Abdallah Azzam. This organization was based in Pakistan and provided training, money and other support for Muslims who would cross the border into Afghanistan to fight. According to al-Fadl, the Maktab al-Khadamat was disbanded following the Soviet withdrawal, but bin Laden wanted to establish a new group to continue the jihadist cause on other fronts. Al-Fadl testified that al-Qaeda's leader was initially Abu Ayoub al-Iraqi, who was later replaced by Abu Ubaidah al-Banshiri, but that both of these leaders nevertheless "reported to" bin-Laden. Al-Fadl claims the group initially went by two different names "al-Qaeda" and "Islamic Army", before eventually settling on the former. A meeting was apparently held in Khost, Afghanistan to establish the new group, which al-Fadl claims to have attended. Al-Fadl's recollection was that this occurred in either late 1989 or early 1990.
Journalist Peter Bergen argues that two documents seized from the Sarajevo office of the Benevolence International Foundation show that the organization was established in August 1988. Both of these documents contain minutes of meetings held to establish a new military group and contain the term "al-qaeda". Author Lawrence Wright also quotes this document (an exhibit from the "Tareek Osama" document presented in United States v. Enaam M. Arnaout), in his book The Looming Tower. Notes of a meeting of bin Laden and others on August 20, 1988 indicate "the military base" ("al-qaeda al-askariya"), was a formal group: `basically an organized Islamic faction, its goal is to lift the word of God, to make His religion victorious.` A list of requirements for membership itemized "listening and obedient ... good manners" and making a pledge (bayat) to obey superiors. According to Wright, "[t]he name al-Qaeda was not used," in public pronouncements like the 1998 fatwa to kill Americans and their allies because "its existence was still a closely held secret. Wright writes that Al-Qaeda was formed at a August 11, 1988 meeting of "with several senior leaders" of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, (Sayyed Imam Al-Sharif, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, and others), Abdullah Azzam, and Osama bin Laden, where it was agreed to join bin Laden's money with the expertise of the Islamic Jihad organization and continue jihad elsewhere after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan.
In April 2002, the group assumed the name Qa'idat al-Jihad, which means "the base of Jihad". According to Diaa Rashwan, this was "...apparently as a result of the merger of the overseas branch of Egypt's al-Jihad (EIJ) group, led by Ayman El-Zawahiri, with the groups Bin Laden brought under his control after his return to Afghanistan in the mid-1990s.
The origins of the group can be traced to the Soviet war in Afghanistan. The United States viewed the conflict in Afghanistan, with the Afghan Marxists and allied Soviet troops on one side and the native Afghan mujahedeen on the other, as a blatant case of Soviet expansionism and aggression. The U.S. channelled funds through Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency to the native Afghan mujahedeen fighting the Soviet occupation in a CIA program called Operation Cyclone.
At the same time, a growing number of foreign Arab mujahedeen (also called Afghan Arabs) joined the jihad against the Afghan Marxist regime, facilitated by international Muslim organizations, particularly the Maktab al-Khidamat, whose funds came from some of the $600 million a year donated to the jihad by the Saudi Arabia government and individual Muslims - particularly wealthy Saudis who were approached by Osama bin Laden. Maktab al-Khidamat was established by Abdullah Azzam and Bin Laden in Peshawar, Pakistan, in 1984. From 1986 it began to set up a network of recruiting offices in the United States, the hub of which was the Al Kifah Refugee Center at the Farouq Mosque in Brooklyn's Atlantic Avenue. Among notable figures at the Brooklyn center were "double agent" Ali Mohamed, whom FBI special agent Jack Cloonan called "bin Laden's first trainer, and "Blind Sheikh" Omar Abdel-Rahman, a leading recruiter of mujahideen for Afghanistan.
The Afghan Mujahedeen of the 1980s have been alleged to be the inspiration for terrorist groups in nations such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Chechnya, and the former Yugoslavia. According to Russian sources, the perpetrators of the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993 allegedly used a manual allegedly written by the CIA for the Mujihadeen fighters in Afghanistan on how to make explosives.
Al-Qaeda evolved from the Maktab al-Khidamat (Services Office), a Muslim organization founded in 1980 to raise and channel funds and recruit foreign mujahadeen for the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. It was founded by Abdullah Yusuf Azzam, a Palestinian Islamic scholar and member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Maktab al-Khadamat organized guest houses in Peshawar, in Pakistan, near the Afghan border, and paramilitary training camps in Afghanistan to prepare international non-Afghan recruits for the Afghan war front. Azzam persuaded Bin Laden to join MAK, to use his own money and use his connections with "the Saudi royal family and the petro-billionaires of the Gulf" to raise more to help the mujahideen. The role played by MAK and foreign Muslim volunteers, or "Afghan Arabs", in the war was not a major one. While 250,000 Afghan Mujahideen fought the Soviets and the communist Afghan government, it is estimated that were never more than 2000 foreign mujahideen in the field at any one time. Nonetheless, foreign mujahedeen volunteers came from 43 countries and the number that participated in the Afghan movement between 1982 and 1992 is reported to have been 35,000.
The Soviet Union finally withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989. To the surprise of many, Mohammed Najibullah's communist Afghan government hung on for three more years before being overrun by elements of the mujahedeen. With mujahedeen leaders unable to agree on a structure for governance, chaos ensued, with constantly reorganizing alliances fighting for control of ill-defined territories, leaving the country devastated.
One of these was the organization that would eventually be called al-Qaeda, formed by Osama bin Laden with an initial meeting held on August 11, 1988. Bin Laden wished to establish nonmilitary operations in other parts of the world; Azzam, in contrast, wanted to remain focused on military campaigns. After Azzam was assassinated in 1989, the MAK split, with a significant number joining bin Laden's organization.
In November 1989, Ali Mohamed, a former special forces Sergeant stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, left military service and moved to Santa Clara, California. He traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan and became "deeply involved with bin Laden's plans.. A year later, on November 8, 1990, the FBI raided the New Jersey home of Mohammed's associate El Sayyid Nosair, discovering a great deal of evidence of terrorist plots, including plans to blow up New York City skyscrapers. Nosair was eventually convicted in connection to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and for the murder of Rabbi Meir Kahane on November 5, 1990. In 1991, Ali Mohammed is said to have helped orchestrate Osama bin Laden's relocation to Sudan.
Following the Soviet Union's withdrawal from Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 had put the country of Saudi Arabia and its ruling House of Saud at risk as Saudi's most valuable oil fields (Hama) were within easy striking distance of Iraqi forces in Kuwait, and Saddam's call to pan-Arab/Islamism could potentially rally internal dissent. In the face of a seemingly massive Iraqi military presence, Saudi Arabia's own forces were well armed but far outnumbered. Bin Laden offered the services of his mujahedeen to King Fahd to protect Saudi Arabia from the Iraqi army. The Saudi monarch refused bin Laden's offer, opting instead to allow U.S. and allied forces to deploy on Saudi territory.
The deployment angered Bin Laden, as he believed the presence of foreign troops in the "land of the two mosques" (Mecca and Medina) profaned sacred soil. After speaking publicly against the Saudi government for harboring American troops, he was quickly forced into exile to Sudan and on April 9, 1994 his Saudi citizenship was revoked. His family publicly disowned him. There is controversy over whether and to what extent he continued to garner support from members of his family and/or the Saudi government.
Zawahiri and the EIJ, who served as the core of al-Qaeda but also engaged in separate operations against the Egyptian government, had even worse luck in Sudan. In 1993, a young schoolgirl was killed in an unsuccessful EIJ attempt on the life of the Egyptian Interior Minister, Hasan al-Alfi. Egyptian public opinion turned against Islamist bombings and the police arrested 280 more of al-Jihad's members and executed six. In 1995 an even more ill-fated attempt to assassinate Egyptian president Mubarak led to the expulsion of EIJ and not long after of bin Laden by the Sudanese government.
After the Soviet withdrawal, Afghanistan was effectively ungoverned for seven years and plagued by constant infighting between former allies and various mujahedeen groups.
Throughout the 1990s, a new force began to emerge. The origins of the Taliban (literally "students") lay in the children of Afghanistan, many of them orphaned by the war, and many of whom had been educated in the rapidly expanding network of Islamic schools (madrassas) either in Kandahar or in the refugee camps on the Afghan-Pakistani border.
According to Ahmed Rashid, five leaders of the Taliban were graduates of a single madrassa, Darul Uloom Haqqania (also known as “the University of Jihad",) in the small town of Akora Khattak near Peshawar, situated in Pakistan but largely attended by Afghan refugees. This institution reflected Salafi beliefs in its teachings, and much of its funding came from private donations from wealthy Arabs, for whom bin Laden provided conduit. A further four leading figures (including the perceived Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar Mujahed) attended a similarly funded and influenced madrassa in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Many of the mujahedeen who later joined the Taliban fought alongside Afghan warlord Mohammad Nabi Mohammadi's Harkat i Inqilabi group at the time of the Russian invasion. This group also enjoyed the loyalty of most Afghan Arab fighters.
The continuing internecine strife between various factions, and accompanying lawlessness following the Soviet withdrawal, enabled the growing and well-disciplined Taliban to expand their control over territory in Afghanistan, and they came to establish an enclave which it called the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. In 1994, they captured the regional center of Kandahar, and after making rapid territorial gains thereafter, conquered the capital city Kabul in September 1996.
After Sudan made it clear that bin Laden and his group were no longer welcome that year, Taliban-controlled Afghanistan—with previously established connections between the groups, a similar outlook on world affairs and largely isolated from American political influence and military power—provided a perfect location for al-Qaeda to establish its headquarters. Al-Qaeda enjoyed the Taliban's protection and a measure of legitimacy as part of their Ministry of Defense, although only Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates recognized the Taliban as the legitimate government of Afghanistan.
Al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and the Pakistani border regions are alleged to have trained militant Muslims from around the world. Despite the perception of some people, al-Qaeda members are ethnically diverse and connected by their radical version of Islam.
An ever-expanding network of supporters thus enjoyed a safe haven in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan until the Taliban were defeated by a combination of local forces and United States air power in 2001 (see section September 11, attacks and the United States response). Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders are still believed to be located in areas where the population is sympathetic to the Taliban in Afghanistan or the border Tribal Areas of Pakistan.
On February 23, 1998, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, a leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, along with three other Islamist leaders, co-signed and issued a fatwa (binding religious edict) under the banner of the World Islamic Front for Combat Against the Jews and Crusaders (al-Jabhah al-Islamiyya al-'Alamiyya li-Qital al-Yahud wal-Salibiyyin) declaring:
[T]he ruling to kill the Americans and their allies - civilians and military — is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque (in Jerusalem) and the holy mosque (in Makka) from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim. This is in accordance with the words of Almighty Allah, 'and fight the pagans all together as they fight you all together,' and 'fight them until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah'.
Neither bin Laden nor al-Zawahiri possessed the traditional Islamic scholarly qualifications to issue a fatwa of any kind; however, they rejected the authority of the contemporary ulema (seen as the paid servants of jahiliyya rulers) and took it upon themselves. Assassinated former FSB agent Alexander Litvinenko alleged that the Russian FSB trained al-Zawahiri in a camp in Dagestan eight months before the 1998 fatwa.
Though the current structure of al-Qaeda is unknown, information mostly acquired from Jamal al-Fadl provided American authorities with a rough picture of how the group was organized. While the veracity of the information provided by al-Fadl and the motivation for his cooperation are both disputed, American authorities base much of their current knowledge of al-Qaeda on his testimony.
Osama bin Laden is the emir and Senior Operations Chief of al-Qaeda (although originally this role may have been filled by Abu Ayoub al-Iraqi), advised by a Shura Council, which consists of senior al-Qaeda members, estimated by Western officials at about twenty to thirty people. Ayman al-Zawahiri is al-Qaeda's Deputy Operations Chief and Abu Ayyub al-Masri is possibly the senior leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq.
The number of individuals belonging to the organization is also unknown. According to the controversial BBC documentary The Power of Nightmares, al-Qaeda is so weakly linked together that it is hard to say it exists apart from Osama bin Laden and a small clique of close associates. The lack of any significant numbers of convicted al-Qaeda members despite a large number of arrests on terrorism charges is cited by the documentary as a reason to doubt whether a widespread entity that meets the description of al-Qaeda exists at all. Therefore the extent and nature of al-Qaeda remains a topic of dispute.
Its rank and file has been described as changing from being "predominantly Arab," in its first years of operation, to "largely Pakistani," as of 2007. It has been estimated that 62% of al-Qaeda members have university education.
"Al Qaeda is not an organization. Al Qaeda is a way of working ... but this has the hallmark of that approach.... Al Qaeda clearly has the ability to provide training ... to provide expertise ... and I think that is what has occurred here."
What exactly al-Qaeda is, or was, remains in dispute. In the BBC documentary The Power of Nightmares, writer and journalist Adam Curtis contends that the idea of al-Qaeda as a formal organization is primarily an American invention. Curtis contends the name "al-Qaeda" was first brought to the attention of the public in the 2001 trial of Osama bin Laden and the four men accused of the 1998 United States embassy bombings in East Africa. As a matter of law, the U.S. Department of Justice needed to show that Osama bin Laden was the leader of a criminal organization in order to charge him in absentia under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, also known as the RICO statutes. The name of the organization and details of its structure were provided in the testimony of Jamal al-Fadl, who claimed to be a founding member of the organization and a former employee of Osama bin Laden. To quote the documentary directly:
The reality was that bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri had become the focus of a loose association of disillusioned Islamist militants who were attracted by the new strategy. But there was no organization. These were militants who mostly planned their own operations and looked to bin Laden for funding and assistance. He was not their commander. There is also no evidence that bin Laden used the term "al-Qaeda" to refer to the name of a group until after September the 11th, when he realized that this was the term the Americans had given it.
Questions about the reliability of al-Fadl's testimony have been raised by a number of sources because of his history of dishonesty and because he was delivering it as part of a plea bargain agreement after being convicted of conspiring to attack U.S. military establishments. Sam Schmidt, a defense lawyer from the trial, had the following to say about al-Fadl's testimony:
There were selective portions of al-Fadl's testimony that I believe was false, to help support the picture that he helped the Americans join together. I think he lied in a number of specific testimony about a unified image of what this organization was. It made al-Qaeda the new Mafia or the new Communists. It made them identifiable as a group and therefore made it easier to prosecute any person associated with al-Qaeda for any acts or statements made by bin Laden.
Some have argued that "without the writings" of Islamic author and thinker Sayyid Qutb "al-Qaeda would not have existed. Qutb preached that because of the lack of sharia law the Muslim world was no longer Muslim, having reverted to pre-Islamic ignorance known as jahiliyyah. To restore Islam, a vanguard movement of righteous Muslims was needed to implement Sharia and rid the Muslim world of any non-Muslim influences, such as concepts like socialism or nationalism. Enemies of Islam included "treacherous Orientalists" and "world Jewry", who plotted "conspiracies" and "wicked[ly]" opposed Islam. In the words of Mohammed Jamal Khalia, a close college friend of Osama bin Laden: Islam is different from any other religion; it's a way of life. We [Khalia and bin Laden] were trying to understand what Islam has to say about how we eat, who we marry, how we talk. We read Sayyid Qutb. He was the one who most affected our generation.
Qutb had an even greater influence on Osama bin Laden's mentor and another leading member of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Zawahiri's uncle and maternal family patriarch, Mafouz Azzam, was Qutb's student, then protégé, then personal lawyer and finally executor of his estate - one of the last people to see Qutb before his execution. "Young Ayman al-Zawahiri heard again and again from his beloved uncle Mahfouz about the purity of Qutb's character and the torment he had endured in prison. Zawahiri paid homage to Qutb in his work Knights under the Prophet's Banner.
One of the most powerful effects of Qutb's ideas was the idea that many who said they were Muslims were not, i.e. they were apostates, which not only gave jihadists "a legal loophole around the prohibition of killing another Muslim," but made "it a religious obligation to execute" the self-professed Muslim. These alleged apostates included leaders of Muslims countries since they failed to enforce sharia law.
Two fatwa are said to have been appointed by the most theologically knowledgeable of al-Qaeda's members, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, aka Abu Hajer al Iraqi, to justify the killings according to Islamic law. Mamdouh Mahmud Salim referred to the thirteenth-century scholar Ibn Taymiyyah, much admired by Wahhabis. In a famous fatwa, Ibn Tamiyyah had ruled that Muslims should kill the invading Mongols, and so too Salim said al-Qaeda should kill American soldiers. The second fatwa followed another of Ibn Tamiyyah's, that Muslims should not only kill Mongols but anyone who aided the Mongols, who bought goods from them or sold to them. In addition the killing of someone merely standing near a Mongol was justified as well. He ruled these killings just because any innocent bystander, like the Yemenite hotel worker, would find their proper reward in death, going to Paradise if they were good Muslims and to hell if they were bad. This became al-Qaeda's justification for killing civilians.
In 1993, Ramzi Yousef used a truck bomb to attack the World Trade Center in New York City. The attack was intended to break the foundation of Tower One knocking it into Tower Two, bringing the entire complex down. Yousef hoped this would kill 250,000 people. The towers shook and swayed but the foundation held and he succeeded in killing only six people (although he injured 1,042 others and caused nearly $300 million in property damage).
After the attack, Yousef fled to Pakistan and later moved to Manila. There he began developing the Bojinka Plot plans to blow up a dozen American airliners simultaneously, to assassinate Pope John Paul II and President Bill Clinton, and to crash a private plane into CIA headquarters. He was later captured in Pakistan.
None of the U.S. government's indictments against Osama bin Laden have suggested that he had any connection with this bombing, but Ramzi Yousef is known to have attended a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan. After his capture, Yousef declared that his primary justification for the attack was to punish the United States for its support for the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and made no mention of any religious motivations.
On November 13, 1995, a van containing a hundred pounds of Semtex explosive blew up near the communications center for the Saudi National Guard in downtown Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where some American military contractors and Army officers had been training the Saudi National Guard. Seven people were killed, and sixty people were injured. The Saudi government arrested four men, "torturing confessions" out of them that they had been inspired by bin Laden's speeches and trained at al-Qaeda's camp in Afghanistan, and quickly executed them. It is unclear if they had anything to do with the crime. As with many bombings suspected to be the work of al-Qaeda, bin Laden praised the attacks but denied authorizing the attack or training the bombers.
The U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa, resulting in upward of 300 deaths, mostly locals. A barrage of cruise missiles launched by the U.S. military in response devastated an al-Qaeda base in Khost, Afghanistan, but the network's capacity was unharmed.
Bin Laden then turned his sights towards the United States Navy. In October 2000, al-Qaeda militants in Yemen bombed the missile destroyer U.S.S. Cole in a suicide attack, killing 17 U.S. servicemen and damaging the vessel while it lay offshore. Inspired by the success of such a brazen attack, al-Qaeda's command core began to prepare for an attack on the United States itself.
The attacks were the most devastating terrorist acts in American and world history, killing approximately 3,000 people. Two commercial airliners were deliberately flown into the World Trade Center towers, a third into The Pentagon, a fourth, originally intended to target the United States Capitol crashed in Pennsylvania.
The September 11 attacks were conducted by al-Qaeda, acting in accord with the 1998 fatwa issued against the United States and its allies by military forces under the command of bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, and others. Evidence points to suicide squads led by al-Qaeda military commander Mohammed Atta as the culprits of the attacks, with bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and Hambali as the key planners and part of the political and military command. Messages issued by bin Laden after September 11, 2001 praised the attacks, and explained their motivation while denying any involvement. Bin Laden legitimized the attacks by identifying grievances felt by both mainstream and Islamist Muslims, such as the general perception that the United States was actively oppressing Muslims. Bin Laden asserted that America was massacring Muslims in 'Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir and Iraq' and that Muslims should retain the 'right to attack in reprisal'. He also claimed the 9/11 attacks were not targeted at women and children, but 'America's icons of military and economic power'.
Evidence has since come to light that the original targets for the attack may have been nuclear power stations on the east coast of the U.S. The targets were later altered by al-Qaeda, as it was feared that such an attack "might get out of hand".
As a result of the United States using its special forces and providing air support for the Northern Alliance ground forces, both Taliban and al-Qaeda training camps were destroyed, and much of the operating structure of al-Qaeda is believed to have been disrupted. After being driven from their key positions in the Tora Bora area of Afghanistan, many al-Qaeda fighters tried to regroup in the rugged Gardez region of the nation. Again, under the cover of intense aerial bombardment, U.S. infantry and local Afghan forces attacked, shattering the al-Qaeda position and killing or capturing many of the militants. By early 2002, al-Qaeda had been dealt a serious blow to its operational capacity, and the Afghan invasion appeared an initial success. Nevertheless, a significant Taliban insurgency remains in Afghanistan, and al-Qaeda's top two leaders, bin Laden and al-Zawahiri, evaded capture.
Debate raged about the exact nature of al-Qaeda's role in the 9/11 attacks, and after the U.S. invasion began, the U.S. State Department also released a videotape showing bin Laden speaking with a small group of associates somewhere in Afghanistan shortly before the Taliban was removed from power. Although its authenticity has been questioned by some, the tape appears to implicate bin Laden and al-Qaeda in the September 11 attacks and was aired on many television channels all over the world, with an accompanying English translation provided by the United States Defense Department.
In September 2004, the U.S. government commission investigating the September 11 attacks officially concluded that the attacks were conceived and implemented by al-Qaeda operatives. In October 2004, bin Laden appeared to claim responsibility for the attacks in a videotape released through Al Jazeera, saying he was inspired by Israeli attacks on high-rises in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon: "As I looked at those demolished towers in Lebanon, it entered my mind that we should punish the oppressor in kind and that we should destroy towers in America in order that they taste some of what we tasted and so that they be deterred from killing our women and children.
By the end of 2004, the U.S. government claimed that two-thirds of the top leaders of al-Qaeda from 2001 were in custody (including Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaydah, Saif al Islam el Masry, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri) or dead (including Mohammed Atef). Despite the capture or death of many senior al-Qaeda operatives, the U.S. government continues to warn that the organization is not yet defeated, and battles between U.S. forces and al-Qaeda-related groups continue.
In the meantime, autonomous regional branches of al-Qaeda continue to emerge around the world.
With the rise of “locally rooted, globally inspired” terrorists, counter-terrorism experts are currently studying how al-Qaeda is using the Internet – through websites, chat rooms, discussion forums, instant messaging, and so on – to inspire a worldwide network of support. The bombers responsible for the 7 July 2005 London bombings, some of whom were well integrated into their local communities, are an example of such “globally inspired” terrorists, and they reportedly used the Internet to plan and coordinate. A group called the "Secret Organization of al-Qaeda in Europe" claimed responsibility for the London bombings on the Al-Qalah website, which was subsequently shut down.
The publicity opportunities offered by the Internet have been particularly exploited by al-Qaeda. In December 2004, for example, bin Laden released an audio message by posting it directly to a website, rather than sending a copy to al Jazeera as he had done in the past. Al Qaeda turned to the Internet for release of its videos in order to be certain it would be available unedited, rather than risk the possibility of al Jazeera editors editing the videos and cutting out anything critical of the Saudi royal family. Bin Laden's December 2004 message was much more vehement than usual in this speech, lasting over an hour.
In the past, Alneda.com and Jehad.net were perhaps the most significant al-Qaeda websites. Alneda was initially taken down by American Jon Messner, but the operators resisted by shifting the site to various servers and strategically shifting content. The U.S. is currently attempting to extradite an information technology specialist, Babar Ahmad, from the UK, who is the creator of various English-language al-Qaeda websites such as Azzam.com. Ahmad's extradition is opposed by various British Muslim organizations, such as the Muslim Association of Britain.
A variety of sources - CNN journalist Peter Bergen, Pakistani ISI Brigadier Mohammad Yousaf, and CIA operatives involved in the Afghan program, such as Vincent Cannistraro and Milton Bearden, deny that the CIA or other American officials had contact with the Afghan Arabs (foreign mujahideen) or Bin Laden, let alone armed, trained, coached or indoctrinated them. These sources argue that there was no need to recruit foreigners unfamiliar with the local language, customs or lay of the land since there were a quarter of a million local Afghans willing to fight; that Arab Afghans themselves would have no need for American funds since they received several hundred million dollars a year from non-American, Muslim sources; that Americans could not train mujahideen because Pakistani officials would not allow more than a handful of them to operate in Pakistan and none in Afghanistan; and that the Afghan Arabs were almost invariably militant Islamists reflexively hostile to Westerners uninterested in the fact that some Westerners were helping the mujahideen.
According to Peter Bergen, known for conducting the first television interview with Osama bin Laden in 1997, the idea that "the CIA funded bin Laden or trained bin Laden ... a folk myth. There's no evidence of this. ... Bin Laden had his own money, he was anti-American and he was operating secretly and independently. ... The real story here is the CIA didn't really have a clue about who this guy was until 1996 when they set up a unit to really start tracking him. But as Bergen himself admitted, in one "strange incident" the CIA did appear to give visa help to mujahideen-recruiter Omar Abdel-Rahman.
Noman Benotman, a former Afghan Arab and militant of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, went public with an open letter of criticism to Ayman al-Zawahiri in November 2007 after persuading imprisoned senior leadership of his former group to enter into peace negotiations with the Libyan regime. While Ayman al-Zawahiri announced the affiliation of the group with Al Qaeda in November 2007, the Libyan government released 90 members of the group from prison several months later after "they were said to have renounced violence.
In 2007, around the sixth anniversary of September 11, Sheikh Salman al-Ouda, a Saudi religious scholar and one of the fathers of the Sahwa, the fundamentalist awakening movement that swept through Saudi Arabia in the '80s, delivering a personal rebuke to Osama bin Laden. Al Ouda addressed Al Qaeda's leader on MBC, a widely watched Middle East TV network, asking him
My brother Osama, how much blood has been spilt? How many innocent people, children, elderly, and women have been killed ... in the name of Al Qaeda? Will you be happy to meet God Almighty carrying the burden of these hundreds of thousands or millions [of victims] on your back?
In 2007, the imprisoned Sayyed Imam Al-Sharif, an influential Afghan Arab, "ideological godfather of Al Qaeda", and former supporter of takfir, sensationally withdrew his support from al Qaeda with a book Wathiqat Tarshid Al-'Aml Al-Jihadi fi Misr w'Al-'Alam ("Document of Right Guidance for Jihad Activity in Egypt and the World").
Usama Hassan, an Imam in London and former supporter of Al Qaeda who traveled to Afghanistan to train as jihadi was alienated by the July 2005 bombings in London and now preaches against bin Laden and helped launch the Quilliam Foundation.
According to Pew polls, support for Al Qaeda has been dropping around the Muslim world in recent years. The numbers supporting suicide bombings in Indonesia, Lebanon, and Bangladesh, for instance, have dropped by half or more in the last five years. In Saudi Arabia, only 10 percent now have a favorable view of Al Qaeda, according to a December poll by Terror Free Tomorrow, a Washington-based think tank.