Al-Qaida flag
Al-Qaida is a global terrorist organization with ties of varying degrees to local terrorist groups, some of which bear the Al-Qaida name and some of which don’t. Founded in 1988 by Osama bin Laden, who was the group’s leader until he was killed in 2011, it is a Muslim-extremist -jihadist group that has been linked to numerous terrorist activities around the globe, many of them directed at the United States. Al-Qaida means “the base.” Early names of the group — Majmuat Al-Qaida and Al-Qaeda Al-Jihad — meant, respectively, a “Grouping of Bases” and “The Base of Holy War.” The group got its start in tribal Pakistan, where many of its leaders reside today. When Osama bin Laden was its leader he was referred to by other Al-Qaida members as “the Sheik.”

Al-Qaida acts as an umbrella group for terrorist cells and organizations. Although it provides know-how and inspiration and has masterminded some spectacular attacks such as the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center Al-Qaida for the most part doesn’t so much plan and carry out terrorist activities itself as much as provide money, logistics, arms and support for its cells and affiliated organizations to carry them out. Al-Qaida at various times and to varying degrees has operated or supported training camps, communications facilities, websites, warehouses, fundraising structures and commercial activities that have raised money for and supported terrorist activities.

Al-Qaida is generally made up of Sunni Muslims from Arab countries. Its core members have mostly come from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Pakistan. Although it has traditionally been based in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Al-Qaida has relatively Pakistani and Afghan members. There have been Al-Qaida attacks Shiite Muslims.

Books and Websites

Books on Al-Qaida: “Inside Al-Qaida” by Rohan Gunaratna (Columbia University, 2002); “Al-Qaida — The True Story of Radical Islam” by Jason Burke (Penguin); “Ghost Wars: the Secret History if the CIA, Afghanistan , and bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10th 2001" by Steven Coll (2004) of the Washington Post won the Pulitzer Prize. “The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11" by Lawrence Wright (2006) also won a Pulitzer Prize

The “Al-Qaida Reader” published by Doubleday in 2005 is made up mostly of interviews with Osama bin Laden. The early history of Al-Qaida was published in the 1990s by International Jihad Press under the title “The Battles of the Lion’s Den of the Arab Partisans in Afghanistan”. According to the Washington Post articles that have raises questions about some of the conventional wisdom on al Qaeda include: Daniel Byman, "Al-Qaeda as an Adversary: Do We Understand Our Enemy”" (World Politics, October 2003) and Jason Burke, "Think Again: Al Qaeda" (Foreign Policy, May/June 2004); and "Counterterrorism After Al Qaeda" (Washington Quarterly, Summer 2004).

Books on Terrorism and Islamic Terrorism: “Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War in Terror” by Michael Scheur, a former chief of the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit; “Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia” by Ahmed Rashid (Penguin Books); “Through Our Enemies' Eyes” (Potomac Books) by former CIA bin Laden unit chief Michael Scheuer (writing as Anonymous); “Holy War Inc.” By Peter Bergen (Touchstone).

According to a Washington Post reading list Bruce Hoffman's “Inside Terrorism” (Columbia University Press) is still probably the best general treatment of terrorism. “The War for Muslim Minds: Islam and the West” (Harvard University Press) by Gilles Kepel offers a leading European scholar's perspective on the evolving shape of jihadism. The first part of “The Age of Sacred Terror” (Random House) by Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon traces the ideological roots and modern evolution of Sunni jihadism. “The Muslim World After 9/11" from Rand is a useful compendium on how changed perspectives after that event have affected many issues throughout the Muslim world.

Websites: A concise factual summary about al Qaeda is at, part of the highly informative Web site on terrorism maintained by the Council on Foreign Relations. In a similar vein is a report released by the Congressional Research Service in August 2005, "Al Qaeda: Profile and Threat Assessment," available at R. Pillar, who is on the faculty of the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University, served for 28 years in the CIA and recently retired as the National Intelligence Officer for the Near East and South Asia.SITE Intelligence Grouponal conflicts.

Turmoil in the Muslim World After the Soviet-Afghanistan War

20120712-Mujahid-MANPAD b.JPEG
Soviet-Afghanistan War
Lawrence Wright wrote in The New Yorker: “In 1989, after ten years of warfare, the Soviets gave up and pulled their forces out of Afghanistan. More than a million Afghans — eight per cent of the country's population — had been killed, and hundreds of thousands had been maimed. Out of some thirteen million Afghans who survived the war, almost half were refugees.. [Source: Lawrence Wright, The New Yorker, September 16, 2002]

The Arabs that fought in Afghanistan gained great confidence by playing a role in driving the Russians out of Afghanistan, a defeat that played a part in bringing down the Soviet Union,: Wright wrote. “After the Soviet pullout, many of the Afghan Arabs returned home or went to other countries, carrying the torch of Islamic revolution. In the Balkans, ethnic hostility among Muslims, Croats, and Serbs prompted Bosnia-Herzegovina to vote to secede from Yugoslavia; that set off a three-year war in which a hundred and fifty thousand people died. In November of 1991, the largely Muslim region of Chechnya declared its independence from Russia — an act that soon led to war.

“In 1992, civil war broke out in Algeria when the government cancelled elections to prevent the Islamist party from taking power; after a decade of fighting, the conflict has taken a hundred thousand lives. In Egypt, the Islamic Group launched a campaign against tourism and Western culture in general, burning and bombing theatres, bookstores, and banks, and killing Christians. "We believe in the principle of establishing Sharia, even if this means the death of all mankind," one of the Group's leaders later explained. And the war in Afghanistan continued, only now it was Muslims fighting Muslims for political control.

Creation of Al-Qaida

Translation of the al Qaeda constitution
Al-Qaida grew out of the various organizations that Osama bin Laden founded in Afghanistan and Pakistan during Soviet-mujahidin war in Afghanistan in the 1980s. It was created in 1988 shortly before the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, as Osama bin Laden set his sights beyond Afghanistan. One early Al-Qaida document read: “World of Al-Qaida commenced on 9/10/88 with a group of 15 brothers...And thanks be to God.”

Lawrence Wright wrote in The New Yorker: “The Arabs who remained in Afghanistan were confronted with the question of jihad's future. Toward the end of 1989, a meeting took place in the Afghan town of Khost at a mujahideen camp. A Sudanese fighter named Jamal al-Fadl was among the participants, and he later testified about the event in a New York courtroom during one of the trials connected with the 1998 bombing of the American embassies in East Africa. According to Fadl, the meeting was attended by ten men — four or five of them Egyptians, including Zawahiri. Fadl told the court that the chairman of the meeting, an Iraqi known as Abu Ayoub, proposed the formation of a new organization that would wage jihad beyond the borders of Afghanistan. There was some dispute about the name, but ultimately the new organization came to be called Al Qaeda — the Base. The alliance was conceived as a loose affiliation among individual mujahideen and established groups, and was dominated by Egyptian Islamic Jihad. The ultimate boss, however, was Osama bin Laden, who held the checkbook. [Source:Lawrence Wright, The New Yorker, September 16, 2002]

At first there wasn’t much to Al-Qaida other than whatever activities Osama bin Laden and other early Al-Qaida members were engaged in at a specific time. Steven Coll wrote in the Washington Post: “At its birth in 1988, al Qaeda was a poorly equipped summer camp for volunteer soldiers near Khost, Afghanistan.” Over time Osama bin Laden made new contacts and engaged in a variety of activities.

Some Al-Qaida members were involved in struggles in Bosnia, Sudan and Chechnya in the early 1990s. Sebastian Rotella wrote in the Los Angeles Times: The battleground in Bosnia became a spawning ground for Al Qaeda. After the war, hundreds of militants gained Bosnian passports and stayed. Extremists groomed here were involved in plots such as the bombings of Paris trains in 1995 and one targeting Los Angeles International Airport in 1999. [Source: Sebastian Rotella, Los Angeles Times, April 16, 2007]

Osama bin Laden and the Founding of Al-Qaida

Osama bin Laden
Peter Bergen wrote in Vanity Fair: Three months after the death of his brother Salem in 1988, Osama bin Laden “took what would turn out to be a momentous step: secretly founding his own jihadist group, al-Qaeda, in clear opposition to his mentor Abdullah Azzam. Azzam advocated a traditional, fundamentalist interpretation of the nature of jihad: the reclamation of once Muslim lands from non-Muslim rule in places such as Palestine, what was then the Soviet Union, and even southern Spain, which had been under Muslim rule five centuries earlier.” [Source: Peter Bergen, Vanity Fair, January 2006]

“The predominantly Egyptian militants who surrounded bin Laden at the end of the 80s advocated something more radical: the violent overthrow of governments across the Muslim world they deemed “apostate,” a concept of jihad that Azzam and many of his followers rejected, as they wanted no part in conflicts between Muslims. The split between Azzam and bin Laden may have even cost Azzam his life; he was assassinated by unknown assailants in November 1989, a year after the founding of al-Qaeda.”

“In some circles it has become fashionable to suggest that bin Laden has not been especially significant to the global jihadist movement, or that al-Qaeda has always been only a loose-knit collection of like-minded Islamist militant groups, or even that al-Qaeda was a fabrication of U.S. law enforcement. The fullest exposition of this point of view was made in 2004 in the BBC documentary The Power of Nightmares, written and produced by Adam Curtis, which argued that “beyond his small group bin Laden had no formal organization, until the Americans invented one for him.”

20120711-zawahiri 2.jpg
“Curtis asserts that al-Qaeda was “invented” during the Manhattan trial of four men accused in the bombings of two U.S. Embassies in Africa in 1998. The star witness was former bin Laden aide Jamal al-Fadl. Curtis says, “The picture al-Fadl drew for the Americans of bin Laden was of an all-powerful figure at the head of a large terrorist network that had an organized network of control. He also said that bin Laden had given this network a name, al-Qaeda.... 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 11th September, when he realized that this was the term the Americans had given it.”

“All of these assertions are nonsense. There is overwhelming evidence that al-Qaeda was founded in 1988 by bin Laden and a group of a dozen or so other militants, and that the group would eventually become the global organization that implemented the 9/11 attacks. Below is a document discovered by Bosnian authorities in a 2002 raid on the offices of an Islamic charity. Extraordinarily, these are the founding minutes of al-Qaeda, from a meeting that took place over the course of one weekend in August 1988.”

Document from the Meeting in Which Al-Qaida Was Founded

golden chain
Al-Qaida grew out of the various organizations that Osama bin Laden founded in Afghanistan and Pakistan during Soviet-mujahidin war un Afghanistan in the 1980s. It was created in 1988, shortly before the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, as Osama bin Laden set his sights beyond Afghanistan. The meeting in which al-Qaeda was founded took place over a weekend in August 1988.

A document — labeled “Tareekh Osama [Osama’s History]/54/127-127a” — described as minutes from the meeting in which Al-Qaida was founded read: The brothers mentioned attended the Sheikh [bin Laden’s] house. Most of the discussion was about choosing an Advisory Council. The meeting was held for two days in a row and the Advisory Council [met] on Friday, with the following brothers. [A list of nine names follows, headed by those of Osama bin Laden and Abu Ubaidah Al Banjshiri, al-Qaeda’s military commander.] [Source: Peter Bergen, Vanity Fair, January 2006]

The Sheikh decided to engage the Council in making a change. The meeting stayed from sunset until two at night. And on Saturday morning, 8/20/1988, the aforementioned brothers came and started the meeting, and the military work was suggested to be divided in two parts, according to duration: A) Limited duration: They will go to Sada Camp [on the Afghan-Pakistani border], then get trained and distributed on Afghan fronts, under supervision of the military council. B) Open[-ended] duration: They enter a testing camp and the best brothers of them are chosen to enter Al-Qaeda Al Askariya (the Military Base).

Al-Qaeda is basically an organized Islamic faction; its goal will be to lift the word of God, to make His religion victorious. Requirements to enter Al-Qaeda: 1) Members of open duration [meaning open-ended commitment]. 2) Listening and obedient. 3) Good manners. 4) Referred from a trusted side. 5) Obeying statutes and instructions of Al-Qaeda.

The pledge [to join al-Qaeda]: The pledge of God and his covenant is upon me, to listen and obey the superiors, who are doing this work, in energy, early-rising, difficulty, and easiness, and for his superiority upon us, so that the word of God will be the highest, and His religion victorious.

Work of Al-Qaeda commenced on September 10 1988, with a group of 15 brothers.

Al-Qaida in the 1990s

Khobar bombing 1996
Al-Qaida began to take shape and gained strength in the early 1990s when Osama bin Laden was in Sudan. There bin Laden made contacts with a number of jihadist organization and began managing activities that were oriented towards undermining the power of the United States, the West in general and governments of Muslim countries believed to be sympathetic to the West. Al-Qaida began to take on a more global character when it merged with Egyptian Islamic Jihad, headed by Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Over time Al-Qaida formed alliances, merged and supported a number of jihadist-terrorist groups. These groups often carried operations independent of Al-Qaida but later were linked to Al-Qaida or did things that Al-Qaida was given credit for but were not really involved in. Some analysts believe that Osama bin Laden’s greatest contribution to terrorism was his ability to unite Muslim extremist groups and get them to work together to achieve shared goals. He is also credited with coming up with the money necessary to support them.

Al-Qaida came into own after the embassy bombings in Africa and the cruise missile strikes in Afghanistan in 1998, when Osama bin Laden suddenly became a media figure and hero to people who felt Muslims were trampled by the West. This helped Al-Qaida to attract money and recruits.

Lawrence Wright in The New Yorker: Despite bin Laden’s wealth — money for Jihad was always in short supply. Many of Zawahiri's followers had families, and they all needed food and housing. A few turned to theft and shakedowns to support themselves. Zawahiri strongly disapproved of this; when members of Jihad robbed a German military attaché in Yemen, he investigated the incident and expelled those responsible. But the money problem remained. In the early nineteen-nineties, Zawahiri sent several Jihad members to Albania to work for Muslim charities. They were expected to send ten per cent of their paychecks to Jihad, but it was surely a meagre contribution. Zawahiri bristled at bin Laden's lack of support. "The young men are willing to give up their souls, while the wealthy remain with money," he wrote in the Islamist magazine Kalimat Haq. Bin Laden, for his part, was continually frustrated by the conflict between the two principal Egyptian organizations and was increasingly unwilling to fund either of them. [Source: Lawrence Wright, The New Yorker, September 16, 2002]

Al-Qaida Training Manual
“Immediately after this dispiriting trip, Zawahiri began working more closely with bin Laden, and most of the Egyptian members of Islamic Jihad went on the Al Qaeda payroll. These men were not mercenaries; they were highly motivated idealists, many of whom had turned their backs on middle-class careers. Their wages were modest — about a hundred dollars a month for the average fighter, two hundred for a skilled worker. They faced a difficult choice: whether to maintain their allegiance to a bootstrap organization that was always struggling financially or to join forces with a wealthy Saudi who had long-standing ties to the oil billionaires in the Persian Gulf. Moreover, the two organizations had different goals: Islamic Jihad's efforts were still concentrated on Egypt; bin Laden, the businessman, sought to merge all Islamic terrorist groups into a single multinational corporation, with departments devoted to everything from personnel to policymaking. Despite Jihad's financial precariousness, many of its members were suspicious of bin Laden and had no desire to divert their efforts outside Egypt. Zawahiri viewed the alliance as a marriage of convenience. One of his chief assistants, Ahmed al-Najjar, later testified in Cairo that Zawahiri had confided to him that "joining with bin Laden [was] the only solution to keeping the Jihad organization alive."

Peter Bergen wrote in the Wall Street Journal: “It was at the tail end of al Qaeda's sojourn in Sudan in 1996 that U.S. counter-terrorism officials got their first big break. Jamal al Fadl, an early member of the group, defected. His debriefer was Daniel Coleman, Mr. Wright says, a "scholarly and inquisitive" FBI agent who "concluded that al Qaeda was a world-wide terrorist organization dedicated to destroying America."

Al-Qaida in Taliban-Controlled Afghanistan

Al-Qaida returned to Afghanistan en force and was based there after Osama bin Laden was kicked out of Sudan in 1996. Al-Qaida provided the Taliban with money, military support, soldiers to fight the Northern Alliance, and assassins to remove threats like Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Northern Alliance leader. The Taliban provided Al-Qaida with a safe haven and a place to run their operation. It allowed Al-Qaida to run training camps and provided protection from the outside. The Taliban and Al-Qaida in the words of one CIA agent were in “a happy spiritual union.”

Many local people in the areas where Al-Qaida was active considered Al-Qaida militants, jihadists and Muslim extremists to be their friends not their enemies. One villager told National Geographic, “They are martyrs because they are fighting for Islam. They are not terrorists because they are defending Islam and defending themselves.” In Kandahar, vendors sold “Super Osama bin Laden Kulfa Balls,” and Pakistan-manufactured coconut candy with image of Osama bin Laden surrounded by tanks, fighters and cruise missiles.

The Taliban’s Ministry of Interior’s “public-identity office” issued 15,000 Afghan identity cards. With these special passes Al-Qaida members were able too get off planes with bags full of money and weapons and walk past airport authorities without being questioned or searched.

A mysterious airport, believed to have been set up with Al-Qaida support, was set up in the desert 150 miles from Kandahar to move men, supplies and weapons. An Ariana Afghan pilot told Newsweek, “It was like a small city down there. There were so many lights...they could land aircraft of any size in there, day or night. We could tell they were big planes because they were coming in from 30,000 feet...At one point there were as many as six or seven big planes many planes coming in every day, night or day.”

Life for Al-Qaida Members in Taliban-Controlled Afghanistan

Al-Qaida's Zhawar Kili Al-Badr Camp
in Afghanistan
In the late 1990s, Ariana Afghan Airlines, Afghanistan’s national carrier, stopped flying to most destinations around the world but was busy flying mysterious passengers between Kabul and Dubai and Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. The passengers were given Ariana ID cards and were allowed to pass through immigration and customs without being checked.

Many of the Arab Al-Qaida members found life in Afghanistan harsh at the very least. Many of them hated Afghanistan. They didn’t like the food, they considered the Afghans illiterate bumpkins and found it difficult to carry out their operations in such a backward place.

In April of 1998 a jihadi named Tariq Anwar visited Afghanistan for a meeting of Islamists and wrote back to his colleagues in Yemen about his impressions: “I send you my greetings from beyond the swamps to your country, where there is progress and civilization” You should excuse us for not calling. There are many reasons, the most important of which is the difficulty of calling from this country. We have to go to the city, which involves a number of stages. The first stage involves arranging for a car (as we don't have a car). Of course, we are bound by the time the car is leaving, regardless of the time we want to leave. The second stage involves waiting for the car (we wait for the car, and it may be hours late or arrive before the agreed time). The next stage is the trip itself, when we sit like sardines in a can. Most of the time I have 1/8 of a chair, and the road is very bad. After all this suffering, the last stage is reaching a humble government communication office. Most of the time there is some kind of failure — either the power is off, the lines out of order, or the neighboring country [through which the connection is made] does not reply. Only in rare cases can we make problem-free calls.”[Source: Alan Cullison, The Atlantic Monthly, September 2004, from files found on a computer used by Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri]

Alan Cullison wrote in The Atlantic Monthly: “The Arabs' general contempt for the backwardness of Afghanistan was not lost on the Taliban, whose leaders grew annoyed with Osama bin Laden's focus on public relations and the media. Letters found on the computer reveal that relations between the Arabs and the Taliban had grown so tense that many feared the Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, would expel the Arabs from the country. A dialogue to resolve the two sides' differences was carried on at the highest levels, as the memo below, from two Syrian operatives, demonstrates. ("Abu Abdullah" is a code name for bin Laden; "Leader of the Faithful" refers to Mullah Omar, in his hoped-for capacity as the head of a new Islamic emirate, based in Afghanistan.)

Forced Marriages of Afghan Women to Al-Qaida Fighter Under the Taliban

20120712-800v Taliban_beating_woman_in_public_RAWA.jpg
Taliban beating woman in public
There were also reports of forced marriages. One woman told Time Taliban militiamen broke into her house with guns and torches and caught the women without their veils. There house was then set on fire. As the women fled they were corralled by Taliban and Al-Qaida fighters who sorted out the women. The ones deemed attractive were herded into trucks and never seen again and presumed to have been forcible married to Taliban and Al-Qaida fighters.

Women belonging to Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara and other minorities who lived in territory conquered by the Taliban were abducted and treated as booty. Some Al-Qaida fighters engaged in “temporary marriages” in which they had sex for a few days with women and then left them.

Women in Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif, Jalabad and Khost have described how they were abducted, sold and married to Taliban soldiers and Pakistani and Arab fighters and then abandoned. Beautiful girls were sold for around $10,000. The Kabul police chief told Time, “They sold these girls. The girls were dishonored and then discarded.” Some were also believed to have been sold to brothels in Pakistan. Those that managed to free themselves were so dishonored it was difficult for them to return to their families.

An aid worker told Newsweek, “There were a lot forced marriages at this time because it made life easier for the Arabs. Not all the marriages were bad. One Afghan woman told Newsweek that she had never met her husband until her wedding day and he she fell in love with him and regarded him as a good man. These women and their children were often taken to the Al-Qaida caves and hideouts.

Cruise Missile Attack in Afghanistan After the African Embassy Bombings

On August 7, 1998, near-simultaneous bomb attacks — using truck bombs — against U.S. embassies in Nairobi. Kenya and Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania killed 224 people, most of them Africans, and injured over 5,000. Twelve Americans were killed.

Tomahawk Launches into Afghanistan
On August 211998, two weeks after the African embassy bombings, the U.S. fired 79 cruise missiles at al-Qaeda training camps in the Khost province in retaliation for attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. A few Al-Qaida camps were destroyed. There were reports that 50 people were killed and scores injured. Satellite phone transmissions intercepted by U.S. intelligence services indicated that Osama bin Laden was at one the camps. Even so he escaped.

Lawrence Wright wrote in The New Yorker: "American intelligence officials were unprepared for the extent of the devastation in East Africa, and they were amazed by the skill with which the bombings were carried out. The level of planning and coördination indicated that the bombers had a new degree of sophistication, as well as a willingness to raise the stakes in terms of innocent lives. On August 20th, President Clinton ordered an attack on bin Laden's training camps in Afghanistan, and also on a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan that was thought to be manufacturing a precursor to the lethal nerve gas VX. [Source: Lawrence Wright, The New Yorker, September 16, 2002]

“American warships in the region fired seventy-nine Tomahawk cruise missiles into Afghanistan and Sudan. A subsequent investigation established that the plant in Sudan was making Ibuprofen and veterinary medicines, not poison gas; the strike killed a night watchman. In Afghanistan, the attack failed to hit its main targets — bin Laden, Zawahiri, and the other Al Qaeda leaders. (The strike also missed Mohamed Atta, the alleged leader of the September 11th attacks, who was reportedly training in one of the camps.)

Impact of the Cruise Missile Attacks in 1998

The cruise missile strikes elevated Osama bin Laden to the position of a hero and a unifier of Muslim people. Lawrence Wright wrote in The New Yorker: “The strikes, which, in the big-chested parlance of military planners, were dubbed Operation Infinite Reach, cost American taxpayers seventy-nine million dollars, but they merely exposed the inadequacy of American intelligence. President Clinton later explained that one of the strikes had been aimed at a "gathering of key terrorist leaders," but the meeting in question had occurred a month earlier. According to Russian intelligence sources cited in Al-Majallah, an Arabic magazine in London, bin Laden sold the Tomahawk missiles that failed to explode to China for more than ten million dollars, which he then used to finance operations in Chechnya. [Source: Lawrence Wright, The New Yorker, September 16, 2002]

“The failure of Operation Infinite Reach established bin Laden as a legendary figure not just in the Muslim world but wherever America, with the clamor of its narcissistic culture and the presence of its military forces, had made itself unwelcome. When bin Laden's voice came crackling across a radio transmission — "By the grace of God, I am alive!" — the forces of anti-Americanism had found their champion. Those who had objected to the slaughter of innocents in the embassies in East Africa, many of whom were Muslims, were cowed by the popular response to this man whose defiance of America now seemed blessed by divine favor.”

The day after the strikes, Zawahiri called a reporter in Karachi, with a message: "Tell the Americans that we aren't afraid of bombardment, threats, and acts of aggression. We suffered and survived the Soviet bombings for ten years in Afghanistan and we are ready for more sacrifices. The war has only just begun; the Americans should now await the answer." Not long after that Al-Qaida promotional videos showing damage caused by the cruise missile attacks appeared in Islamic bookstores all over the world.

Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden Bond After the 1998 Cruise Missile Attacks

Mullah Omar
Before the cruise missile attacks Mullah Mohammed Omar, the leader of the Taliban and Afghanistan, was losing patience with Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaida presence in Afghanistan. In June 1998, he agreed to a Saudi request to extradite bin Laden. While the details were being worked out the embassies in Africa were bombed and the United States launched retaliatory cruise missile strikes in Afghanistan made Osama bin Laden. After that cruise missile attacks Omar changed his attitude “180 degrees.” Omar was angered that Afghan soil had been breached by the Americans. He began spitting insults at Americans and the Saudis that were trying to extradite Osama bin Laden.

Afterwards the Taliban began showing solidarity with Osama bin Laden in a way it hadn’t before. Anti-American press conferences were held with Taliban support. Three months after the cruise missile attack the Taliban declared that Osama bin Laden was “a man without sin.” Al-Qaida members in turn said they would give their lives to protect Mullah Omar and defend Taliban territory and flooded Afghanistan with anti-West propaganda. Osama bin Laden called Omar a “new caliph.”

Mullah Omar began giving Al-Qaida fighters rights denied ordinary Afghans such as carrying arms. Omar also began spending more time with Osama bin Laden. One Taliban official told the Wall Street Journal, that Omar was “so influenced by Osama bin Laden that he was ready to sacrifice his people, his country, everything for him.” Al-Qaida provided the Taliban with the encouragement and the know-how to bring the Buddha statues down at Bamiyan.

In April 11, 2001, Osama bin Laden wrote Mullah Omar: “I pray to God — after having granted you success in destroying the dead, deaf, and mute false gods — that He will grant you success in destroying the living false gods, the ones that talk and listen. God knows that those [gods] pose more danger to Islam and monotheism than the dead false gods. Among the most important such false gods in our time is the United Nations, which has become a new religion that is worshipped to the exclusion of God. The prophets of this religion are present in the UN General Assembly. The UN imposes all sorts of penalties on all those who contradict its religion. It issues documents and statements that openly contradict Islamic belief, such as the International Declaration for Human Rights, considering all religions are equal, and considering that the destruction of the statues constitutes a crime”

Al-Qaida Activity Before September 11th

After the 1998 cruise missile attack in Afghanistan, Alan Cullison wrote in The Atlantic Monthly, “Ayman al-Zawahiri rallied the support of other jihadis, especially in his militant group Islamic Jihad, which eventually became the largest component of al-Qaeda. Those jihadis from Egypt had been suspicious of him because of his close ties to bin Laden, whom they considered a publicity hound. In the summer of 1999 they ousted al-Zawahiri as the leader of Islamic Jihad and replaced him with a veteran, Tharwat Shehata, who wanted to limit the relationship with bin Laden and concentrate the group's fight against Egypt, not America. But with money scarce and morale low, Shehata soon resigned, and by the spring of 2001 al-Zawahiri had assumed control again. He sent a note to his colleagues in Islamic Jihad proposing a formal merger with bin Laden and al-Qaeda as "a way out of the bottleneck." Borrowing terms from global commerce, he warned of increased market share for "international monopolies" — the CIA and probably also Egyptian intelligence. The merger, he said, could "increase profits" — the publicity and support that terrorism could produce. [Source: Alan Cullison, The Atlantic Monthly, September 2004, from files found on a computer used by Al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri]

In a letter presumably meant for other Al-Qaida members al-Zawahiri wrote on May 3, 2001: “The following is a summary of our situation: We are trying to return to our previous main activity [probably the merger]. The most important step was starting the school [training camps], the programs of which have been started. We also provided the teachers with means of conducting profitable trade as much as we could. Matters are all promising, except for the unfriendliness of two teachers, despite what we have provided for them. We are patient.

Omar 1998 letter to all Taliban
“As you know, the situation below in the village [probably Egypt] has become bad for traders [jihadis]. Our Upper Egyptian relatives have left the market, and we are suffering from international monopolies. Conflicts take place between us for trivial reasons, due to the scarcity of resources. We are also dispersed over various cities. However, God had mercy on us when the Omar Brothers Company [the Taliban] here opened the market for traders and provided them with an opportunity to reorganize, may God reward them. Among the benefits of residence here is that traders from all over gather in one place under one company, which increases familiarity and cooperation among them, particularly between us and the Abdullah Contracting Company [bin Laden and his associates]. The latest result of this cooperation is — the offer they gave. Following is a summary of the offer:

“Encourage commercial activities [jihad] in the village to face foreign investors; stimulate publicity; then agree on joint work to unify trade in our area. Close relations allowed for an open dialogue to solve our problems. Colleagues here believe that this is an excellent opportunity to encourage sales in general, and in the village in particular. They are keen on the success of the project. They are also hopeful that this may be a way out of the bottleneck to transfer our activities to the stage of multinationals and joint profit. We are negotiating the details with both sides.

Al-Zawahiri's proposal set off a storm of protest from some members of Islamic Jihad, who — again — favored focusing on the struggle against the Egyptian government. They accused al-Zawahiri of leading their group in dangerous directions. A letter to al-Zawahiri written in the summer of 2001 read: “I disagree completely with the issue of sales and profits. These are not profits. They are rather a farce of compound losses. I believe that going on in this is a dead end, as if we were fighting ghosts or windmills. Enough of pouring musk on barren land.

“Despite the protests of certain Islamic Jihad members,” Cullison wrote, “a merger with al-Qaeda had been cemented in the spring of 2001, and in June the new group issued "Statement No. 1" — a press release of sorts, found on the computer, that warned the "Zionist and Christian coalition" that "they will soon roast in the same flame they now play with." The following month someone sat down at the computer and composed a short message, titled "The Solution," which trumpeted "martyrdom operations" as the key to the battle against the West.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

Last updated July 2012

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from, please contact me.