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Al Qaeda: Origins
by Daniel France

In a nutshell, Al-Qaeda was created in 1989 as Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan and Osama Bin Laden and his colleagues began looking for new jihads. Osama Bin Laden founded the now extremist group known as Al-Qaeda, which means “the base” (BBC News). Al-Qaeda was a highly organized group that played a large part in the extinguishing of Soviet forces and Afghan Marxists from Afghanistan during the Soviet War in Afghanistan.           

Started in December of 1979, the Soviet War in Afghanistan laid the groundwork for Al-Qaeda ideas (CBS Resource Library); the war contained four key players: Soviet Russia, Afghan Marxists, Afghan Mujahedeen, and Maktab al-Khidamat. Russia and the Afghan Marxists, also known as the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan or DRA (Emadi), fought to protect the Afghan government while Afghan Mujahedeen who were a military force of Muslim guerilla warriors engaged in a jihad or religious quest (The Free Dictionary) were trying to overthrow the DRA after years of oppression. The Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK) or “Human Services Office,” cofounded by Abdullah Azzam and Osama Bin Laden, recruited and supported mujahedeen to fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan. MAK funneled money and fighters to the Mujahedeen and set up a network of recruiting offices around the world, including in the United States. (Staff Report to the Commissions) This is where Al-Qaeda first started. Through MAK, Bin Laden, Azzam, and many more of its leaders established useful connections during the War in Afghanistan that aided the effectiveness of the Al-Qaeda of today. What might surprise some people today is that during the war, one of MAK’s larger connections was the United States. Bin Laden and his fighters received substantial American and Saudi funding in the fight against Communism. Some analysts believe Bin Laden himself had security training from the CIA. (BBC News) Speculation aside, Bin Laden and his insurgent forces worked with the US and many other first-world countries to drive DRA and Soviet forces from Afghanistan which in 1988 became a success when the DRA, USSR, US and Pakistan signed peace accords and the Soviets begin pulling troops out of Afghanistan.

 Left over from the war, however, were battle-hardened and highly motivated Mujahedeen, "Arab Afghans", as they became known, who had training and funding from some of the largest military powers in the world. Al-Qaeda officially began when with an initial meeting held on August 11, 1988 that was led by Bin Laden. Lawrence Wright, a Pulitzer Prize-winning American author, screenwriter, and staff writer for The New Yorker magazine, notes of a meeting of Bin Laden and others on August 20, 1988, indicate Al-Qaeda was a formal group by 1988: "basically an organized Islamic faction, its goal is to lift the word of God, to make His religion victorious." Some requirements for membership itemized the following: listening ability, good manners, obedience, and making a pledge to follow one's superiors.

The downturn of Al-Qaeda and its transformation into “terrorists” shortly followed its creation. In 1990, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait began and sparked the transformation. 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 Mujahideen to Saudi Arabia’s King 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 troops into Saudi territory. (NY Times) The deployment angered Bin Laden, as he believed the presence of foreign troops in the "land of the two mosques" (Mecca and Medina) was disgraceful. After speaking publicly against the Saudi government for harboring American troops, he was banished and forced to live in exile in Sudan.

Al-Qaeda had many small dealings with various countries mostly throughout the Middle East but also across the world. However, few occurrences ever attracted much press until September 11, 2011. 3,000 people died in the bombing of the twin towers in New York City due to terrorists connected to Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden (Federation of American Scientists) which is a big step from insurgency to terrorism.

Works Cited

BBC News. Al-Qaeda's origins and links. Internet. 28 September 2011.

BBC News. Timeline: Soviet war in Afghanistan. Internet. 28 September 2011.

CBS Resource Library. U.S. support for anti-Soviet and anti-Russian guerrilla movements and the undermining of democracy. Internet. 28 September 2011.

Emadi, Hafizullah. Culture and customs of Afghanistan, (Greenwood Press, 2005), page 45

Federation of American Scientists. Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders World Islamic Front Statement . Internet. 28 September 2011. 

 NY Times. The Rebellion Within An Al Qaeda mastermind questions terrorism. Internet. 28 September 2011. 

 Staff Report to the Commissions. National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. Internet. 28 September 2011.

The Free Dictionary. Mujahideen. Internet. 28 September 2011.