Bin Laden and the Al Qaeda Network
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 21, 2001 -- President Bush said in regard to Osama bin Laden, "I want justice. There's an old poster out West, as I recall, that said, "Wanted: Dead or Alive."
U.S. government officials say that the terror network headed by bin Laden is responsible for the deaths of more than 6,300 people in attacks at New York's World Trade Center, the Pentagon and aboard a hijacked aircraft that crashed in Pennsylvania.
The Sept. 11 attacks are just the latest alleged to have been perpetrated by the Al Qaeda network, a group bin Laden established in 1988. The group is also suspected of being responsible for the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, an assassination attempt on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 1995, the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000.
The avowed goal of Al Qaeda (often spelled Al-Qa'ida) is to "unite all Muslims and establish a government which follows the rule of the Caliphs," according to a U.S. government fact sheet on the organization. "Caliphate" refers to the immediate successors of Mohammed. Under the caliphs, Islam expanded from the Arabian Peninsula through Persia, the Middle East and North Africa.
Al Qaeda seeks to overthrow nearly all Muslim governments, because bin Laden regards most of them as corrupted by Western influences.
Another rallying cry for Al Qaeda is the liberation of Islam's three holiest places -- Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia and Jerusalem.
According to published sources, "Al Qaeda" translates to 'The Base,' and it has a global reach. Al Qaeda has cells in Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Turkey, Jordan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Syria, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Burma, Indonesia, the Philippines, Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, Tunisia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Chechnya, Dagestan, Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, Azerbaijan, Eritrea, Uganda, Ethiopia and in the West Bank and Gaza. The events of Sept. 11 indicate there are cells in the United States. Published reports estimate Al Qaeda has about 3,000 members worldwide.
Published reports say Bin Laden's organization is different from groups that have carried out bombings and hijackings in the past. The group is not a small, tightly knit group with a clear command structure. Al Qaeda is a loose coalition of groups operating across continents.
Osama bin Laden is a shadowy figure who is now the most wanted man in the world. He was born around 1955 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He's the youngest son of Muhammed bin Laden, a wealthy Saudi of Yemeni origin.
In 1979, bin Laden left Saudi Arabia to fight against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. In the mid-1980s he co- founded the Maktab-al-Khidamat, or "Services Office," to funnel money and fighters to Afghanistan. Egyptians, Lebanese, Turks and others, numbering thousands in bin Laden's estimate, joined these Afghan Muslims in the struggle against an ideology that spurned religion. These so-called "Arab-Afghans" continue to serve Al Qaeda in various roles.
The Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989. Bin Laden turned his attention to the United States and its allies in the Middle East. He also worked against the Saudi royal family. He was expelled from Saudi Arabia in 1991. Published reports say his fortune is pegged at $300 million. Other published reports say his family disowned him. Terrorism experts say bin Laden has been using his millions to fund attacks against the United States. One major U.S. effort against Al Qaeda is tracing and cutting off the money supporting the terror network.
When he left Saudi Arabia, bin Laden took refuge in Sudan. He continued his efforts against the United States and its allies. In 1996, Sudan expelled bin Laden due to threats of U.N. sanctions for bin Laden's complicity in an attempt to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
He praised the terrorist attack on Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia and promised more attacks on Americans.
In February 1998, he announced the creation of a new alliance of terrorist organizations, The International Islamic Front for Jihad Against the Jews and Crusaders. Part of that group is the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the Harakat ul-Ansar and two other groups, according to a U.S. government release.
Bin Laden is also suspected of helping to set up Islamic training centers to prepare soldiers to fight in Chechnya and other parts of the former Soviet Union.
Osama bin Laden is actively recruiting for members for Al Qaeda. Two months ago, a recruiting videotape for the organization surfaced in the Persian Gulf region. Bin Laden appealed for fighters to join him, and the tape showed boys who look about 11 years old going through training in Afghanistan.
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