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Published July 20, 2007

Brief History of al Qaeda
1979-1989: Soviet War in Afghanistan and the beginnings of al Qaeda

The true roots of Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network stem from the decade-long conflict that plagued Afghanistan from 1979-1989. After Afghanistan was invaded by the Soviet Union, the Afghan Islamist extremists found a rallying call for their cause, as young Muslims from around the world came to Afghanistan to volunteer in what was being called a "holy war," or jihad, against the invading Soviets. One of these young Muslims was a 23 year old from Saudi Arabia named "Usama" bin Ladin.

Son of a wealthy construction magnate, bin Ladin had taken to the religious sermons of Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian and disciple of Sayyid Qutb. While he participated in few actual battles in Afghanistan, bin Laden became known for his generous funding of the jihad against the Soviets.

However, bin Laden's ambitions extended beyond the boarders of Afghanistan, and he began to develop a complex international organization. He set up a financial support network known as the "Golden Chain," comprised mainly of financiers from Saudi Arabia and Persian Gulf states. Using this immense new fund, bin Laden and Azzam created a "Bureau of Services," which helped channel recruits for the jihad into Afghanistan. With Saudi Arabia and the United States pouring in billions of dollars worth of secret assistance to rebels in Afghanistan, the jihad against the Soviets was constantly gaining momentum.

1989-1996: Early al Qaeda attacks from Sudan

When the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan in early 1989, bin Laden and Azzam decided that their new organization should not dissolve. They established what they called a base (al Qaeda) as a potential general headquarters for future jihad. However, bin Laden, now the clear emir of al Qaeda, and Azzam differed on where the organization's future objectives should lie. Azzam favored continued fighting in Afghanistan until there was a true Islamist government, while bin Laden wanted to prepare al Qaeda to fight anywhere in the world. When Azzam was killed in 1989, bin Laden assumed full charge of al Qaeda.

After leaving Afghanistan and being exiled by Saudi Arabia, bin Laden moved to Sudan, and with him went the base of operations for al Qaeda. From the sanctuary of Sudan, bin Laden began synching up with groups from all over the Middle East and northern Africa, and began laying the groundwork for his jihad against the West.

Beginning with a fatwa called against the United States' deployment to Somalia, bin Laden would continually plan and aid attacks against the United States. Al Qaeda trainers allegedly aided in downing two Black Hawk helicopters in 1993. Bin Laden and al Qaeda also took credit for the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. In 1995, al Qaeda associates were responsible for a car bomb that exploded outside a Saudi-U.S. joint facility in Saudi Arabia that was used to train the Saudi National Guard.

1996-2000: The rise of the Taliban resurrects al Qaeda

Due to mounting international pressure, Sudan forced bin Laden to return to Afghanistan, where he struggled to rebuild his terrorist network. It was not until the rise of the Taliban that bin Laden had al Qaeda working again, and had enough confidence to issue his 1998 fatwa against the United States and its citizens. By this time, al Qaeda had merged with the Egyptian Islamist Jihad, headed by Ayman al-Zawahri, who would become number two in command to bin Laden. Al Qaeda was now the general headquarters for international terrorism.

While previous acts by al Qaeda had involved training, funding and aiding other groups, the new refuge in Afghanistan allowed for bin Laden to take his organization to the next level. In 1998, the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were attacked by terrorists, yet this time, it was planned, directed and executed solely by al Qaeda and bin Laden. Al Qaeda would also be responsible for the 2000 strike against the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen, which left 17 American sailors dead.

2001- September 11 and al Qaeda Today

On September 11, 2001 al Qaeda executed its most devastating attack against the United States, killing nearly 3,000 civilians. However, the United States military response in Afghanistan would serve to cripple al Qaeda for a significant amount of time. With the protection of the Taliban gone and bin Laden in hiding, al Qaeda became far more decentralized, with operational commanders and cell leaders making the command decisions previously made by bin Laden. However, as a recent National Intelligence Estimate report showed, al Qaeda is once again gaining strength, and has significantly rebuilt itself despite U.S. efforts.

Sources:
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