The Rise of Al Qaeda, Islamic Militancy and Osama Bin Laden
Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda network emerged in the late 1980s. In 1996, bin Laden declared war on the United States, pledging to drive the country out of Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries.
Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda network emerged in the late 1980s after a coup d'état toppled the Afghan monarchy. A Soviet government gained power, and Afghans responded with a national resistance movement that defeated Soviet forces. The United States, along with several of its allies, encouraged and monetarily supported what was being called jihad (which means "holy war") against the Soviets. This support fueled the rise of the Taliban regime and radical Islamic groups such as Al Qaeda. The ultimate goal of Al Qaeda (an Arabic word meaning "the base") was to extend Islamic rule throughout the world.
In 1996, bin Laden declared war on the United States, pledging to drive the country out of Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries. Over the next six years, the group carried out a number of attacks across the world, including several against U.S. targets, such as the 1998 twin bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed a total of 200 people and the suicide bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in a Yemeni harbor in 2000 that killed 17 sailors.
After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the United States launched a war against Afghanistan, intending to destroy its Al Qaeda bases and bring down the Taliban. Several Al Qaeda leaders were captured and killed, weakening the group, but those who remained (including Osama bin Laden) have since relocated, at least some of them in tribal areas of Pakistan.
In June 2010, Michael E. Leiter, a top U.S. counterterrorism official, said that there were "more than 300" Al Qaeda leaders and fighters hiding in Pakistan's tribal areas. Estimates of the full size of this network, which has cells in some 100 countries across the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Europe and even in the United States, range from several hundred to several thousand.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, while Al Qaeda originated as a well-budgeted hierarchical organization that provided in-person training and employed operatives to carry out its planned attacks, it is now just as likely to inspire individuals or groups to launch their own attacks through the Internet and other media.
Meanwhile, the war in Afghanistan rages on, as President Barack Obama continues to pursue President George W. Bush's stated mission of wiping out Al Qaeda's safe havens in Afghanistan and Pakistan and limiting the group's ability to strike U.S. targets.
» Oxford University Press. "Introduction to Politics: The Rise of Al Qaeda and Islamic Militancy."
» Bill Moyers Journal. "Brief History of Al Qaeda."
» Council on Foreign Relations. "Al Qaeda."
» The New York Times. "Times Topics: Al Qaeda."
» Council on Foreign Relations. "Profile: Osama bin Laden."