A meeting in Peshawar, Pakistan, between Osama Bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Dr. Fadl on 11th August, 1988, resulted in the formation of the Islamic militant organisation Al Qaeda.
Throughout the 1990s and early twenty-first century the organisation was responsible for some of the worst terrorist attacks around the world, most infamously the September 11th 2001 series of attacks on the United States.
Al Qaeda, which means ‘the base’, originated in the decade long Muslim resistance to the Soviet Union in Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989. Starting as a civil war between Afghanistan’s communist government and anti-communist guerrillas in 1978, the Afghan War escalated when the Soviet Union sent its troops into Afghanistan in an attempt to shore up the beleaguered Communist government.
The jihad declared against the Soviet Union became an international rallying call, resulting in thousands of young Muslims from around the world flocking to Afghanistan to join the fight against the Soviet Union. Al Qaeda originated as a kind of logistical network tasked with supporting, organising and funding the resistance against the USSR’s troops.
Osama Bin Laden was one of the young Muslims who headed to Afghanistan in the 1980s, and he played an important organisational role in the fight against the USSR. The son of a wealthy Saudi Arabian construction magnate, Bin Laden had been heavily influenced in his youth by the sermons of Abdullah Azzam and Sayyid Qutb.
Generously funding the fight against the Soviet Union with his personal wealth, Bin Laden slowly developed plans for a more international organisation. The “Gold Chain” support network allowed wealthy financiers from Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf States to channel money to a “Bureau of Services” which was internationally used to recruit and train new fighters. Clandestine support for the rebels from the Saudi Arabian and United States’ government, which saw them both secretly channel billions of dollars to the cause in an attempt to undermine the Soviet Union, allowed the network overseen by Bin Laden to become an increasingly powerful entity.
In August 1988, with the Soviet Union’s withdrawal from Afghanistan seemingly inevitable, Bin Laden met with his associates in a suburb of Peshawar to discuss the future of the organisation they had created. Al Qaeda was born from the decision to create a “global jihad”, an organisation which could build on the success of the Afghan campaign and became a nexus for jihad campaigns around the world.
Over the next few years the organisation strengthened through alliances with Egypt’s Islamic Jihad, and the Islamic Group. Training camps were created at different locations around the world to teach agents paramilitary skills in preparation for attacks on targets across the globe.
The conflict against the USA started in 1990, when the US army began stationing troops in Afghanistan ahead of the first Gulf War. Bin Laden had offered his troops to protect Afghanistan against Iraq, and was angered by the US’ decision to ignore this offer. Three years later, the first Al Qaeda attack on US soil was launched, with the bombing of the World Trade Center.
Al Qaeda terrorist attacks continued around the world throughout the 1990s. Significantly, in 1998 Bin Laden issued a Fatwa claiming any US citizen was a legitimate target of Al Qaeda. The organisation which had started as a mode of resistance against the Soviet Union was now explicitly at war with the United States.
This article first appeared in newhistorian.com