Threat Analysis for Al-Qaeda Thesis

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Threat Analysis for Al-Qaeda

Al-Qaeda is a shadowy Islamist terrorist organization that gained notoriety as a result of several high-profile terrorist attacks on Western and American targets in the 1990s, culminating in the devastating attack on the twin-towers and the Pentagon in September, 2001. The organization is considered as enemy number one by the United States and its allies and has been a major target in the U.S.'s "War on Terror." Because of its secretive and shadowy nature, it is arguable whether al-Qaeda has weakened or gained in strength since 2001 and the extent of threat posed by it to its avowed enemies is also difficult to quantify. This research paper is a threat analysis of al-Qaeda which outlines the historical background of the organization, and presents an overview of its ideology, motivation, support base, tactics and strategies, past activities as well as an analysis of its future threat potential and possible targets.

Historical Background / al-Qaeda's Origins

Al-Qaeda's origins can be traced to the Soviet War in Afghanistan (Dec. 1979- Feb. 1989) when the Afghan Mujahideen led a United States / CIA and Pakistan funded resistance movement against the Soviet Union.

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The Afghan Jihad, as the resistance movement against the Soviets came to be known, was joined by a number of Arab Muslim fighters as well as other radical Muslims from around the world. Among the Arabs, was a 23-year-old Saudi millionaire named Osama bin Laden, son of Mohammed bin Laden -- owner of the largest construction group in Saudi Arabia -- who came to Afghanistan in 1980. (Piszkiewicz, 2003) in 1984, Osama along with Dr. Abdullah Azzam -- a Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood leader-- founded an organization called Maktab al-Khadamat (MAK) that eventually evolved into Al-Qaeda. MAK was, in effect, a recruiting office involved in raising funds and recruiting foreign Muslim fighters for fighting against the Soviets in the Afghan war. It was funded by wealthy Muslims from around the world, and according to some accounts by the CIA as well. (Dixon, 2001)

TOPIC: Thesis on Threat Analysis for Al-Qaeda Is a Shadowy Assignment

Initially, the MAK was a relatively minor grouping and its activities were limited to fund-raising, logistics, housing, recruitment of mujahidden, and funding of other combatant guerilla groups. Gradually, Bin Laden made a transition from logistical support to combat around 1986 and his group was involved in direct fighting with the Soviets. (Piszkiewicz, 2003, p. 107) Towards the end of the Afghan war, bin Laden split with Azzam over the objectives of MAK. Azzam wanted to concentrate the group's activities inside Afghanistan -- to continue fighting in Afghanistan for establishing an Islamic state, while Osama was in favor of expanding its activities to other radical Islamic causes around the world. As a result, the MAK was split in 1988 with Osama forming his own group called Al-Qaeda. Azzam's death in a car-bomb explosion in 1989 further consolidated Bin Laden's hold as Al-Qaeda's leader. Fingers were pointed at Osama for the killing but there is no conclusive proof about his involvement in Azzam's assassination.

Al-Qaeda's Ideology, Motivation, and Goals

Al-Qaeda's ideology is largely based on the philosophy of the Muslim Brotherhood, an extremist Egyptian Islamic organization, which was responsible for the assassination of President Anwar Sadaat in 1981, and the writings of Sayyid Qutb -- a Muslim Brotherhood leader who was executed in 1966 for plotting to overthrow the Egyptian government. ("The Foundation of New Terrorism," 2004) Al-Qaeda has adopted Qutb's belief that human beings have to choose between Islam and jahiliyya -- the term used for the period of ignorance prior to the revelations of the Koran to Prophet Mohammed. It believes that there is no middle ground in this struggle between God and Satan and all Muslims must take up arms in this fight.

Bin Laden has further added to this ideology by holding America and the Jews responsible for all conflicts involving Muslims such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Indian government's suppression of the insurgency in Kashmir, or the Russian's fight against the Chechens. Al-Qaeda also considers most regimes in Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, agents of American imperialism. Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden also believe that in their righteous fight, it is permissible to target civilian 'infidels' and even other Muslims who do not agree with their extreme ideology (Ibid.)

Al-Qaeda's motivation stems largely from the confidence gained from the defeat of the Soviet Union in the Afghan War. It is fired by a pan-Islamic vision that does not recognize boundaries between Islamic states and strives for the restoration of the Islamic Caliphate that, at its height, stretched from Spain to India. It targets the West and the United States in the belief that without their backing, the corrupt regimes in most Islamic countries would collapse and enable the realization of such an expansive vision (Jenkins, 2003, p. 4)

Ideological, International and Religious Support

Al-Qaeda's core base consists of the veteran Muslim fighters from around the world who participated in the 'Afghan Jihad.' After the defeat of the Soviets, for which these fighters took credit, they had expected to be welcomed in their home countries as heroes. Instead, they were looked at with suspicion by regimes who considered their extreme views and religious fervor as a political threat (Jenkins, 2002, p. 3). Isolated at home, they became ready recruits for new campaigns.

The organization also found tacit support in the Muslim 'street' since its no-holds barred condemnation of the United States and their 'lackeys' -- the unpopular and generally corrupt regimes in most Islamic countries -- was considered heroic. While the majority of the 'street' only provided their passive support, the more frustrated elements such as discontented young Muslims, especially in Arab countries, who consider the opulent lifestyles of their mainly hereditary monarchs and their pro-Western politics as un-Islamic, or the unemployed, young Muslim immigrants in Europe and America, drifters living on the margins of society, and seekers of absolute truth or greater meaning in their lives, provided other reservoirs of potential recruits for al-Qaeda (Ibid, p. 5).

The Al-Qaeda was also inadvertently helped by the efforts of the Saudi and some other oil-rich Arab governments to financially support Sunni Wahabism around the Muslim world as a counterweight to radical Shiaism supported by the Iranian Revolution. A major part of such support was used to set up seminaries and madrassas in Muslim countries such as Pakistan that produced radicalized young men, e.g., the Taliban who established a fundamentalist regime in Afghanistan. Pakistan supported the Taliban for achieving "strategic depth" in its West and to support the insurgency in Indian Kashmir, until the 9/11 attacks and a pointed warning by President Bush ("you are either with us or against us") forced it to reverse its policy.

Relationship with the United States / Other Countries

Bin Laden and his band of Arab-Afghan fighters were initially supported by the United States since they were part of the Mujahideen (who were praised as "freedom fighters" and "God's soldiers" by President Reagan) and were fighting U.S.'s enemy # 1 at the time -- the 'evil empire' of Soviet Union. As soon as the Soviets left Afghanistan in 1989, however, al-Qaeda turned its ire against the United States and its allies in the Muslim world and found plenty of reasons to do so. After the end of the Afghan war, bin Laden had returned to his native Saudi Arabia and when Iraq invaded Kuwait, he offered the services of his mujahideen to the Saudi monarch for defending the country and retaking Kuwait. When the Saudi rulers rejected the offer, and instead allowed a coalition force led by the Americans into the country, Bin Laden was furious. He considered the presence of 'infidel' soldiers on the soil of Islam's holy land as blasphemy.

From then onwards, al-Qaeda proceeded to issue fatwas (verdicts based on Islamic law) against the U.S. In 1996, the group issued a "Declaration of Jihad" against the American forces "occupying" the Arabian Peninsula followed by a media interview by bin Laden in 1997 calling for attacks on U.S. soldiers (Smith, 2002). Al-Qaeda's rhetoric against the U.S. reached an even higher pitch in 1998 when after joining hand's with two Egyptian-based terrorist organizations (al-Jihad and al Gamaa al Islamiya), issued another fatwa in which it urged its followers to attack not only U.S. soldiers, but also U.S. civilians (Ibid.).

Bin Laden's relationship with the Saudi monarchy also deteriorated rapidly after the Gulf War I due to the presence of U.S. forces on Arabian soil (with Saudi consent). Bin Laden, after a brief exile in Sudan, shifted to Afghanistan where he found a hospitable environment for his activities since the Taliban, who substantially shared bin Laden's worldview, had come to power.

Another country with which al-Qaeda has had a love-hate relationship is Afghanistan's neighbor to the East -- Pakistan. Initially, a promoter of the Talibans, Pakistan made a U-turn in its policy and became America's major ally in its War against Terror following the 9/11 attacks. As a result, al-Qaeda and the Taliban have targeted the country and… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Threat Analysis for Al-Qaeda.  (2008, October 23).  Retrieved December 2, 2021, from

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"Threat Analysis for Al-Qaeda."  23 October 2008.  Web.  2 December 2021. <>.

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"Threat Analysis for Al-Qaeda."  October 23, 2008.  Accessed December 2, 2021.