Terrorism, as we know it today, was a rare occurrence in the world until the 1990s. During the mentioned period, groups of people motivated by extremist ideologies began a violent campaign against Western nations and their allies. These groups operated in particular regions in their nascent years but have evolved to extend their networks to various parts of the globe. Despite the increase in global efforts to fight terrorism, current trends show that the network of terrorist groups continues to expand every single year. Factors such as immigration and the internet have been critical to the spread and operation of terror groups around the world. In 2015, for instance, terrorist activities led to the death of 734 people in the 34 nations that make up the OECD, which includes the UK, US, France, Germany, and Turkey. The mentioned figure represents a 650% increase from the previous year (Fox and Gilbert, November 16, 2016). Until recently, much of the terrorist activities were conducted by Al-Qaida and its affiliates.
History of Al-Qaeda
Scholars attribute the formation and growth of Al-Qaida to the political events of the Cold War in the 1980s. The supremacy struggles of the Cold War plunged various regions in the Islamic world into a war that, in turn, led to the emergence of militant groups crusading against perceived foreigners (Rollins 5-6). In particular, the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviets in 1979 invoked a sense of brotherhood among young Muslims who sought to purge off the Soviets invaders out of Afghanistan. During the war, different militant groups successfully fought against the Soviets, and it was this victory that created unity of purpose among these groups thereby contributing to the formation of a bloody and violent movement against perceived enemy nations (PBS, 2014).
The success of the coalition of Islamist forces in the fight against the Soviets has been linked to the fanatic nature of these groups and their leaders. These leaders rallied millions of young men in the Muslim nation to join hands against the invaders. It is from this solidarity movement in the Arab world that propelled Osama Bin Laden to the top leadership of the Islamic forces, resulting in the birth of a more organized and unified group known as Al-Qaeda (Rollins 5)
Who Is Osama Bin Laden?
Al-Qaida (translated as the Base from Arabic) was founded by Osama Bin Laden and Abdullah Azzam in 1988.Bin Laden, as the primary founder, was born in 1957 and was the 17th son of a Saudi construction mogul of Yemen origin. A majority of Saudis are conservative Sunni Muslims, and Bin Laden may have developed radical Islamic views while a student at King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (Rollins 5-6). On the other hand, Azzam played the role of spreading a radical Muslim ideology in the Arab world. He was a leading figure of the Sunni Muslim radicals and propagated the ideology that umma (all Muslims around the world) would galvanize and unite under a common goal of purging non-believers of the Arab world (Kaplan 4 April 2006). This ideology resonated well with other Muslim radicals and the organization attracted recruits while leveraging on the pre-existing militant groups in the region to legitimize and conduct its terror activities.
For easier coordination of its activities, the Islamist group established its headquarters in the region that separates Afghanistan and Pakistan with its principal leaders like Osama Bin Laden and Abdullah Azzam as the chief ideologue. However, leadership cracks emerged within the group shortly after its formation. According to Rollins, Bin Laden favored a return of ex-fighters of the Soviets to their home countries so as to continue the war against Western presence while Azzam mooted for a unified force that would respond to any actions of aggression from Western countries against the Muslim world. The conflicting positions caused wrangles within the group, and some scholars believe that Bin Laden orchestrated the assassination of Azzam in 1989 to resolve the leadership struggle within the organization’s hierarchy (5-6).
Al Qaeda: Causes of Terrorism
As indicated earlier, the formation of Al-Qaeda sought to instigate a holy war against what the group considered as profanities of the West and its allies. However, the group’s configuration and attitude changed dramatically after the Gulf War in 1991. As Rollins reveals, the organization became more radical and expressed its dissatisfaction against the West through violence and other crude tactics (5). Generally, the reason for the hatred towards the United States and its allies has been linked to the following:
The US’s involvement in the Gulf War in support of Kuwait in 1991 was viewed among Islamic extremists as an act of aggression against the Muslim world. This view caused widespread resentment towards the US across the region. As a result, Osama Bin Laden capitalized on the conflicts of the Gulf War to recruit and extend its network.
Osama Bin Laden and his subjects were also opposed to the continued presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia and other areas of the Saudi Arabia peninsula after the end of the Gulf War. In the same breath, Operation Restore Hope in Somalia in 1992 and 1993 further angered fundamentalist Muslims who became sympathetic to the group’s activities in the region as an expression of their dislike of American subjugation.
The US and its Western allies provided support to some governments in the Middle East. Since America was not governed in line with the organization’s extremist interpretation of Islam, it was regarded as an infidel in the Arab world. In particular, the organization was opposed to the support the US government provided to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel.
Arrest, prosecution, and incarceration of the followers of Al-Qaeda and its affiliates in the US and other Western nations increased fanatic activities among its members as well as attracted more support in the Muslim world(PBS,2014). This environment strengthened the conviction to fight against Western countries.
The death of Azzam in 1989 attracted new leaders who helped Bin Laden to plan attacks against the US and its interests around the world. One such leader was Ayman al-Zawahiri, the then operation chief of Al-Jihad, a radical Islamist group in Egypt that was blamed for the assignation of President Anwar Sadat in 1981(Rollins 6). The entry of al- Zawahiri as a second-in-command for the group intensified activities of the group in the region and around the world. During the 1990s, the group was blamed for a series of attacks targeting US interests and those of its allies across the world. For instance, the group sponsored twin terror attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, leaving at least 300 people dead including American citizens. By this time, the organization had formed a coalition of radical Islamist groups operating in various regions across the Muslim world. The group had also established cells and associates in more than 70 countries including the US (Rollins 7). However, it was the September 11 2001 attacks on World Trade Centre towers and the Pentagon that completely altered USs foreign policy towards Al-Qaida and regimes that were sympathetic to the group.
Al-Qaeda Strategies and Tactics
Over the years Al-Qaeda operatives and their associates have used different tactics to execute their targets, maneuver their enemies and attract more followers from the Muslim world. Before the invasion of Afghanistan by a military coalition led by the United States in 2001, Al-Qaeda had a well-trained force that fought alongside the Taliban against the US. One of the tactics that were common with the operatives of the group included the use of heavy weaponry to engage their enemies in direct combats. However, following heavy bombardments from the coalition forces, Al-Qaeda engaged in guerrilla warfare where its members retreated to tribal and remote areas of Afghanistan following intense military action from the US troops (Rollins 8).
Guerrilla warfare advanced by terrorists often does not involve the massive use of weapons. In Afghanistan and other parts of the world, Al-Qaeda operatives employ ambushes to inflict damage on their enemies. Invariably, these fighters planted explosives on roads that were used by coalition forces. Explosions are often followed by the use of firearms and other sophisticated weapons to further weaken opponents (Rollins 3). Although new tactics have emerged through the proliferation of the internet, this tactic remains an essential element of Al-Qaeda’s strategy against the West.
Afghanistan was the main base of Al-Qaeda from 1996 to 2001, under the command of Bin Laden. Military action destroyed the leadership and coordination structures of the organization in Afghanistan (Rollins 8). This loss forced Bin Laden to retreat to tribal regions which enabled him to arrange attacks through affiliates and recruit more fighters. The training camps for the fighters also reduced in size and become more mobile to escape intelligence networks (Bergen, Nov 15, 2002). Affiliates have also played a significant role in perpetuating Al-Qaeda’s ideology in many parts of the world. For instance, after the entry of the Zawahiri Al-Jihad militant movement in Egypt was rebranded to conduct terrorist activities in line with the ideologies of Al-Qaida (Rollins 5-6).
Since Al-Qaeda cannot sustain a military confrontation or conventional war, the organization’s operatives often aim at soft targets to provoke reactions from enemy nations. The strategy entails extending terrorist activities to hotels, supermarkets, cafes, malls, theaters, train stations, and schools, among others (Hesterman 38).In 2002, for instance, Al-Qaida instigated an attack outside a historic synagogue in Tunisia, killing a group of Germans. In the same year, 11 French defense contractors were killed in a hotel in Karachi by Al-Qaeda operatives. In an attack also linked to Bin Laden, a bomb destroyed a tourist disco in Bali, Indonesia, claiming the lives of at least 180 Australians (Bergen, Nov 15, 2002). Al-Qaeda's affiliates have also committed soft target attacks in countries such as India, the UK, France, Kenya, and Nigeria, among others. Soft targets also include the kidnapping of US citizens or those of its allies. A majority of the kidnapped individuals are often killed in the most brutal version (Council on Foreign Relations, 2014). These tactics are meant to prey on vulnerable people and instill fear among populations. By so doing, they expect that public anger would shift the strategies of the US and its allies in their favor.
Effectivity of Al-Qaeda Propaganda
The use of propaganda has been a valuable tool for Al-Qaeda to show off its might not only to the US and its allies but also to the entire Muslim world that it would win the war against the infidels.' The group operatives often issue videos and audiotapes expressing their intentions towards the US or bragging about the extent of damage of the attacks it has committed (Bergen, Nov 15, 2002; Hesterman 39). It is the expectation of the operatives and associates of the group that the more the audience they attract to their activities the more they receive publicity and acquire more popularity, especially in the Muslim world.
The advent of the internet has helped Al-Qaeda spread its ideological agenda against the US and its citizens. Cyber warriors of Al-Qaida hail from educated, well-off radical families that assist ground operatives in effecting attacks (Liu 1-2). Apart from posting videos online, Al-Qaeda has used the internet to radicalize Americans and other citizens of the West. Young people from the West have been lured to join and subscribe to the group’s ideologies and provoke political dissent in their home countrie...
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