In the last 11 years the organisation Al Qaeda has become increasingly infamous in Western society. Inextricably linked to the attacks on 9/11 in the US and to Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda has been labelled the epicentre of Islamic Militancy. Al Qaeda clearly influences many Islamic militant operations worldwide, operations fuelled by religious ideology and teeming with violence. Although this view is undoubtedly adapted to al Qaeda pre 9/11 and the type of organisation it was perceived to be by Western society. The misconceptions of how al Qaeda was created and came to become one of the most feared and infamous organisations in the world today provided the stimulus of this article. The findings of my research indicate that al Qaeda was not the organisation that many people in the western world think it is pre 9/11. Before 9/11 al Qaeda was represented in more ambiguous form such as financial support, training and most importantly as a source of ideology for many other Islamic Militant organisations. The aim of my research was to explore whether al Qaeda was a terrorist organisation before 9/11, it is evident that al Qaeda had many links to terrorist organisations and terrorist attacks, although it did not exist as a traditional terrorist organisation.
Defining the phrase al Qaeda is essential to understanding whether or not al Qaeda existed as a terrorist organisation during its formation and early years. Al Qaeda is a very broad term often used in the Arabic language to refer to a base, house, camp and even the foundations of a house. As the phrase is used to refer to the foundations of a house it also alludes to fundamentals, maxims and principles and formulas. In 1988 when Osama bin Laden set up an office in Peshawar, Pakistan, it was referred to as the base, or al Qaeda, as it documented the names of Mujahedeen, Holy Warriors, going to fight the war against invading Soviets in Afghanistan. Between 1980-1989 a war endured between Soviet Russia and Afghanistan, the US supported the Mujahedeen fighting the Soviets and the conflict became affiliated with the Cold War. Despite the US presence in the area they failed to recognise al Qaeda at this time, possibly because it proved little threat as it was not a terrorist organisation at this time.
Al Qaeda was not a terrorist organisation during this time although it was run by men whose ideologies’ opposed the west and preferred terrorist tactics to convey their messages. These men, bin Laden included attended the Arabs Mujahedeen Shura Council, 1988 in Peshawar where they voiced their ideologies and their opinions to develop a Muslim Army to protect a envisaged united Muslim world. The opportunity for bin Laden to develop a united Muslim army came in 1990 when fascist dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. Bin Laden appealed to the Saudi Government to allow him to create a Muslim army to assist Kuwait in defence of their country. The Saudi government declined bin Laden’s offer and accepted the assistance of the US Army. This angered not only bin Laden but citizens of Saudi Arabia and many in the Arabian Peninsula. They were angry because the Saudi government had allowed non Muslims to occupy lands so close to the two most holy places in the Muslim world; Mecca and Medina. It was because of this that bin Laden targeted the US, officially declaring war on them in 1996.
It was the ideology and funding of Osama bin Laden that allowed al Qaeda to exist. Al Qaeda existed only to offer support to other Islamic militant operations and groups. This support came in the form of finances, training and ideology. In fact there was no mention of al Qaeda as terrorist organisation until after the attacks on the World Trade Centre in December 1993, when a pamphlet titled al Qaeda was found in the backpack of one of the perpetrators. The pamphlet was translated to’ the fundamentals’ and contained information on bomb making. It was here that the phrase al Qaeda was used to describe and effectively target Islamic Militancy and Islamic extremism, in particular those terrorist in nature.
In the court case Usama bin Laden vs. the USA in 1996 a captured member of bin Laden’s inner circle was interrogated whilst on the stand. The detainee was asked whether he had heard of a group called al Qaeda, he claimed to have never heard of an organisation by the name of al Qaeda although stated that al Qaeda was used as a formula system for actions carried out by members of Islamic militancy, he also made reference it to regarding bomb making. In 2001, a month after 9/11, bin Laden sent out a message to Muslims worldwide, this message, supported by various scholars, was the first instance that bin Laden mentioned al Qaeda in reference to an organisation. It is my argument that it was not until Osama bin Laden was targeted by the US did al Qaeda become a terrorist organisation. Before 9/11 al Qaeda existed as a facet of bin Laden’s ideology extending knowledge and support around the Muslim world.