Osama Bin Laden Forms al-Qaeda Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Al-Qaeda, a transnational support group of Islamist jihadists founded in early 1988, is dedicated to ushering in a pure Islamic society through a holy war against derelict Muslims as well as the “degenerate” Western powers.

Summary of Event

The organization al-Qaeda (the base), a multinational Muslim alliance devoted to Islamist jihad (holy war) and associated with the Saudi millionaire Osama Bin Laden, originated from an office called Maktab al-Khidamat (Services Bureau), which was established in 1979 in Afghanistan by Abdullah Yusuf Azzam, a Palestinian member of the Egyptian organization the Muslim Brotherhood. Azzam was concerned with recruiting and training Arab volunteers or “holy warriors” (mujahideen) from Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf states, Egypt, Yemen, and Sudan to fight for the Afghans against invading troops from the Soviet Union. Azzam also traveled throughout the Middle East, the United Kingdom, and the United States to raise funds and recruits for the Afghan cause. In his 1987 autobiography, Azzam wrote about the need for a vanguard of Muslim warriors who would usher in the ideal Islamic society and would serve as its strong base (al-quaeda al-sulbah). Al-Qaeda[Al Qaeda];establishment [kw]Osama Bin Laden Forms al-Qaeda (1988) [kw]Bin Laden Forms al-Qaeda, Osama (1988) [kw]al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden Forms (1988) Al-Qaeda[Al Qaeda];establishment [g]South Asia;1988: Osama Bin Laden Forms al-Qaeda[06710] [g]Afghanistan;1988: Osama Bin Laden Forms al-Qaeda[06710] [g]Pakistan;1988: Osama Bin Laden Forms al-Qaeda[06710] [c]Terrorism, atrocities, and war crimes;1988: Osama Bin Laden Forms al-Qaeda[06710] Atef, Mohammed Azzam, Abdullah Yusuf Bin Laden, Osama Zawahiri, Ayman al-

Bin Laden, one of Azzam’s recruits, brought his own wealth as well as funds from the Saudi royal family to support Azzam’s drive. Bin Laden was a follower of Salafism. Salafism The movement of Salaf as-Salih, or the apostolic companions of the Prophet Muḥammad, a pietistic and revivalist Islamic movement begun by Ibn Taymiyyah (1263-1328) of Damascus, was revived and revised by the Egyptian intellectual and reformer the Imam MuhammadՙAbdu (c. 1849-1905). Salafism is often confused with Wahhābīism, an anti-Western radical Islamist movement started by Muḥammad ibn ՙAbd al-Wahhāb (1703-1792) of Saudi Arabia in the eighteenth century.

Osama Bin Laden.


By the late 1980’s, Bin Laden’s relationship with Azzam had soured because Bin Laden disliked Azzam’s relatively moderate stand. As early as 1984, Bin Laden asserted his own leadership by setting up his first military training camp in Peshawar, Pakistan. In 1987, thirty-five Arab fighters led by Bin Laden and Azzam repulsed a Soviet advance in two weeks of fighting at Jaji, Afghanistan. This victory over the “infidel” Soviet army marked Bin Laden as the leader of a dedicated band of mujahideen and formed a prelude to the creation of al-Qaeda.

By 1988, Bin Laden had split from Azzam’s organization and established an office in Peshawar to maintain a file on the mujahideen, dead and alive. The name of this register, or database, was al-Qaeda; it held the details of the Afghan Arab mujahideen, their families and friends, and the vast financial and technical resources accumulated in ten years of Afghan-Soviet war. At this time, Bin Laden was becoming closer to the ideas of Ayman al-Zawahiri, a physician who was in charge of Afghan refugees in Peshawar. Al-Zawahiri was also the leader of the Egyptian militant group Islamic Jihad, which was responsible for the assassination of Egypt’s President Anwar el-Sadat in 1981. Bin Laden preferred al-Zawahiri’s ideology of takfir (violent action against apostate Muslim regimes) to Azzam’s attitude of compromise. More important, al-Zawahiri’s ideology combined a Salafi-jihadi outlook with pan-Arab radicalism. (Azzam, along with his two sons, was assassinated on November 24, 1989, in Peshawar under mysterious circumstances.)

Bin Laden became the head of al-Qaeda, presiding over an advisory council that comprised a select band of confidants, among whom al-Zawahiri was the most important, followed by a fellow Egyptian jihadist, Mohammad Atef. Beneath this level, various committees were established. A military committee was put in charge of overseeing recruitment, combat training, and the purchase of weaponry. Another committee was made responsible for Qur՚ānic teachings and indoctrination, and thus served as the developer of al-Qaeda’s philosophy of action: the need for jihad to create an Islamic empire inhabited by the world’s one billion Muslims and ruled by a single leader. All al-Qaeda members have to sign agreements that they shall devote their lives to serving the will of Allah and also take ritualized oaths of personal allegiance to al-Qaeda’s leader. Al-Qaeda has never been a monolithic or centralized organization, however; rather, it comprises hundreds of cells in the Islamic world, all operating independent of one another while following the same objectives.

Bin Laden befriended the leaders of the Taliban, an Afghan fundamentalist Islamic group, and following the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1989, the Taliban emerged as the dominant faction in postwar Qandahār and Kabul, imposing a harsh and orthodox interpretation of sharia Sharia (Islamic law) on all Afghans. Bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia to found an al-Qaeda cell there but decided he could not remain in his homeland for long. Following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on August 2, 1990, the Saudi government, fearing a possible Iraqi attack in the near future, sought military protection from the United States and insulted Bin Laden by declining his offer to provide mujahideen troops to fight against Iraq.

Bin Laden found life in Saudi Arabia increasingly uncongenial from that point on and soon decided to settle in Sudan, which had been ruled since 1989 by the National Islamic Front (NIF), presided over by Islamic scholar Hassan al-Turabi. Turabi, Hassan al- During his stay in Sudan, from 1991 to 1996, Bin Laden established various financial, agricultural, and construction projects there, something resembling a kind of “Holy War, Inc.,” as author Peter L. Bergen has described it.

While living in Khartoum, Bin Laden met Islamic scholars from all over the Muslim world and further developed his ideology and strategy of jihad against the infidels, especially against the United States, given the American intervention in the 1990 confrontation between Iraq and Kuwait as well as in Somalia’s civil war in 1992. In 1992 and 1993, Bin Laden and other al-Qaeda members pronounced fatwas (Qur՚ānic decrees) against the American forces stationed in the Horn of Africa (peacekeeping troops carrying out Operation Restore Hope in Somalia) and succeeded in killing 128 U.S. servicemen in two attacks. In 1995, an al-Qaeda cell in Saudi Arabia’s capital city, Riyadh, bombed a housing compound for foreign workers; the following year, al-Qaeda was involved in an attack on a housing compound for foreign military personnel in the city of Khobar. The Khobar bombing resulted in the deaths of nineteen U.S. servicemen and one Saudi; hundreds of other people of many nationalities were injured.

After the Khobar incident, the United States, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia put increasing pressure on Sudanese president Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir Bashir, Omar al- to expel Bin Laden from Sudan, and in May, 1996, Bin Laden was forced to leave. He returned to Jalālābād in Afghanistan to face severe financial problems: The Saudi government had frozen all his family assets, and the Sudanese government failed to reimburse him for the costs of some projects his construction company had undertaken there. In addition, information on Bin Laden’s finances in regard to a number of his businesses had been leaked to the Saudi government.

The Khobar bombing was a major turning point for al-Qaeda. Living under the friendly protection of the Taliban leader Mullah Omar, Bin Laden issued a personal communiqué in August, 1996, in which he urged all Muslims to join him in his fight. Two years later, he obtained a fatwa, signed by forty Afghan and Pakistani scholars, supporting his demand for the expulsion of American troops from the Arabian Peninsula. In February, 1998, Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri formed the World Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders World Islamic Front for Jihad Against the Jews and Crusaders —an umbrella organization that included Islamic Jihad Islamic Jihad and Gamaat Islamiya (the Islamic Group) Islamic Group (Egypt) of Egypt and several other groups in Kashmir and Pakistan.


The global jihad of al-Qaeda escalated with the increasing American military threat against Iraq when Saddam Hussein’s government expelled United Nations weapons inspection teams. Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the bombing of American embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on August 7, 1998, and the United States responded by bombarding al-Qaeda strongholds in Afghanistan. Terrorist acts Bin Laden and his principal associates escaped unhurt, and on August 21, al-Qaeda’s military chief, Muhammad Atef, publicized Bin Laden’s message to U.S. president Bill Clinton that he would avenge the American attack in a spectacularly devastating way. In a videotape broadcast on Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based Arab television channel, on October 29, 2004, Bin Laden publicly acknowledged al-Qaeda’s involvement in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. September 11, 2001, attacks Al-Qaeda[Al Qaeda];establishment

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bergen, Peter L. Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama Bin Laden. New York: Free Press, 2001. Highly popular study of Bin Laden the man and the terrorist based on extensive fieldwork in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Corbin, Jane. Al Qaeda: In Search of the Terror Network That Shook the World. New York: Thunder Mouth Press/Nation Books, 2002. An elegant account by a prize-winning BBC reporter.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gunaratna, Rohan, ed. The Changing Face of Terrorism. New York: Marshall Cavendish Academic, 2005. Collection of important studies edited by an acclaimed expert presents analysis of the character and intent of al-Qaeda.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Margulies, Phillip. Al-Qaeda: Osama Bin Laden’s Army of Terrorists. New York: Rosen, 2003. Clear and succinct account serves as an excellent resource for readers seeking an introduction to the subject.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Williams, Paul L. Al Qaeda: Brotherhood of Terror. Parsippany, N.J.: Alpha Books, 2002. Informative analysis by a former FBI agent based on his firsthand experience with al-Qaeda. Includes chronology, glossary, bibliography, and index.

Soviet Troops Leave Afghanistan

Algeria and Egypt Crack Down on Islamic Militants

World Trade Center Bombing

Sudan Expels Osama Bin Laden

Taliban Begins Suppression of Human Rights in Afghanistan

Terrorists Bomb U.S. Embassies in East Africa

Terrorists Attack USS Cole

Categories: History