It would not at all be surprising if this decade comes to be known as the decade of terrorism in years to come. Since the turn of the millennium, terrorism, maybe more than any other global issue or topic, has plagued the world stage with constant news and horror. It can be argued that terrorism is a problem with no solution and no end in sight. The Islamic militant group, Al-Qaeda, is the most well known terrorist organization in the world. Al-Qaeda has been held accountable for some of the most tragic and horrifying acts of terror in history. Still, many people do not fully understand what Al-Qaeda is, who is behind it, and why it exists. A fluid, agreed-upon definition does not exist for the extremist organization, run by Osama bin Laden and responsible for the September 11th terrorist attacks, but rather a multitude of beliefs on the number, strength, and whereabouts of Al-Qaeda.
Most researchers and historians point to August 11th, 1988 as the origin of Al-Qaeda as an organized group. However, it was the events leading up to this meeting that caused Osama bin Laden and a small group of extremist leaders to officially organize what had grown into a large, strong Islamic following. From December 1979 through February 1989, the Soviet Union was engaged in a war with Afghanistan. The communist Soviet Union allied with the Afghan Marxist regime in order to fight the native Afghan mujahideen (Burke and Allen). The United States channeled funds to the native Afghanis in order to stop the spread of communism by the Soviet Union in a CIA program called Operation Cyclone. There are many people today that are of the belief that it was this CIA program that kick started Al-Qaeda, and that the US was directly responsible for the growth and success of the same terrorist organization that executed the most devastating attack on US soil (Dixon). Once the war ended, Osama bin Laden met with the leader of the Egyptian Islamic-Jihad, Abdullah Azzam and planned to expand their newly founded organization. Al-Qaeda relocated to Sudan from 1992 to 1996. During this time, Al-Qaeda grew through various forms of terrorist attacks, until the Saudi Arabian government exiled Osama bin Laden and forced him and his followers to once again relocate to avoid conflict (Bergen).
After the Soviets left Afghanistan, there was a period of great turmoil and anarchy that took hold. There was no established form of government, and many separate groups claimed the rights to certain territories throughout the country. This was the perfect time for bin Laden and Al-Qaeda to return home and regain power in Afghanistan. They teamed up with the Taliban, an organization that garnered its strength through the education and training of children. The Taliban had been the most successful group to rise to power, and many recognized them as the governing entity in Afghanistan. With the protection and support from the Taliban, bin Laden was able to mobilize and organize Al-Qaeda into a dominant and strategically planned terrorist organization (Burke and Allen).
Al-Qaeda’s mission has been summarized as “centralization of decision and decentralization of execution.” In other words, bin Laden hoped to form a group in which he and a few close advisors would set out guidelines and make decisions for the smaller cells that would then spread around throughout the world and execute his attacks. Structurally, Al-Qaeda is formed just like any other corporation, with senior executives at the top and then smaller, less powerful roles towards the bottom. Bin Laden is the emir, which is the highest power in the organization, almost king-like. Ayman al-Zawahiri is Al-Qaeda's Deputy Operations Chief, and is known as bin Laden’s second in command. Similar to other organizations and corporations, Al-Qaeda has several divisions that handle issues specific to their role. First, the Military Operative is the most destructive and...