Approaching the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, there is a growing sense among counterterrorism analysts from the policy community and academia that Al-Qaeda has substantially weakened in the last decade and is destined to lose the battle against its enemies, and in particular the United States. Indeed, signs that Al-Qaeda is flagging are ample, and include its loss of Osama bin Laden and important operational leaders; defeat or near defeat of various Al-Qaeda franchises outside of Pakistan; a large number of ideological challenges leveled against the group by some of its former allies; and the series of protests that shook several Middle Eastern and North African states beginning in early 2011. Because the revolts in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, and other countries were mostly nonviolent, they provided a striking counterexample to Al-Qaeda's emphasis on violent regime change in the Middle East.
On May 2, 2011, bin Laden was killed by U.S. military forces after U.S. intelligence located him residing in a secure compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, 31 miles (50 km) from Islamabad. The operation was carried out by a small team that reached the compound in Abbottabad by helicopter. After bin Laden’s death was confirmed, it was announced by U.S. Pres. Barack Obama, who hailed the operation as a major success in the fight against al-Qaeda. On June 16, 2011, al-Qaeda released a statement announcing that Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden’s long-serving deputy, had been appointed to replace bin Laden as the organization’s leader.
The events of September 11 were deeply symbolic. The World Trade Center was chosen for a number of reasons: the desire to strike at an icon of American arrogance and economic power, to signal the start of a global war targeting all enemy interests, and to establish continuity with the mujadeen attack against American Territory eight years earlier. While al Quaeda had focused mainly on its plan to attack the United States using airliners, it also masterminded a number of secondary, less elaborate operations.
Osama Bin Laden's experiences as a logistical coordinator and financier for the Afghan and Arab resistance to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan during the 1980s are thought to have provided the backdrop for his belief that Muslims could take effective military action inspired by select Islamic principles. His exposure to the teachings of conservative Islamist scholars in Saudi Arabia and his work with Arab militants in Afghanistan provided the theological and ideological basis for his belief in the desirability of puritanical Salafist Islamic reform in Muslim societies and the necessity of armed resistance in the face of perceived aggression -- a concept Al Qaeda has since associated with a communally-binding Islamic principle known as "defensive jihad."4 After the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Bin Laden expressed these views in opposition to the introduction of foreign military forces to Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden characterized the presence of U.S. and other non-Muslim troops in Saudi Arabia after the 1991 Gulf War as cause for renewed commitment to defensive jihad and the promotion of violence against the Saudi government and the United States.
In the early 1990s, Bin Laden emphasized his desire to secure the withdrawal of U.S. and other foreign troops from Saudi Arabia at all costs. Bin Laden criticized the Saudi royal family publicly and alleged that their invitation of foreign troops to the Arabian peninsula constituted an affront to the sanctity of the birthplace of Islam and a betrayal of the global Islamic community.5 Finding his rhetoric and efforts rebuffed by Saudi leaders, Bin Laden was expelled from Saudi Arabia and his ire increasingly focused on the United States. Following a period of exile in Sudan and Afghanistan in which his radical views sharpened, Bin Laden issued a declaration of jihad against the United States in 1996 that signaled his emergence as an internationally recognizable figure and offered a full account of his main critiques of an enemy he described as the "alliance of Jews, Christians, and their agents."6 Adopting the sensitive historical and religious imagery of Islamic resistance to the European Crusades, Bin Laden condemned the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia, criticized the international sanctions regime on Iraq, and voiced his opposition to U.S. support for Israel.7 The declaration also cited "massacres in Tajikistan, Burma, Kashmir, Assam, the Philippines, Fatani [as transliterated], Ogaden, Somalia, Eritrea, Chechnya, and Bosnia-Herzegovina" as examples of a growing war on Islam for which the United States should be punished (Bin Laden did not recognize the humanitarian aspects of U.S. efforts in Bosnia and Somalia explicitly).
Takfiri are those who carry out the excommunication of the Takfir, often using violent methods under the guise of Jihad (Holy War). Takfiris believe that true Muslims must depose, or excommunicate unnatural or false rulers and can do so only through active struggle. Takfiris take their beliefs out of the realm of contemplation and into the realm of action. Takfiri cells are trained to blend into Western societies, which they view as "kufar" (atheist, corrupt, or infidel) in order to plot terrorist attacks against those "corrupt" societies. Members of Takfiri cells may live together, not pray or attend Mosque, partake in alcohol and narcotics, and dress to assimilate and integrate into the communities they live, in an attempt to avoid suspicion and/or detection—Most of the 9/11 terrorists were Takfiri.
Al Qaeda may be considered the generic name for all those movements that have in common what is called the Takfiri ideology.
The present day Takfiri movement has historical roots that go very far back in time. Indeed the Khawarij movement which appeared in the first century of the Moslem calendar (i.e. the seventh century A.D.), bears a great resemblance to the modern Al-Qaeda and the other Takfiri groups. The Khawarij also went about committing the most terrible atrocities against foes and innocent folks alike, particularly Moslems, on the basis that these were apostates and Kafirs, citing certain verses and phrases from the Koran as justification.
Today Saudi Arabia and many of the Gulf States are officially of the Wahabi sect, but it must be said that it would be inaccurate to consider them as Takfirists and terrorists. It can only be said that the modern terrorist Takfiri movement is a fringe movement originating from this Wahabi background, and that most of its adherents originate from this milieu, or are converts to this way of thinking from other Moslem sects almost invariably Sunni. but note that Wahabism is not properly a Sunni Sect, but is certainly more tolerant of Sunnis than of other Moslem sects, although regarding the four established Sunni schools with some disdain and disapproval.
Above all, al-Qaeda's historical reference point is the campaign fought in Afghanistan against the Soviets from their invasion in December 1979 to their final withdrawal in February 1989. The influence of this campaign, through which bin Laden and al-Zawahiri met, on al-Qaeda's view of itself, its adversaries and the world simply cannot be overstated; and al-Qaeda intends to bring about its sequel, with America replicating the Soviet Union as a withdrawn, defeated superpower.
The invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 challenged that country’s viability as an al-Qaeda sanctuary and training ground and compromised communication, operational, and financial linkages between al-Qaeda leadership and its militants. Rather than significantly weakening al-Qaeda, however, these realities prompted a structural evolution and the growth of “franchising.” Increasingly, attacks were orchestrated not only from above by the centralized leadership (after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, based in the Afghan-Pakistani border regions) but also by the localized, relatively autonomous cells it encouraged. Such grassroots independent groups—coalesced locally around a common agenda but subscribing to the al-Qaeda name and its broader ideology—thus meant a diffuse form of militancy, and one far more difficult to confront.
With this organizational shift, al-Qaeda was linked—whether directly or indirectly—to more attacks in the six years following September 11 than it had been in the six years prior, including attacks in Jordan, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, Turkey, the United Kingdom, Israel, Algeria, and elsewhere. At the same time, al-Qaeda increasingly utilized the Internet as an expansive venue for communication and recruitment and as a mouthpiece for video messages, broadcasts, and propaganda. Meanwhile, some observers expressed concern that U.S. strategy—centred primarily on attempts to overwhelm al-Qaeda militarily—was ineffectual, and at the end of the first decade of the 21st century, al-Qaeda was thought to have reached its greatest strength since the attacks of September 2001.
Al-Qaeda is the militant Islamist organization founded by Osama bin Laden that was responsible for various acts of terrorism, including the attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001, as well as the attacks on US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and the suicide bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in 2000. Bin Laden organized al-Qaeda in opposition to the Soviet Union during the Afghan War of the 1980s. The group merged, moved, and established itself in various capacities and locations following the Soviet withdrawl from Afghanistan in 1989. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, al-Qaeda and the Taliban government of Afghanistan became prime military targets of the United States. The US invaded Afghanistan, but it took nearly ten years of fighting before al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed by US forces on May 2, 2011. Though weakend by bin Laden’s death, al-Qaeda continues under the leadership of Ayman al-Zawahiri.