Al-Qaeda is alive and well in a striking manner. The organization is even more dangerous than Daesh in some parts of the world, especially in western Africa, southern Asia, Somalia and Yemen, according to a report by the United Nations in February 2018.
Yemen, in particular, has become the organization’s international nerve center, the United Nations said in its report.
Although Daesh is an ideological offshoot of al-Qaeda, it was close to eclipsing this mother organization in its early beginnings. Nonetheless, the emergence of cracks within Daesh at the time al-Nusra Front appeared as a branch of al-Qaeda in Syria showed that al-Qaeda and Daesh are two different organizations, even as they share some similarities.
It is no secret that the brutality Daesh demonstrated in the areas it controls served al-Qaeda best. This brutality gave al-Qaeda the chance to claim that it opposes it. To drive its point in this regard home, al-Qaeda refused to target civilians, but only focused on army troops, policemen and government officials.
The past few years, during which Daesh rose to terrorist stardom, gave al-Qaeda a chance to take some rest Al-Qaeda had the chance during the same years to reorganize itself and return to the stage of its presumed jihad to end the struggle for the title of the world’s leading terrorist organization in its own favor.
According to the same United Nations report, Tahrir al-Sham, formerly al-Nusra Front, in Syria is still the world’s strongest and largest branch of al-Qaeda. It combines between 7,000 and 11,000 fighters. To convince smaller militant groups to join in, Tahrir al-Sham resorts to threats and violence at times and financial incentives at others.
Al-Qaeda is a multinational organization that was formed between 1988 and 1990 by Osama bin Laden and others. Nonetheless, the organization’s roots date back to 1984 when the Office for the Service of Arab Jihadists was formed in Peshawar, Pakistan, by Abdullah Azzam, one of the founders of al-Qaeda. Azzam played a big role in attracting and receiving jihadist elements from Arab states.
The members of al-Qaeda went to Afghanistan to fight the communist Soviets there, with backing from the United States which created the organization and enlisted its services with help from the Pakistani intelligence as part of a program by the Central Intelligence Agency, called “Operation Storm”.
Soon after the end of the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, al-Qaeda moved its operations to Iraq where it started fighting against the Americans. It also started fighting the Americans on American territory.
Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current leader of al-Qaeda and the former leader of Islamic Jihad in Egypt, was the mind behind the formation of the organization. Both al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad staged separate attacks against the Egyptian government. However, more than 280 members of Islamic Jihad were put in jail in Egypt and six others sentenced to death in 1995.
Al-Qaeda depends in most of its operations on suicide bombers who wear explosive belts. It also carries out simultaneous bomb attacks against different targets.
After the end of the Afghanistan war, bin Laden returned to his home country, Saudi Arabia. However, conflicts with the Saudi government forced him to leave for Sudan in 1992. The Saudi government also revoked bin Laden’s Saudi nationality two years later.
Bin Laden had to stay in Sudan until a botched attempt on the life of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1995. The Sudanese government then had to ask al-Qaeda members to leave. They then left for Afghanistan where the ruling Taliban extended them a wide welcome mat.
Taliban allowed al-Qaeda to open a headquarters in Kabul. It also provided al-Qaeda’s members with the necessary protection until Taliban’s defeat in 2001.
The year 2001 was a decisive one in the history of al-Qaeda as an organization. This was the year when the US started a massive anti-terrorism campaign in reaction to the 9/11 attacks. The campaign led to the geographical isolation of al-Qaeda’s leadership. This isolation led to the emergence of local leaders for each al-Qaeda group in the different places. Nonetheless, all these leaders and groups acted under the umbrella of the mother organization.