Created in Saudi Arabia in 1992 by Osama bin Laden, a Wahabi adherent who opposed the deployment of U.S. forces in his country after the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait, al-Qaeda (“The Base”) was intended to protect Islam’s holy places from defilement by foreigners. Bin Laden, previously a supporter of the mujahadeen in Afghanistan, was exiled to Sudan by the Saudi government where he planned a jihad or holy war against the United States. This manifested itself in a series of attacks on the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in August 1998 and an attempt to sink the USS Cole in Aden in October 2000. On 11 September 2001 bin Laden masterminded the coordinated hijacking by 19 terrorists of four U.S. passenger aircraft from Boston, Newark, and Washington, D.C., two of which crashed into World Trade Center in New York and a third into the Pentagon.
In the four years following the 9/11 attacks, al-Qaeda has been responsible for bomb atrocities in Bali, Madrid, Casablanca, Istanbul, Sharm el-Sheikh, and London and has been linked to other attacks that were thwarted. In February 1992 American-led coalition forces occupied Afghanistan in an effort to remove the Taliban from power in Kabul, eliminate al-Qaeda training camps, and decapitate the organization’s headquarters in the Tora Bora mountains. The operation was largely successful, with the capture of numerous detainees who were flown to Cuba for interrogation at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay. Interference with the organization’s communications and financial support network led bin Laden to adopt a “franchise” strategy, sponsoring disparate terrorist groups across the globe and offering them bomb-making expertise and advice on tactics, but minimal financial aid, leaving the terrorists to raise cash through credit card fraud and other criminal activity.