If you’ve been alive even a decade or two, you’re probably familiar with the headline grabbing organization known as Al-Qaeda. You probably know, for instance, that the infamous terrorist Osama Bin Laden was instrumental in organizing Al-Qaeda in its early days. And you’ve probably picked up that Al-Qaeda opposes Americans and their allies. It’s also, of course, hard to miss that the group is linked to thousands of deaths that occurred as a result of the September 11th attacks.
Here, however, are 5 lesser known facts that might help you better understand Al-Qaeda’s origin and motivations.
1. Al-Qaeda wasn’t always the dispersed network of cells it is today.
Extremist Muslims initially organized as Al-Qaeda for a specific, local purpose. They first banded together to oppose the communist government as well as the Soviet troops who aided them during the Afghan War. It wasn’t until 1989, when the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, that the group dispersed and picked up their more general goal of fighting Western countries who involved themselves in Muslim lands.
2. Although cells exist in at least 50 countries, Al-Qaeda is separate from any country’s government.
Because of this independence, Al-Qaeda’s acts of warfare do not respect rules of war, treaties, or conventions that govern and protect much of the world. Instead, Al-Qaeda uses dispersed membership across the world to be a “home base” for a movement that would inspire holy wars against many named enemies in many locations. Their only real allegiance is to those who practice an extreme form of Islam called Wahhabishm—a strict belief system that considers all those who don’t practice this form to be heathens and enemies.
3. Al-Qaeda doesn’t just seem to hate America. Opposing America has become a huge part of their identity.
Al-Qaeda considers Americans to be “infidels.” This is because the U.S. government isn’t aligned with their extremist Islamic teachings. Al-Qaeda also opposes the United States’ support of other governments they consider to be infidels such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel. The group’s public displays of rage against America first surfaced when the U.S. involved itself in the Gulf War in 1991 and in Operation Restore Hope in Somalia in 1992. Since then, Al-Qaeda has vehemently opposed all U.S. military involvement in countries where there is a strong Muslim population. As a result, Osama Bin Laden declared jihad aginst the United States, calling on Muslims to kill Americans across the world.
4. Although Al-Qaeda is loosely dispersed, they’re pretty organized.
Al-Qaeda has a council, for example, called a majlis al shura, which approves major initiatives and terrorist acts. They also have committees that review and approve military strategies. Before governments began restricting their activity, the group was known to transfer funds between corporate accounts, fund training camps and supply warehouses, and keep files of records, receipts, and plans. And they do make alliances—although often temporary—with representatives of governments or other terrorist groups who also oppose the United States.
5. Al-Qaeda still exists today, but they are organized differently than in previous decades.
Some suggest the organization is making a comeback, and believe the threat they represent is often downplayed by U.S. officials. This may be in part what Al-Qaeda wants. Al-Qaeda, in comparison to ISIS, began to market itself as a somehow more moderate and restrained movement. Instead of trying to commit more brutal attacks than the violent ISIS organization, Al-Qaeda started embedding cells within communities in Syria, Yemen, Lyba, and elsewhere to create bases for conducting future attacks. Al-Qaeda hopes to use this more restrained strategy to continue to recruit and strengthen its power so they can continue to inflict terror on U.S. and Western allies who choose to involve their military in Muslim regions.
Today, Al-Qaeda is still a threat—especially to Christians in Muslim-majority countries and regions. Join us in prayer for the strongholds of Al-Qaeda to be torn down, for its leaders to be thwarted from future acts of terror and for the protection of Christians in Al-Qaeda dominated areas.