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[ Al Qaeda ]

The US Government believes that in 1989 Osama bin Laden and Muhammad Atef founded an international terrorist group known as Al Qaeda (the Base). The US believes that "This organization grew out of the "mekhtab al khidemat" (the "Services Office") organization which had maintained offices in various parts of the world, including Afghanistan, Pakistan (particularly in Peshawar) and the United States, particularly at the Alkifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn, N.Y." Al Qaeda functioned on its own through "a command and control structure which included a majlis al shura (or consultation council) which discussed and approved major undertakings, including terrorist operations" as well as an umbrella organization for various Jihad groups. Al Qaeda was "dedicated to opposing non-Islamic governments with force and violence". "One of the principal goals of Al Qaeda was to drive the United States armed forces out of Saudi Arabia (and elsewhere on the Saudi Arabian peninsula) and Somalia by violence." The US believes that Osama bin Laden was the "emir" (prince) and leader of Al Qaeda, which has "forged alliances with the National Islamic Front in the Sudan and with representatives of the Government of Iran, and its associated terrorist group Hezbollah", and that this group is responsible for the attack on US military personnel in Somalia, and the bombings of the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and a myriad of other charges.

Other accounts of Al Qaeda drastically differ from that of the US. The PBS show FRONTLINE cites an unnamed source close to bin Laden as explaining the origin Al Qaeda. "In 1988 he noticed that he was backward in his documentation and was not able to give answers to some families asking about their loved ones gone missing in Afghanistan. He decided to make the matter much more organized and arranged for proper documentation. He made a tracking record of the visitors, be they mujahedeen or charity or simple visitors. Their movement between the guesthouse and the camps had to be recorded as well as their first arrival and final departure. The whole complex was then termed Al-Qa'edah which is an Arabic word meaning "The Base." Al-Qa'edah was very much public knowledge. It was funny to see some people triumphing because they discovered it!"

Dr Saad al-Fagih explains the origins of Al Qaeda in the same way as FRONTLINE's unnamed source. It's not a secret organization at all. It was common knowledge to many people who went there. ... Al Qaeda was public knowledge. It was a record of people who ended up in Peshawar and joined, and move from Peshawar to Afghanistan. It was very [benign] information. A simple record of people who were there just to make record available to bin Laden if he's asked by any family or any friend what happened to Mr. so-and-so." Dr. al-Fagih continues "It's not like an organization--like any other terrorist organization or any other underground group. I don't think he used any name for his underground group. If you want to name it, you can name it "bin Laden group." But if they are using the term Al Qaeda ... Al Qaeda is just a record for the people who came to Peshawar and moved from there back and forth to the guest house. And moved back to their country."

FRONTLINE's unnamed source explains "bin Laden has two circles of followers. First are the closed core followers who are related to him by a chain of command and take orders like a secret organization. Most of those are probably in Afghanistan. Many are inside Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Somalia and probably Gulf countries. Like any secret group, those followers would not disclose their relation. Inside Saudi Arabia many of those would appear like any average citizen. The number of those is probably in hundreds."

Dr al-Fagih concurs with this assessment of the 600-700 core followers and adds that the second circle of bin Laden followers number "In thousands, maybe tens of thousands, who are sympathetic to bin Laden and who look at him as their father, and arrange themselves in small groups here and there. A very loose network with that hierarchy. You can never eradicate them. ... Each small group has its own chain of command, its own logistics. Now they wait for somebody like bin Laden to give them moral support and give them directions. They might try to contact him to get advice from him. But they don't belong to him like a special organization with a pyramidal structure or anything like that."

Al Qaeda
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