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What’s going on with Al-Qaeda?

Past and present of one of the deadliest terrorist organizations, by Cat Cronin.

Aerial photo of Kabul, Afghanistan.

1. Al-Qaeda dates back to the 1979-1989 Soviet-Afghan War when insurgent groups (known collectively as the mujahideen) fought against the Soviet Army and the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden supported the mujahideen with money, weapons, and fighters and eventually his network turned into al-Qaeda.

2. The Taliban and al-Qaeda are closely aligned. Throughout the 2000s, bin Laden continued to provide the Taliban with money, troops, and training.

3. Five powerful affiliates descended from al-Qaeda, including al-Shabaab (formed 1996), al-Qaeda in Iraq (formed 2004), al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (formed 2007), and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (formed 2009), and al-Qaeda in the India Subcontinent (formed 2014). All groups have pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zarahiri.

4. ISIS was an al-Qaeda affiliate, but has been the group’s rival since February 2014. ISIS leaders did not agree with al-Qaeda’s core leadership and split. Soon after, ISIS took control of territory in Iraq.

5. Al-Qaeda and its affiliates have thousands of members and are located around the world in countries including Libya, Syria, Egypt, Russia, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. As of 2018, it is estimated that there are 20,000 fighters in Syria, 4,000 in Yemen, and 7,000 in Somalia.

6. Originally, al-Qaeda got its funding solely from bin Laden. Now, the group also receives donations from other individuals and states, and engages in drug trafficking, bank robberies, and kidnappings.

7. Al-Qaeda has carried out numerous attacks, many of which were against the US. These incidents include the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa, the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, and the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

8. Al-Qaeda’s attack on Sept. 11, 2001 was the most destructive terrorist attack in history.

9. After bin Laden’s death, Ayman al-Zarahiri took over as Al-Qaeda’s leader. However, it is likely that he will be replaced by bin Laden’s son, Hamza. The U.S. is offering $1 million for information leading to Hamza’s location.

10. In 2018, al-Qaeda conducted 316 attacks worldwide.


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