After nine years of war with the Afghan mujahideen and the loss of 14,500 soldiers, the Soviet Union was eager to find a way out of Afghanistan. Peace talks sponsored by the UN finally led to an agreement between the Soviet Union, the Afghanistan Republic, and Pakistan in April 1988 for a cessation of hostilities. The last Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan in February 1989. As part of that agreement, US and Saudi subsidies ended for the Afghan mujahideen. Osama bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia, where he was greeted as a hero. Even so, he was embittered by the termination of funding from Saudi sources for his mujahideen operations. He asked for and received an audience before King Fahd and his advisers to plead the case for continued funding for the Afghan mujahideen. King Fahd rejected his request, since that was counter to agreements with the Soviet Union for withdrawal of their forces from Afghanistan. Outspoken in his criticism of the monarchy, Osama rapidly fell from favor with the Saudi establishment and had to consider exile.
About this time, on June 30, 1989, a coup had installed an Islamist regime in Sudan headed by Hassan al-Beshir and inspired by Sheikh Hassan al-Turabi as the organizer of the coup d’etat. After receiving the sponsorship and asylum guarantees from al-Turabi, in December 1991, Osama bin Laden moved to Khartoum with a contingent of Afghan Arabs who became his personal guard. From this location, Osama formed trade and construction companies that also were used as fronts to purchase arms and promote terrorist movements. His experience in Afghanistan and the rejection by the Saudi monarchy of his plea for continued support had re-ignited his commitment to global jihad against what he considered Islam’s enemies.
Meanwhile, Osama’s close associate, Ayman al-Zawahiri, also left Afghanistan, perhaps for Denmark and Switzerland, where he lived incognito. By 1991, he was back in Egypt, where he published a tract called The Bitter Harvest, condemning the Muslim Brotherhood and justifying worldwide jihad. In 1992, fearing detection and capture by the police, Zawahiri fled to Sudan to join Osama, and by 1998 he formally incorporated his Egyptian Islamic Jihad into Al Qaeda. The two most formidable global jihadists had joined forces once again.
In its new exile sanctuary, Osama and his Al Qaeda organization were revived. Besides building and operating twenty-three terrorist training camps and sponsoring terrorist groups abroad, Al Qaeda also infiltrated key ministries of the Sudanese government. From Sudan, Al Qaeda organized the first bombing of the World Trade Center on February 26, 1993, which led to six deaths but did not destroy the building. In October 1993, Al Qaeda was suspected of involvement in the Mogadishu attack on US Marines engaged in a peacekeeping mission to Somalia. The Saudis must have monitored Osama’s activities, because they deprived him of Saudi citizenship in February 1994. Two years later, Al Qaeda agents mounted separate attempts to assassinate US president Bill Clinton, Philippine president Fidel Marcos, and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. All three assassination attempts failed, but each left a trail of evidence pointiig to Al Qaeda.41 As a consequence of these persistent attacks, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United States pressured Sudan to arrest and extradite Osama bin Laden to the United States or to Saudi Arabia. Anticipating possible arrest, in May 1996, Osama quickly decided to flee by air to Jalalabad, Pakistan, with about 100 Afghan Arab fighters as part of his entourage. Within a year, he moved his operations to the cave complex of Tora Bora in Afghanistan.
In the seven years since Osama bin Laden had last been in Afghanistan, the earlier mujahideen had split into warring rival factions, with the main contingent calling themselves Taliban—meaning “seekers of knowledge” or “students.” This name reflected the influence of a large contingent of recruits from the Deoband madrasahs in Pakistan, where many of the Afghan refugees attended school and where they had received both radical religious instruction in Wahabbi doctrines and military training in weaponry and jihad tactics. The Deoband madrasahs were receiving generous funding from Saudi Arabia, which also provided significant funding for the Taliban. Although Pakistan expressed neutrality in Afghan affairs, its ISI had close links with the Taliban, providing them with weapons and financial support. When Osama returned to the scene, the Taliban were in the process of laying siege to the last vestiges of the Republic of Afghanistan centered on Kabul. With a militia force of about 25,000, heavily aided by supplies and manpower from Pakistan, the Taliban captured Kabul on September 27, 1996. Shortly, thereafter, an agreement was reached between the Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar and Osama bin Laden. The Taliban provided sanctuary for Al Qaeda and Osama made a bay ‘a pledge recognizing the absolute authority of Mullah Omar as “Commander of the Faithful.” As part of the agreement, Osama promised to remain discreet about his opposition to the Saudi regime, which, at the time, was providing generous funding to the Taliban.43 After its victory over the Republic of Afghanistan, the Taliban gained diplomatic recognition from only three countries: Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates.
Following its capture of Kabul, the Taliban mounted a campaign to capture all of Afghanistan. By 1997, the Taliban had extended its authority over almost 85 percent of Afghanistan, with the opposition confined to the Northern Alliance occupying northeastern Afghanistan. Al Qaeda formed a guerrilla unit of 1,500 to 2,000 Arab fighters organized as Brigade 055, which was integrated into the Taliban forces as an elite unit.” Between August 1996 and February 1998, four fatwas were issued by Al Qaeda endorsing suicide bombing and proclaiming that all Muslims have “a duty to kill Americans and their allies in any country wherever possible” in order to save the “lands of Islam” from occupation by the “Crusader-Zionist alliance.
Al Qaeda followed up these pronouncements by engineering a series of dramatic bombings of US targets. On August 7, 1998, the US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar as Salaam, in Tanzania. became targets of near simultaneous bombs that killed 227 people, 12 of them Americans. On October 12, 2000, two suicide bombers detonated a small skiff laden with high explosives next to the USS Cole in Aden harbor, killing 17 sailors and nearly sinking that high-technology warship. Finally, on September 11, 2001, the coordinated hijacking of four long-range commercial airliners, which were turned into flying bombs, succeeded in destroying the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York and demolishing a sector of the Pentagon. The fourth plane headed to an unknown target, but crashed in Pennsylvania after a failed attempt by some passengers to retake control of the aircraft from the hijackers.
These dramatic terrorist events were all widely covered in press accounts throughout the world and have been described and analyzed iii great detail in many books. Rather than recount these events and the responses that they elicited, what is of greater relevance for this study is the extension of Al Qaeda’s reach into Southeast Asia. From its newly revived operational base in Afghanistan, Al Qaeda began implementing its ambitious plans for worldwide jihad.
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