Over the last few decades, a large number of terrorist organizations have sprung up around the world and the United States Homeland Security Policy has rapidly evolved to counter the threats that these terrorist organizations come as. The modes and methods of operation that these organizations use have become increasingly sophisticated and one cannot help but agree that amongst the most prominent of these terrorist organizations is the infamous Al Qaeda (Madsen, 2005).
This paper seeks to examine the origin, ideology, infrastructure and history of Al Qaeda and provide an analysis of the United States Homeland Security Policy in light of the destructive potential Al Qaeda holds. By doing so, an analysis will be made of the effectiveness of the current Homeland security policy in light of the terrorist threats that are faced by the United States.
The first traces of the establishment can effectively be traced back to the Afghan-Soviet War. It was during this war that the desire to join the Afghan Marxist Regime grew exponentially amongst foreign Arab Mujahedeen. In order to utilize this fervor, the Maktab-al-Khidmat was formed. This organization was formed by Osama Bin Laden And his teacher/mentor Abdullah Yusuf Azzam (Williams, Al Qaeda: Brotherhood of Terror, 2002). Together they established carried out extensive recruitment and fund accumulation from 1984 onwards.
This organization had its headquarters in Pakistan and it was the Maktab-al-Khidmat that later evolved into the Al Qaeda and this phase of evolution can be traced to the point where Abdullah Yusuf Azzam began to persuade Osama Bin Laden to channel his own finances and resources into the operation (Global Security, 2008).
During the soviet war, the involvement of the United States was primarily through the funding that it provided the afghan mujahedeen (Gerges, 2004). Quite a bit of this funding was done through the Pakistani intelligence agency known as the Inter Services Intelligence Agency. This involvement was code named Operation Cyclone and was designed to deal an indirect defeat to the Soviets.
An aspect of the Maktab-al-Khidmat was that even though it did not manage to generate any significant numbers in terms of man power, it still allowed likeminded people from over forty countries to find a platform upon which they could unite and work together for bigger projects. When the war ended, the mujahedeen were back in power within three years time and Afghanistan was once more under the control of religious radicals.
In 1988, Osama bin Laden, who had returned to Saudi Arabia, decided to form groups such as the Maktab-al-Khidmat in other parts of the world but at this stage in the evolution of the group, Osama had no desire to develop the group on entirely military grounds. Rather it was Abdullah Yusuf Azzam who considered the element of militarism and aggression to be undeniably important.
Osama Bin Laden was later joined by former American special forces member Sergeant Ali Mohammad after Abdullah Yusuf Azzam had been assassinated, investigations carried out later showed that Osama Bin Laden worked closely with Ali Mohammad to devise plans for attacks on various United States civilian and military facilities.
Later when the Gulf War began, complications grew between Osama Bin Laden and the Saudi government when the Saudi government chose to resort to asking the United States for support instead of taking up Osama Bin Laden on his offer to provide arms and support in the Gulf War. As a result of these complications, Osama Bin Laden was exiled from Saudi Arabia to Sudan, where he continued his objection against the Saudi government (Williams, The Al Qaeda Connection: International Terrorism, Organized Crime, and the Coming Apocalypse, 2005). This resulted in Osama bin Laden losing his Saudi passport as well as his Sudanese passport along with the humiliation of being disowned by his family.
In these hard times, Osama Bin Laden turned to Afghanistan where he was welcomed by the Taliban. Afghanistan served as the ideal recruiting and training ground that was needed for Al Qaeda to develop itself and to strengthen its infrastructure. After having sought and found refuge in Afghanistan in 1996 (Burke, 2004), Osama Bin Laden began to establish training camps and began to gather local forces under his flag who he found shared his opinions from the time of Abdullah Yusuf Azzam.
Ideology & Objectives
It is believed that the ideology that runs in the Al Qaeda network is one that has been inspired by the writings of Sayyid Qutb who was an author, educator, poet and was considered to be a leading intellectual of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. Around the 1950’s and the 1960’s, Sayyid Qutb worked extensively on religious ideologies and published works which denounced the American way of life and the culture that prevailed in the American society.
One of the few areas upon which Sayyid Qutb’s work had the most influence was that of Jihad, which is the Arabic term used for the struggle for Islam. Through the teachings of Sayyid Qutb, the aggressive aspect of jihad became increasingly hostile and violent in its justifications. It is believed that the current set of beliefs that run through the foundations of Al Qaeda are based upon the very same principles of Sayyid Qutb’s political and religious philosophy that justifies the barbaric actions that the Al Qaeda takes today.
According to Sayyid Qutb’s philosophies, the more non-Muslim dominance grew, the more justified it became to wage war against these elements. Concepts such as socialism and nationalism are highly criticized and condemned in the beliefs of Sayyid Qutb as were reflected in his teachings. This would explain the momentum that Al Qaeda appears to be gathering the last few years. It is believed that the traditional leader of the Al Qaeda, osama was also highly influenced by Sayyid Qutb in his days as a student and would relish opportunities to debate upon them and learn more about them.
Modern day religious analysts believe that Sayyid Qutb’s teachings served to provide extremists a loop hole through the interpretation of religious scriptures through which they could justify not only their wars but also the techniques that they use in their war. Moreover, interpretations of Sayyid Qutb’s teachings made in the late part of the last century built upon this loophole and reached a degree where it became obligatory to wage war against any and all elements that were non-Islamic. This mutated version of the philosophies of Sayyid Qutb made it obligatory to wage war not only against non-Islamic elements but also against any Islamic elements that refused to join the war. This can be observed to explain the Al Qaeda attacks on muslim countries as well as non-muslim countries.
The core organizational structure is one that centers on the base and develops and operates from that base (Gunaratna, 2003). Al Qaeda follows a Hydra like organizational structure in which distanced modules of the organizations are placed around the world and kept highly active while the central nerve is kept well hidden and it is ensured that information and funding are supplied to the distanced modules to keep them running.
This way, Al Qaeda traditionally operates on a centralized leading structure where decision making and resource distribution is managed and coordinated by the center while the execution of the decisions is assigned to the nodes of the organization. However, the modern day organizational structure of Al Qaeda has evolved considerably as a result of the recent measures taken by the United States military with its partners in the war on terrorism (Wright, 2006).
It is believed that the measures taken by this war on terrorism have led to the scattering of these nodes to a point where they have become isolated from each other and are operating independently in a majority of their catchment regions. It is believed that this decentralization of the nodes of Al Qaeda has caused the name Al Qaeda to become something of a brand name amongst terrorist organizations.
This would explain attacks such as the 7 July London bombings of 2005 in which the involved elements were identified to be more Al Qaeda trained than of Al Qaeda origin (Corbin, 2002). It was attacks such as these that brought forth the fact that Al Qaeda had begun to optimize itself by making use of likeminded elements rather than spending time and resources to establish itself in regions where it desired to carry out operations.
This can also be observed to explain the increasing number of Al Qaeda members who are educated and belong to well to do and sophisticated families. The arrests of Al Qaeda personnel made in the last few years have led to the origination of the belief that perhaps Al Qaeda does not operate by itself any more but has either chosen to disperse itself and inject itself into smaller terrorist organizations or has chosen to take on prodigies in the form of smaller terrorist organizations in reply to the increasing number of measures being taken by the coalition of the members of the war against terrorism (Vidino & Emerson, 2005).
Al Qaeda does not operate solely by its own self, more than often it utilizes smaller more agile terrorist organizations to obtain its objectives. Frequently groups that it has coordinated with include Abu Sayyaf Group from Malaysia, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Jemaah Islamiya from Indonesia and Lashkar e Taiba from Kashmir.
The current hierarchy that Al Qaeda employs is an element that has not been ascertained by American intelligence in its structure. However, the arrests of Al Qaeda personnel have led to an inference in this regard. It is believed that Al Qaeda is divided into seven divisions.
The first of these divisions is that of the Shura Council which comprises of the senior Al Qaeda members and where the emir presides. The second and perhaps most active section is the Military Committee which oversees and managers training of personnel, weapon acquisition, arsenal maintenance and strategic planning. The third and perhaps even more significant section is the Business Committee which ensures that consistent funding is maintained through businesses around the world and also handles the responsibility of the providing of false documentation when needed.
The Law Committee evaluates the plans to decide whether or not the plans drawn comply with the religious principles that the organization follows. Closely working with this committee is the Study/Fatwa Committee which is in charge of the drawing up and publication of religious edicts (Bajoria, 2008). A media committee was also formed in the late 1990’s but it is believed now that it has been replace by the As-Sahab which is an advanced media production house which is in charge of handling public relations as well as ensuring a supply of the video and audio requirements that the organization requires.
The United States Homeland Security Policy
The Department of Homeland security was established on the Cabinet level on June 6, 2002 as an enhancement to the White House Office of Homeland Security. It was through the department of Homeland Security that the Patriot Act was passed and it was observed to be one of the most deep reaching and most extensive of measures that had ever been taken by the Bush administration. In order to gain an understanding of the United States Homeland Security Policy it is first essential to gain a concrete understanding of the major events that have shaped its formation in the past and are currently shaping its evolution in the present through their long term implications.
When studying the attacks that Al Qaeda has made in its history, it is necessary to understand that it was not merely the destruction because of the attacks that was the cause for concern, but the degree of information acquisition, ammunition and explosive acquirement and intelligence implementation that is staggering. The modus operandi of Al Qaeda involves well educated and sophisticated people who are well funded. This makes the implications of the attacks of this organization all the more profound and deeper in the long run.
One of the first attacks that the Al Qaeda staged was in 1992 in Yemen. As per the objectives of the Al Qaeda discussed above, the objective of this attack was to discourage the prevalence of American armed forces elements from proceeding to Somalia in international famine relief efforts. The operation under which the soldiers were moving was Operation Restore Hope and was meant for the sheer purpose of discouraging the American armed forces and the American people.
Seven people were injured severely and two people died, all of them were civilians. Formerly, Al Qaeda had chosen to exercise its resources in battle and against military installations. This attack was perceived as a change in the Al Qaeda’s stance towards the war it was waging. It was in this attack that the Al Qaeda first presented justification for the killing of civilians and this aspect of the Al Qaeda’s evolving modus operandi was one that has been the focus of almost every homeland security policy that has developed ever since.