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Al-Qaeda (or Al Qaida) means "the base."

Al-Qaeda has been described as many different things, and it includes a "federation" of different Islamist groups, all dedicated to mayhem against the West, Christians, Jews and Muslim regimes that do not conform to its ideas. It may have only a few thousand members, but seems to have many supporters and sympathizers, some of whom may be inspired to terrorist deeds by Al-Qaeda "fatwas"  (judgments or religious rulings). Al-Qaeda became a household word in the United States following the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.

Al-Qaeda is a shadowy terrorist network organized by Osama Bin Laden as detailed below, and probably consists of cells of terrorists and support groups that provide financial aid, publicity, shelter and recruiting facilities for Al Qaeda. The Al-Qaeda political philosophy is radical Islamism - the doctrine that governments must be forced to conform to Islamic law as they conceive it to be. It is unlikely that all Islamists are affiliated with Al Qaeda, though it is probable that most such groups cooperate. Groups such as the Lebanese 'Hezbollah, Palestinian Hamas, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad are suspected of affiliations with Al Qaeda, but there is a lack of evidence supporting those suspicions. Al-Qaeda believe in Jihad (Holy War) to remove Western influences from Muslim areas, especially Saudi Arabia and Palestine, and reestablishment of the Caliphate (Khalifa) which will then wage Jihad against the remainder of the non-Muslim world with the aim of conquering it. The activist ideology of Islamism is based on the writings of Sayyid Qutb, Sayed Abul Ala Mawdudi and to some extent by Jamal al-Din al-Afghani. Osama Bin Laden has added some twists, emphasis and further radicalization of his own. (for a history of the rise of Islam and a brief overview of Islamism click here). Islamism is not orthodox Islam as generally practiced, but Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Ladin have won a great deal of admiration throughout the Middle East because they are perceived as heroes who stand up to the West.

Al-Qaeda groups may cooperate with other Muslim fundamentalists and draw followers from them, but it is is not ideologically close to the Wahhabi  of Saudi Arabia or the Shi'ite Islamist regime in Iran, nor is there evidence of organizational links, though many Al-Qaeda activists were recruited from Saudi Arabia. Wahhabis are intimately connected with support for the Saudi regime and do not believe in overthrowing governments, unlike Al-Qaeda. Nor is there evidence, despite some claims by Laurie Mylroie and other analysts, that Saddam Hussein of Iraq had a central role in encouraging Al-Qaeda terror, though Iraq may have sheltered and trained some Al-Qaeda terrorists, and may have used Ansar al-Islam, a terrorist group, against the Kurds.

Al-Qaeda was founded about 1988 or 1989 by the Saudi Arabian militant Osama bin Laden (or Usama bin Laden or bin Ladin). Prior to the fall of 2001, Al-Qaeda was based in of Afghanistan and sheltered by the Taleban regime there. Following the terror attacks it initiated against the USA on September 11, 2001, and the  US-led invasion of Afghanistan in October of 2001, Al-Qaeda has gone further underground. Leaders are currently (April, 2004) believed to hiding in a region of Afghanistan along the Pakistani border. Relatively large scale military operations have failed to dislodge them or capture or kill the leaders, and Al-Qaeda has struck at targets in Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Spain and elsewhere since 2001. Bin Laden uses an extensive international network to maintain a loose connection between Muslim extremists in diverse countries. Working through high-tech means, such as faxes, satellite telephones, and the internet, he is in touch with an unknown number of followers (estimated at about 1,500) all over the world.

The organization's main immediate goal is the overthrow of what it sees as the corrupt and heretical governments of Muslim states, and their replacement with the rule of Sha'aria (Islamic law). Al-Qaeda is intensely anti-Western, and views the United States in particular as the prime enemy of Islam. Bin Laden has issued several "fatwas" calling upon Muslims to take up arms against the United States. He, or stand-ins for him, continue to release videotaped messages threatening or calling for attacks against the United States, Western regimes, Israel and Muslim regimes that do not subscribe to his dogmas. They attempts to radicalize existing Islamic groups and create Islamic groups where none exist. They advocate destruction of the United States, which is seen as the chief obstacle to reform in Muslim societies.  They support Muslim fighters in Afghanistan, Algeria, Bosnia, Chechnya, Eritrea, Kosova, Pakistan, Somalia, Tajikistan and Yemen.

Synonyms and alternate spellings: 

Further Information: See  History of Islam and the Arabs Islam

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Encyclopedia of the Middle East

Note - This encyclopedia is a work in progress. It is far from complete and is being constructed and improved all the time. If you would like to contribute articles or expansions of existing articles, please contact news (at) mideastweb.org.  Suggestions and corrections are welcome. The concise version of this dictionary is at our Middle East Glossary.

Spelling - Spelling of words in Middle-Eastern languages is often arbitrary. There may be many variants of the same name or word such as Hezbollah, Hizbolla, Hisbolla or Husayn and Hussein. There are some conventions for converting words from Semitic languages such as Arabic and Hebrew There are numerous variant renderings of the same Arabic or Hebrew words, such as "Hizbollah," "Hisbulla" etc. It is not possible to find exact equivalents for several letters. 

Pronunciation - Arabic and Hebrew vowels are pronounced differently than in English. "o" is very short. The "a" is usually pronounced like the "a" in market, sometimes as the "a" in "Arafat."  The " 'A " is guttural.  " 'H "- the 'het ('Hirbeh, 'Hebron, 'Hisbollah') designates a sound somewhat similar to the ch in "loch" in Scots pronunciation, but made by touching the back of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. The CH should be pronounced like Loch, a more assertive consonant than 'het.

The "Gh" combination, and sometimes the "G," designate a deep guttural sound that Westerners may hear approximately as "r." The "r" sound is always formed with the back of the tongue, and is not like the English "r."

More information: Hebrew, Arabic

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