September 14, 2001
Al Qaeda ("the Base"), the militant Islamic movement the Saudi terrorist tycoon Osama Bin Laden founded in 1990, is estimated by DEBKAfile 's terror experts to number no more than 12,000 fighting men in all. They are scattered round the world, mainly in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kashmir, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Chechenya, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgistan, Tadjikistan and Lebanon.
Some 2,500 live in the United States, many of them US nationals, counting also members of Al Qaeda's fraternal terrorist group, the fundamentalist Egyptian Jihad Islami. Many are "Afghan Arabs" who fought with Bin Laden against the Russians in Afghanistan in the eighties.
Either involved in local conflicts, like the Balkans, or organized as a sort of international rapid strike force for terror, Bin Laden moves his troops from site to site as needed, usually by chartered commercial flights. Together with reserves, he can field some 17,000 Islamic militants to pursue what he conceives as his mission: to defeat the United States and its dominant influence as a world superpower.
Most Bin Laden operations are large-scale yet precisely pinpointed to achieve that end. His annual operational budget is estimated as $125 million, which comes out of revenues from family-owned companies. His relatives are close to Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah. So as to save them and the Saudi ruler embarrassment, he has invested his stock in front companies registered in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. Most of his investments are in satellite networks and cell phone companies.
Bin Laden is the first terrorist chief to operate in global strategic terms. All his operations - and there have been no more than a dozen - are meticulously prepared and executed and always aim at damaging US superpower standing. His only regional or local targets are Saudi relations with the United States and the American infidel presence in the kingdom, which for him is anathema and profane. Bin Laden differs substantially from Yasser Arafat in that his thinking and targeting are global and ideological. Al his associations are with radical Islamic groups and figures.
Digging into his roots, DEBKAfile has discovered Bin Laden's first mentor to have been an obscure Palestinian sheikh who lived in Hableh near Tulkarm and Jenin, called Abdallah Azzam. Founder of an Islamic liberation movement called Haraketh al-Tahariyeh al-Islami, this sheikh, for the first time in the 20th century, called for an Islamic struggle on a global, not merely a national, footing. He urged Moslems to fight for world domination and the eclipse of infidel rule. Although a Palestinian himself, Azzam mocked Yasser Arafat's PLO as inconsequential.
This doctrine actuated Bin Laden in founding his Al Qaeda (The base) a decade ago. It is his guiding light to this day.
©2001 - DebkaFile