Al Qaeda is an Arabic phrase that means “the base.” It is also said to mean “the foundation,” but there is little distinction. It is essentially the base of planning for many terrorist attacks throughout the world. The Al Qaeda network was created by Osama bin Laden following the Soviet-Afghan conflict, which ended in 1988. It is an armed group of militant Islamists that has been classified as a terrorist organization by Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Al Qaeda is comprised of Sunni Muslims, most of whom practice Wahabism, which is described by many experts as the most violent and extreme form of Islam. This sect believes that all governments should be replaced by Islamic leaders and that all people should be ruled by Islamic law. Murder of “infidels” or those who refuse to comply is not only justified, but embraced.
The Al Qaeda network is believed to be aligned with many other terrorist organizations, and there is evidence linking this group to many attacks throughout the world and the deaths of thousands of civilians, including the murder of Daniel Pearl, a journalist from the Wall Street Journal. While at times the evidence is tenuous, and the group does not always take responsibility for these acts, there are nearly always links of some type to Al Qaeda. Some believe that this circumstantial evidence may not implicate Al Qaeda, but perhaps splinter groups or even independent groups following the lead of Al Qaeda. While there may not be evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that connects this group to various attacks across the globe, this is not a simple law enforcement issue. The world will not wait for a smoking gun before it reacts to terrorist threats, because doing so would guarantee the deaths of more innocent people.
Al Qaeda is best known for attacks against the United States, including attacks against U.S. Embassies, as well as military bases and equipment, including a warship named the U.S.S. Cole. Al Qaeda also attacked on U.S. soil in the World Trade Center bombing of 1993, although things did not go as planned. They came back to finish the job in 2001, flying airliners into the Twin Towers, which were toppled to the ground, killing nearly 3,000 civilians.
This group is responsible for recruiting and training terrorists and for planning and financing terrorist attacks, and one of its stated goals is to remove all Western influence from the Middle East. In 2006, just after the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, a video-taped statement made by Osama bin Laden was released in which he called the Global War on Terror “World War III.” While other attacks on U.S. soil since 2001 have been thwarted, Al Qaeda is believed to have executed many attacks worldwide, killing thousands of innocent people.