Al-Qaeda ("The Base") is a conglomerate of groups spread throughout the world operating as a network. It has a global reach, with a presence both on its own and through some of the terrorist organizations that operated under its umbrella, including Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which was led by Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Operation Cyclone was the code name for the United States Central Intelligence Agency program to arm and finance the Afghan mujahideen between 1979 and 1989.
Operation Cyclone was one of the longest and most expensive covert CIA operations ever undertaken; funding began with $20–30 million per year in 1980 and rose to $630 million per year in 1987.
Funding continued after 1989 as the Mujahideen battled the forces of Mohammad Najibullah's PDPA during the Civil war in Afghanistan (1989–1992).
The Maktab al-Khidamat, also known as the Afghan Services Bureau, was founded in 1984 by Abdullah Azzam and Osama bin Laden to raise funds and recruit foreign mujahidin for the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. MAK became the forerunner to al-Qaeda and was instrumental in creating the fundraising and recruitment network that benefited al-Qaeda during the 1990s.
MAK maintained a close liaison with Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency through which the CIA and the intelligence agency of Saudi Arabia Al Mukhabarat Al A'amah funneled money to Afghan Mujaheddin.
On November 24, 1989, Azzam was killed by the detonation of 3 mines, by unknown assassins. Following Azzam's death, bin Laden assumed control of MAK and the organization became absorbed into al-Qaeda.
MAK established recruitment and fundraising offices in many Western countries, the United States being one of their main fund-raising destinations. The first offices in the United States were established within the Al Kifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn, and at the Islamic Center in Tucson, Arizona. On his fundraising tours Sheikh Abdullah Azzam visited the mosques of "Brooklyn, St. Louis, Kansas City, Seattle, Sacramento, Los Angeles, and San Diego - altogether there were 33 cities in America that opened branches of bin Laden and Azzam's organization, the Services Bureau, in order to support the jihad."
The Al Kifah Centre in Brooklyn was originally operated by Mustafa Shalabi, a close associate of MAK’s co-founder Abdullah Azzam. In February 1991, Shalabi was found murdered inside his New York apartment.
Toward the end of the Soviet military mission in Afghanistan, some mujahideen wanted to expand their operations to include Islamist struggles in other parts of the world, such as Israel and Kashmir. A number of overlapping and interrelated organizations were formed, to further those aspirations.
One of these was the organization that would eventually be called al-Qaeda, formed by bin Laden with an initial meeting held on August 11, 1988.
Bin Ladin said: "The name al Qaeda was established a long time ago by mere chance. The late Abu Ebeida El-Banashiri established the training camps for our mujahedeen against Russia's terrorism. We used to call the training camp al Qaeda. And the name stayed." - interview between Tayseer Alouni and Osama Bin Laden, October 2001
From around 1992 to 1996, al-Qaeda and bin Laden based themselves in Sudan at the invitation of Islamist theoretician Hassan al-Turabi. The move followed an Islamist coup d'état in Sudan, led by Colonel Omar al-Bashir, who professed a commitment to reordering Muslim political values. Hassan al-Turabi was very active in building an Islamic International or disparate rebel groups at this time. It appears the Sudanese government was acting as a protectorate for Egyptian Islamic Jihad, allowing their training camps in the north of the country. EIJ agents also had a close on-going relationship with Osama bin Laden from at least 1990 onwards and helped to construct the Al Qaeda network as well as taking a direct role in planning the attacks.
In 1996, al-Qaeda announced its jihad to expel foreign troops and interests from what they considered Islamic lands. Bin Laden issued a fatwa, which amounted to a public declaration of war against the U.S. and its allies.
On February 23, 1998, bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, a leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, along with three other Islamist leaders, co-signed and issued a fatwa calling on Muslims to kill Americans and their allies where they can, when they can, under the banner of the World Islamic Front for Combat Against the Jews and Crusaders.
In December 1998, the Director of Central Intelligence Counterterrorist Center reported to the president that al-Qaeda was preparing for attacks in the USA, including the training of personnel to hijack aircraft.
Al Qaida was established in August 1988 in Peshawar, Pakistan by bin Ladin and some fourteen other Arabs following a bitter dispute with Abdullah Azzam,the leading Arab figure in the anti-Soviet jihad.
Yet there are stunningly few referencesto al Qaida in the open-source literature during its first decade; this author (Mylroie), searching several major data bases, could find just five mentions of the organization.
The same is true of the classified material. As the 9/11 Commission explains, “While we now know that al Qaida was formed in 1988, at the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the Intelligence Community did not describe this organization, at least in documents we have seen, until 1999.
Bin Ladin is not indicted for any major terrorist assault on the United States prior to the embassy bombings of August 1998.
U.S. officials were unaware until well after the 9/11 strikes that KSM was a member of al Qaida.
In August 1998, the Intelligence Community obtained information that a group of unidentified Arabs planned to fly an explosive-laden plane from a foreign country into the World Trade Center. The information was passed to the FBI and the FAA. The latter found the plot to be highly unlikely. The FBI’s New York office took no action on the information.