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News, documents and analysis on violent extremism


Tuesday, February 24, 2009
 

Date of Al Qaeda's Founding

Rob at Arabic Media Shack recently posted an item to the effect that Al Qaeda wasn't founded until February 1998 and offers as evidence of this assertion the fact that Osama bin Laden never mentioned it publicly until then.

I disagree. First, because absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. And second, because there is no real absence of evidence.

What bin Laden said in public has no particular bearing to whether the group existed or not, especially when there is a wealth of documentary evidence to show that it did. Terrorism is sometimes carried out by overt and well-known groups, but sometimes it's a secret enterprise.

First off, we have the actual minutes of Al Qaeda's founding (in both English and low-quality photocopies), including a preliminary discussion in August 1988 and the first official meeting in September 1988:

8/11/1988 to 9/10/1988 -- Minutes of Al Qaeda founding

These documents were seized by authorities in Bosnia who were searching the offices of an Al Qaeda-linked charity. The documents were provided to INTELWIRE by Motley Rice, the law firm representing the victims of 9/11.

I have reviewed hundreds of additional pages covering Al Qaeda's activities between 1988 and 1992, but these two are sufficient, I think, to show the organization existing under the name "Al Qaeda."

The account contained in these documents was separately confirmed to Lawrence Wright in "The Looming Tower" by the author of these documents, Mohamed Loay Bayazid, one of Al Qaeda's founders.

In addition to the documents and the corroborating testimony by Bayazid, two Al Qaeda informants testified to the same approximate dates during U.S. v. Bin Laden, which is required reading for anyone interested in Al Qaeda's history.

So that's three direct witnesses, plus corroborating documents -- and the two posted here are just the tip of a large iceberg of contemporaneous documents using the name Al Qaeda.

There's no real motivation for any of these witnesses to lie about this particular detail. The date of Al Qaeda's founding isn't pertinent to the charges in U.S. v. Bin Laden, and I see no reason why Bayazid would have lied about this particular item in talking to Wright.

I am not aware of any credibly documented and sourced narrative to suggest any other date. So this material, in addition to being very convincing on the face of it, is not refuted by comparable material.

In addition to these well-known accounts, I've been working on a quixotic quest for some time to figure out when the name "Al Qaeda" first appeared in a U.S. intelligence document. The earliest document discovered by the 9/11 Commission containing the name "Al Qaeda" was 1996. However, in 1992, Ali Mohamed told the FBI that Osama bin Laden was running an organization called "Al Qaeda" (source).

Mohamed's account is the earliest reference I can document. Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA's bin Laden unit, told me in an interview that the CIA first learned the name "Al Kaida" in early 1993, so that came after.

However there might be earlier references still. A former U.S. military officer, who asked not to be identified, told me he had heard the name in Afghanistan in 1991. It's not clear if there is any paperwork to back that claim up, but I have no reason to doubt the source's account.

U.S. v. Bin Laden -- Complete Transcripts

  • Transcript Of Sentencing Hearing [PDF]
  • Khalfan Khamis Mohamed Death Phase Closing Arguments- 07/02/2001 [PDF]
  • Khalfan Khamis Mohamed Death Penalty Phase Opening Arguments [PDF] - 06/19/2001
  • al-'Owhali Death Phase Closing Arguments - 06/05/2001 [PDF]
  • Verdict Form - Part 1 [PDF]
  • Verdict Form - Part 2 [PDF]
  • Superseding Indictment - Part 1 [PDF]
  • Superseding Indictment - Part 2 [PDF]
  • Superseding Indictment - Part 3 [PDF]
  • CNN interview with Osama bin Laden - 02/21/2001 [PDF]
  • Trial Transcript - 05/31/2001 [PDF]
  • Trial Transcript - 05/08/2001 [PDF]
  • Trial Transcript - 05/07/2001 [PDF]
  • Trial Transcript - 05/03/2001 [PDF]
  • Trial Transcript - 05/02/2001 [PDF]
  • Trial Transcript - 05/01/2001 [PDF]
  • Trial Transcript - 04/23/2001 [PDF]
  • Trial Transcript - 03/19/2001 [PDF]
  • Trial Transcript - 03/07/2001 [PDF]
  • Trial Transcript - 02/27/01-02/28/01 [PDF]
  • Trial Transcript - 02/28/2001 [PDF]
  • Trial Transcript - 02/27/2001 [PDF]
  • Trial Transcript - 02/14/2001 [PDF]
  • Trial Transcript - 02/07/2001 [PDF]
  • Trial Transcript - 02/06/2001 [PDF]
  • Trial Transcript - 02/05/2001 [PDF]
  • Indictment [PDF]
  • Jury Questionnaire [PDF]
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    INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.

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