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Thursday, October 29, 2009

More Documentation of Al Qaeda's Origin

Earlier this year, I posted some material about the date of Al Qaeda's founding, and a corollary issue, the earliest date of a U.S. government document that mentions the name of Al Qaeda.

The document question stems from an assertion by the House and Senate Select Intelligence Committees Joint Inquiry Into September 11 that the earliest reference they could find mentioning Al Qaeda by name was late 1996 (see Report Of The Joint Inquiry, page 745).

Although the original document has not been released to the public, we know from a reference in a later document that the FBI was told the name Al Qaeda in 1993 by Ali Mohamed, a former U.S. Special Forces sergeant who had infiltrated the U.S. on behalf of Al Qaeda.

Here's a another interesting example, a State Department cable dated Feb. 2, 1994, detailing a published interview with Talaat Fouad Qasem (aka Talaat Fouad Qassem, Abu Talal Al-Qasem and Abu Talal al-Qasimy), an extremely important leader of the Islamic Group. This document is full of interesting (and possibly fanciful) claims, but here's one of the highlights:

Some of the group of Dr. Ayman Al-Zawahry went to Saudi Arabia, and he went to Peshawar. In the beginning, they were called 'The Accused In The Jihad Organization Case.' When they got acquainted with Osama Ben Laden, a wealthy Saudi who believes in the principle of Jihad, he trusted them, and they jointly started to establish the 'Base,' a guest house for those desiring to participate in the Afghan Jihad. Ever since, they named themselves The Jihad Group ("Gama'at Al-Jihad").

"The Base" is, of course, the English translation of "Al Qaeda." Given that the "Base" is referenced in quote marks in two different places in this cable, it's safe to assume the translator realized it was supposed to be a name -- but neglected to provide the original Arabic as he or she did for "The Jihad Group" just one sentence later.

At any rate, this is an interesting document both for its early reference to Al Qaeda (firmly situating it with the known terrorist group Al Jihad) and for its confirmation of other documents placing the founding of Al Qaeda as roughly concurrent to the waning years of the Afghan Jihad.

Perhaps more significantly, it also corroborates other intelligence that specifies the importance of Ayman Al-Zawahiri to Al Qaeda from day one. Qasem here indicates Zawahiri is an equal co-founder of Al Qaeda. Although many sources refer to a 1998 "official" announcement as the date of the merger between Egyptian Islamic Jihad and Al Qaeda, it's quite clear from a wide variety of sources that the two organizations were joined at the hip from Al Qaeda's earliest days.



Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.



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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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