Al-Qa’ida, the base in Arabic, first emerged in an embryonic form in 1988. Its core consisted of the Arab mujahedeen fighters who went to Afghanistan to oust the Soviets. It was established and led by the Saudi, Osama bin Laden. The mujahedeen gave their “bayat” (oath of allegiance) to bin Laden, the “emir” or leader. Al-Qa’ida wants to mobilize the “umma,” the Islamic community, in a struggle against its putative enemies. Since the mid-1990s, it has carried out numerous attacks in different countries, the most spectacular of course being September 11 in the United States. After all these years little is known of al-Qa’ida or of its now various offshoots. Interview by David Barsamian.
Abdel Bari Atwan is editor-in-chief of Al-Quds al-Arabi, the London-based Arabic daily newspaper. His articles and commentaries appear in The International Herald Tribune, Newsweek as well as leading British newspapers. He is one of the very few who has interviewed Osama bin Laden. He is the author of The Secret History of al-Qa’ida.