continuing my notes from Jason Burke’s “Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror” . . . .
1993 New York World Trade Center bombing
Ahmed Ajaj was detained for this attack and in his bag was a manual titled “Al Qaeda”. American investigators translated this (correctly) as “the basic rules”. It was not a group.
American intelligence reports in the 1990’s do not use the term “al Qaeda” in any of their reports about Middle Eastern extremists. After the 1993 NY bombing FBI investigators knew of bin Laden but only “as one name among thousands”.
During the 1995 trials of the WTC bombers bin Laden was mentioned by prosecutors once, but al-Qaeda was not ever mentioned at all.
1997/8 CIA and State Dept memos
al-Qaeda is mentioned only once and only in passing as “an operational hub, predominantly for like-minded Sunni extemists”.
1996 bin Laden returns to Afghanistan
With 50 to 100 experienced militants bin Laden was able to build his first real terrorist group. But it was far from being “a coherent and structured terrorist organisation with cells everywhere.” (p.11)
1998, FBI “creates” the al Qaeda terrorist organization
In August 1998 bin Laden was implicated in the double bombings of American East African embassies. Clinton retaliated by bombing “the network of radical groups affiliated with and funded by Usama bin Laden, perhaps the pre-eminent organizer and financier of international terrorism in the world today.” (p.11)
FBI sought to prosecute bin Laden, but the relevant laws were designed to deal with tightly organized and structured criminal gangs to which membership was clear cut. Bin Laden was part of a loose network or politico-religious movement where reponsibility for any single act is difficult to pin down. But if bin Laden could be made the member of a structured organization he could be more successfully prosecuted. It is from this time on that FBI documents now speak of a tightly organized al Qaeda organization to which members must swear an oath of allegiance. This completely misrepresented the actual situation but was legally convenient for a prosecution to succeed.