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A Global Terror Group Primer

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 14, 2002 – When President Bush says the United States will bring terrorists to justice, he isn't just talking about Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda network.

Bush has said America will go after terrorist groups with worldwide reaches. The tools used will change with the circumstances, he has said. In some cases that may mean military action and, in others, economic starvation, diplomatic moves or law enforcement actions.

Bin Laden and the Al Qaeda Network

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

President Bush last September said in regard to Osama bin Laden, "I want justice. There's an old poster out West, as I recall, that said, 'Wanted: Dead or Alive.'"

The U.S. government has not changed its stance.

U.S. officials say bin Laden's Al Qaeda is responsible for the attacks on New York's World Trade Center, the Pentagon and aboard a hijacked aircraft that crashed in Pennsylvania. If anyone had doubts about bin Laden's involvement, he himself removed them in a videotape U.S. forces found in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, in November 2001.

The tape shows bin Laden calmly discussing the attacks. "We had notification since the previous Thursday that the event would take place that day," he can be heard saying to a visiting sheik. At one point, he told his visitor that they had been trying to estimate the number of casualties that would result from the World Trade Center attacks.

"We calculated in advance ... ," bin Laden can be heard saying. "Due to my experience in this field, I was thinking that the fire from the gas in the plane would melt the iron structure of the building and collapse the area where the plane hit and all the floors above it only. This is all that we had hoped for."

The Sept. 11 attacks are just the latest attributed to the Al Qaeda, a network bin Laden established in 1988. The group also was responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, an assassination attempt on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 1995, the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 and the attack on the destroyer USS Cole in 2000.

Al Qaeda's avowed goal is to "unite all Muslims and establish a government which follows the rule of the Caliphs," according to a U.S. government fact sheet. Under the caliphs, the successors of Mohammed, Islam expanded from Arabia through Persia, the Middle East and North Africa.

Al Qaeda seeks to overthrow nearly all Muslim governments because bin Laden regards them as corrupted by the West. It also seeks the "liberation" of Islam's three holiest places -- Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia and Jerusalem.

According to published sources, "Al Qaeda" translates to "the Base." It is a loose coalition of groups with a total of about 3,000 members. The network has a global reach, with cells in more than 30 countries -- including the United States, as the events of Sept. 11 indicated.

Bin Laden was born around 1955 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He left home in 1979 to fight against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. In the mid-1980s he co-founded the Maktab-al-Khidamat, or "Services Office," to funnel money and fighters to Afghanistan. Egyptians, Lebanese, Turks and others, numbering thousands in bin Laden's estimate, joined the Afghan Muslims in ousting the Soviets.

After the Soviets withdrew in 1989, bin Laden turned his attention to the United States and its Middle East allies. He also worked against the Saudi royal family and for that was expelled from Saudi Arabia in 1991.

Bin Laden took refuge in Sudan and continued his efforts against the United States and its allies. Sudan expelled him in 1996 due to threats of U.N. sanctions for bin Laden's complicity in the attempt on Mubarak's life. Praising the 1996 terrorist attack on the U.S. Air Force barracks in Khobar Towers, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, he promised more attacks on Americans.

In February 1998, he created a new terrorist alliance, the International Islamic Front for Jihad Against the Jews and Crusaders. Parts of that group are the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the Harakat ul-Ansar, according to a U.S. government release. He's also suspected of helping to set up Islamic training centers to prepare soldiers to fight in Chechnya and other parts of the former Soviet Union.

(This updates an American Forces Press Service article published Sept. 21, 2001.)

Here is a short list of terror groups that threaten America, its allies and friends, based on U.S. State Department data:

  • Abu Nidal: Aliases include Fatah Revolutionary Council, Arab Revolutionary Brigades, Revolutionary Organization of Socialist Muslims and Black September. Split from the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1974, it since has launched terror attacks in more than 20 nations and killed or wounded more than 900 people. U.S. officials estimate membership at a few hundred. Abu Nidal is based in Iraq and sponsored by Iraq and Libya. Syria ended support in 1987.

  • Abu Sayyaf: Affiliated with Al Qaeda, it is the most radical Islamic separatist group in the southern Philippines. The group, led by Khadafi Janjalani, is under attack by the Philippine army and police. It engages in bombings, assassination, kidnapping and extortion. U.S. officials believe it has about 200 hardcore fighters.

  • Armed Islamic Group: Seeks to replace the secular Algerian government with an Islamic state. Began violent activities in 1992 after the government voided the victory of the Islamic Salvation Front, Algeria's largest Islamic opposition party. The terror campaign has included wiping out villages and murdering more than 100 foreigners living in Algeria, mostly Europeans. The Salafi Group for Call and Combat is a splinter faction active since 1998. Group strengths are unknown. Sympathizers and members living abroad provide money and logistical support. Algeria alleges state sponsors include Iran and Sudan.

  • Aum Supreme Truth: Also known as Aum Shinri-kyo, the group gained infamy for loosing sarin nerve agent in the Tokyo subway system, killing 12 people and injuring up to 6,000. Established in 1987, the Aum aimed to take over Japan, then the world. It adopted a view that the United States would initiate Armageddon by starting World War III with Japan. Control changed hands in 2000, and under Fumihiro Joyu the Aum changed its name to Aleph and now claims to reject the teachings of its founder. Membership is 1,500 to 2,000.

  • Basque Fatherland and Liberty: Known by its Basque initials, ETA, the group was founded in 1959 with the aim of establishing an independent, Marxist homeland in the border area between Spain and France. The group has killed more than 800 people and targets primarily Spanish officials. It finances activities through kidnapping, robbery and extortion. Estimated membership is in the hundreds.

  • HAMAS: Also called the Islamic Resistance Movement, this group formed in late 1987 from the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. It has a political arm, but includes terrorism in pursuit of an Islamic Palestinian state in place of Israel. HAMAS works through mosques and social service institutions to recruit, raise money, organize activities and distribute propaganda. Activists have attacked many Israeli civilians and soldiers. Officials estimate it has tens of thousands of supporters and sympathizers. It receives funds from Palestinian expatriates, Iran, and benefactors in moderate Arab states, Europe and North America.

  • Hezbollah: Its many aliases include Islamic Jihad, Revolutionary Justice Organization, Organization of the Oppressed on Earth, and Islamic Jihad for the Liberation of Palestine. This radical Shiite Muslim group is dedicated to increasing its political power in Lebanon and opposing Israel and the Middle East peace process. Hezbollah took part in the suicide truck bombing of the U.S. Embassy and U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in October 1983. It has only a few hundred terrorist operatives, but thousands of supporters. It's based in Lebanon, but has cells worldwide. State sponsors include Iran and Syria.

  • Al-Jihad: This Egyptian group seeks an Islamic state in Egypt and attacks U.S. and Israeli interests in Egypt and abroad. The original Al-Jihad was responsible for the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. Several hundred hard-core members operate in Cairo, but the group's network outside Egypt includes Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sudan, Lebanon and the United Kingdom. Egypt claims Iran and Osama bin Laden support the Jihad.

  • Kach and Kahane Chai: Israeli terrorists whose goal is to restore the biblical state of Israel. Radical Israeli American Rabbi Meir Kahane founded Kach. Kahane Chai, or "Kahane Lives," was founded by Binyamin Kahane following his father's assassination in New York in 1990. Both were declared terrorist groups by Israel in March 1994. The younger Kahane and his wife were murdered in a drive-by shooting in Israel on Dec. 31, 2000. The Kahanes' groups protest against the Israeli government and harass and threaten Palestinians in Hebron and the West Bank. They receive support from sympathizers in the United States and Europe; their numbers are unknown.

  • Kurdistan Workers' Party: Founded in 1974 as a Marxist- Leninist insurgent group, the party is primarily composed of Turkish Kurds bent on forming an independent Kurdish state in southeastern Turkey. Turkish authorities captured Chairman Abdullah Ocalan in 1999, tried him and sentenced him to death. Ocalan announced a "peace initiative" in August 1999, ordering members to refrain from violence and to withdraw from Turkey and requesting dialogue with Ankara on Kurdish issues. Members supported the initiative and claim to use only political means to achieve a new goal of improving rights Turkish Kurds. There are 4,000 to 5,000 supporters, most in northern Iraq, and thousands of sympathizers in Turkey and Europe. Syria, Iraq and Iran have harbored party members and offered limited funds.

  • Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam: Founded in 1976, it is the most powerful Tamil group in Sri Lanka. It uses overt and illegal methods to obtain funds and weapons and to publicize its cause of establishing an independent Tamil state. It began attacks on the Sri Lankan government in 1983 and relies on a guerrilla strategy that includes terrorism. One group, the Black Tigers, carries out suicide bombings and assassinations. Estimated to have 8,000 to 10,000 combatants in Sri Lanka, the Tigers control most of the northern and eastern coastal areas of Sri Lanka.

  • Mujahedin-e-Khalq Organization: Known as MEK or MKO, this Iranian Marxist-Islamic group formed in the 1960s to counter "excessive Western influence" in the shah's regime. It is the largest, most active armed Iranian dissident group. While the West has been its historical bane, the group has shifted its aim to Iran's clerical regime. Based in Iraq, the group receives funds from Saddam Hussein.

  • The National Liberation Army: Based in Colombia, this Marxist insurgent group formed in 1965 and is currently in a dialogue with the Colombian government. The group's 3,000 to 6,000 armed combatants engage in kidnapping, hijackings, bombings, extortion and guerrilla war. Its strength lies mostly in rural and mountainous areas of north, northeast and southwest Colombia.

  • Palestine Islamic Jihad: Originating among militant Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in the 1970s, PIJ is one of many groups seeking the creation of an Islamic Palestinian state and the destruction of Israel. U.S. support of Israel makes America a target. The group also opposes moderate Arab governments "tainted by Western secularism." Its strength is unknown, but it has many sympathizers in Palestine and Israel. Based in Syria, it receives money from Iran and limited logistics aid from Syria.

  • Palestine Liberation Front: Started as a breakaway from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command in 1973, but later split into pro-PLO, pro-Syrian and pro-Libyan factions. The pro-PLO group, led by Muhammad Abbas, alias Abu Abbas, is known for air attacks against Israel and the 1985 attack on the cruise ship Achille Lauro. The faction is based in Iraq, which supports it.

  • Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine: A Marxist- Leninist group founded in 1967 by George Habash, it committed numerous international terrorist attacks during the 1970s. Since 1978, it has attacked Israeli and moderate Arab targets. With 800 hardliners, the group operates in Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the occupied territories. Syria shelters the group and provides some money.

  • Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command violently opposes Yasser Arafat's PLO. Closely tied to Syria and Iran, its focus is on guerrilla operations in southern Lebanon and small-scale attacks in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Its several hundred members are based in Syria and receive funds from Iran.

  • Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia: Established in 1964 by the Colombian Communist Party, FARC is Colombia's oldest, largest, most capable and best-equipped Marxist insurgency. It operates with impunity in many areas of the country. It engages in bombings, murder, kidnapping, extortion, hijacking, and guerrilla and conventional war against Colombian political, military and economic targets. There are 9,000 to 12,000 armed members and an unknown number of supporters, mostly in rural areas. Cuba provides some medical care and political consultation.

  • Revolutionary Organization 17 November: A Greek radical leftist group established in 1975, it is named for the 1973 student uprising that protested Greece's military regime. It is against its government, the United States, Turkey and the European Union. It wants Greece out of the EU and NATO and the Turkish military out of Cyprus. Responsible for killing U.S. officials and Greek public figures, its most recent victim was the British defense attach in June 2000.

  • Turkish Revolutionary People's Liberation Party/Front: Also called Dev Sol, this Marxist group formed in 1978 is virulently anti-American and anti-NATO. It finances activities through robbery and extortion. The Turks crippled Dev Sol in a series of attacks. Size is unknown.

  • Sendero Luminoso: The Shining Path terror group of Peru is based on founder Abimael Guzman's belief in militant Maoist doctrine. Some 30,000 persons have died since Shining Path took up arms in 1980. Its stated goal is to replace Peruvian institutions with a communist peasant revolutionary regime. Peruvian counterterrorist operations, arrests and desertions in recent years have reduced membership to an estimated 100 to 200 armed militants.

  • Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement: A Peruvian group formed in 1983 that aims to establish a Marxist regime. The group's ability to operate has been sharply reduced by Peru's counterterrorism program, the imprisonment or deaths of senior leaders, infighting, and the loss of leftist support. In December 1996, the group seized the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima and held 72 hostages for four months. Peruvian forces stormed the residence in April 1997, rescued all but one remaining hostage and killed all 14 terrorists. The group now seems more interested in the release of jailed members than on terror operations. Officials estimate it has no more than 100 members.
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