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What Is Al-Qaeda?

Remember that Ryder truck that was crammed with canisters of compressed hydrogen and a few nice long fuses and driven into the World Trade Center’s underground parking structure and blown up last year?

by Johnny Ryan
Oct 1 2009, 12:00am

by vice staff
illustration by johnny ryan


Remember that Ryder truck that was crammed with canisters of compressed hydrogen and a few nice long fuses and driven into the World Trade Center’s underground parking structure and blown up last year? It blasted a hole through four levels of concrete sub-basement. Some experts say that if it were a few feet closer to an essential support column, it could have brought both towers down.

Can you imagine the carnage? Can you even begin to start to go down the trail of comprehending what it would be like if the Twin Towers were to collapse? We lost six unfortunate civilians in last year’s attack, and even that felt insane. If the towers were to actually fall we just might have to join the Marines ourselves. Not that they would have us.

“So,” you might be asking, ”who is the sick fuck who did this, and where do he and his buddies come from? Because I am about to go find them and break their terrorist necks like Van Damme in Timecop, which by the way is one of the best movies of this year!” Well, I hope your passport is up–to-date and you have all your shots, because you’re about to go to Afghanistan, my friend. Ramzi Yousef, the man who lit the fuses on the van bomb, is a Kuwaiti national who is a member of the latest terrorist organization you’ve never heard of (till now). They are called al-Qaeda, they seem to live in the rocky barrens of Afghanistan, and they are not going anywhere soon.

Al-Qaeda (Arabic for “The Base”) have their roots in the Afghani guerrilla war against the Soviet Union’s occupying forces throughout the 80s. Along with a bunch of other splinter fundamentalist Islamic groups, al-Qaeda fought—often using CIA-supplied weaponry—to drive out the various Vladimirs running around the land of the Pashtun. Al-Qaeda’s leader, however, has a slightly different lineage than your usual Muslim holy warlord. Osama bin Laden is the rich-kid scion of a powerful Saudi Arabian family. In fact, some members of his very large family are pals with some of the important white Christians who used to control the American government in Washington, DC. Luckily for us, they ain’t pals of William Jefferson Clinton.

Once the Soviets fled Afghanistan, totally defeated, the various fundamentalists who had been united in fighting them, rather than saying, “Hey, we won!” and having some nice date cakes and tea and relaxing awhile, began brutally infighting for control of the country. In the meantime, Osama and his crew extended their holy war to include battling all acts of Western dabbling and expansionism in Islamic countries. That’s where we stand right now—facing a hornets’ nest with a six-foot-something King Bee outside it (Osama is really tall), saying, “Do not disturb.” But considering that the US has been incapable of keeping its nose out of Middle Eastern business for the past half century, further brutal action from al-Qaeda is really a matter of “when,” not “if.” Soon enough, these fuckers are coming for us again. Subway bombings? Chemical attacks? Poisoned water supplies? It’s all fair game. The one thing that seems certain is that they won’t have the stones to attack the WTC again. That might be the one safe place in New York City at this point.

So while they are at this exact moment nowhere near as scary as the IRA, Hezbollah, or the Red Army Faction, this could be a breakout year for the eager young cell known as al-Qaeda. Think 1994 Rookie of the Year with future MVP potential. Here’s a little 101, primer, easy-reference-guide sort of a thing where you are asking us questions and we are answering them for you. Hold still while we shove our hand up your ass, you little puppet you.

You: So tell me again, who are these guys?
You can call them al-Qa’ida, el-Qaida, al-Qaeda, or al Qaida. In spoken Arabic, it has four syllables. Kind of like “Al-Kai-Eee-Da.” It really doesn’t matter because you can’t accurately put the Arabic name into the Western alphabet. Bin Laden says it’s what they used to call their camp back in the good old days; as their camp grew and became, like, a state of mind, so did the name. NATO and the UN consider them an Islamic terrorist group. Bin Laden, formerly of the Maktab al-Khidamat mujahideen, honed his terror talents against Russkies in Afghanistan. Now he and a bunch of underlings are on a recruitment drive to beef up the ranks and prepare to slaughter the West and its immoral ways.

You: Hang on a minute—doesn’t Islam teach the faithful to love Allah and one’s neighbor?
Al-Qaeda justify everything through the Koran and cite historical precedents for blowing shit up. Cofounder Mamdouh Mahmud Salim has pointed to the teachings of Ibn Taymiyyah, a 13th-century scholar, to justify the jihad his organization wages on the West. Taymiyyah asserted that Muslims were justified in killing the Mongols who invaded their lands and endangered the Muslim state. Salim simply switched out the word Mongols for imperialist infidels from the West—voilà, jihad justification. He also said it was fine to kill anyone who helped, sheltered, or tolerated infidels. And if an innocent Muslim bystander is killed in the process of taking on the Great Satan, that’s OK as well, because paradise awaits him or her.

This is what distinguishes al-Qaeda from your average radical Islamist group that focuses on more abstract religious theory. Al-Qaeda, since their inception, have focused solely on preventing the West from plundering Muslim land.

You: They almost sound kind of awesome, like that cool guy Che Guevara. What are they up to right now?
Slow down there, chief. Che was a fucking idiot. But that’s a story for another day. What’s important is for you to know that al-Qaeda, like skipping school, are not cool. The best bet right now is that they are in Sudan coordinating new terrorist activity and mixing with the Egyptian Islamic Jihad group. See, bin Laden offered his native Saudi Arabia help in fighting Iraq during the Gulf War, but King Fahd refused him and opted instead for a few thousand US soldiers. This made Osama very angry, and he threw a beard-rattling tantrum where he bitched out loud about how Saudi foreign policy is shit. This got back to his really powerful, really rich family, who promptly disowned him and cut off his annual allowance of $7 million.

You: This Osama guy sounds like a fucking asshole.
Pretty much. The only good part is that since he’s a horse-riding rogue hiding out in the middle of nowhere, he can never sue us for slander. Here, watch this: “Osama bin Laden sucks his dad’s dick while his mom fucks him in the butt with a big black strap-on and a thousand virgins pee on his head from heaven and he drinks the virgin pee and then spits it in his stupid whore daughter’s face.” How about that? Total lawsuit-free libel and slander!

You: Um, OK. But tell me, what have al-Qaeda done so far?
Someone didn’t read the intro. Most notably, there was the 1993 truck bomb that killed six innocent people and destroyed the underground parking lot of the World Trade Center. Prior to that attack, al-Qaeda bombed a couple of hotels in Aden, Yemen, where they thought American soldiers were stationed on their way to Somalia. They chose the wrong hotel and two more innocent people were killed.

Compared with committed groups like the IRA, which shut down the whole of Heathrow Airport in March with a full-blown mortar attack although they are supposedly moving toward peace, it sometimes seems like these guys aren’t taking their holy war very seriously.

You: What is al-Qaeda’s favorite way to kill people?
Bombs, of course! Bombs in cars, mostly, but rumor has it that they are also interested in aviation. Who can really say? These guys keep more secrets than a lesbian nun. In any case, to date al-Qaeda have been using explosives as their primary means of exerting terror over their oppressors. They are also not too fussed about dying, which makes them a nightmare to deal with. While we in the West spend years and billions of dollars creating armored vehicles to protect our soldiers and citizens, your average al-Qaeda recruit is fearless, answers to a higher calling, and will happily walk into your office wearing a hand-grenade necklace.

You: What about the story that Uncle Sam trained and funded these guys?
Well, it’s true. The current crop of al-Qaeda operatives learned the ropes from the CIA, which pumped money into the mujahideen fighting forces in Afghanistan throughout the 1980s via a covert program called Operation Cyclone. Cyclone supplied the mujahideen with cash, arms, and training so they could keep the cold war nice and frosty. The whole thing was done hush-hush by filtering cash and weapons through the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence, which is said to have trained 100,000 Arab mujahideen in the fine art of insurgency. Some of these were the troops of prominent Afghan resistance leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who just happens to be old killing buddies with Osama bin Laden.

You: So basically the CIA is reaping what it has sown.
Basically. Cyclone was no chump-change operation either. By 1987, the CIA—and by extension us taxpaying American mutts—was spending around $630 million a year on funding mujahideen operations in Afghanistan, as well as supplying handy death machines like Stinger missiles and F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan. It is one of most expensive and longest-running covert operations in Central Intelligence Agency history. So never forget that it was actually all of us who underwrote the truck-bomb attack on the World Trade Center last year.

You: Let’s say I’m retarded and I want to sign up. How do I join? How likely am I to ever actually meet an al-Qaeda operative?
Simply dressing up like a smelly hippie firebug and making a pilgrimage to the Middle East isn’t going to cut it. They go for the truly fanatical, so you’d best brush up on anti-everything rhetoric before making any moves.

But if you live in New York, it’s more likely you’ll run into a member than you might think. Al-Qaeda have a taste for the Big Apple and have been using New York as a recruiting ground from as far back as 1986, when bin Laden’s old outfit utilized the Al Kifah Refugee Center and al-Farouq Mosque in Brooklyn to tempt young Muslims down the road to jihad. Go hang around those places and look like you hate America and maybe something will happen. You’d better hop to it, though: Chances are, with their increased visibility, al-Qaeda are going to be sliding up the American government’s hate list fast.

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