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Revisiting the Early Al Qaeda: An Updated Account of its Formative Years

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Ten years after 9/11, and after the death of Osama bin Laden, this article re-examines the early history of Al Qaeda—from its founding in August 1988 up until bin Laden's declaration of war against the United States in Afghanistan in 1996—by examining the group's aims, operations, alliances, finances, and administration during five distinct phases of the evolution of bin Laden's worldview. The authors argue that in assessing the formative years of bin Laden's organization, it is equally wrong to minimize the ambitions and organization of the early Al Qaeda as it is to telescope back from the Al Qaeda of the 9/11 attacks to argue that the group was organizing itself to wage¬†a global Jihad from its inception. The authors outline how it was only a half decade later—after the group had decamped to Sudan, and after the U.S. had deployed troops in Saudi Arabia and Somalia—that al Qaeda shifted to conceiving its central mission as attacking American targets.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: National Security Studies Program New America Foundation, WashingtonDC, USA 2: The Center on Law and Security NYU School of Law, New YorkNY, USA

Publication date: January 1, 2012

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