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20 years after the 9/11 attacks: Al Qaeda lost but jihad still ‘alive’

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(Christina Helmich, Assistant Professor of International Relations and West Asia Studies, University of Reading) Reading (UK), September 12 (The Conversation) The terrorist organization Al-Qaeda carried out the deadliest attack on American soil 20 years ago, which the world witnessed Is. Overnight, al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden became the world’s most notorious terrorist. Driven by ambitions for global hegemony of Islam and angered by America’s overseas presence and interference in the Middle East, it drew particularly attention to al-Qaeda’s campaign to break the notion of American hegemony and invincibility.

(Christina Helmich, Assistant Professor of International Relations and West Asia Studies, University of Reading) Reading (UK), Sep 12 (The Conversation) The terrorist organization Al-Qaeda carried out the deadliest attack on American soil 20 years ago, which the whole world is witnessing. Overnight, al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden became the world’s most notorious terrorist.

Driven by world-wide ambitions of Islam’s hegemony and angered by America’s overseas presence and interference in West Asia, it was a particularly striking event in Al-Qaeda’s campaign to break the notion of American hegemony and invincibility. Its ultimate aim was to bring back the Ummah, a community of all Muslims united by political power.

Al-Qaeda first appeared in the world of terrorism in 1998, when it simultaneously bombed US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224 people and injuring more than 4,000. In October 2000, al-Qaeda rammed a small boat loaded with explosives into the US ship USS Cole in Yemen’s port of Aden, killing 17 US Navy personnel.

They believed that after the 9/11 attacks, the US would withdraw its military forces from Muslim lands and end support for its autocratic rulers, allowing al-Qaeda to usher in a modern caliphate era.

Bin Laden said after the attack, “I have only a few words for America and its people. Before we can see security in Palestine as a reality and all infidel armies leave Mohammed’s land, neither America, nor the people living here, will feel safe.”

Bin Laden’s expectations proved to be a serious miscalculation. Instead of withdrawing military forces, then-US President George W. Bush swiftly declared a global “war on terror” and called on world leaders to join America in this.

The evolution of al-Qaeda

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The 9/11 attacks proved to be a short-lived victory for al-Qaeda. Within weeks of the fall of the Taliban regime, most of its leaders and fighters were imprisoned or killed. Those who managed to escape, including bin Laden, hid in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, an autonomous region bordering Afghanistan.

For ten years, bin Laden tried to revive al-Qaeda, but was unsuccessful, before being killed by US special forces on May 2, 2011.

The next phase (and arguably the biggest mistake) of the “war on terror” was the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The removal of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, who viewed jihadist activities with contempt, created a political vacuum, leading to the rise of al-Qaeda under the leadership of terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. After his death in a US bomb attack in June 2006, al-Qaeda in Iraq became the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) and eventually merged with the Islamic State (IS).

Following bin Laden’s 2011 death, senior members of al-Qaeda vowed to continue the global jihad that the world has seen since its worst attacks.

The US completed the withdrawal of its forces from Afghanistan on 30 August 2021, which was the end of America’s longest war. Less than a week later, the Taliban announced a new government and declared it an “Islamic Emirate”. Sirajuddin Haqqani, America’s “most wanted terrorist” is the new acting interior minister in this government.

Al-Qaeda may have been defeated by the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, but it is clear that the desire to revive the jihad and caliphate era is still alive.

The Conversation Neha Prashant

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