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History of Al-Qaeda leading to the greatest terrorist act in human history
The Looming Tower
Virtually everyone knows about September 11th but how many people truly know what led up to the events on that fateful day? With the benefit of over a decade of research we now understand what led to the actions of pilots and the Al-Qaeda leaders that led to that terrible event. In horrifying detail we have learned that there were dozens of times when US law enforcement could have stopped the events that took place if they had shared their intelligence with other agencies to put together a full picture. We can only hope that after this terrible event that we have all learned something to prevent it from happening again. This is the story that led to one of the largest terrorist events in human history.
Image Credit: Bangor Daily News
It all started with a war
With the rising of the cold war the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and set about to not only run the country but also slaughter or drive out the local population by the millions. Ultimately their goals have never been clear although it was speculated access to additional warm water ports and access to oil wealth. Since the Soviet Union, as a communist country, did not believe and in fact actively repressed religion this truly set the stage for a holy war between those that believed in religion and those that did not. Islam leaders from around the world called for volunteers and money from Muslims anywhere in the world to come and help fight this G-dless enemy. The United States, fearing the Soviet Union's expansion, was more than happy to send money and more importantly weapons to help the effort to fight the Soviet Union. Over the course of many years hundreds of Arab Islamic volunteers went through training camps and fought in the campaign although in most cases much less effectively and with less bravery than exhibited by Afghan fighters. When the Soviet Union was driven from Afghanistan, these fighters were usually not welcome back to their former countries as they were now considered trained, armed extremists. The region was now faced with a large number of highly motivated predominately young men with extreme religious leanings that firmly believed there was no better way to live then to die as a martyr. They missed their chance with the Soviet Union and yearned for their next opportunity.
Throughout history there are always men and women who are able to take advantage of a situation and pray on fear, anger as some of the basest emotions in humans. Osama bin Laden is one of those individuals that can be grouped with Hitler, Mussolini, even King Leopold from Belgium. He inherited a momentous fortune that his father created in the construction industry when the Middle East was just coming into its own with oil wealth. Bin Laden, who admits he never had much of a head for business started to get increasingly radical in his religious beliefs at a young age and sought an outlet. The war in Afghanistan provided him the opportunity to get involved in a cause and used his wealth to attract others to help fight in the war, in fact he paid for every volunteer to go through training and receive a monthly stipend. But he was also able to get his 'hands dirty' and help build a set of bunkers in the mountains and set up his own training camps along the Pakistan border. He began to lead small attacks on his own where many believe he began his life long obsession with violence as a means to achieve his goals.
"It is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated, to impose its laws on all nations, and to extend its power to the entire planet"
- Hasan al-Banna founder of Muslim Brothers extremists group
Osama was an enemy of Islam long before he was an enemy of America
After the fall of the Soviet Union, Osama believed fervently in an all-encompassing Islamic state following the religious text in all forms of civil law (otherwise known as Sharia law). He believed that there should be no other religion in the Arabian Peninsula besides Islam and was quite outspoken of any government that did not agree with him. His own country of Saudi Arabia, with its vast oil wealth and royal families ability to skim unbelievable amounts of those funds, was the first to come under his microscope. So vicious were his attacks that he was kicked out of the country and a country that owed a blood debt to his family revoked his citizenship. He moved to Sudan where he singlehandedly helped that country become known as a terrorist haven allowing radicalists like Bin Laden to openly create training camps, all in the hope that he would bring some of his vast wealth to their impoverished country. Unfortunately for them, besides earning the ire of western nations, once bin Laden lost his citizenship he also lost most of his wealth as well. Soon the cost of keeping him in the country far outweighed his benefits and even Sudan kicked him and his group of extremists fighters out as well.
Bin Laden finally settled back in the mountains of Afghanistan where his mission had all begun in many of the same bunkers he had made to battle the Soviet Union. With almost no money available to him, his group had to make do on the barest of diets and supplies. None of this deterred bin Laden who now directed his anger and wrath against the only remaining super power that had the ability to exert its will on the middle east, that was America.
"Islam says: Whatever good there is exists thanks to the sword and in the shadow of the sword! People cannot be made obedient except with the sword! The sword is the key to paradise, which can be opened only for holy warriors!"
-Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran
A young country with a young police force
Being cut off from some of the most populous areas in the world, the United States had a relatively easy history of terrorist free activity. While there have been attacks, it is nothing compared to what Europe and even Asia lived with for much of their history. As such the police forces in the United States had been lulled into a false sense of security with no real driving forces for strong anti-terrorism task forces. In fact, until the 1990s the United States had never even heard of al-Qaeda or several other principal participants in this burgeoning war. As early warning signs appeared including attacks on international US embassies, bombing at the World Trade Center, and the attack on the USS Cole the CIA, NSA and FBI truly refused to share information with each other. There was a fear in the intelligence community (NSA & CIA) that anything they shared with police agencies (FBI) would be revealed in open court and thus compromise their intelligent sources.
The result? NSA had wire taps on key suspected terrorists but refused to share transcripts with FBI, forcing the FBI to actually try to build their own wireless scanners to listen to the same phone conversations (they never got beyond hearing one side of the conversation). The CIA learned of a terrorist group where several members had US passports but failed to let the FBI know and thus allowed them back into the United States without any supervision. In fact when those same individuals started to attend flight schools and asked questions that got even their own instructors nervous prompting calls to the FBI, there was no files on the names and thus no flags were raised.
As it got closer to September 2011, every intelligence and police firm started to get more clues that something large might happen but their fear of other agencies prevented them from sharing what they were learning and thus the opportunity to prevent one of the greatest terrorist actions in US history failed to materialize.
"The murder of one innocent is as if he murdered all of mankind. He who kills a Muslim will find that his repayment is Hell, remaining in it timelessly forever."
What can we learn from this?
While I think this story more than almost any is rife with lessons to learn, there are two that jump out at me in particular. First, is the unbelievable power and destructive power of fear. There was a wonderful quote from Star Wars that "Fear leads to Anger, Anger leads to Hate, Hate leads to Suffering". This is remarkably accurate and has been seen throughout history. In this case the fear of different law enforcement agencies in the US that others might steal their sources or budgets might possibly have prevented them from foiling this terrorist tragedy. Fear drove many countries to supply weapons to the enemy of their enemies (the Mujahidin) even though they knew many of these fighters stood for ideals they knew they did not agree with. Thus, understanding the power that fear wields, perhaps this is the wake-up call we need to avoid taking what seems to be the easy solution when faced with a decision.
The second lesson I believe is that desperate, hopeless, and bored people have the potential to do terrible things. The view that "Idle hands are the devil's playground" rings true when you have countries with huge unemployment with their youth who then develop a sense of desperation. Without opportunities to live their own dream of career and family, they will seek out a sense of purpose anywhere they can find it, including dangerous and desperate places like terrorism. Thus when we hear of terrible unemployment and crashing economies in countries around the world, it is not simply a problem for that country but for everyone.
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Why does Islam hate America?
The most important answer to this is that Islam does not hate America, Jews or any other group. Extremist groups who say they represent the religion make claim to those values of hatred, but it is important for us all to know that it is themselves and not the religion that they speak for. This shared quite a bit of similarity with other religious group's extremists who preach hatred and violence. Just as the KKK does not speak for Christianity nor does the IRA speak for all Catholics.