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Terrorism, the evolution of Isis and Al Qaeda: from Somalia to Afghanistan

Isis and Al Qaeda are two sides of the same coin, minted at different times but with a common goal: to recreate the Caliphate abolished by Ataturk. This represents not only a concrete danger for global security, but also risks triggering a war of religion with uncertain outcomes

The terrorism of Isis and Al Qaeda and its possible developments. This is the title of a study, now in its third part, carried out by the group “Indomitables,” which traces the history of the two formations and the phenomena that led to their rise and fall, as well as the “rebirth of the Phoenix”. A new formation, which builds on the peculiarities of each of the two sides of the same coin: leadership, operational and logistical skills, and technology. This in order to recreate with every means, violent in the first place, the Caliphate abolished by Ataturk. The analysis, divided into chapters, intends to be a useful tool to understand the new terrorist form and to look for suitable instruments to contain and/or mediate the disruptive dynamics of Jihadism, covering various geopolitical areas and historical periods. Such developments represent a concrete danger for global security, in the West and elsewhere, and could unleash – as recently happened in New Zealand and Italy – a full-fledged religious war with uncertain outcomes, and potential chain reactions leading to a spiral of violence of uncontrollable magnitude and difficult containment.

The fall of Siad Barre in Somalia brings out Ali Mahdi Mohamed and Mohamed Farrah Aidid

At the beginning of the 1990s, after the collapse of the Siad Barre regime in Somalia, the country was hit by violent unrest because of the complex tribal rivalries of the population, already facing economic instability and underdevelopment. The state of degradation and endemic poverty was exacerbated by the famine, plunging the country into complete chaos in November 1992. The pictures of malnourished and hungry people, especially children, drove Washington to send a significant military contingent for a humanitarian mission – Operation Restore Hope – under the auspices of the UN. In the face of this decision, the two major factions fighting for political domination of Somalia – one led by Ali Mahdi Mohamed and the other by Mohamed Farrah Aidid – took further opposing positions. The former, President of the African country from January 1991 to January 1997, was a member of the United Somali Congress and the main representative of the Abgaal, a sub-clan of the Hawiye, one of the five major Somali clans. The latter, warlord of the Habar Gidir, also a sub-clan of the Hawiye, was suspected, like his main antagonist, of dealing in arms and toxic waste trafficking. 

Bin Laden and Turabi take advantage of the socio-political chaos in Somalia to bring in all the terrorist groups trained in Sudan and support al-Itihaad al-Islamiya

Ali Mahdi’s opponents accused him of being supported by the UN and of receiving humanitarian aid that he used only to reinforce his power. In return, Aidid claimed that only he had the right to distribute humanitarian aid because he could determine who actually needed it and who did not. Any foreign interference – he stated – would result in a bloodbath. When the American contingent arrived, both contenders presented themselves as a Somali transitional government, demanding to be charged with the distribution of humanitarian aid. Their requests were left unheeded. In order to prevail over the opposing faction, Aidid sought alliances between the various tribes and minor clans, including the Islamic ones. Mahdi, on the other hand, sought alliances abroad with Ethiopia and Eritrea. Taking advantage of the socio-political chaos of the region, Turabi and bin Laden poured into Somalia all the terrorist groups trained in Sudan to challenge the American presence in the area. In addition, they supported, both financially and logistically, al-Itihaad al-Islamiya, or “the Islamic Union” (a local Islamist militant group considered a terrorist organization), later sending foreign militants who trained and fought alongside members of al-Itihaad, with the aim of implementing an Islamic state in the Horn of Africa.

The US withdrawal from the African country convinces Osama of the effectiveness of his organization. As a result, he attacks Saudi Arabia again and cooperates – along with Iran – with the opponents in the kingdom to overthrow the government

The proxy war waged by Turabi and bin Laden in Somali territory was instrumental in the withdrawal of the US contingent on 25 March 1994. On the eve of the departure of the Americans, the two “warlords” – General Aidid and “President” Mahdi – signed, also on behalf of their 13 allied clan elders, a United Nations-brokered ceasefire agreement. After this success, bin Laden was further convinced of the possibility of opposing U.S. imperialism in Muslim countries through the organization he had helped to build. As a result, he continued to criticize King Fahd of Saudi Arabia for his hospitality to the American troops. In addition, he also continued to organize, finance, foment and support subversive and terrorist groups in the Arabian Peninsula by allying, backed by Tehran, with the opponents of the Royal House to overthrow the Saudi government.

Riyadh’s response

The Saudi authorities in 1994 in response to Osama bin Laden:

(a) stripped him of his Saudi citizenship;

b) persuaded his family to deprive him of the periodic allowance of $7 million he received annually. 

Osama was associated with the Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) – which constituted the core of al-Qaeda in Sudan – especially after the 25th June 1995, with the failed assassination attempt on the Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, by a group of Egyptians from the Sudanese bases of the EIJ.

The international community begins to take an interest in bin Laden as a terrorist, fleeing Sudan to Jalalabad in Afghanistan 

Osama’s association with terrorism also emerged after the explosion of a car bomb on November 13, 1995, in front of the US military center for the training of the Saudi National Guard in Riyadh. In the attack, claimed by three organizations – the “Gulf Tigers”, the “Islamic Movement for Change” (supported by bin Laden) and the “Warriors of God” – seven people died (five U.S. citizens and two Indians) and there were more than 60 injured. As a result, the United States, Egypt and Saudi Arabia started to exert increasing pressure on Sudan to expel Osama and his organization. In May 1996, bin Laden himself, feeling persecuted by the Saudi services, chose to return to Jalalabad (North East of Afghanistan), where the Taliban of Mullah Mohammed Omar were already at work, soon establishing a solid relationship with them.

Following the kidnapping of two girls near Kandahar, the Taliban are born, created by Mullah Omar

It is rumored (though there is no chance of any reliable corroboration) that the advent of the Taliban in Afghanistan took place in the spring of 1994, after two young girls were kidnapped and raped by the warlords in the village of Sang Hesar, near Kandahar. Mullah Omar, a veteran of the mujahidin of Harakat-i-Inqilab Islami (Movement of the Islamic Revolution), supposedly organized a group of Taliban (students) to rescue the girls, also having the leader of the kidnappers hanged. After this episode, the assistance of the “pious and religious students/combatants” was increasingly requested by the peasants to counter the serious abuses they were suffering from the warlords. However, because of these operations and the shortage of the forces at his disposal, Omar had to flee to the nearby province of Balochistan, taking refuge in Pakistan.

In 1996, the Taliban conquer Kabul and proclaim the constitution of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan: it is the Global Caliphate in embryo

Mullah Omar returned to Afghanistan in the fall of 1994, with a well-equipped, armed and funded 1,500 Taliban militia that, according to various sources, was financially supported by the Pakistanis. The Taliban seized power in and around Kandahar, then attacked and defeated the militia of the warlord Ismail Khan in the west, conquering Herat in September 1995. During the winter, they besieged Kabul, which they took in September 1996, forcing the government troops to retreat into the northeastern Afghan area. On 27 September of the same year, they proclaimed the establishment of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, recognized by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The appearance on the Afghan scene of the Taliban – students trained and indoctrinated for years in the Deobandi madrassas (note 1) of the Pakistani area, especially in the “tribal zones” – was the result of the military, training and financial support provided by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The establishment of the Afghan Islamic Emirate – implemented according to the guidelines of Abd Allah Azzam – represented the embryo of a global Caliphate, which was supposed to propagate gradually toward the other Muslim countries.

Osama brings Al Qaeda to Afghanistan and allies with Mullah Omar

Bin Laden arrived in Jalalabad about two months before the proclamation of the emirate. Back in Afghanistan, Osama and the al-Qaeda leadership settled at first in Jalalabad. There, they began to reorganize their forces and to raise funds through the system established in Sudan and the “financiers from the times of the Soviet jihad”, with the support of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). Later on, also at the invitation of Mullah Omar, he moved to Kandahar, in the farm of Tarnak. The vast and profound Sudanese experience allowed Osama to work side by side and to form an alliance with Mullah Omar, head of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. It is rumored that he gave Omar his eldest daughter as his wife and that he married one of the Mullah’s daughters, thereby strengthening their interpersonal relations.

While the mullah deals with the political and religious affairs of the country, bin Laden carries on his dual-track agenda: supporting the Taliban and training his jihadists

Mullah Omar did not move to Kabul. He ruled from his base in Kandahar, where he made his decisions with a shura (“Council”, a tribal institution which, in early Islam, elected leaders and made decisions) of trusted advisors – the Kandaharis -, while the Council of Ministers (of the current government) remained in Kabul. Bin Laden recognized the religious and political authority of the mullah, helping him in the rigorous application of the sharia and in international relations, since Omar had no experience in the matter. Nevertheless, Osama also advanced his personal agenda through a dual-track policy, providing support to the Taliban and setting up training camps for the new generations of guerrilla fighters/terrorists. In March 1997, he moved his headquarters near the Afghan military base of Tora Bora (south-east of Kabul), settling in tunnels dug into the rock during the Soviet invasion and equipped with sighting devices, a few tanks and anti-aircraft weapons.

It’s time to start a “global jihad”. The creation of the social network of Al Qaeda begins

Bin Laden told his friends that the time had come to start a “global jihad” – an Islamic holy war – against the corrupt secular governments of the Muslim Middle East and the Western powers that supported them. The main objective was, therefore, the constitution of his “social network” – a new organization of militant Muslims whose ambitions went far beyond the Afghan borders – recruiting and training Malaysian, Algerian, Filipino, Palestinian, Egyptian, Yemeni, Chechen and Slav Muslims. Approximately 5,000 were recruited, which in turn would form cells in about 50 countries. In his training camps in Afghanistan, Osama gathered extremists who until then had been working to achieve local objectives, and organized them into an “international social network”, characterized by significant combat training that was to be transferred to all Muslims to turn them into militants of Islamic law.

The network uses the “Silk Road” and its branches – which for centuries had allowed the circulation of gold, silver, fabrics, precious stones, cotton and spices – for drug and weapons trafficking

The Al Qaeda network – which used coded e-mails, CD-ROMs with instructions for manufacturing explosive devices, mobile phones and satellite communications – included training camps and communication and business operations facilities. The business transactions were aimed at raising significant amounts of money to support the activities of these extremists, including the extensive exploitation of narcotics from the Golden Crescent, the world’s largest opiate producing Asian region. The “Silk Road” and its branches – which for centuries had allowed the circulation of gold, silver, fabrics, precious stones, cotton and spices – was used for the drug and weapons trafficking.

Gli Indomabili

Translated by Andrea Di Nino

Chapter 2 – The rise of bin Laden and Turabi up to AIM and Khomeini

The First Chapter – From the dawn of modern terrorism to bin Laden

Note 1

The Deobandi doctrine arose within Sunni Islam in 1867 in the town of Deoband (India), where the Darul Uloom Deoband School was established as a reaction to British colonialism, becoming the second largest center of Islamic teaching and research after the Al-Azhar University in Cairo. The movement – whose goal was an independent India, albeit multi-confessional, in federal form – opposed the “Movement for Pakistan”, which advocated the separation between Hindus and Muslims as well as the exodus of the latter to Pakistan. This solution prevailed in 1947 and favored the opening of numerous madrassas in South Asia, particularly in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The Deobandi doctrine:

– has always been subject to a strong Wahhabite influence – so much so that sometimes some Indians prefer to define themselves as Wahhabites or identify as followers of both orientations – also for the extensive financial support of Saudi Arabia and of wealthy Arabs in the Gulf area;

– the Deobandi doctrine has further radicalized the Salafist theories, rejecting any form of dialogue with colonialism and with the philosophical revision of Islam, anchoring itself to the direct interpretation of the Qur’an. Particular attention was dedicated, in the madrassas, to the study of the Hadith. According to Pakistani writer Ahmed Rashid, the most prominent Taliban leaders had graduated from Darul Uloom Haqqania, a Deobandi madrassa in the small town of Akora Khattak close to Peshawar, in Pakistan.

The Authors

Luciano Piacentini – Commander of Operational Detachment and Company in the 9th Paratroopers Assault Regiment “Col Moschin” (SF-Tier 1) of the Italian Army with the rank of Lieutenant and Captain. Assigned to the Army General Staff, he subsequently commanded the “Col Moschin” Regiment. Later he held the position of Chief of Staff of the Paratroopers Brigade “Folgore”. Then he has worked in National Information and Security Bodies with assignments in different areas of the Asian continent. He is graduated in Strategic Sciences and Political Science.

Claudio Masci – Carabinieri Officer coming from the Military Academy of Modena. After having taken over the command of a territorial unit mainly engaged in the fight against organized crime, he passed through National Information and Security Bodies. He graduated in political science. Among his contributions, “Intelligence between conflicts and mediation” (Caucci Editore, Bari 2010), and “The future of intelligence” (April 15, 2012, Longitude, the monthly magazine of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs).

Pino Bianchi – Architect, expert in risk management, organization, process re-engineering and business management systems. For over twenty years he has conducted business, marketing, communication and organization activities in American and European multinational companies. Management consultant in ICT, marketing, communication, business planning and project financing.

Francesco Bussoletti

Claudio Masci and Luciano Piacentini – Authors of the article “The Future of Intelligence” (Longitude, April 15, 2012), and of the books “Intelligence between conflicts and mediation” (Caucci Editore, Bari 2010), and “Humint… this unknown (Function intelligence evergreen)”. Buy it from Amazon here.


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