Bin Laden's long reach

Since the early 1990s, Saudi exile Osama bin Laden has built a secretive, highly compartmentalized but interlocking terrorist network with the purpose of ousting pro-Western governments in the Middle East, derailing the Arab-Israeli peace process and driving the United States from the region. In early 1998, the militant multimillionaire issued a call to Muslims ordering holy war against Western interests.


· Bin Laden, 44, the son of a Saudi construction magnate, has estimated assets of $300 million. The United States has frozen some of his accounts.
· While living in Sudan from 1991 to 1996, bin Laden set up money-making businesses in construction, trucking, currency exchange and various exports. The umbrella group is Taba Investments.
· Cells around the world engage in semi-clandestine fund raising.


· The organization may have several hundred to several thousand members. It draws from a pool of more than 50,000 Afghan war veterans and other radical Muslims. Bin Laden spent the 1980s mostly in Peshawar, Pakistan, where he supported Afghan mujaheddin who were fighting to oust Soviet troops.

Terrorist operations

· Al Qaeda runs military training camps in Afghanistan and possibly elsewhere. The United States bombed several suspected training camps in 1998.
· Among the group's suspected bombing targets, before the air attacks on New York and Washington, were:

1993: World Trade Center; six dead, more than 1,000 wounded.
1996: U.S. military housing complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia; 19 servicemen killed, 372 wounded.
1998: U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania; 224 killed, 5,000 hurt.
2000: USS Cole in Yemeni harbor of Aden; 17 sailors killed, 39 wounded.


Western intelligence officials believe that the organization, al Qaeda (the base), has a hierarchical structure. Bin Laden, who for security reasons moves constantly around Afghanistan, mostly in the Kandahar region, heads the organization.

How a cell structure works

· Secrecy and security are essential and cells are usually small. For terrorist actions, al Qaeda cells apparently are split into planning and execution phases.
· Members of one cell do not necessarily know members of another.
· Communications between cells are usually made secretively, sometimes by use of dead drops.
· Cells may remain inactive for years, or engage only in fund raising or peaceful Islamic activities. A cell may suddenly be called into action.
· Sympathizers are recruited to perform low-level logistical tasks.

Al Qaeda cells are believed to exist in at least 35 countries or regions, but they shift constantly. Some are known to have ties to Islamic extremist groups that the U.S. State Department has designated as foreign terrorist organizations.

Sources: Jane's Intelligence Review, Congressional Research Service staff reports



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