The roots of al-Qaeda began in the rocky terrain of Afghanistan. In that country in 1979, troops from the Soviet Union invaded, in order to preserve the Marxist regime in place there. But the Marxists' purported reforms in the country angered many in the devoutly Muslim population. A rebellion against Soviet occupation of Afghanistan took shape, and throughout the 1980s a group of Muslim rebels known as the mujahadeen fought to oppose the Soviet presence and influence in Afghanistan.
Around the time the Soviets began to withdraw from Afghanistan in 1988, a group of the former resistance warriors formed al-Qaeda (literally translated in Arabic: "the base") out of what was called the Services Office, which was run by an affluent Saudi named Osama Bin Laden and a Palestinian religious scholar named Abdullah Azzam. The Services Office provided training for, bankrolled and recruited a network of thousands of terrorists from dozens of countries. The idea, to Bin Laden, was to take the fight in Afghanistan, which was winding down, and extend the "holy war" to other countries [source: Council on Foreign Relations].
Sadly, the rest is, of course, history. Under Bin Laden, al-Qaeda succeeded all too well in its terrorist ambitions. The group is responsible for untold deaths of innocents worldwide. Among their bombings were the 1998 blasts at U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing multiple hundreds, and the suicide attack on the U.S.S. Cole in 2000 that killed 17 U.S. servicemen. All of which were grim harbingers of what would come next, the September 11, 2001 attacks, which killed some 3,000 people. The latter saw the U.S. begin a new policy of attacking al-Qaeda safe havens wherever they could be found, starting with Afghanistan, the terrorist group's birthplace. Today, al-Qaeda is considered weakened, having lost many of its top strategic leaders, but nonetheless very lethal. Osama Bin Laden, for his part was able to elude capture for 10 years after the September 11th attacks, but he was killed in Pakistan by U.S. Navy Seals in a raid on the terrorist's safe house in May of 2011 [source: Fox News].
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