Al-Qaeda FAQ

Afghanistan, Islamists


What is al-Qaeda?
Al-Qaeda is an international terrorist network. It seeks to purge Muslim countries of what it sees as the profane influence of the West and replace their governments with a fundamentalist Islamic regime.

What does “al-Qaeda” mean?
It’s Arabic for “the base.”

Where does al-Qaeda operate?
Around the world. Al-Qaeda has autonomous underground cells in some 60 countries, including the United States. Law enforcement has broken up al-Qaeda cells in the United Kingdom, Spain, Germany, Albania, Uganda, and elsewhere.

Was al-Qaeda behind the September 11 attacks?
Many in the Arab world doubt its guilt, but on several videotapes, important al-Qaeda operatives—including one of the hijackers of United Airlines Flight 93 and Osama bin Laden himself—have effectively acknowledged responsibility for the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

How does al-Qaeda operate in the United States?
Secretly. What we know about al-Qaeda’s U.S. operations comes largely from investigations into the September 11 attacks and a foiled millennial attack on the Los Angeles airport. In the federal indictment of Zacarias Moussaoui, who was apprehended before September 11, prosecutors describe how the hijackers lived in the United States for months before the attacks—renting apartments, taking flight classes, joining gyms, and living off funds wired from overseas.

Are there still al-Qaeda operatives at large in the United States?
Experts suspect there are, although they don’t know how many.

How big is al-Qaeda?
It’s impossible to say precisely, since al-Qaeda is decentralized. Estimates range from several hundred to several thousand members.

Before September 11, had al-Qaeda attacked U.S. interests?
Yes, repeatedly. In 1995, a car bomb outside the Saudi National Guard building in Riyadh killed seven people, five of them Americans. In 1998, simultaneous bombings at the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania killed 224 people, including 12 Americans. In Yemen in 2000, a small boat laden with explosives hit the destroyer U.S.S. Cole, killing 17 American sailors. Other al-Qaeda plots—such as 1995 plans to simultaneously blow up a dozen American airliners over the Pacific and to reportedly crash a plane into CIA headquarters—were uncovered before they could be executed.