How Al-Qaeda was born in a tiny office in New York

Al-Qaeda’s first US office opened in Tucson city in Arizona in 1984

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Al-Qaeda’s late leader Osama Bin Laden and another founding member of the militant group, Abdullah Azzam, established in the 1980s Maktab al-Khadamat or the Office of Services in Pakistan to recruit an Islamic army to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan.

The Soviet-Afghan War started in late 1979 and ended in 1989. The insurgent groups known as “the Mujahideen” fought against the Soviet Army and allied Afghan forces. During this period, Al-Qaeda saw its formative period during this time, with many of its members, arrived to Afghanistan from different countries including those from the Arab world.

With its main headquarters in Pakistan, the office, known later as Al-Kifah Refugees Center, became key for Al-Qaeda’s fundraising and recruitment. Many of its branches were later opened in US cities, reaching up to 33 branches.

Al-Qaeda’s first US office opened in Tucson city in Arizona in 1984.

In 1986, Khaled Abu Al-Thahab, one of Al-Qaeda’s members, opened the group’s main branch in the United States in New York’s Brooklyn.

In late 1987, Al-Qaeda early members: Mustafa Shalabi, Fawaz Damara, Ali al-Shinawi, officially registered the office as “Al-Kifah Center, Farouq Mosque.”

Shalabi, a US citizen of Egyptian heritage, was in charge of the office in addition to two other aides: Mohammed Abu Halima, who was later accused for being involved in bombing the World Trade Center in 1993 in New York, and Al-Sayid Nasir, accused of killing a Jewish rabbi in New York in 1990.

One of Al-Qaeda’s letters - received by dating back to 2003 – stated that training was undertaken in Al-Kifah Center.

Mac Williams, an FBI agent, said the US embassy in the Afghan capital Kabul was involved in the recruitment of Arab fighters to fight the Soviets. Azzam, who was in charge of the recruitment at the time, established an Office of Services in Afghanistan in 1984. In one of his letters, Azzam said that he had opened an account in a bank and appointed Shalabi as the manager of the office.

The CIA was involved in the financing the Arab fighters in Afghanistan, according to one of the letters by Algerian Abdullah Anas.

Anas, who was a scholar, was the nom de guerre of a man who helped the Afghanistan Mujahideen fight the Soviet invasion in the northern provinces from 1983-1992.

Anas was worried about the conflict in Afghanistan and its repercussions on the Arab fighters, so he suggested the establishment of Office of Services in 1984.

Azzam used to go to the United States every year to attend conferences and lecture American Muslims about fighting in Afghanistan. It is worth mentioning that Anas – Azzam’s brother-in-law – left the Pakistani city of Peshawar and sought political asylum in Britain.

After Maktab al-Khadamat and the Kifah Refugees Center, Bin Laden established “Beit al-Ansar”. It was the main destination for those who wanted to get recruited and trained for fighting in Afghanistan.

The US officials were concerned about the growing radicalism between Arab and Afghan fighters. According to former CIA director and defense secretary, Robert Gates, the agency was vigilant regarding the Arab fighters who started to flow to Afghanistan from all over the world.

(This is an excerpt of translation of the article first published in the Arabic language website of Al Arabiya News Channel)

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