Revisiting al-Qaida’s Foundation and Early History

Leah Farrall


This article examines the early rise and fall of al-Qaida from its emergence in early 1987 as a splinter group of Maktab al-Khadamat through to its organisational decline following the defeat of the Arab-Afghans at the 1989 Battle of Jalalabad. Drawing from first-hand accounts and primary materials, it contributes a history of al-Qaida’s first stage of development and identifies the factors that drove the organisation’s early growth and decline. The article finds that two factors were crucial to al-Qaida’s early growth: battlefield success and access to combat opportunities for volunteer youths. It determines that al-Qaida’s defeat at Jalalabad and bin Laden’s ordered withdrawal from combat were the cause of its near terminal decline. The article concludes by outlining that the bitter lesson al-Qaida took from its early history was that to attract and retain a significant number of youths, it must appear victorious in battle, and be able to provide access to combat opportunities.

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Perspectives on Terrorism is  a journal of the Terrorism Research Initiative and the Center for Terrorism and Security Studies

ISSN  2334-3745 (Online)

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