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Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally

Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally

Transnational Terrorism: The Threat to Australia

Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2004

ISBN 1 920959 04 1

Information sheet 3: Al Qaida

  • Al Qaida has become the most recognised and evocative symbol of the new terrorist threat. It has provided the fanatical ideology, the operational example and the management model that other groups and individuals have followed. It is the foremost example of the wider phenomenon of transnational extremist-Muslim terrorism.
  • Al Qaida's fanatical interpretations of Islam place all Muslim societies that do not comply or agree in its sights. Its principal goal is to rid Saudi Arabia of US forces and replace the Saudi government which it considers has forfeited its Islamic legitimacy. That goal has since been extended to the ejection of the West from the entire Muslim world.
  • Al Qaida's aims are based on a selective and extremist interpretation of Islamic texts, under which the duty to wage war against the enemies of God is divinely ordained. Its battlefield is global and it does not consider itself constrained in its methods or choice of targets.
  • Al Qaida opposes secularism and singles out democracy for particular criticism. It considers that democracy usurps God's role as the sovereign ruler and is heretical. People who live in democracies, particularly in Muslim countries, are therefore considered to be legitimate targets. Those who seek to promote democracy in Muslim countries are also deemed to be targets.
  • Al Qaida is now more an idea or ideology than a physical entity. New adherents to its fanaticism have been attracted by Al Qaida's high-profile successes, its propaganda skills and its capacity to take advantage of deeply felt grievances in the Muslim world.
  • The 1979-89 war to expel the Soviet Union from Afghanistan was central to the development of Al Qaida. The 25,000 or so overseas volunteers who joined the local Afghan resistance against Soviet forces provided Al Qaida with its first recruits.
  • These overseas volunteers were just one factor in the defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan. But for Al Qaida, the Soviet withdrawal proved to them that a small group of religious extremists could defeat a military superpower. The US withdrawal from Lebanon in 1983 and from Somalia in 1993 were viewed by Al Qaida as proof that the United States was not prepared to fight against a determined enemy.

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade