“Al Qaeda’s ideas have spread throughout the Islamic world, and its spiritual father, Azzam, still inspires fanatics and killers every day.” – Bruce Riedel
Abdullah Yusuf Azzam isn’t exactly a household name, in fact he is barely known as compared to Bin Laden. However he, in reality, is the ‘Father of Global Jihad’. Palestinian by birth and having grown up seeing the catastrophe at the Jordanian West Bank, he grew to hate the Israelis. As a result of which, he joined the Muslim Brotherhood even before he was of age. He studied at Al-Azhar University in Cairo, where he found Gamal Abdel Nasser’s secular rule appalling. In the wake of the 1967 war, which further delegitimised the Arab republics, he joined the fedayeen – Palestinian guerrillas fighting Israel – but watched helplessly as they were driven from Jordan in “Black September”, 1970. After having faced many difficulties, he still decided to educate himself further. He obtained a PhD and became a lecturer in Sharia Law and Pan-Islamic concepts.
It was in 1980 when Azzam and Osama Bin Laden were introduced to each other. They met in Jedda, Saudi Arabia while Azzam was still a lecturer. Bin Laden hailed from a rich Saudi family and had multiple intersecting points within Azzam’s ideology. It didn’t take long for Azzam to cast his spell on Bin Laden and make him his disciple.
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 marked the start of a revolution that nobody knew would change the world. Azzam joined the Afghans against the Soviets and joined hands with the Pakistani dictator Zia-Ul-Haq. This collaboration led to the founding of the Services Bureau in Peshawar. This Bureau- set up by both Azzam and Bin Laden – invited Islamic fundamentalists from all over the world who would fight in the name of Muslim Brotherhood and religion. These religious fanatics were trained to the best of their abilities and were made ready to fight against the Soviet. The end result of those who came out of the Services Bureau were the first real Jihadis.
It is also widely believed that the CIA was in partnership with the Services Bureau and provided them with arms, ammunition, training equipment and funding. With China already being a flag bearer of Communism in Asia, the Soviet with its Socialist principles as well was a threat to the States. This invasion particularly, seemed to be a hindrance to the United States’ intentions for Asia. Therefore, the CIA’s collaboration with the Jihadis is seen as a panic move to prevent the Soviet from establishing its influence in the subcontinent.
Throughout the 1980s, Azzam travelled the world and urged his Muslim Brothers to join the ‘Caravan of Jihad’ in Afghanistan. He did not preach rebellion against immediate rulers, but against their enemies as a whole. This is why though he is believed to be helping the United States initially, he helps plot against them later. In his latter years, he spent a lot of time writing books and articles preaching the same message. Most of his works even glorified suicide missions and martyrdom, the key elements of numerous Al-Qaeda operations and tactics. His book, ‘The Defence of Muslim Territories’, is perhaps the seminal work of Global Jihad. The reason why Azzam is lesser known on the face of it is probably because of his soft power influence and his behind the scenes inspiration. Those who truly believe in terrorism in the name of Allah, worship Azzam as he is who invented this concept.
Azzam has been an inspiration to numerous terrorist groups and individuals. Azzam was one of the first and main sources of help to the Afghani Mujahideen. His partnering with Bin Laden on the Services Bureau gave rise to the Al-Qaeda. Azzam also helped set up the Pakistani terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which attacked Mumbai in November 2008. In addition, was a central figure in the creation of the Palestinian terror group Hamas, which now rules Gaza, helping write its founding charter.
Azzam was assassinated in 1989 but the real conspirators behind his murder still remain unknown.
Most of his initial disciples have also either been captured or killed, including the most dreaded, Osama Bin Laden. However, even after several years of his death, his ideas give rise to a new Jihadi every day.
Who knew that some angry Palestinian would cast such a large shadow over our modern world?