Abdullah Azzam

Abdullah Azzam (1941-1989) was a Palestinian Islamist preacher who helped found al-Qaeda, Hamas, and Lashkar-e-Taiba. He is often referred to as the father of global jihad, and was instrumental in recruiting foreign fighters to Afghanistan in the 1980s. Azzam theorized that Muslims should fight a single, global jihad against their enemies as opposed to smaller, separate national fights.Bruce Riedel, “The 9/11 Attacks’ Spiritual Father,” Daily Beast, September 11, 2011, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/09/11/abdullah-azzam-spiritual-father-of-9-11-attacks-ideas-live-on.html;
Roland Jacquard, In the Name of Osama Bin Laden, (Diane Pub Co: 2002), 59; Chris Suellentrop, “Abdullah Azzam: the godfather of jihad,” Slate, April 16, 2002, http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/assessment/2002/04/abdullah_azzam.html.

Azzam served as Osama bin Laden’s mentor, and has reportedly influenced such notorious terrorists as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Anwar al-Awlaki. Azzam’s theories have also allegedly inspired large scale terrorist attacks and attempts, including the 2009 suicide bombing of a CIA base in Afghanistan, and the 2010 Times Square bombing attempt.Aryn Baker, “Who Killed Abdullah Azzam?” Time, June 18, 2009, http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1902809_1902810_1905173-1,00.html;
Bruce Riedel, “The 9/11 Attacks’ Spiritual Father,” Daily Beast, September 11, 2011, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/09/11/abdullah-azzam-spiritual-father-of-9-11-attacks-ideas-live-on.html.

Azzam was born in Jordan-controlled Transjordan (now the West Bank) in 1941. During the 1967 war with Israel, Azzam’s family fled east across the Jordan River into Jordan proper. Azzam’s resentment toward Israel later fueled his ambitions to help found Hamas, a terrorist organization sanction-designated by the United States, the United Nations, and others which operates out of the Palestinian territories.Bruce Riedel, “The 9/11 Attacks’ Spiritual Father,” Daily Beast, September 11, 2011, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/09/11/abdullah-azzam-spiritual-father-of-9-11-attacks-ideas-live-on.html;
Sheik Abdullah Azzam, “Defense of the Muslim Lands,” Religioscope, 2002, 3, http://johnclamoreaux.org/smu/islam-west/s/azzam-def.pdf.

Azzam studied Islamic law and philosophy at several schools in Damascus and at Al-Azhar University in Egypt. He was offered a teaching position at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he taught Osama bin Laden. Azzam reportedly imparted his understanding of jihad to bin Laden, and served as a spiritual mentor in the years preceding the formation of al-Qaeda.Aryn Baker, “Who Killed Abdullah Azzam?” Time, June 18, 2009, http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1902809_1902810_1905173-1,00.html;
Asaf Maliach, “Abdullah Azzam, Al-Qaeda, and Hamas,” Institute for National Security Studies, October 2010, Volume 2, No. 2, http://www.inss.org.il/uploadimages/Import/(FILE)1298359986.pdf.

In response to the Soviet Union’s 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, Azzam published The Defense of Muslim Lands, in which he called for a religious war to liberate Muslim lands from foreign occupiers. Fighting such a war, Azzam believed, was a “Fard Ayn, a compulsory duty upon all [Muslims],” as translated by Religioscope, a French website that publishes articles on religion, among other resources. The book quickly spread through the Muslim world. In addition, Azzam wrote numerous articles outlining the requirements of global jihad and glorifying the role of suicide bombers.Sheik Abdullah Azzam, “Defense of the Muslim Lands,” Religioscope, 2002, 9, http://johnclamoreaux.org/smu/islam-west/s/azzam-def.pdf; Aryn Baker, “Who Killed Abdullah Azzam?” Time, June 18, 2009, http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1902809_1902810_1905173-1,00.html;
Bruce Riedel, “The 9/11 Attacks’ Spiritual Father,” Daily Beast, September 11, 2011, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/09/11/abdullah-azzam-spiritual-father-of-9-11-attacks-ideas-live-on.html.

In 1979, Azzam and bin Laden traveled to Peshawar, Pakistan, close to the Afghan border, to join the fight against the Soviet occupation. The pair created the Maktab al-Khadamat or “Services Office,” which organized the influx of foreign fighters responding to the call of jihad. Al-Qaeda would later evolve from these efforts. The Maktab was funded by bin Laden, who provided foreign fighters with plane tickets and housing expenses. The pair published the monthly Al Jihad magazine to inspire jihad and condemn the Soviets.Aryn Baker, “Who Killed Abdullah Azzam?” Time, June 18, 2009, http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1902809_1902810_1905173-1,00.html;
Bruce Riedel, “The 9/11 Attacks’ Spiritual Father,” Daily Beast, September 11, 2011, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/09/11/abdullah-azzam-spiritual-father-of-9-11-attacks-ideas-live-on.html.

During the 1980s, Azzam traveled internationally—including to 50 American cities and throughout the Arab world—to preach and recruit Muslims to the jihad in Afghanistan. He reportedly sent aides to 26 U.S. states to preach the message of global jihad. In his lifetime, Azzam is believed to have recruited between 16,000 and 20,000 fighters from over 20 countries.Roland Jacquard, In the Name of Osama Bin Laden, (Diane Pub Co: 2002), 59; Chris Suellentrop, “Abdullah Azzam: the godfather of jihad,” Slate, April 16, 2002, http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/assessment/2002/04/abdullah_azzam.html.

Following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, Azzam urged bin Laden to take the jihad to the Palestinian territories. However, bin Laden instead stayed back in Afghanistan and combined forces with Ayman al-Zawahiri to form al-Qaeda. Azzam separated himself from the newly formed alliance due to his disagreement with al-Zawahiri’s goal of waging jihad in Afghanistan, as it called for Muslims to kill other Muslims. Instead, Azzam established a network to recruit Palestinians to train in Afghanistan for an eventual fight with Israel, which led to the formation of Hamas. Recruits would travel to Afghanistan under false passports to evade Israeli intelligence. Aryn Baker, “Who Killed Abdullah Azzam?” Time, June 18, 2009, http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1902809_1902810_1905173-1,00.html; Bruce Riedel, “The 9/11 Attacks’ Spiritual Father,” Daily Beast, September 11, 2011, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/09/11/abdullah-azzam-spiritual-father-of-9-11-attacks-ideas-live-on.html.

Azzam had long promoted jihad against Israel. In the 1960s, he held membership in the Islamic Movement, a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Palestinian territories. The movement evolved into Hamas in 1987. Azzam helped write its founding charter. Following Azzam’s death, Hamas included Azzam at the top of its list of martyrs. In a December 1989 interview with Al Jazeera, bin Laden admitted that Azzam had openly supported Hamas financially and ideologically.Asaf Maliach, “Abdullah Azzam, Al-Qaeda, and Hamas,” Institute for National Security Studies, October 2010, Volume 2, No. 2, http://www.inss.org.il/uploadimages/Import/(FILE)1298359986.pdf;
Bruce Riedel, “The 9/11 Attacks’ Spiritual Father,” Daily Beast, September 11, 2011, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/09/11/abdullah-azzam-spiritual-father-of-9-11-attacks-ideas-live-on.html.

Azzam and bin Laden also helped establish the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in the late 1980s. They provided the group’s co-founder Hafiz Muhammad Saeed with funding to build the terror organization. LeT follows the teachings of Azzam and calls for global jihad. Al-Qaeda and LeT maintain an alliance and provide each other with training and support.Bill Roggio, “US adds 2 Lashkar-e-Taiba leaders, several aliases to terror list,” Long War Journal, June 25, 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/06/us_adds_2_lashkar-e.php.

Azzam was killed by a roadside bomb in Peshawar, Pakistan, on November 23, 1989. He was killed alongside two of his sons while traveling to preach at a local mosque. No group claimed responsibility for the attack. Analysts have speculated that Jordan’s intelligence service, Israel’s Mossad, the United States, the KGB, the Afghan intelligence service, or al-Zawahiri himself was responsible for his death. Al-Zawahiri and Azzam had reportedly feuded over bin Laden’s loyalty and the projection of global jihad. In alluding to al-Zawahiri’s alleged role in the assassination, Azzam’s former translator said: “Peshwar was a city where if you had money, you could pay to get any work done, from street-cleaning to assassinations.” None of these allegations have been proven.Aryn Baker, “Who Killed Abdullah Azzam?” Time, June 18, 2009, http://content.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1902809_1902810_1905173-1,00.html;
Bruce Riedel, “The 9/11 Attacks’ Spiritual Father,” Daily Beast, September 11, 2011, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/09/11/abdullah-azzam-spiritual-father-of-9-11-attacks-ideas-live-on.html.

 
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