Updated July 9, 2008
"The Jihad in Afghanistan will broaden until the entire world will be conquered because Allah has promised the victory to Islam," declared Abdullah Azzam.
The Muslim leader most responsible for expanding the jihad into a full-blown international holy war without borders was not Osama Bin Laden, or Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman (the radical Islamic cleric most known to the American public for his conviction in the World Trade Center bombing trials), but a leader whose name remains today virtually unknown to the West – Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, Azzam is more responsible than any Arab figure in modern history for galvanizing the Muslim masses to wage an international holy war against all infidels and non-believers until the enemies of Islam were defeated.
Born in Palestine in 1941, Azzam moved to Jordan and then to Saudi Arabia before migrating to Pakistan at the start of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. In Peshawar, Azzam set up the Office of Services of the Holy Warriors (Mujahideen) and set about re-igniting the Islamic power rage against those non-Islamic powers that had conspired against Islam since before the Crusades. Darting off with not much more than a storefront in Peshawar, Azzam would ultimately succeed in rejuvenating the concept of jihad among the Arab masses.
Those who met Azzam were dazzled by his spellbinding oratorical skills, his capabilities as a military strategist, his religious leadership, and his interminable energy. Azzam helped bring about the mobilization of the Muslim Brotherhood movement more than any other leader. Today, the military wing of Hamas in the West Bank is called the Abdellah Azzam Brigades.
Azzam combined hatred for the West – Christians and Jews – whom he routinely accused of carrying out diabolical conspiracies against Islam, with a nostalgia for the days of the Islamic caliphate, when non-Muslims were treated formally as second-class citizens. It was the United States that seemed to epitomize for Azzam the ongoing Jewish-Christian conspiracy; yet, ironically, it was in the United States that Azzam was able to raise critical amounts of money, enlist new fighters, and most important, provide the political freedom to freely coordinate with other top radical Islamic movements. Between 1985 and 1989, Azzam and his top aide, Palestinian Sheikh Tamim Al-Adnani, visited dozens of American cities, exhorting their followers to pick up the sword against the enemies of Islam. They succeeded in recruiting thousands of fighters and believers.
As he went around the country, Azzam focused his rage on the evils of the infidels, particularly on the United States, whom he accused of sabotaging the victory of the anti-Soviet mujahideen. In one speech – picked at random from hundreds that he gave and which are recorded on videotapes sold throughout the world by Islamic fundamentalists – given to a group of followers in 1988 in Kansas, Azzam said, "Today, humanity is being ruled by Jews and Christians. The Americans, the British and others. And behind them, the fingers of world Jewry, with their wealth, their women and their media. The Israelis have produced a coin on which it is written 'we shall never allow Islam to be established in the world'."
Azzam's enmity toward Jews was not based on politics but rather the product of a pure hatred of the Jewish people; he combined European blood libel propaganda from the Middle Ages and passages from the Koran. In a 1998 speech, for example, Azzam talked about how the Jews "mix the blood of a Christian or Muslim into (bread) dough."
In what was called the First Conference of Jihad, held at the Al-Farook Mosque in Brooklyn on Atlantic Avenue in 1988, which also served as the headquarters for Al Kifah, Azzam instructed his audience of nearly 200 to carry out jihad no matter what they were, even in America. "…Every Moslem on earth should unsheathe his sword and fight to liberate Palestine. The Jihad is not limited to Afghanistan. Jihad means fighting. You must fight in any place you can get. Whenever Jihad is mentioned in the Holy Book, it means the obligation to fight. It does not mean to fight with the pen or to write books or articles in the press or to fight by holding lectures." Azzam acknowledged Bin Laden's largesse numerous times as the financial sponsor of Ali Kifah. "There is one person who has always stood by us – Osama bin Laden," declared Azzam in one speech he gave in Peshawar at his Al Kifah offices.
In November 1989, Azzam was killed by a devastating bomb blast that also killed two of his sons. No perpetrator was ever found responsible, but many of Azzam's followers blame the United States for the assassination. Azzam was just the first of several radical Islamic leaders and groups – most holding an unabiding hatred for the U.S. – who would make the U.S. a center of their activity.
From: Steven Emerson, "Osama bin Laden; The Past," The International Association for Counterterrorism and Security Professionals.