!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News

Context of '1985-1989: Precursor to Al-Qaeda Puts Down US Roots'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event 1985-1989: Precursor to Al-Qaeda Puts Down US Roots. You can narrow or broaden the context of this timeline by adjusting the zoom level. The lower the scale, the more relevant the items on average will be, while the higher the scale, the less relevant the items, on average, will be.

Sheikh Abdullah Azzam and his son-in-law Abdullah Anas in Afghanistan during the 1980s.Sheikh Abdullah Azzam and his son-in-law Abdullah Anas in Afghanistan during the 1980s. [Source: History Channel]Osama bin Laden, Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, bin Laden’s mentor, and Abdullah Anas, Azzam’s son-in-law, create an organization called Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK), known in English as the Services Office. It is also known as Al-Kifah. This organization will become a key node in the private funding network for the Afghan war. [Bergen, 2006, pp. 28-30] The US government will later call it the “precursor organization to al-Qaeda.” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 89 pdf file] Initially, Azzam runs it while bin Laden funds it. They create a guesthouse in Peshawar, Pakistan, to help foreign volunteers connect with rebel forces in Afghanistan. Prior to this time, the number of such volunteers is very small, perhaps only several dozen. But the number begins to dramatically expand. [New York Times, 1/14/2001; Bergen, 2006, pp. 28-30] Donors will include the Saudi intelligence agency, the Saudi Red Crescent, the Muslim World League, and private donors, including Saudi princes. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/23/2001] MAK/Al-Kifah begins fundraising in the US one year later (see 1985-1989).

Entity Tags: Maktab al-Khidamat, Abdullah Anas, Abdullah Azzam, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Makhtab al-Khidamat offices in the US in the late 1980s. Some of the offices in fact were represented by single individuals.Makhtab al-Khidamat offices in the US in the late 1980s. Some of the offices in fact were represented by single individuals. [Source: National Geographic] (click image to enlarge)Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, bin Laden’s mentor, makes repeated trips to the US and other countries, building up his Pakistan-based organization, Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK), or “Services Office” in English. It is also known as Al-Kifah, which means “struggle.” Azzam founded the Al-Kifah/MAK in 1984 (see Late 1984). Branches open in over 30 US cities, as Muslim-Americans donate millions of dollars to support the Afghan war against the Soviet Union. The most important branch, called the Al-Kifah Refugee Center, opens in Brooklyn, New York (see 1986-1993). Azzam is assassinated in a car bomb attack in late 1989 (see November 24, 1989). Bin Laden soon takes over the organization, which effectively morphs into al-Qaeda. His followers take over the US offices and they become financial conduits for al-Qaeda operations. [Lance, 2003, pp. 40-41]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Al-Kifah Refugee Center, Maktab al-Khidamat, Al-Qaeda, Abdullah Azzam

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Fawaz Damra.Fawaz Damra. [Source: Associated Press]By the mid-1980s, Osama bin Laden and his mentor Abdullah Azzam jointly founded a charity front based in Pakistan which is called Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK) (which means “services office”) and is also known as Al-Kifah (which means “struggle”) (see 1984). Branches start to open in the US; the first one apparently opens in Tucson, Arizona, where al-Qaeda has a sleeper cell (see 1986). But around 1986, Khaled Abu el-Dahab, the right hand man of double agent Ali Mohamed, informally founds the branch in Brooklyn, New York, and it soon becomes the most important US branch. [New York Times, 10/22/1998; Burr and Collins, 2006, pp. 269-270] On December 29, 1987, three men, Mustafa Shalabi, Fawaz Damra, and Ali Shinawy, formally file papers incorporating Al-Kifah, which is called the Al-Kifah Refugee Center. At first, it is located inside the Al Farouq mosque, which is led by Damra. But eventually it will get it own office space next to the mosque. Shalabi, a naturalized citizen from Egypt, runs the office with two assistants: Mahmud Abouhalima, who will later be convicted for a role in bombing the World Trade Center in 1993 (see February 26, 1993), and El Sayyid Nosair, who will assassinate a Jewish leader in New York in 1990 (see November 5, 1990). [New York Times, 4/11/1993; Newsweek, 10/1/2001; Cleveland Plain Dealer, 11/4/2001] Jamal al-Fadl, a founding member of al-Qaeda and future FBI informant (see June 1996-April 1997), also works at the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in its early days. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 155] The Brooklyn office recruits Arab immigrants and Arab-Americans to go fight in Afghanistan, even after the Soviets withdraw in early 1989. As many as 200 are sent there from the office. Before they go, the office arranges training in the use of rifles, assault weapons, and handguns, and then helps them with visas, plane tickets, and contacts. They are generally sent to the MAK/Al-Kifah office in Peshawar, Pakistan, and then connected to either the radical Afghan faction led by Abdul Rasul Sayyaf or the equally radical one led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. [New York Times, 4/11/1993] The CIA has some murky connection to Al-Kifah that has yet to be fully explained. Newsweek will later say the Brooklyn office “doubled as a recruiting post for the CIA seeking to steer fresh troops to the mujaheddin” fighting in Afghanistan. At the same time, the Brooklyn office is where “veterans of [the Afghan war arrived] in the United States—many with passports arranged by the CIA.” [Newsweek, 10/1/2001] Robert I. Friedman, writing for New York magazine, will comment that the Brooklyn office was a refuge for ex- and future mujaheddin, “But the highlight for the center’s regulars were the inspirational jihad lecture series, featuring CIA-sponsored speakers.… One week on Atlantic Avenue, it might be a CIA-trained Afghan rebel traveling on a CIA-issued visa; the next, it might be a clean-cut Arabic-speaking Green Beret, who would lecture about the importance of being part of the mujaheddin, or ‘warriors of the Lord.’ The more popular lectures were held upstairs in the roomier Al-Farouq Mosque; such was the case in 1990 when Sheikh [Omar] Abdul-Rahman, traveling on a CIA-supported visa, came to town.” One frequent instructor is double agent Ali Mohamed, who is in the US Special Forces at the time (see 1987-1989). Bin Laden’s mentor Azzam frequently visits and lectures in the area. In 1988, he tells “a rapt crowd of several hundred in Jersey City, ‘Blood and martyrdom are the only way to create a Muslim society.… However, humanity won’t allow us to achieve this objective, because all humanity is the enemy of every Muslim.’” [New York Magazine, 3/17/1995] Ayman Al-Zawahiri, future Al-Qaeda second in command, makes a recruiting trip to the office in 1989 (see Spring 1993). [New Yorker, 9/9/2002] The Brooklyn office also raises a considerable amount of money for MAK/Al-Kifah back in Pakistan. The Independent will later call the office “a place of pivotal importance to Operation Cyclone, the American effort to support the mujaheddin. The Al-Kifah [Refugee Center was] raising funds and, crucially, providing recruits for the struggle, with active American assistance.” [Independent, 11/1/1998] Abdul-Rahman, better known as the “Blind Sheikh,” is closely linked to bin Laden. In 1990, he moves to New York on another CIA-supported visa (see July 1990) and soon dominates the Al-Kifah Refugee Center. Shalabi has a falling out with him over how to spend the money they raise and he is killed in mysterious circumstances in early 1991, completing Abdul-Rahman’s take over. Now, both the Brooklyn and Pakistan ends of the Al-Kifah/MAK network are firmly controlled by bin Laden and his close associates. In 1998, the US government will say that al-Qaeda’s “connection to the United States evolved from the Al-Kifah Refugee Center.” Yet there is no sign that the CIA stops its relationship with the Brooklyn office before it closes down shortly after the 1993 WTC bombing. [New York Times, 10/22/1998]

Entity Tags: Jamal al-Fadl, Khaled Abu el-Dahab, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Mustafa Shalabi, Maktab al-Khidamat, Osama bin Laden, Fawaz Damra, El Sayyid Nosair, Mahmud Abouhalima, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Central Intelligence Agency, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, Al Farouq Mosque, Abdullah Azzam, Ali Shinawy, Ali Mohamed, Al-Kifah Refugee Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

The al-Kifah Refugee Center shared the same building as the Al-Farooq Mosque.The al-Kifah Refugee Center shared the same building as the Al-Farooq Mosque. [Source: National Geographic] (click image to enlarge)Ali Mohamed, while still an instructor at Fort Bragg, North Carolina (see 1986), frequently spends his weekends traveling to meet with Islamic activists at the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 143-144] This center is the Brooklyn branch office of Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK)/Al-Kifah, which is a charity front in Pakistan closely tied to bin Laden and his mentor Abdullah Azzam. It also has ties to the CIA (see 1986-1993). Mohamed teaches the Islamic activists survival techniques, map reading and how to recognize tanks and other Soviet weapons. He frequently stays at the home of El-Sayyid Nosair (see November 5, 1990). In July 1989, the FBI monitors him teaching Nosair and some of the future members of the 1993 World Trade Center bomb plot how to shoot weapons (see July 1989). Towards the end of this period he informs his superiors that he has renewed his association with Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. [New York Times, 12/1/1998; Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 143-144] Mohamed will move to Brooklyn in May 1990 while also keeping a residence in Santa Clara, California. His connections to the Islamist network develop rapidly from this point on. [New York Times, 12/1/1998; Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 144]

Entity Tags: Omar Abdul-Rahman, Ali Mohamed, Al-Kifah Refugee Center, El Sayyid Nosair, Afghan Refugee Services Inc., Al Farouq Mosque, Maktab al-Khidamat

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Robert Morgenthau.Robert Morgenthau. [Source: Robert Maass / Corbis]In the late 1980s, Osama bin Laden and his mentor Abdullah Azzam are running a charity front called Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK)/Al-Kifah in Peshawar, Pakistan, and it has an important branch in Brooklyn, New York, called the Al-Kifah Refugee Center that is sending money and recruits to fight in Afghanistan. The CIA apparently helps the Al-Kifah Brooklyn office send up to 200 people from the US to fight in Afghanistan (see 1986-1993). Many of them are US citizens. Zalmay Khalilzad, a State Department Afghan specialist who will go on to become a prominent neoconservative, will later deny knowing of any Arab-Americans fighting with the mujaheddin. But one anonymous Congressional aide will recall occasional mentions of Al-Kifah Refugee Center or its head Mustafa Shalabi by some of the most radical mujaheddin. He will say: “Among that cabal, the extreme militant fringes, Shalabi was known.… [T]hey were asking to talk to him so he could organize some particular assistance.” The Neutrality Act prevents US citizens from fighting against countries not at war with the US, but the New York Times will note, “Yet there is no sign that a criminal investigation ever took place even though federal agents had come across broad hints about the center’s activities when they investigated the [Meir] Kahane assassination [in 1990] (see November 5, 1990) and the slaying of Mr. Shalabi [in 1991]” (see (February 28, 1991)). Kahane’s assassin, El Sayyid Nosair, was one of Shalabi’s assistants. [New York Times, 4/11/1993] Apparently the CIA’s ties to the Al-Kifah Refugee Center prevent other US agencies from investigating it, even after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, when all of the bombers are found to have been tied to the center. While Al-Kifah closes itself down shortly after the WTC bombing, it immediately reopens in Boston under a different name and continues to publish the same newsletter and post from the same website (see April 1993-Mid-2003). Robert I. Friedman, writing for New York magazine, will comment, “[W]hen the fanatical fervor [the CIA] whipped up leads to unintended consequences—the assassination of a Jewish militant leader in Manhattan, the bombing of the World Trade Center, a terror conspiracy to blow up the Holland and Lincoln Tunnels and other Manhattan landmarks—[the CIA tried] to discourage local law enforcement agencies and the FBI from looking into the matter too deeply.” After Nosair assassinates Kahane, the FBI tells District Attorney Robert Morgenthau that Nosair was a lone gunman, not part of a broader conspiracy. However, the FBI had truckloads of evidence connecting to Al-Kifah strongly suggesting otherwise that it does not closely investigate. The FBI also blocks him from tying Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman to the WTC bombing (see After February 26, 1993). Morgenthau will later speculate the CIA may have encouraged the FBI not to pursue any other leads. “The FBI lied to me,” he will say. “They’re supposed to untangle terrorist connections, but they can’t be trusted to do the job.” [New York Magazine, 3/17/1995] Counterterrorism expert Steven Emerson will call Al-Kifah “al-Qaeda’s operational headquarters in the United States.” [Emerson, 2006, pp. 436] In 1994, a secret internal CIA report will conclude that the agency is “partially culpable” for the WTC bombing because of its support for radicals connected to Al-Kifah. One CIA source will say, “By giving these people the funding that we did, a situation was created in which it could be safely argued that we bombed the World Trade Center” (see January 24, 1994). But even after 1994 there is little evidence that the links from Al-Kifah were carefully explored by any US government agency. For instance, the government will not freeze Al-Kifah’s funds until shortly after 9/11, long after it ceased to exist (see September 24, 2001).

Entity Tags: Zalmay M. Khalilzad, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Maktab al-Khidamat, Al-Kifah Refugee Center, Central Intelligence Agency, El Sayyid Nosair, Mustafa Shalabi, Robert Morgenthau

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Sheikh Abdullah Azzam.Sheikh Abdullah Azzam. [Source: CNN]Bin Laden’s mentor Sheikh Abdullah Azzam is killed by a car bomb in Afghanistan. The killing is never solved. Azzam has no shortage of enemies. Suspects include the Mossad, CIA, Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the ISI, and bin Laden. The reason bin Laden is suspected is because he and Azzam were increasingly at odds over what approach to take since the Soviet Union had been driven from Afghanistan earlier in the year (see February 15, 1989). [Slate, 4/16/2002; Coll, 2004, pp. 204] In 1998, Mohammed Saddiq Odeh will be arrested and later convicted for a role in the 1998 African embassy bombings. He reportedly will tell US interrogators that bin Laden “personally ordered the killing of Azzam because he suspected his former mentor had ties with the CIA.” However, it is not known if Odeh was just passing on a rumor. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 32] Regardless, in the wake of Azzam’s death, bin Laden takes control of Azzam’s recruiting and support network, Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK)/Al-Kifah, and merges it with al-Qaeda, which was formed the year before (see August 11-20, 1988). [Slate, 4/16/2002; Coll, 2004, pp. 204]

Entity Tags: Mohammed Saddiq Odeh, Al-Qaeda, Abdullah Azzam, Maktab al-Khidamat, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

A 2006 analysis compiled jointly by US and Croatian intelligence will reveal that al-Qaeda began infiltrating the Balkans region even before the start of the Bosnian war in 1992. Kamer Eddine Kherbane, a member of Algerian militant group GIA, moved to Zagreb, Croatia, in 1991 to set up a charity front at the direct request of Osama bin Laden. The organization, called Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK) or Al-Kifah, is closely tied to al-Qaeda. Its Brooklyn, New York, branch called the Al-Kifah Refugee Center is tied to both the 1993 WTC bombers and the CIA (see 1986-1993). [Associated Press, 4/17/2006] Apparently the Zagreb branch of MAK/Al-Kifah is also called the Al-Kifah Refugee Center like the Brooklyn branch and has very close ties with that branch (see Early 1990s). A Spanish police report will later claim that Kherbane is the head of the Zagreb branch. [CNN, 12/8/2002] The analysis will allege that Kherbane used Al-Kifah “to infiltrate GIA members into Bosnia,” and that Iran and unnamed Arab countries paid for the operation through money transfers. [Associated Press, 4/17/2006] Kherbane appears to have begun working with other radical militants in Bosnia in 1990 (see 1990).

Entity Tags: Al-Kifah Refugee Center, Osama bin Laden, Groupe Islamique Armé, Kamer Eddine Kherbane, Maktab al-Khidamat

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline


Time period

Email Updates

Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database


Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
Donate Now


If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.
Contact Us

Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike