On a hot summer's day in 1996 a plane carrying Osama bin Laden and a few friends and family landed at a runway just outside the eastern Afghan city of Jalalabad. The Saudi-born Islamic activist had little equipment, few followers and minimal local support. Yet within five years he had built an organisation that was to carry out the most shocking and devastating terrorist attack in history. 'Al-Qaeda' is now the most over-used and misunderstood term in the media. In Arabic, it is simply an abstract noun, meaning 'resource', 'network' or 'base'. In the West, it symbolises the greatest threat to global security: though its Afghan training camps have now been reduced to dust, no one believes that al-Qaeda was destroyed with them. But what is al-Qaeda? Is it a disciplined, motivated, structured terrorist organisation led by a single criminal mastermind or no more than an idea, a language in which angry young Muslim men can articulate their rage? Bin Laden's aim to provoke conflict between militant Islam and the West appears closer to fulfilment than ever. But is al-Qaeda the catalyst of this conflict, or merely a symbol of it? Drawing on his unparalleled experience Jason Burke provides
"fascinating... packed full with totally new material" Gilles Kepel, author of 'Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam'; "...compulsory reading for Rumsfeld and his clique." Sam Kiley, 'Evening Standard'; "... a book which vastly increases our understanding of the al-Qaeda phenomenon. Burke writes with admirable lucidity and the benefit of his frontline reporting and deep research". Peter Bergen, author of 'Holy War, Inc: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden'; "Impressive...it challenges the myth of Al-Qaida as a monolith orchestrating terrorist activity worldwide" Peter Marsden, author of 'The Taliban: War and Religion in Afghanistan'."