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The Caravan: : Abdallah Azzam and the Rise of Global Jihad

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The Mysterious Assassination That Unleashed Jihadism

Thomas Hegghammer

Thomas Hegghammer is Senior Research Fellow at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI) and Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Oslo. His book The Caravan: Abdallah Azzam and the Rise of Global Jihadwill be published by Cambridge University Press on 5 March 2020.

At quarter past noon on 24 November 1989, a red Chevrolet Vega approached the Sab’ al-Layl mosque in Peshawar, Pakistan. As the crowd prepared to greet the arrival, a roadside bomb ripped through the car, killing everyone inside. Peshawar at this time was plagued with violence, but this was no ordinary assassination.

The victim in the passenger seat was Abdallah Azzam, the spiritual leader of the so-called Afghan Arabs, the foreign fighters who travelled in the thousands to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The struggle to rid Afghanistan of Russian occupation was viewed in most of the Muslim world as a legitimate case of military jihad, or religiously sanctioned resistance war. A Palestinian cleric, Azzam had joined the Afghan jihad in 1981 and spent the decade recruiting internationally for the war. By 1989, he was a living legend and the world’s most influential jihadi ideologue. 

Azzam is not well known in the West today, but he is arguably the father of the jihadi movement, the cluster of transnational violent Islamist groups, such as al-Qaida and Islamic state, who describe their own activities as jihad. Azzam led the mobilization of foreign fighters to Afghanistan, thereby creating the community from which al-Qaida and other radical groups later emerged. His Islamic scholarly credentials, international contacts, and personal charisma made him a uniquely effective recruiter. Without him, the Afghan Arabs would not have been nearly as numerous.

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Thomas Hegghammer

My book “The Caravan” is out today! I’ve worked on it for over a decade, so it’s a big day for me. But it might not be obvious to everyone what it contains, so here’s a thread about it (1/15) #Azzambook
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