A Muslim scholar who, according to Jane’s Intelligence Review, was both “an influential figure in the Muslim Brotherhood” and “the historical leader of Hamas,” Abdullah Azzam was a spiritual leader of the Muslim mujahedin (Arabic for “freedom fighters”) resistance to the Soviet troops that invaded Afghanistan in 1979. He established a logistical and religious support group called al-Qaeda al-Sulbah, “the Solid Base.” Largely funded by a then-young Saudi millionaire named Osama bin Laden, this organization became the basis and namesake of bin Laden’s own group al Qaeda (“the Base”). Azzam was a mentor to both bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Azzam earned a degree in Sharia (Islamic Law) from the Sharia College of Damascus University in 1966. In 1973 he received a Ph.D. in Islamic jurisprudence from al-Azhar University in Cairo, the oldest, most respected, and most influential institute of higher learning in the Muslim world.
He then joined the jihad against Israel but soon grew frustrated. His fellow mujahedin spent their off-hours gambling and playing music, both forbidden activities according to Islamic law — particularly in the interpretation of the Shafi’i school which holds sway at al-Azhar. Ultimately Azzam decided that “this revolution has no religion behind it” and traveled to Saudi Arabia to teach. There he taught that the Muslim’s philosophy in conflicts with non-Muslims ought to be “jihad and the rifle alone. NO negotiations, NO conferences and NO dialogue.”
In 1980, attracted by the jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan, Azzam went to Pakistan to acquaint himself with the movement’s leaders. He taught for awhile at the International Islamic University in Islamabad, but soon resigned in order to devote himself full-time to jihad.
Azzam and his “dear friend” Osama bin Laden founded the Mujahedin Service Bureau in order to give aid to those fighting in Afghanistan. But this was not enough to satisfy Azzam’s burning desire for jihad, a desire that inspired him finally to go to the frontline. He was killed in Peshawar, Pakistan in 1989 by a massive explosion while he and his sons were on their way to Friday prayers.
Azzam’s surviving followers hail him as a martyr and as “the main pillar of the Jihad movement in the modern times.” Said Osama bin Laden in a 1999 interview broadcast on Al-Jazeera television: “Sheikh Abdullah Azzam was not an individual, but an entire nation by himself. Muslim women have proven themselves incapable of giving birth to a man like him after he was killed.”
Azzam’s killers have never been publicly identified.
In the summer 2007 Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) trial (which looked into evidence of HLF’s fundraising on behalf of Hamas), the U.S. government released a list of approximately 300 of HLF’s “unindicted co-conspirators” and “joint venturers.” Azzam’s name was on that list.
Portions of this profile are adapted from the article “The Enemy Is Not Just Al-Qaeda,” written by Robert Spencer and published by FrontPageMagazine.com on May 20, 2004.