What exactly Al Qaeda is, or was, remains a difference of opinion for some. Writer and journalist Adam Curtis believes that the idea of Al Qaeda, as a formal organization, is an invention of Americans. He claims the name was first brought to the attention of the public in 2001 at the trial of Osama bin Laden and four men who were accused of the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in East Africa. In a court of law, the U.S. Department of Justice was required to prove that Osama bin Laden was a leader of a criminal group. The name of the organization and elements of its structure were provided by Jamal al-Fadl, who declared himself as a founding member of Al-Qaeda as well as a former employee of bin Laden.
In actuality, bin Laden and other claimed members had become the focus of a loose alliance of cynical Islamist militants who were attracted by the new strategy. There was no organization. These were individual radicals who planned their own operations and looked to bin Laden for financial support and aid, however; he was not the leader of these individuals. In fact, to date, there is no evidence that bin Laden has ever used the term “Al Qaeda” to refer to the name of the organization until after 9/11 when he learned of the name in which the Americans had created.
During and after the trial, many questioned the trustworthiness of al-Fadl’s testimony because of his history of dishonesty and due to the fact he was testifying as part of a plea bargain agreement after being convicted of conspiring to attack U.S. military institutions.