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Osama bin Laden
Osama bin Muhammad bin 'Awad
Place of birth
Years of service
Osama bin Muhammad bin 'Awad bin Laden (Arabic: أسامة بن محمد بن عوض بن لادن; born March 10, 1957), most often mentioned as Osama bin Laden or Usama bin Laden, is a militant Islamist and is reported to be the founder of the organization called al-Qaeda. He is a member of the prestigious and wealthy bin Laden family. In conjunction with several other Islamic militants leaders, bin Laden issued two fatwas—in 1996 and then again in 1998—that Muslims should kill civilians and military personnel from the United States and allied countries until they withdraw support for Israel and withdraw military forces from Islamic countries.
He has been indicted in United States federal court for his alleged involvement in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Dar es Salaam Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya, and is on the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list.
Although bin Laden has not been indicted for the September 11, 2001 attacks, he has claimed responsibility for them in videos released to the public. The attacks involved the hijacking of United Airlines Flight 93, United Airlines Flight 175, American Airlines Flight 11, American Airlines Flight 77, and the subsequent destruction of the World Trade Center in New York City, New York, and severe damage to The Pentagon outside of Washington, DC, along with the deaths of 2,974 victims.
Main article: Bin Laden family
Osama Muhammed bin Laden was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. In a 1998 interview, later televised on Al Jazeera, he gave his birth date as March 10, 1957. His father, the late Muhammed Awad bin Laden, was a wealthy businessman with close ties to the Saudi royal family. Before World War I, Muhammed, poor and uneducated, emigrated from Hadhramaut, on the south coast of Yemen, to the Red Sea port of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he began to work as a porter. Starting his own business in 1930, Muhammed built his fortune as a building contractor for the Saudi royal family during the 1950s.
There is no definitive account of the number of children born to Muhammed bin Laden, but the number is generally put at 55. Various accounts place Osama as his seventeenth son. Muhammed bin Laden was married 22 times, although to no more than four women at a time per Sharia law. Osama was born the only son of Muhammed bin Laden's tenth wife, Hamida al-Attas, nee Alia Ghanem, who was born in Syria.
Osama attended his son's wedding in January 2001, but since September 11 of that year he is believed only to have had contact with his mother on one occasion.
Osama's parents divorced soon after he was born, according to Khaled M. Batarfi, a senior editor at the Al Madina newspaper in Jeddah who knew Osama during the 1970s. Osama's mother then married a man named Muhammad al-Attas, who worked at the bin Laden company. The couple had four children, and Osama lived in the new household with three stepbrothers and one stepsister.
Bin Laden was raised as a devout Sunni Muslim. From 1968 to 1976 he attended the "élite" secular Al-Thager Model School. In the 1960s, King Faisal had welcomed exiled teachers from Syria, Egypt, and Jordan, so that by the early seventies it was common to find members of the Muslim Brotherhood teaching at Saudi schools and universities. During that time, bin Laden was exposed to the Brotherhood's political teachings during after-school Islamic study groups.
Bin Laden may have studied economics and business administration at the Management and Economics School of King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah. Some reports suggest bin Laden earned a degree in civil engineering in 1979, or a degree in public administration in 1981. Other sources describe him as never having graduated from college, though "hard working," or having left university during his third year.
At university, bin Laden was influenced by Muhammad Qutb and Palestinian Abdallah Azzam, professors with strong ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Qutb, an Egyptian, was the brother and publicizer of the late Sayyid Qutb, author of Ma'alim fi-l-Tariq, or Milestones, one of the most influential tracts on the importance of jihad against all that is un-Islamic in the world. Azzam, an Islamic scholar from Palestine, was instrumental in building pan-Islamic enthusiasm for jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan and in drawing Muslims (like bin Laden) from all over the Middle East to fight there.
Bin Laden has informal training in Islamic jurisprudence, is considered "well versed in the classical scriptures and traditions of Islam", and has been mentored by scholars such as Musa al-Qarni. Since bin Laden never studied Islam at a seminary, he is criticized by Islamic scholars as having no standing to issue religious opinions (fatwa). However, it is possible to obtain scholarly credentials in Islam by learning with individual scholars and obtaining certificates (ijaza) from them.
In 1974, at the age of 17, bin Laden married his first wife, his first
Bin Laden is reported to have married four other women
one, Umm Ali bin Laden
(the mother of Ali). Umm Ali bin Laden was a University lecturer who studied in
According to Wisal al Turabi, he married the other three because they were "spinsters," who "were going to go without marrying in this world. So he married them for the Word of God." According to Abu Jandal, bin Laden's former chief bodyguard, Osama's wife Umm Ali asked Osama for a divorce when they still lived in Sudan, because she said that she "could not continue to live in an austere way and in hardship."
Bin Laden has fathered anywhere from 12 to 24 children. His wife, Najwa, reportedly had 11 children by bin Laden, including Abdallah (born c. 1976), Omar, Saad and Muhammad. Muhammad bin Laden (born c. 1983) married the daughter of the late alleged al-Qaeda military chief Mohammed Atef in January 2001, at Kandahar, Afghanistan.
The FBI describes Osama bin Laden as tall and thin, between 6'4" and 6'6" (193–198 cm) in height and weighing about 165 pounds (75 kg). Interviewees of Lawrence Wright, on the other hand, describe him as quite slender, but not particularly tall. He has an olive complexion, is left-handed, and usually walks with a cane. He wears a plain white turban and no longer dons the traditional Saudi male headdress, generally white.
In terms of personality, bin Laden is described as a soft-spoken, mild mannered man; and despite his rhetoric, he is said to be charming, polite, and respectful. According to Michael Scheuer, bin Laden claims to speak only Arabic, though others, such as Rhimaulah Yusufzai and Peter Bergen, believe he understands English. However, in a 1998 interview, he had English questions translated for him into Arabic.
Military and militant activity
Bin Laden's wealth and connections assisted his interest in supporting the mujahideen,
Muslim guerrillas fighting the Soviet
Union in Afghanistan following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in
1979. His old teacher from the university in Jeddah, Abdullah Azzam, had
relocated to Peshawar,
a major border city of a million people in the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan. From
there, Azzam was able to organize resistance directly on the Afghan frontier.
After leaving college in 1979 bin Laden joined Azzam
to fight the Soviet Invasion
and lived for a time in
By 1984, with Azzam, bin Laden had established a Saudi Arabian funded
organization named Maktab al-Khadamat (MAK, Office of Order
in English), which funneled money, arms and Muslim
fighters from around the Arabic world into the Afghan war. Through
al-Khadamat, bin Laden's inherited family fortune paid for air tickets and
accommodation, dealt with paperwork with Pakistani authorities and provided
other such services for the jihad fighters. In running al-Khadamat, bin Laden
set up a network of couriers traveling between
Bin Laden was, though, a product of a monumental miscalculation by western
security agencies. Throughout the 80s he was armed by the CIA and funded by the
Saudis to wage jihad against the Russian occupation of
However, Peter Bergen, a CNN journalist and adjunct professor who is known for conducting the first television interview with Osama bin Laden in 1997, rejected Cook's notion, stating on August 15, 2006, the following:
that the CIA funded bin Laden or trained bin Laden—is simply
a folk myth. There's no evidence of this. In fact, there are very few things
that bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and the
Pakistani Brigadier Mohammad Yousaf, who ran ISI's Afghan operation between 1983 and 1987, emphasizes that the CIA funded and supported the mujahideen indirectly:
It was always galling to the Americans, and I can understand their point of
view, that although they paid the piper they could not call the tune. The CIA
supported the mujahideen by spending the taxpayers' money, billions of dollars
of it over the years, on buying arms, ammunition, and equipment. It was their secret
arms procurement branch that was kept busy. It was, however, a cardinal rule of
Other sources also dispute the notion that the CIA had any contact with non-Afghan mujahideen.
For a while Osama worked at the Services Office working with Abdullah Azzam
on Jihad Magazine, a magazine that gave information about the war with the
soviets and interviewed mujahideen. As time passed, Aymen Al Zawahiri
encouraged Osama to split away from Abdullah Azzam. Although Osama and the
Arabs were considered a minor "sideshow" in the war, Osama did
establish a camp in
Years later, in 1989, Azzam was blown up in a massive car bombing outside
the mosque. Bin Laden is thought by some to be a suspect in that assassination,
because of a rift in the direction of the jihad at that time.
Others doubt this claim; Ahmad Zaidan, for instance, author of the
Arabic-language book Bin Laden Unmasked, told Peter L. Bergen in an
interview, "I rule out totally that bin Laden would indulge himself in
such things, after all, Osama bin Laden, he's not type of person to kill
Abdullah Azzam. Otherwise, if he be exposed, he would be finished, totally."
By 1988, bin Laden had split from Maktab al-Khidamat because of strategic differences. While Azzam and his MAK organization acted as support for the Afghan fighters and provided relief to refugees and injured, bin Laden wanted a more military role in which the Arab fighters would not only be trained and equipped by the organization but also led on the battlefield by Arabic commanders. One of the main leading points to the split and the creation of al-Qaeda was the insistence of Azzam that Arab fighters be integrated among the Afghan fighting groups instead of forming their separate fighting force.
In 1990 Bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia a hero of jihad, celebrated in the
Saudi press as a pious, courageous warrior, who along with his "Arab
legion had brought down the mighty superpower" of the Soviet Union.
However, at about the same time the Iraqi army invaded neighbor Kuwait and bin
Laden was alarmed at the prospect that foreign non-Muslim troops would enter
the Kingdom to fight
[Bin Laden:] I am ready to prepare 100,000 fighters with good combat capability within three months. You don't need American. You don't need any other non-Muslim troops. We will be enough.
[Prince Sultan:] There are no caves in
[Bin Laden:] We will fight him with faith.
Bin Laden was rebuffed and publicly denounced
Bin Laden's increasingly strident criticisms of the Saudi monarchy led the
government to attempt to silence him. According to the 9/11 Commission Report, "with help from
a dissident member of the royal family, he managed to get out of the country
under the pretext of attending an Islamic gathering in Pakistan in April
Another report has bin Laden retreaving his passport
from the Saudi government to go to Peshwar in March 1992 to mediate the Afghan
Civil War. In any case Hassan al-Turabi, leader of the National Islamic Front, had invited bin
Laden to "transplant his whole organization to
Assisted by donations funneled through business and charitable fronts such
as Benevolence International, established by
his brother-in-law, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, and especially by
his stipend from the Bin Laden family business empire, bin Laden established a
new base for mujahideen operations in Khartoum, Sudan
to disseminate Islamist philosophy and recruit operatives in Southeast
Europe, and the United
States. Bin Laden also
invested in business ventures, such as al-Hajira, a construction company that
built roads throughout Sudan, and Wadi al-Aqiq, an agricultural corporation
that farmed hundreds of thousands of acres of sorghum, gum Arabic,
sesame and sunflowers in
Sudan's central Gezira province. Bin Laden's operations in
Bin Laden continued his verbal assault on Saudi King Fahd, for example by
financing an Advice and Reformation Committee in London that "sent faxes
by the hundreds to prominent Saudis" denouncing the king and corrpution in
the kingdom. On March 5, 1994, the King retaliated by personally revoking his
citizenship and sending an embassary to
By now Bin Laden was strongly associated with Egyptian Islamic Jihad who made up the core
of al-Qaeda by this time. In 1995 EIJ attempted
to assassinate Egyptian president Hosni
Mubarak with the help of al-Gama'a al-Islamiya
and the Sudanese intelligence service. The attempt failed and disastrous
backlash ensued. The EIJ was abruptly expelled from
Sudanese officials, whose government was under international sanctions,
offered to expel Osama bin Laden to
He returned to Afghanistan on a chartered plane and flew to Kabul before settling
in Jalalabad after being invited by Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, leader of the Islamic Union for the
Liberation of Afghanistan, a member of the Afghan Northern Alliance. After spending a
few months in the border region hosted by local leaders, bin Laden forged a
close relationship with some of the leaders of
Bin Laden is suspected of funding the November 1997 Luxor massacre in
It is believed that the first terrorist attack involving bin Laden was the December 29,
1992, bombing of the
Gold Mihor Hotel in Aden,
Yemen. The attack
was intended to kill American troops on the way to
It was after this bombing that al-Qaeda was reported to have developed its justificiation for the killing of innocent people, such as the two bystanders at the hotel. According to a fatwa issued by Mamdouh Mahmud Salim (aka, Abu Hajer al Iraqi), the most Islamically knowledgable of Al-Qaeda's members, the killing of someone merely standing near the enemy is justified because any innocent bystander, like the Yemini hotel worker, will find their proper reward in death, going to Paradise if they were good Muslims and to hell if they were bad or non-believers. The fatwa was issued to al-Qaeda members but not the general public.
In 1998, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, (a leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad), co-signed a fatwa (religious edict) in the name of the World Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders, declaring:
[t]he ruling to kill the Americans and their allies civilians and military—is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque (in Jerusalem) and the holy mosque (in Makka) from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim. This is in accordance with the words of Almighty Allah, 'and fight the pagans all together as they fight you all together,' and 'fight them until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in Allah'.
In response to the 1998 United States embassy bombings
following the fatwa, President Bill
Clinton ordered a freeze on assets that could be linked to bin Laden.
On November 4, 1998, Osama bin Laden was indicted by a Federal Grand Jury, and the United States Department of State offered a US$5 million reward for information leading to bin Laden's apprehension or conviction.
Islamic Front for Jihad against the
September 11, 2001 attacks
Osama bin Laden on December 27, 2001.
The FBI stated that evidence linking Al-Qaeda and bin Laden to the attacks
of September 11 is clear and irrefutable.
The Government of the United Kingdom reached
the same conclusion regarding Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden's culpability for the
September 11, 2001, attacks.
However, a "White Paper" by the
Bin Laden initially denied involvement in the September 11, 2001 attacks while praising them effusely, explaining their motivation, and dismissing American accusations of his involvement as an example of its hatred for Islam. On September 16, 2001, bin Laden read a statement later broadcast by Qatar's Al Jazeera satellite channel saying:
I stress that I have not carried out this act, which appears to have been carried out by individuals with their own motivation.
God has struck
Bin Laden claimed the Taliban were being attacked by American forces
because of their religion, not just because of the presence of
Osama bin Laden … It is a known fact that
In November 2001,
Another bin Laden video was released on December 27,
2001, with much the
same message as his first.
Terrorism against America deserves to be praised because it was a response to … the continuous injustice inflicted upon our sons in Palestine, Iraq, Somalia, southern Sudan, and … Kashmir.
Shortly before the U.S. presidential election in 2004, another taped statement was released and aired on Al Jazeera in which bin Laden abandoned his denials without retracting past statements. In it he told viewers he had personally directed the 19 hijackers, and gave what he claimed was his motivation:
I will explain to you the reasons behind these events, and I will tell you
the truth about the moments when this decision was taken, so that you can
reflect on it. God knows that the plan of striking the towers had not occurred
to us, but the idea came to me when things went just too far with the
American-Israeli alliance's oppression and atrocities against our people in
In two other tapes aired by Al Jazeera in 2006, Osama bin Laden announces,
I am the one in charge of the 19 brothers … I was responsible for entrusting the 19 brothers … with the raids [5 minute audiotape broadcast May 23, 2006],
Criminal charges and attempted extradition
The 9/11 Commission Report concludes "In February 1996, Sudanese
officials began approaching officials from the
On June 8,
1998 a United
jury indicted Osama bin Laden on charges of killing five Americans and two Indians in the 13 November
1995 truck bombing
of a U.S.-operated Saudi National Guard training center in Riyadh. Bin Laden was charged with "conspiracy to
attack defense utilities of the
On November 4, 1998 Osama bin Laden was indicted by a Federal Grand Jury in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, on charges of Murder of U.S. Nationals Outside the United States, Conspiracy to Murder U.S. Nationals Outside the United States, and Attacks on a Federal Facility Resulting in Death for his alleged role in the 1998 United States embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.
On June 7, 1999, bin Laden became the 456th person listed on the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, following his indictment along with others for capital crimes in the 1998 embassy attacks.
Attempts at assassination and requests for the extradition of bin Laden
from the Taliban
Years later, on October 10, 2001, bin Laden appeared as well on the initial list of the FBI's top 22 Most Wanted Terrorists, which was released to the public by the President of the United States George W. Bush, in direct response to the attacks of 9/11, but which was again based on the indictment for the 1998 embassy attack. Bin Laden was among a group of thirteen fugitive terrorists wanted on that latter list for questioning about the 1998 embassy bombings. Bin Laden remains the only fugitive ever to be listed on both FBI fugitive lists.
According to the Washington Post, the U.S. government concluded that Osama
bin Laden was present during the Battle of Tora Bora, Afghanistan in late 2001,
and according to civilian and military officials with first-hand knowledge,
failure by the U.S. to commit U.S. ground troops to hunt him led to his escape
and was the gravest failure by the U.S. in the war against al Qaeda.
Intelligence officials have assembled what they believe to be decisive
evidence, from contemporary and subsequent interrogations and intercepted communications, that bin Laden began the battle of Tora Bora
inside the cave complex along
The Washington Post also reported that the CIA unit dedicated to capturing Osama was shut down in late 2005.
Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, U.S. government officials named bin Laden and the Al-Qaeda organization as the prime suspects and offered a reward of $25 million for information leading to his capture or death. On July 13, 2007, this figure was doubled to $50 million.
Claims as to the location of Osama bin Laden have been made since December 2001, although none have been definitively proven and some have placed Osama in different locations during overlapping time periods.
A December 11, 2005 letter from Atiyah Abd al-Rahman to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi indicates that bin Laden and the al-Qaeda leadership were based in the Waziristan region of Pakistan at the time. In the letter, translated by the military's Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, "Atiyah" instructs Zarqawi to "send messengers from your end to Waziristan so that they meet with the brothers of the leadership … I am now on a visit to them and I am writing you this letter as I am with them…" Al-Rahman also indicates that bin Laden and al-Qaeda are "weak" and "have many of their own problems." The letter has been deemed authentic by military and counterterrorism officials, according to the Washington Post.
Reports alleging Osama bin Laden's death have circulated since late 2001. In the months following the 9/11 terrorist attack, many people believed that bin Laden was dead. This belief was perpetuated by subsequent media reports, though there has been stronger evidence to suggest that he is still alive.
The Sydney Morning Herald stated "Dr Clive Williams, director of terrorism studies at the Australian National University, says documents provided by an Indian colleague suggested bin Laden died of massive organ failure in April last year … 'It's hard to prove or disprove these things because there hasn't really been anything that allows you to make a judgment one way or the other', Dr. Williams said."
On September 23, 2006, the French newspaper L'Est Républicain quoted a report from the French secret service (DGSE) stating that Osama bin Laden had died in Pakistan on August 23, 2006 after contracting a case of typhoid fever that paralyzed his lower limbs. According to the newspaper, Saudi security services first heard of bin Laden's alleged death on September 4, 2006. The alleged death was reported by the Saudi Arabian secret service to its government, which reported it to the French secret service. The French defense minister Michèle Alliot-Marie expressed her regret that the report had been published while French President Jacques Chirac declared that bin Laden's death had not been confirmed. American authorities also cannot confirm reports of bin Laden's death, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice saying only, "No comment, and no knowledge." Later, CNN's Nic Robertson said that he had received confirmation from an anonymous Saudi source that the Saudi intelligence community has known for a while that bin Laden has a water-borne illness, but that he had heard no reports that it was specifically typhoid or that he had died.
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