bin Laden, Osama

bin Laden, Osama
born 1957, Riyadh, Saud.Ar.

Leader of a broad-based Islamic extremist movement implicated in numerous acts of terrorism against the U.S. and other Western countries.

The son of a wealthy Saudi family, he joined the Muslim resistance in Afghanistan after the 1979 Soviet invasion of that country. Following his homecoming, he became enraged at the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia during the Persian Gulf War (1990–91) and, through a network of like-minded Islamic militants known as al-Qaeda, launched a series of terrorist attacks. These acts included the bombings of the World Trade Center in New York City in 1993, the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and the U.S. warship Cole in Aden, Yemen, in 2000. A self-styled Islamic scholar, bin Laden issued several legal opinions calling on Muslims to take up jihad (holy war) against the U.S., and in 2001 a group of militants under his direction launched the September 11 attacks, which led to the deaths of some 3,000 people. The U.S. thereafter demanded bin Laden's extradition from Afghanistan, where he was sheltered by that country's Taliban militia, and launched attacks on Taliban and al-Qaeda forces when that ultimatum was not met. With the collapse of the Taliban, bin Laden and his associates went into hiding.

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▪ 2002

      Almost as soon as Americans grasped the reality of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, their attention began to focus on the figure of Osama bin Laden. The vehemence of his anti-Americanism, the scope of his resources, and the refinement of planning already exhibited in Bin Laden's previous terrorist attacks had advertised his readiness to resort to such breathtaking brutality. Subsequent investigation confirmed Bin Laden's involvement.

      Bin Laden was born on March 10, 1957, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the son of a wealthy contractor with ties to the Saudi royal family. He attended King Abdul Aziz University in Riyadh, where he took a degree in 1981. In 1980 Bin Laden traveled to Peshawar, Pak., and became active in recruiting “Arab Afghans,” Muslims from various countries who went to fight with the Afghan mujahideen against the Soviet army. Through associations with these militant Islamists, he began to devote himself to the cause of international jihad. He established al-Qaeda, an organization that was establishing camps inside Afghanistan for the purpose of training Arab Afghans to fight in other countries.

      After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, Bin Laden returned home to Saudi Arabia, where he opposed the government over the stationing of U.S. troops in the country at the time of Iraq's occupation of Kuwait. In 1991 he was expelled, and three years later his Saudi citizenship was revoked. Meanwhile, the jihad in Afghanistan had lost its focus, and Bin Laden settled in The Sudan, where he invested in several commercial enterprises as support and cover for al-Qaeda. From there he allied himself with other militant Islamist organizations. After 18 U.S. soldiers were killed in Somalia in October 1993—for which Bin Laden later took credit—the U.S. withdrew its forces, which confirmed for Bin Laden the weakness of American resolve.

      Forced to leave The Sudan in May 1996, he moved once more to Afghanistan, where the Taliban was now in a position to offer him protection. Early in 1998 al-Qaeda joined militants from other countries in an international jihad against Jews and “Crusaders”—it was announced that every Muslim had the duty to kill or fight Americans and their allies, whether civilian or military. Responsibility for the August 1998 bombing of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania was laid on Bin Laden, and the U.S. launched cruise missiles against targets in The Sudan and Afghanistan. Surviving the attacks and harboured by the Taliban, Bin Laden became a world figure, as admired in the Muslim world as he was reviled in the U.S.

      Despite repeated demands from the West, the Taliban refused to surrender Bin Laden to any form of international justice. After the September 11 attacks, however, the Taliban themselves became the target of U.S. reaction. Bin Laden, meanwhile, demonstrated his mastery of another Western technology—the media—by releasing a series of videotaped interviews to the Qatar-based satellite network Al-Jazeera in which he taunted the U.S. and its allies. At year's end, as allied troops mopped up the remains of Taliban resistance, Bin Laden had still not been apprehended.

Stephen Sego

▪ 1999

      When bombs ripped through American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on Aug. 7, 1998, the United States was quick to suspect that Saudi-born millionaire Osama bin Laden was the orchestrator of the explosions. Since 1996 he had been described by the U.S. State Department as "one of the most significant financial sponsors of Islamic extremist activities in the world today." There was no doubt that bin Laden had advocated terrorist activities and had a significant number of followers; he issued a call to arms in February 1998 that stated: "We—with God's help—call on every Muslim who believes in God and wishes to be rewarded to comply with God's order to kill the Americans and plunder their money wherever and whenever they find it." Though he was accused by U.S. intelligence sources of having masterminded a number of terrorist attacks—notably deadly 1995 and 1996 bombings in Saudi Arabia that were aimed at U.S. military personnel—proof of his role in any of the incidents remained, like bin Laden himself, elusive.

      Osama bin Mohammad bin Laden was born c. 1957 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. As the son of a self-made construction billionaire, he inherited a large fortune. The same year that he graduated (1979) from King Abdul Aziz University in Jiddah, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, and bin Laden, a devout Muslim, traveled there to aid the mujahideen in their jihad (holy war) against the Soviets. He recruited many of the so-called Arab Afghans—volunteer resistance fighters from the Persian Gulf nations—to aid the U.S.-backed mujahideen fighters. Drawing from his personal wealth and funds raised from other wealthy Muslims, he also financed training camps. By 1991 bin Laden's hatred of the United States had crystallized; he viewed the U.S. troops stationed in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War as armed infidels and denounced the House of Saud for allowing the troops into the country. In 1991 the Saudi government expelled bin Laden (he was deprived of his citizenship in 1994), and he fled to The Sudan, where he operated several businesses and also, reportedly, a number of clandestine terrorist training camps. The Sudan forced bin Laden to leave in mid-1996, and he returned to Afghanistan, where he allegedly established at least two training facilities, including one that the U.S. termed a "terrorist university."

      Several weeks after the embassy bombings, the U.S. fired missiles at bin Laden's "terrorist university" in Afghanistan and at a Sudan pharmaceutical plant thought to be manufacturing nerve gas on bin Laden's orders. He continued to deny his involvement in terrorist activities. The U.S. charged bin Laden with inciting violence against American citizens and requested his deportation to the U.S. to face trial. By year's end, however, Afghanistan's ruling Islamic militia, the Taliban, had said that bin Laden was a guest in their country and that he would be prosecuted in Afghanistan only if the U.S. could supply convincing evidence of his involvement in terrorist acts.


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▪ Saudi Arabian militant
also spelled  Usāmah ibn Lādin  
born 1957, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
 mastermind of numerous terrorist (terrorism) attacks against the United States and other Western powers, including the 1993 bombing of New York City's World Trade Center, the 2000 suicide bombing of the U.S. warship Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden, and the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon near Washington, D.C. (see September 11 attacks).

      Bin Laden was one of more than 50 children of one of Saudi Arabia's wealthiest families. He attended King Abdul Aziz University, where he received a degree in civil engineering. Shortly after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, bin Laden, like thousands of other Muslims from throughout the world, joined the Afghan resistance, viewing it as his Muslim duty to repel the occupation. After the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, bin Laden returned home as a hero, but he was quickly disappointed with what he perceived as the corruption of the Saudi government and of his own family. His objection to the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia during the Persian Gulf War led to a growing rift with his country's leaders. By 1993 he had purportedly formed a network known as al-Qaeda (Qaeda, al-) (Arabic: “the Base”), which consisted largely of militant Muslims bin Laden had met in Afghanistan. The group funded and organized several attacks worldwide, including detonating truck bombs against American targets in Saudi Arabia (1996), killing tourists in Egypt (1997), and simultaneously bombing the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (1998), which altogether killed nearly 300 people. In 1994 the Saudi government confiscated his passport after accusing him of subversion, and he fled to The Sudan, where he organized camps that trained militants in terrorist methods, and from where he was eventually expelled in 1996. He later returned to Afghanistan, where he received protection from its ruling Taliban militia.

      In 1996–98 bin Laden, a self-styled scholar, issued a series of fatwās (Arabic: “religious opinions”) declaring a holy war against the United States, which he accused, among other things, of looting the natural resources of the Muslim world and aiding and abetting the enemies of Islam. Bin Laden's apparent goal was to draw the United States into a large-scale war in the Muslim world that would overthrow moderate Muslim governments and reestablish the Caliphate (i.e., a single Islamic state). To this end, al-Qaeda, aided by bin Laden's considerable wealth, trained militants and funded terrorist attacks. It had thousands of followers worldwide, in places as diverse as Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Libya, Bosnia, Chechnya, and the Philippines. Following the September 11 attacks, the United States led a coalition in late 2001 that overthrew the Taliban and sent bin Laden into hiding. Nearly three years passed, during which time U.S. forces hunted bin Laden along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Bin Laden emerged in a videotaped message in October 2004, less than a week before that year's U.S. presidential election, in which he claimed responsibility for the September 11 attacks.

John Philip Jenkins Ed.

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Universalium. 2010.

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