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Profile: Osama bin Laden

The story of a most-wanted fugitive and billionaire.

Osama bin Laden

Reportedly the architect of the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden accused the US of waging a war against Muslims and called for the overthrow of autocratic Arab regimes. 

This is his story: 

Divorced parents

Born to a billionaire father in Saudi Arabia, 1979 was the turning point when Osama went from being a business administration student to becoming a fighter in Afghanistan.

  • Childhood: Born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 1957, Osama was the 17th child born to Mohammed bin Laden, a Yemeni immigrant who owned the largest construction company in Saudi.
  • Osama's mother, Alia Ghanem, was from Syria and was briefly Mohammed's fourth wife before divorcing when Osama was four.
  • Osama was raised in Jeddah as a step son in his mother's new household, as Osama's father died in a helicopter crash. Osama was 11 years old at the time.
  • Politics: As Osama pursued a bachelor's degree in business administration at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, shocking news broke out that Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979.
  • That same year, the Islamic Revolution overthrew the Shah in Iran, and Soviet troops occupied Afghanistan.
  • From then on, Bin Laden embarked on a "long war" against foreign "crusaders" and autocratic regimes in the Middle East.

Afghanistan

  • Cold war: The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was met by local Afghan resistance armed and funded by an international coalition that included the United States, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, and China.
  • Under Operation Cyclone, the CIA armed and funded armed the Mujahidin rebels in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989.
  • Bin Laden was quoted saying: "For us, the idea was not to get involved more than necessary in the fight against the Russians, which was the business of the Americans, but rather to show our solidarity with our Islamist brothers."
  • Fundraising: In the first half of the 1980s, bin Laden set up in Peshawar, Pakistan to raise funds and recruit foreign Mujahidin.
  • "I settled in Pakistan in the Afghan border region, there I received volunteers who came from the Saudi kingdom and from all over the Arab and Muslim countries. 
  • I set up my first camp where these volunteers were trained by Pakistani and American officers. The weapons were supplied by the Americans, the money by the Saudis," Osama bin Laden said. 
Osama bin Laden: The weapons were supplied by the Americans, the money by the Saudis

Al-Qaeda

Just as with the Soviets in Afghanistan, bin Laden was against all foreign powers in the Muslim world.

  • Al-Qaeda: In 1988, one year before the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, bin Laden founded al-Qaeda. 
  • Bin Laden then returned to Saudi Arabia to step up fundraising for his new mission. He was welcomed, but the government grew cautious of him as he became more outspoken against authorities.
  • Sudan: In Khartoum, the Sudanese President Hassan al-Turabi dedicated to promoting a political agenda based on Islamic teachings.
  • Bin Laden moved to Sudan in 1992, where, among other things, he farmed and built roads.
  • Also in 1992, al-Qaeda struck for the first time, claiming responsibility for a hotel bombing aimed at American troops in Yemen, but no Americans died in the attack.
  • By 1994, he established training camps in Sudan for al-Qaeda fighters, while the Saudi government froze his assets and revoked his citizenship for refusing to come back to the kingdom.
  • Anger: Bin Laden was expelled from Sudan in 1996, under pressure from the Americans and Saudis. 
  • "During my interview with Sheikh Osama bin Laden, he criticised the Sudanese government and felt bitter about how they betrayed him. He had trusted them and believed they were establishing a true Muslim country. But in the end they stabbed him in the back," Abdel al-Bari Atwan, editor-in-chief, al-Quds al-Arabi said. 
  • "Muslims burn with anger at America. For its own good, America should leave [Saudi Arabia] ... There is no more important duty than pushing the American enemy out of the holy land. ... The presence of the US crusader military forces on land, sea and air of the states of the Islamic Gulf is the greatest danger threatening the largest oil reserve in the world," Osama bin Laden said in 1996, several months after being expelled from Sudan.
  • Embassies attacks: In 1998, al-Qaeda coordinated attack at the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing more than 220 people and injuring more than 5000.
Osama bin Laden: Muslims burn with anger at America.

9/11 

After the deadly attacks of 1998, al-Qaeda shook the world with a much deadlier attack, this time in the US itself.

  • On September 11, 2001, nearly 3,000 people were killed in New York City, in Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon when hijacked commercial airliners were slammed into all three locations.
  • "It had never occurred to us to strike the towers [on 9/11]. But after it became unbearable and we witnessed the oppression and tyranny of the American-Israeli coalition against our people in Palestine and Lebanon, it came to my mind," Bin Laden said in a videotape obtained in 2014. 
  • "It was confirmed to me that oppression and the intentional killing of innocent women and children is a deliberate American policy. Destruction is freedom and democracy, while resistance is terrorism and intolerance," he added. 
  • "So with these images ... the events of September 11th came as a reply to those great wrongs, should a man be blamed for defending his sanctuary?"
  • The attack triggered the "war on terror", which the US President George W Bush described as "our war on terror begins with al-Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated."

Manhunt

The CIA went after bin Laden in an international hunt that eventually got him in 2011. 

  • Bush nemesis: In 1999, the US declared al-Qaeda an international "terrorist" organisation conspiring to kill American citizens. 
  • After the 9/11 attacks in 2001, a reporter asked the US President George W Bush about bin Laden, "Do you want bin Laden dead?" 
  • "I want him - I want justice," the president answered. "And there's an old poster out West, as I recall, that said, 'Wanted: Dead or Alive.'"
  • In 2007, the US Senate doubled the reward for the death or capture of the al-Qaeda chief to $50m.
  • Obama: Osama bin Laden was assassinated on May 2, 2011, in a US operation in the Pakistan city of Abbottabad. His death was announced by US President Barack Obama.

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