Osama bin Laden

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Osama Muhammed Awad bin Laden
Born March 10, 1957 (age 49)
Saudi Arabia Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

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, is a Saudi Arabian militant Islamist and is often believed to be one of the founders of the organization called al-Qaeda. In conjunction with several other Islamic militants, bin Laden issued a fatwa (Islamic religious edict), that Muslims should kill civilians and military personnel from the United States and allied countries until they withdraw support for Israel and 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. It has also been said that he is linked to the 2000 USS Cole bombing, the Bali nightclub bombings, the Madrid bombings, as well as bombings in the Jordanian capital of Amman and in Egypt's Sinai peninsula.

Although bin Laden has not been indicted for the September 11, 2001 attacks, he has taken responsibility for the attacks, which 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 Centre in New York City and caused severe damage to The Pentagon outside of Washington, DC. Altogether, 2,973 people were killed.

Family and childhood

Osama 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 was the late Muhammed Awad bin Laden, a wealthy businessman involved in construction and 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.

In 1994 bin Laden's family publicly disowned him, shortly before the Saudi Arabian government revoked his citizenship for anti-government activity. He 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. .

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.

Al-Attas' step family in Jeddah

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.

Education and politicization

Bin Laden was raised as a devout Sunni Muslim. But from 1968 to 1976, he attended the relatively secular Al-Thager Model School, the most prestigious high school in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, called "the school of the élite." However, during the 1960s, King Faisal had welcomed exiled teachers from Syria, Egypt, and Jordan, so that around 1971 or 1972, at Saudi high schools and universities, it was common to find many of whom had become involved with dissident members of the Muslim Brotherhood. During that time, bin Laden was exposed to those educators' banned political teachings during after-school Islamic study groups.

As a college student at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, bin Laden studied civil engineering and business administration. He earned a degree in civil engineering in 1979 and also one in economics and public administration, in 1981.

Osama bin Laden is an expert in Islamic jurisprudence and completed a portion of his Islamic education under the guidance of Musa al-Qarni.

At the university, bin Laden was influenced by several professors with strong ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Among them was Muhammad Qutb, an Egyptian, whose brother, the late Sayyid Qutb, had written one of the Brotherhood’s most important tracts about anti-Western jihad, Signposts on the Road. The university at Jeddah is also where bin Laden met Dr. Abdullah Yusuf Azzam. Azzam was a teacher there while bin Laden was in attendance, and he would later play a crucial role working with bin Laden in the Afghanistan resistance against the Soviets.

Married life in Jeddah

In 1974, at the age of 17, bin Laden married his first wife, Najwa Ghanem, his mother's niece, and a first cousin, who was from Syria. The marriage ceremony took place in Najwa's native land, at Latakia, in northwestern Syria. After the birth of his first son, Abdallah, they moved from his mother's house to a building in the Al-Aziziyah district of Jeddah.

Although bin Laden reportedly married four other women, he divorced one, Umm Ali bin Laden (i.e., the mother of Ali), a University lecturer who studied in Saudi Arabia, and spent holidays in Khartoum, Sudan, where Osama later settled during his exile in the years 1991 to 1996. According to Wisal al Turabi, the wife of Sudan's ruler Hassan Turabi, Umm Ali taught Islam to some families in Riyadh, an upscale neighbourhood in Khartoum. The three latter wives of Osama bin Laden were all university lecturers, highly educated, and from distinguished families. 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 between 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.

Appearance and manner

Bin Laden is often described as lanky; the FBI describes him as tall and thin, being 6' 4" (193 cm) to 6' 5" (195 cm) tall and weighing about 165 pounds (75 kg). 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 CNN's In The Footsteps of bin Laden television program, he is near-fluent in the English language.

Usage variations of Osama's name

Because there is no universally accepted standard in the West for transliterating Arabic words and names into English, Osama's name is transliterated in many ways. The version often used by most English-language mass media is Osama bin Laden. Most American government agencies, including the FBI and CIA, use either Usama bin Laden or Usama bin Ladin, both of which are often abbreviated to UBL. Less common renderings include Ussamah Bin Ladin and Oussama Ben Laden (French-language mass media). The latter part of the name can also be found as Binladen or Binladin. Strictly speaking, under Arabic linguistic conventions, it is incorrect to use "bin Laden" in a similar manner as a Western surname. His full name means "Osama, son of Mohammed, son of 'Awad, son of Laden". However, the bin Laden family (or "Binladin," as they prefer to be known) generally use the name as a surname in the Western style. Although Arabic conventions dictate that he be referred to as "Osama" or "Osama bin Laden", using "bin Laden" is in accordance with the family's own usage of the name and is the near-universal convention in Western references to him.

Bin Laden also has several commonly used aliases and nicknames, including the Prince, the Sheikh, Al-Amir, Abu Abdallah, Sheikh Al-Mujahid, the Director, and Samaritan..

Military and militant activity

Jihad in Afghanistan

Group photo of Ayman Al Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden & Abu Hafs.Prosecution exhibit from the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui. This image has an uncertain copyright status and is pending deletion. You can comment on the removal.
Group photo of Ayman Al Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden & Abu Hafs.
Prosecution exhibit from the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui.
This image has an uncertain copyright status and is pending deletion. You can comment on the removal.

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. Peshawar is only 15 km east of the historic Khyber Pass, through the Safed Koh mountains, connected to the southeastern edge of the Hindu Kush range. This route became the major avenue of inserting foreign fighters and material support into eastern Afghanistan for the resistance against the Soviets, and also in later years.

After bin Laden graduated from the university in Jeddah, he went to fight the Soviet Invasion in 1979 . He lived for a time in Peshawar. According to Rahimullah Yusufzai, executive editor of the English-language daily The News International in 2001 "Azam prevailed on him to come and use his money" for training recruits, reported Yusufzai. In the early 1980s, bin Laden lived at several addresses in and around Arbab Road, a narrow street in the University Town neighborhood in western Peshawar, Yusufzai said. Nearby in Gulshan Iqbal Road is the Arab mosque that Abdullah Azzam used as the jihad centre, according to a Reuters inquiry in the neighbourhood. 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." Bergen also cites Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who speculates that there were more likely candidates than bin Laden: "It could be Hekmatyar, it could be KHAD, it could be the Mossad, the Egyptians [around Ayman al Zawahiri].... I met with Hekmatyar, an arrogant, self-centered person. I think Hekmatyar had a secret organization to eliminate his enemies."

By 1984, with Azzam, bin Laden had established an organization named Maktab al-Khadamat (MAK, Office of Order in English), which funneled money, arms and Muslim fighters from around the 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 Afghanistan and Peshawar, which continued to remain active after 2001, according to Yusufzai.

Robin Cook, former leader of the British House of Commons and Foreign Secretary from 1997-2001, wrote in The Guardian on Friday, July 8, 2005,

Osama bin Laden
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 Afghanistan. Al-Qaida, literally "the database", was originally the computer file of the thousands of mujahideen who were recruited and trained with help from the CIA to defeat the Russians.
Osama bin Laden

However, Peter Bergen, a CNN journalist and adjunct professor who is known for conducting the first television interview with Osama bin Laden in 1997, refuted Cook's notion, stating on August 15, 2006, the following:

Osama bin Laden
The story about bin Laden and the CIA -- 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 U.S. government agree on. They all agree that they didn't have a relationship in the 1980s. And they wouldn't have needed to. Bin Laden had his own money, he was anti-American and he was operating secretly and independently.

The real story here is the CIA didn't really have a clue about who this guy was until 1996 when they set up a unit to really start tracking him.

Osama bin Laden

It is more likely that the CIA was concerned and watching Osama bin Laden at least by early 1995 due to the discovery of the Oplan Bojinka plot which in part involved a suicide airplane attack on CIA Headquarters.

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. Osama formed his own army of mujahideen and fought the Soviets. One of his most significant battles was the battle of Jaji, which was not a major fight, but it earned him a reputation as a fighter.

Formation of al-Qaeda

By 1988, bin Laden had split from the MAK 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 be commanded on the battlefield by Arabic. One of the main leading point 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.

After Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, bin Laden offered to help defend Saudi Arabia (with 12,000 armed men) but was rebuffed by the Saudi government. Bin Laden publicly denounced his government's dependence on the U.S. military and demanded an end to the presence of foreign military bases in the country. According to reports (by the BBC and others), the 1990/91 deployment of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia in connection with the Gulf War upset Muslims because the Saudi government claims legitimacy based on their role as guardians of the sacred Muslim cities of Mecca and Medina. After the Gulf War cease-fire agreement left Saddam Hussein remaining in power in Iraq, the ongoing presence of long-term bases for non-Muslim U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia continued to undermine the Saudi rulers' perceived legitimacy and inflamed anti-government Islamist militants, including bin Laden.

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 1991." Hassan al-Turabi, leader of the National Islamic Front, had invited bin Laden to "transplant his whole organization to Sudan" in 1989. Bin Laden's agents had begun purchasing property in Sudan in 1990. When the Saudi government began putting pressure on him in 1991, bin Laden moved to Sudan. The Saudi government revoked his citizenship in 1994.

Assisted by donations funneled through business and charitable fronts such as Benevolence International, established by his brother-in-law, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden established a new base for mujahideen operations in Khartoum, Sudan to disseminate Islamist philosophy and recruit operatives in Southeast Asia, Africa, 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 Sudan were protected by the powerful Sudanese NIF government figure Hassan al Turabi. While in Sudan, bin Laden married one of Turabi's nieces.

Refuge in Afghanistan

Sudanese officials, whose government was under international sanctions, offered to expel Osama bin Laden to Saudi Arabia in the mid-1990s provided that the Saudis pardon him. The Saudis refused because they had already revoked his citizenship and would not accept him in their country. Consequently, in May 1996, under increasing pressure from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United States, Sudan asked bin Laden to leave and he returned to Afghanistan. He chartered a 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 Afghanistan's new Taliban government, notably Mullah Mohammed Omar. Bin Laden supported the Taliban regime with financial and paramilitary assistance and, in 1997, he moved to Kandahar, the Taliban stronghold.

Bin Laden is suspected of funding the November 1997 Luxor massacre in Egypt conducted by Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya, the largest Egyptian militant Islamist group. The Egyptian government convicted bin Laden's colleague, one of the leaders of Al-Gama'a al-Islamiyya, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, and sentenced him to death in absentia for the massacre.

Attacks on United States targets

It is believed that bin Laden was involved with the December 29, 1992, bombing of the Gold Mihor Hotel in Aden, Yemen, which killed a Yemeni hotel employee and an Austrian national and seriously injured the Austrian's wife.

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:

Osama bin Laden
[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'.
Osama bin Laden

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. Clinton also signed an executive order, authorizing bin Laden's arrest or assassination. In August 1998, the U.S. launched an attack using cruise missiles. The attack failed to harm bin Laden but killed 19 other people.

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.

In an interview with journalist Rahimullah Yusufzai published in TIME Magazine, January 11, 1999, Osama Bin Laden is quoted as saying:

Osama bin Laden
"The International Islamic Front for Jihad against the U.S. and Israel has issued a crystal-clear fatwa calling on the Islamic nation to carry on jihad aimed at liberating holy sites. The nation of Muhammad has responded to this appeal. If the instigation for jihad against the Jews and the Americans in order to liberate Al-Aksa Mosque and the Holy Ka'aba Islamic shrines in the Middle East is considered a crime, then let history be a witness that I am a criminal."
Osama bin Laden

September 11, 2001 attacks

Immediately after the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States, U.S. government officials named bin Laden and the al-Qaeda organization as the prime suspects. After the 9/11 attacks, the reward offered by the U.S. government increased to $25 million. The Airline Pilots Association and the Air Transport Association are offering an additional $2 million reward.

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.

Bin Laden initially denied, but later admitted involvement in the September 11, 2001 attacks. On September 16, 2001, bin Laden denied any involvement with the attacks by reading a statement which was broadcast by Qatar's Al Jazeera satellite channel: "I stress that I have not carried out this act, which appears to have been carried out by individuals with their own motivation." This denial was broadcast on U.S. news networks and worldwide.

In November 2001, U.S. forces recovered a videotape from a destroyed house in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, in which Osama bin Laden is talking to Khaled al-Harbi. In the tape bin Laden admits foreknowledge of the attacks. The tape was broadcast on various news networks on December 13, 2001.

On December 27, 2001, a second bin Laden video was released. In the video he stated "Terrorism against America deserves to be praised because it was a response to injustice, aimed at forcing America to stop its support for Israel, which kills our people," but he stopped short of admitting responsibility for the attacks.

Shortly before the U.S. presidential election in 2004 in a taped statement, bin Laden publicly acknowledged al-Qaeda's involvement in the attacks on the U.S, and admitted his direct link to the attacks. He said that the attacks were carried out because, "We are free and do not accept injustice. We want to restore freedom to our nation." In this video, aired on Al Jazeera on October 30, 2004, bin Laden also stated that had personally directed the 19 hijackers.

Another video obtained by Al Jazeera in September 2006 shows Osama bin Laden with Ramzi Binalshibh, as well as two hijackers, Hamza al-Ghamdi and Wail al-Shehri, as they make preparations for the attacks.

Criminal charges and attempted extradition

As a result of international pressure, Sudan asked bin Laden to leave the country in 1996. According to the 9/11 Commission Report, "Saudi officials apparently wanted bin Laden expelled from Sudan," but would not accept offers to extradite him to Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden chartered a plane and moved to Afghanistan that year. There are conflicting claims as to whether Sudan offered to extradite bin Laden to the United States in 1996. President Clinton, his administration officials, and the 9-11 commission deny such an offer was made; businessman Mansoor Ijaz, former Sudanese officials, and former U.S. ambassador to Sudan Tim Carney claim that extradition offers were made "through unofficial channels" by Sudan.

On June 8, 1998 a United States grand jury indicted Osama bin Laden on charges of killing five Americans and two Indians in the 13 November 1995 truck bombing of a US-operated Saudi National Guard training centre in Riyadh. Bin Laden was charged with "conspiracy to attack defense utilities of the United States" and prosecutors further charged that bin Laden is the head of the terrorist organization called al Qaeda, and that he was a major financial backer of Islamic terrorists worldwide. Bin Laden denied involvement but praised the attack.

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.

The evidence against bin Laden included courtroom testimony by former Al Qaeda members and satellite phone records.

Attempts at assassination and requests for the extradition of bin Laden from the Taliban of Afghanistan were met with failure. In 1999, U.S. President Bill Clinton convinced the United Nations to impose sanctions against Afghanistan in an attempt to force the Taliban to extradite him. The U.S. Department of State currently offers a $25 million reward for information leading directly to his apprehension or conviction.

Current whereabouts

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 Centre 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.

Alleged deaths

Reports alleging Osama bin Laden's death have appeared from time to time.

April 2005

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."

August 2006

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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