Osama bin Laden: 1957-2011

Reaction to the announcement that Osama bin Laden had been killed nearly 10 years after masterminding the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil was strong and swift from American political leaders:

Former President George W. Bush stated “A victory for America, for people who seek peace around the world, and for all those who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001. The fight against terror goes on, but tonight America has sent an unmistakable message: No matter how long it takes, justice will be done.”

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg also stated “The killing of Osama bin Laden does not lessen the suffering that New Yorkers and Americans experienced at his hands, but it is a critically important victory for our nation. New Yorkers have waited nearly 10 years for this news. It is my hope that it will bring some closure and comfort to all those who lost loved ones on September 11, 2001.”

Osama bin Muhammad bin Awad bin Laden, the founder and leader of al-Qaeda and the face of global terror, was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 1957. He grew up amid wealth and privilege as the 17th of around 50 children of Mohammed bin Laden, a construction magnate with ties to the Saudi royal family. Bin Laden, whose mother was Syrian, was raised as a strict Wahhabi Muslim and educated in Saudi Arabia. His father was died in an air crash in 1967.

He married his first wife, a Syrian cousin at the age of 17, and is believed to have fathered more than 20 children by at least five wives. As a young man he joined his mentor, Abdullah Azzam, in Afghanistan to fight the Soviet invasion, establishing the Maktab al-Khadamat organisation and using the wealth he had inherited to inject funds and arms into the war.

At the end of the 1980s he returned to Saudi Arabia as a mujahideen hero, having vanquished the Russians, and also formed his own secretive group called al-Qaeda, or “The Base.” When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, Saudi Arabia turned to the US, leading bin Laden to denounce the country of his birth for allowing American troops onto its soil. Shunned by the Saudi government, and with his finances cut off, bin Laden headed for exile in Sudan in 1992, along with his loyal mujahideen fighters. He was by then closely linked to the Egyptian Islamic Jihad group led by Ayman al-Zawahiri.

When Egyptian Islamic Jihad tried to assassinate Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, in 1995 the group was expelled from Sudan. Bin Laden then returned to Afghanistan where, protected by the Taliban regime of Mullah Mohammed Omar, he established training camps for al-Qaeda’s global jihad.

According to the FBI’s Most Wanted list he became known by aliases including The Prince, the Emir, Abu Abdallah, Mujahid Shaykh, Hajj, and the Director. In August 7, 1998, the bombings of the US Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya killed more than 200 people. US missile strikes followed against his camps in Afghanistan but bin Laden was not injured. Other attacks linked to al-Qaeda followed including the 2000 suicide attack on the USS Cole by militants in Yemen.

Bin Laden then approved the September 2001 attacks and, after the worst terrorist atrocity in US history, immediately became the focus of the “War on Terror.” An attempt to capture him at his Tora Bora cave complex in Afghanistan failed and he was able to escape over the border into Pakistan. A reward of $25 million was put up for his capture, dead or alive, but bin Laden continued to frustrate US attempts to find him. Despite his distinctive appearance and 6ft 4in height the trail ran cold.

As the years went by the world’s most wanted man became cut off from the command structure of his own organisation, but was still able to issue occasional video messages to his followers. The fact he was still alive inspired other terrorists around the world and his death marked a momentous victory in the war on terror. However, he was finally killed in a US-led operation in Pakistan, ending almost ten years of living on the run .

Author: Jason Zajdel

Learning as I go along. It's an awesome ride. =-)