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Osama bin Laden
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Osama bin Laden

Sheikh Usamah bin Muhammad bin Awad bin Ladin (born March 10 or July 30, 1957), commonly known as Osama bin Laden (Arabic: أسامة بن لادن), is the leader and head of al-Qaida, widely regarded as the most extensive terrorist organization in the world. He is a member of the immensely rich bin Laden family. The bin Laden family (which has intimate connections in the innermost circles of the Saudi royal family) publicly distanced themselves from Osama bin Laden several months after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Some evidence however suggests some remaining ties between the bin Laden family and Osama.

The United States government has named Osama bin Laden as the prime suspect in the September 11 attacks, which killed 2,992 people. He has denied this accusation, although a videotape captured in Afghanistan in 2001 showed him discussing the attacks in language which, if the tape is authentic, strongly suggested that he was at the least a participant in planning them. For a discussion of the evidence for Osama's involvement in September 11, see below.

He is widely proclaimed to be the "most wanted man in the world." Among some in the Islamic world he is considered a hero. But many others in the world hate him and everything he stands for. On March 18 2004, the United States House of Representatives unanimously voted to double the reward for information leading to his capture from US$25 million to US$50 million. His current whereabouts are unknown, although he is widely believed to be near the Afghan-Pakistani border, or hiding in the semi-autonomous Pakistani tribal areas of Waziristan.

Osama bin Laden speaks and writes Arabic, and possibly knows Pashto.

Table of contents
1 Names
2 Appearance and Manner
3 Childhood
4 Afghan Jihad
5 Formation of Al-Qaida
6 Terrorist attacks on the USA
7 Osama and September 11
8 Current status
9 See also
11 External links


Osama bin Laden's name can be transliterated in several ways. The form used here, Osama bin Laden, is used by most Western media, including CNN and the BBC. Other forms include Usama bin Laden (used by the FBI and FOX News), as well as Ussamah Bin Ladin and Oussama Ben Laden. The latter part of the name can also be found as ibn Laden, Binladen or Binladin.

Strictly speaking, under the Arabic naming convention, it is incorrect to use "bin Laden" as though it was a Western surname. His full name means "Osama, son of Mohammed, 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. The family company is known as Binladin Brothers for Contracting and Industry and is one of the largest corporations in Saudi Arabia. For this reason, although the Arabic convention would be to refer to him either 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.

Osama bin Laden has several aliases, including the Prince, the Emir, Abu Abdallah, Mujahid Shaykh, Hajj, and the Director.

Appearance and Manner

Bin Laden is widely recognized as lanky — tall and thin, the FBI describes his height as between 6' 4" (193cm) to 6' 6" (198cm) and his weight as about 160 pounds (75kg). Like most Arabs, bin Laden has an olive complexion. He is left-handed and walks with a cane.

He might have jaundice as he reportedly suffers from kidney disease (see below).


Osama bin Laden was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 1957, the seventeenth of 52 children of Muhammad bin Laden, a wealthy businessman involved in construction and with close ties to the royal family of Saudi Arabia.

The vast number of siblings is explained through polygamy — there was one father, but different mothers. A woman who in 1971 had attended an English language course with Osama recalled him saying with some sadness that his mother was a concubine [1]. Some might argue that if true, this might help explain bin Laden's later complaints over lax moral standards in Saudi Arabia and his later full embrace of radical Islam.

His family originally came from Hadramawt, Yemen. He was raised as a devout Sunni Muslim and in interviews he frequently invokes Allah. After his graduation from secondary school in 1973, bin Laden went to Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, going to bars and nightclubs there. As a college student, he studied business and project administration. He also earned a degree in civil engineering from King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah in 1979, possibly as preparation for taking over parts of his father's extensive construction and civil engineering business.

After his father died, bin Laden inherited what was first estimated to be a fortune of US$300 million; more recent estimates put his holdings at about US$25 million.

Afghan Jihad

His wealth and connections permitted him to pursue his interest in supporting the mujahedeen, Muslim guerrillas fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. (See the History of Afghanistan.) By 1984 he was running a front organization called Maktab al-Khadamat (MAK) (Office of Order in English), which funneled money, arms and fighters into the Afghan war.

MAK was supported by the governments of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and nurtured by Pakistan's state security services.

Formation of Al-Qaida

By 1988, Osama bin Laden had split from the MAK and established a new guerilla group, dubbed al-Qaida, which included many of the more militant MAK members he had met in Afghanistan. The Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989. Osama was lauded as a hero in Saudi Arabia. During the Gulf War against Iraq however, he publicly made statements highly critical of Saudi Arabia's dependence on the U.S. military and demanded that all foreigners leave 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 profoundly shocked and revolted Bin Laden and might have been decisive in turning him against the U.S. In Bin Laden's eyes, the U.S. soldiers were "infidels" (arguably a majority of U.S. soldiers are non-Muslim) and according to his beliefs, the presence of "infidels" (who even were members of a foreign military force) in the "Holy Land" (Saudi Arabia, according to universal Muslim beliefs) could not be tolerated. Bin Laden reportedly became severely upset with the Saudi government over allowing the U.S. military into the country. The view that U.S. support of the Saudi monarchy turned Bin Laden against the United States, because Bin Laden viewed the Saudi monarchy as corrupt, materialist and irreligious, probably confuses cause and effect. In any case, Bin Laden subsequently began to severely criticize the monarchy and was forced to flee to Sudan in 1991, where he set up a new base of operations.

With the assistance of terrorist sponsoring false charities such as Benevolence International and such as those started by Osama's brother in law, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, he was able to expand the group's focus and send group members to Southeast Asia, Africa, Europe, and the United States for the purpose of recruiting new members and spreading radical fundamental Islam. Bin Laden lost his Saudi citizenship in 1995 after he admitted his involvement in terrorist attacks in Riyadh and Dahran.

In 1996 Sudan made repeated overtures to the United States to extradite Osama bin Laden, arrest him, monitor him, and/or provide intelligence on the activities of him and his associates, but the Clinton administration never accepted their offers. In May 1996 he was expelled from Sudan. He then headed for Afghanistan. Having arrived in Jalalabad, he spent a few months in the border region near Pakistan, hosted by local leaders. After the Taliban took control in 1996/1997 bin Laden forged a close relationship with some of the leaders of their government, notably Mohammed Omar. He supported the Taliban rule with large sums of money over the following years. Bin Laden moved to Kandahar in 1997.

The 1997 Luxor tourist massacres in Egypt are believed to have been financed by bin Laden, who has had close links with Egyptian fundamentalist groups (e.g. Ayman al-Zawahiri, his cohort in al Qaeda, was implicated and sentenced to death in absentia for the massacre).

In an interview in 1997, bin Laden stated that he never personally knew Ramzi Yousef, another well-known terrorist.

Terrorist attacks on the USA

Osama bin Laden's first strike against the United States was a bombing of a hotel in Yemen. The soldiers that were targeted had left two days earlier for Somalia. Two Austrian tourists were killed. Some sources say that Osama bin Laden funded and/or directed the World Trade Center bombing in 1993. It is also alleged that Osama and the Indonesian terrorist known as Hambali funded the Operation Bojinka planned terrorist attack until police discovered the plot in Manila, Philippines on January 6, 1995.

In 1998, bin Laden was a co-signatory with Ayman Zawahiri (formerly of Egyptian Islamic Jihad) to a fatwa, or religious/legal edict, put out in the name of the World Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders, declaring, "The 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'." (statement linked below) His beliefs appeal to Islamic believers in violent Jihad.

President Bill Clinton ordered assets linked to bin Laden frozen in 1998, but none were ever found. Clinton also authorized Osama's arrest and/or assassination while in office; one assassination attempt with cruise missiles in August 1998 failed, while killing 19 other people. The U.S. offered a US$25 million reward for information leading to bin Laden\'s apprehension or conviction and, in 1999, convinced the United Nations to impose sanctions against Afghanistan in an attempt to force the Taliban to extradite him.

Osama bin Laden is wanted by the United States in connection with the August 7, 1998 bombings of the United States embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya, in which over 200 people died. Due to this incident, he is on the FBI ten most wanted fugitives and FBI Most Wanted Terrorists list since June 1999. Bin Laden is also alleged to have ordered the USS Cole bombing. The 2000 celebration terrorist attacks plot failed, as did the Paris embassy terrorist attack plot.

Osama and September 11

Immediately after the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attacks in the United States, the United States government named Osama bin Laden as the prime suspect. At first he denied this accusation, suggesting the attacks were the fault of Jews or of the CIA. But in subsequent statements and interviews he expressed admiration for whoever was responsible. He took credit for "inspiring" what he calls the "blessed attacks" of September 11th in several public statements.

In December 2001 U.S. forces in Afghanistan captured a videotape during a raid on a house in Jalalabad, in which a man who looks like bin Laden is seen and heard discussing the September 11 attacks with a group of followers. He is heard to say:

We calculated in advance the number of casualties from the enemy, who would be killed based on the position of the tower. We calculated that the floors that would be hit would be three or four floors. I was the most optimistic of them all. (...Inaudible...) Due to my experience in this field, I was thinking that the fire from the gas in the plane would melt the iron structure of the building and collapse the area where the plane hit and all the floors above it only. This is all that we had hoped for. (full text of the tape transcript)

In December 2001 there was disagreement whether the tape should be released or not. Some in the Bush Administration believed the tape would provide decisive evidence for bin Laden's involvement in the September 11th attacks; other feared allegation that the tape was fabricated, taking into account the poor quality of the tape. The tape was finally released on December 13. Already on the 14th, allegation arose from the Pakistani political party JUI that the tape was doctored, the photographic quality of the video being so low that a fake bin Laden would be indistinguishable. Others claimed that the video could have been doctored using digital technology and computers. In January 2002 CNN reported the U.S. spread leaflets of doctered photographs of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, portraying him shaved and in western clothing, aiming to lead the Al-Qaida fighters to believe that Osama had deserted them.[1] Some argued that if the U.S. was willing to fabricate photographs to achieve their goals then they would probably also be willing to fabricate videos. United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, when asked "...whether the leaflet could be used by some to say the United States is willing to doctor or make up things -- as has been alleged about the videotape found in Afghanistan by the United States..." (quoting the above cited article), he is reported to have replied that he had not thought about the possibility.

In January 2002 a German expert in Middle Eastern studies, Gernot Rotter, as well as two other independent translators of Arabic, reported in German television (ARD) and newspapers (Netzeitung and Der Spiegel) that several serious mistakes could be found in the official American translation of the tape. An example, among many, cited by them was that the words "In advance" in the sentence "We calculated in advance the number of casualties from the enemy", simply did not exist in the original Arabic recording.

Over the course of time after the attacks September the 11th several other videotapes which were at the time presented as evidence for bin Laden's involvement was presented in the media (11.11.01 Sunday Times / Al-Jazeera 26.12.02 / 04.02 Al-Jazeera/AP / Sunday Times 19.05.02 / 09.02 Al-Jazeera etc). The video found in Jalalabad in December 2001 is still the most often cited as evidence for bin Laden's participation, suggesting that this video presents the strongest case for a bin Laden involvement in the September 11th attacks.

Interestingly, the United States presented evidence to NATO behind closed doors as early as October 2001 of Osama bin Laden's involvement in the 11th of September attacks. NATO's general secretary George Robertson reported to AP that the U.S. had presented clear and decisive evidence of Osama bin Laden's participation, causing him to invoke article 5 in the NATO pact. The evidence presented to NATO was never presented to the public nor in the open press; according to American officials, the reason for this was fears that terrorists might find out secrets about American intelligence. The nature of this evidence thus still remains uncertain. The U.S. -- because of its unwillingness to show the evidence that NATO found so compelling -- has had to resort to low quality videos (like the 2001 Jalalabad video) when presenting evidence to the public.

If this tape is authentic and its transcripts correctly translated, it shows at the very least that bin Laden claimed to some that he had advance knowledge of the attacks on the World Trade Center, including the precise nature of the attacks. One leading al-Qaida member, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, claims (according to his interrogators) that the idea for the attacks came from him and not from bin Laden. Khalid has been in United States custody since September 2003. The extent to which bin Laden was involved in funding or overseeing the operation is unknown. Despite this, and despite the fact that bin Laden's assumed involvement in the 9/11 attacks has never been publicly, transparently and conclusively established, it has, as of 2004, become the mainstream opinion ("world opinion") that bin Laden was responsible for and/or masterminded the attacks, argued by some to have been a consequence of the continued assertions from US officials that he was responsible. Whether it will even be possible in light of such overwhelming public opinion to objectively establish the truth about his involvement in the attacks (eg. in the event of his capture) remains to be seen. However, there is more substantial evidence for bin Laden's involvement in other, pre-9/11 attacks. It is for this reason that the FBI's most wanted poster of bin Laden only makes reference to bin Laden being sought for pre-9/11 terrorist activity.

Nevertheless, bin Laden has publicly praised the 9/11 attacks in several instances and has taken credit for being their "inspiration." It is clear in many of his public statements that he views himself as an active participant in the attacks, whether or not he deserves the credit the West gives him as their "mastermind." A good example is this passage from his October 2001 interview with Al-Jazeera:

As for the World Trade Center, the ones who were attacked and who died in it were a financial power. It wasn't a children's school! And it wasn't a residence. And the general consensus is that most of the people who were in there were men that backed the biggest financial force in the world that spreads worldwide mischief [ta`ithu fil ardi fasaadaa]. And those individuals should stand for Allah, and to re-think and re-do their calculations. We treat others like they treat us. Those who kill our women and our innocent, we kill their women and innocent, until they stop from doing so.[1]

Current status

As of June 2004, Osama bin Laden's current location is unknown, and indeed it is not known with certainty that he is still alive. His last known definite location was in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2001. After the September 11 attacks, the United States asked the Taliban government of Afghanistan to extradite him. The Taliban's counter-offer to try bin Laden in an Islamic court or extradite him to a neutral country, and not directly to the United States, was deemed unacceptable. The United States invaded Afghanistan and overthrew the Taliban. They were however unable to locate bin Laden. The U.S. launched heavy air attacks against areas in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area, such as the Tora Bora mountains, where it was believed bin Laden may have been hiding in caves. It is possible that he was killed in these raids. There has been no authenticated sighting of him since the end of 2001.

There have also been suggestions that bin Laden may have died of natural causes. The United States military has reported that he suffers from a kidney disorder, requiring him to have access to advanced medical facilities, possibly dialysis. In this context, it is worth to recall that the prominent Al-Qaida member Ayman al-Zawahiri, also an FBI Most Wanted Terrorist, is a physician (and assumed to be bin Laden's doctor). Although Osama has been disowned by his family (who use the spelling Binladin, following the traditional British English way of transliteration), some of his relatives say he continues to receive financial support from his family. (See external links below).

A Spanish court indicted Osama bin Laden and 34 others on charges related to terrorism on September 17, 2003.

Iranian news agency IRNA reported on February 27, 2004 that bin Laden had been caught some time earlier in Pakistan. The news was spread by Asheq Hossein, director of the state-sponsored radio station, who mentioned two sources. The first source was a reporter of the Pakistani newspaper 'The Nation', Shamim Shahed, who denied ever telling this to Hossein. The second source was 'someone closely related to intelligence agencies and Afghan tribal elders'. Both the Pentagon and a spokesperson of the Pakistani armed forces have denied the capture of bin Laden. Similar rumours have appeared from time to time since the start of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, but none have been confirmed.

See also


"To kill Americans and their allies, civilians and military, is an individual duty of every Muslim who is able." ([1]). (February 23, 1998)

"This war in Iraq makes millions of dollars for big corporations, either weapons manufacturers or those working in the reconstruction, such as Halliburton and its sister companies...It is crystal clear who benefits from igniting the fire of this war and this bloodshed: They are the merchants of war, the bloodsuckers who run the policy of the world from behind the scenes. President Bush and his ilk, the media giants, and the U.N ... all are a fatal danger to the world, and the Zionist lobby is their most dangerous member. God willing, we will persist in fighting them..." (more complete transcript) (April 15, 2004)

External links