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Usama Bin Ladin
(Osama Bin Laden)

Osama bin Laden was killed on May 01, 2011 as a result of a U.S. Special Forces raid, codenamed Operation Neptune Spear, on his hideout compound in in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Prior to his death, Osama bin Laden was reported to have lived for five years in Abbottabad, a military cantonment in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province which is home to to the headquarters of one of the brigades from the Pakistani Army's 2nd Division. Abbottabad is located between Islamabad and Peshawar, Pakistan, approximately 30 miles from Islamabad.

Usama Bin Ladin was the founder of al-Qaeda and at one point the most wanted terrorist in the world. He was credited with direct involvement in the planning of attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11th, 2001.

Bin Ladin was born in Djidda, Saudi Arabia in 1957. His father, Muhammed bin Oud bin Ladin, was a Yemeni national and a self-made millionaire with extremely close ties to the House of Saud. The elder bin Ladin's built the largest construction company in the kingdom from the ground up thanks to his relationship with the royal family. He was also known as being a very devoted Muslim and raised all of his children in the strict Wahhabite tradition. Usama was the seventeenth of roughly fifty children sired by Muhammed with 11 wives. His mother was Syrian and Muhammed's 11th wife.

Usama completed his schooling in the city of Jeddah, earning a degree in management and civil engineering from King Abdul-Aziz University there. He married his first wife at the age of 17, four years after the death of his father. Like his father, Usama was a devout Muslim from an early age. However, there is conflicting evidence that Usama, like many aristocratic Saudi youth, may or may not have been drawn into debauchery during visits to Beirut. Also there is debate over his family status during adolescence, as some state that during his youth he began to feel neglected and overlooked within his own family, as he was a minor son compared to his elder brothers. He did in fact lack major status in the family compared to the likes of his older brother Salim, who was posed to be the heir to their father's empire, but it is unclear whether or not he was isolated from most of the family.

While at university, Bin Ladin began to associate with Islamic radicals who played on his feelings of inner religious crisis and growing isolation from his family to lead him towards becoming an extremist. He was introduced to local members of the Muslim Brotherhood, who only drove Usama further towards extremism.

Released video footage from Osama bin Laden's Abbottabad Compound showing the founder of al-Qaeda's 'A Message to the American People' videoHis life changed entirely in 1979. He had met the head of the Saudi security service, Prince Turki Ibn Faisal Ibn Abdelaziz the previous year and went to him for advice after he became infuriated by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Following Prince Turki's suggestion that Bin Ladin use his financial assets to aid the Afghan resistance, Usama traveled to neighboring Pakistan to wage jihad on the Soviet Union.

Bin Ladin had no experience in guerilla warfare, but he quickly realized that he could make use of his wealth and his connections with the Saudi royal family to support the resistance effort. He joined forces with an Islamist Palestinian, Abdallah Azzam, to form a new group of mujaheddin. While Bin Ladin would remain a relatively minor player in the Afghan war and Islamic militancy in general, Azzam was already centrally important in adding to radical Islamic theory. Specifically, Azzam emphasized that waging jihad against the Soviets was a personal duty for all Muslims. Azzam would be in charge of the manpower, while Bin Ladin would arrange for their transportation and supply. In order to manage the large amount of money needed for such an operation, Bin Ladin founded the Islamic Salvation Foundation and assisted Azzam with establishing the Mekhtab Ah-Khidemat Al-Mujahideen (MAK), which was also known as the Office of Services of the Mujahaddin. This agency would become the principal recruiting agent for so called Arab Afghans, non-Afghan Islamist fighters in Afghanistan. MAK had offices all over the world and would eventually recruit mujahaddin from over 35 countries. Bin Ladin worked to build infrastructure within Afghanistan to further the mujahaddin movement. Beyond simple support, he also fought personally in several skirmishes with Soviet troops in a leadership capacity.

Bin Ladin's efforts in Afghanistan, along with the rest of the mujahaddin movement there, were supported by the United States through Pakistani Interservice Intelligence, most vigorously from 1986 to 1989. In this period, the United States partnered with Saudi Arabia in providing financial support for the resistance in Afghanistan totaling $500 million per year. Weapons were sold at cut rates to the mujahaddin and by 1987 the US facilitated the importation of an estimated 65,000 tons of weapons according to a former CIA official. Also, Stinger man portable anti-aircraft missiles were provided to the mujahaddin to destroy Soviet aircraft. The British Special Air Service provided training for weapons training with this system and others throughout the conflict. All US support was abruptly ended in 1989 after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan. Most of this support went to native Afghan fighters rather than Bin Ladin and his ilk.

Released video footage from Osama bin Laden's Abbottabad Compound showing the founder of al-Qaeda watching images of himself on televisionBin Ladin's friend and quasi-mentor Azzam was killed in a car bombing in 1989, and the incident caused Usama to come in closer contact with Algerian Islamists. At this time, he was persuaded to invest in their terrorist campaign and this relationship persisted in the future. Bin Ladin was being pulled into financing international terrorism, rather than just the campaign in Afghanistan against the Soviets.

Another important consequence of Bin Ladin's time in Afghanistan was his acquaintance with Ayman al-Zawahiri, who would become the leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) during this period. Zawahiri would "loan" two militants to Bin Ladin who would later become crucial to his organization: Muhammed Atef and Abu Ubaidah al Banshiri. Such practices are common within the Islamic extremist community, as militants are fairly commonly members of more than organization. al-Zawahiri has worked extensively with Bin Ladin and in June 2001 he directed EIJ into a merger with al-Qaeda officially. He has been a crucial ally for Usama in all of his pursuits.

At the end of the Soviet-Afghan War, Bin Ladin had achieved celebrity status throughout the Muslim world for his work. Upon his return to Saudi Arabia he was welcomed as a hero. Cassettes of his speeches were popular throughout the kingdom. At this time, Bin Ladin revived a group he had started in Afghanistan during the war known as al-Qaeda. Muhammed Atef was his most important ally in the founding of this organization. In the early 1990s, the group was an umbrella for Bin Ladin's various projects, which included support for several Islamist terrorist movements.

A major culminating event in Bin Ladin's life was the Persian Gulf War in 1990-1991. After his return to Saudi Arabia, he was disgusted by the influence of Western culture on Saudi Arabia. Bin Ladin was absolutely enraged when the Saudi government invited the United States military onto its territory to defend against possible Iraqi aggression. He felt it sacrilegious to have American troops on Saudi soil, as the two holiest cities in Islam, Mecca and Medina, are located in Saudi Arabia. Instead he proposed defending Saudi Arabia with his band of mujahaddin and his family's construction assets to Prince Sultan, the defense minister at the time. After being politely rejected, Bin Ladin felt extremely alienated from the political progress and directed his ire against the Saudi government. Due to repeated diatribes against them, the Saudi royal family deemed Bin Ladin persona non grata and expelled him from the country, although Usama would maintain some high level contacts in Saudi Arabia long after. His status was made official in 1994 when his Saudi citizenship was revoked. Pakistan made it clear that Bin Ladin was not welcome there either.

On the advice of a friend in the Saudi government, Bin Ladin flew to Sudan. There he began organizing his group in earnest. He collected Arab Afghans who desired to carry on fighting in a holy war from all over the world. Hundreds of fighters from all over the world were brought to training camps in Sudan. Bin Ladin also spent millions to import arms for his followers. While preparing for jihad, he also invested heavily in Sudan to help placate the government (which was already dominated by Islamists) and to grow his personal wealth. In addition to building his own group with international reach, Usama also reached out to support Islamic militarism throughout the world, particularly in Yemen, his father's homeland, as well as Albania, where he traveled as part of an official Saudi delegation in 1994.

In 1996, under heavy pressure from the US, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, Sudan expelled Bin Ladin by requesting that he leave. Before this, there had been two major attempts on Bin Ladin's life at his compound in Sudan, possibly perpetrated by the Saudis. Now Bin Ladin was faced with a crisis as where to relocate himself and the bulk of his movement, and he decided on Afghanistan.

Upon his return to Afghanistan, Bin Ladin worked very hard to recultivate contacts he had had with Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence (ISI) during the Soviet-Afghan War. Concurrently, he worked to engender himself with the ISI's proxy in Afghanistan, the Taliban, the movement that began as a movement of Islamic students and by 1996 had conquered a great portion of the country. The Taliban enforced an extremely strict interpretation of Islam which was inline with Usama's personal ideology. To curry good favor and secure his sanctuary, he spent millions of dollars supporting the Taliban, including the supervision of construction of several infrastructure projects. Beyond that, he committed al-Qaeda fighters to the civil war the Taliban was fighting against other factions in Afghanistan.

Usama's views had coalesced over the years into desiring a global salafist jihad against the "far enemy" (the United States and other Western countries), that he accuses of keeping apostate regimes in power in the Islamic world. Salafism specifically is an Islamic ideology that calls for a return to the ways of the followers of the Prophet (the Arabic term for these disciples is salafiyya) in the 9th century. Followers of salafism believe that the Islamic world is in a state of decline due to cosmic reasons related to God's displeasure as Muslims have gotten away from what salafists consider the true state of Islam. The main target of these ideologues had been the regimes in the Middle East that were considered heretical. Bin Ladin himself has been important in shifting the focus from the "near enemy" presented by these regimes to the "far enemy" thus uniting jihadis who had differing local concerns under an international banner.

In the 1990s, Bin Ladin twice issued manifestos explaining his goals and calling for all Muslims to join him in his quest. The first, issued on 23 August 1996 was titled "A declaration of war against the Americans occupying the land of the two holy places". In his missive, Bin Ladin routinely quotes from ibn-Tamiya, a 15th century scholar important to the ideological development of Islamic extremism. The influence of other predecessors, especially Sayyid Qutb is apparent. Bin Ladin outlines his view that violent activism against the "Crusader-Zionist" alliance is an individual duty of all Muslims, similar to Azzam's calls during the Soviet-Afghan War. Much of the document is aimed at Saudi Arabia, however the shifted focus to attacking the United States and other Western powers is clear. He also details the methods as requiring light forces that swiftly and secretly move against the enemy. In 1998, Bin Ladin issued a second declaration announcing the formation of the "World Islamic Front" and again calling for jihad. He speaks out against divisions in the Islamic community (fitna) and calls for action against American and Jews specifically. Importantly, the declaration calls for the killing of Americans, whether they be combatants or civilians, in furtherance of the jihad. Several leaders of allied local movements signed on to the letter, most importantly al-Zawahiri of EIJ (his signature caused a schism within the organization as several leaders wanted to keep the focus of attacks on the Egyptian government). Around the same time of the 2nd manifesto, Bin Ladin granted an interview to an American journalist in which he adamantly denied being a terrorist and justified attacks against all Americans because of their status as taxpayers supporting the government and its activities.

On 7 August 1998, al-Qaeda members conducted simultaneous truck bombings of the American embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania killing hundreds. In response, President Clinton directed the military to strike at suspected al-Qaeda related facilities with Tomahawk cruise missiles in Operation Infinite Reach. The first target was a chemical plant in Sudan, which was accused of being the location of manufacture for materials related to chemical weapon development. This claim has met with much controversy as many, including the Sudanese government, have claimed the plant was a pharmaceutical factory not involved with illicit activity. The second target was a training camp in Afghanistan used by al-Qaeda. The US had received specific intelligence that Bin Ladin was present for a meeting and were intent on killing him in the strike. However, he had left several hours earlier. Damage was done to camp buildings and roughly twenty militants were killed. The attacks did little to hinder or deter Bin Ladin and indeed established him again as a famed figure in the jihad.

The attacks enhanced the prestige of Bin Ladin among Islamic extremists and there is evidence that recruiting and fundraising efforts were aided by this. In October 2000, two suicide boat attacks against US Navy warships were attempted by al-Qaeda members, the second being successful in damaging the USS Cole and killing several sailors and marines. Throughout this time, the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon of September 11th, 2001 were being planned. It is unclear the degree of participation that Bin Ladin himself has in planning any operations. Al-Qaeda is at times a very decentralized organization. Operations planned by the core group of leadership around Bin Ladin include the embassy bombings, the USS Cole, and World Trade Center and Pentagon, although it seems that Bin Ladin does not assume any major planning responsibility. At most, he approves of potential operations and is aware of their progress.

Following September 11th, the United States government quickly determined that the attacks had been predicated by Bin Ladin and his al-Qaeda organization. The US State Department demanded that the Taliban hand over Bin Ladin and his leadership cadre as well as put a halt to al-Qaeda activities in Afghanistan. Upon their refusal to do so, the United States began Operation Enduring Freedom on 7 October 2001 to remove the Taliban from Afghanistan and either capture or destroy the elements of al-Qaeda they protected. It is believed that he escaped over to the border into Pakistan from his mountain refuge in Tora Bora during Operation Anaconda in March 2002. His current whereabouts are unknown, but widely speculated to be somewhere in Northern Pakistan, either in the Northwest Frontier Province or Baluchistan. A good portion of the population of this region are radicalized and perhaps likely to provide shelter to Usama. His current ability to continue coordination activities with al-Qaeda and to communicate with other elements of the movement is unknown.

On 24 January 2005, it was revealed that the United States government was considering an increase of the longstanding reward for information leading to the confirmed death or capture of Bin Ladin to $50 million US dollars.

Former CIA case officer Gary Schroen was quoted by CNN on 31 May 2005 stating that Bin Ladin was in hiding in an area north of Peshawar in Pakistan. He maligned the previous Pakistani search efforts in Waziristan (a region south of Peshawar) as misdirected.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 13:06:28 ZULU