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Osama bin Laden
A biography of the man suspected to be the financier and mastermind behind the terrorist attacks against the United States of September 11, 2001

Article added on October 1, 2001
 

Osama bin Laden was born in Riyadh in 1957. He is said to be the 17th of 52 children by Yemeni-born Muhammad bin Laden, Saudi Arabia's wealthiest construction magnate with close ties to King Faisal of Saudi Arabia. After his father's death in 1968, Osama bin Laden inherited some estimated $300 million.
 
According to The Mideast Mirror, after his secondary school graduation in Jiddah in 1973, Osama Bin Laden enjoyed life in nightclubs and bars in Beirut, a period which ended in 1975 with the outbreak of civil war in Lebanon.
 
In 1979, Osama bin Laden graduated from King Abdul Aziz University in Jiddah with a degree in civil engineering. The Camp David peace accords between Egypt and Israel, the overthrow of the Shah of Iran and the subsequent creation of an Islamic regime and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan changed the young man's perception of the world. "I was enraged," he told the newspaper Al Quds al Arabi.
 
After Soviet troops had invaded Afghanistan on December 26, 1979, Osama bin Laden left Saudi Arabia to join the Afghan resistance to fight the atheist communist regime. In the first half of the 1980s, he became a fund raiser for the mujahedeen in their jihad against the Soviets, provided the rebels with logistical and humanitarian aid, recruited and trained Arab nationals for war.
 
Mainly Pakistani but also American intelligence supported his actions. Pakistan’s state security services, the Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) was considered the CIA’s key conduit in their covert war against the Soviet occupation. For the Reagan administration, the Afghan mujahedeen and Osama bin Laden were, as the enemy's enemy, an ally in their efforts to contain Moscow in the region. However, according to Bin Laden and American intelligence sources, there was no direct contact between them.
 
In 1984, Osama bin Laden moved to the Pakistani border town of Peshawar. He was a co-founder of an organization called Maktab al-Khidamar (MAK) which recruited and trained soldiers around the world to fight in Afghanistan. He became a key supporter of Islamic fundamentalist terrorist groups. In 1987, Osama bin Laden split from MAK and established al Qaeda (the Islamic Salvation Foundation), an umbrella organization for ex-mujahedeen and other extremist groups. According to some Islamic sources, Osama bin Laden became an important guerilla leader in the late 1980s and participated in numerous battles against Soviet troops; other sources maintain that he remained a man in the background who was never active in war.

Osama bin Laden was one of those who, after having successfully fought the Soviet invaders in Afghanistan, thought that they could change their home countries too. According to Abdullah Anas, in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden fell under the influence of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad who had helped assassinate President Anwar el-Sadat in 1981. The war in Afghanistan led to an increased Muslim self-confidence as well to a radicalization. Osama bin Laden became involved in opposition movements to the Saudi monarchy while working for his family's Bin Laden Group, the country's biggest construction company.
 
According to Christian Müller (NZZ, October 2, 2001), the United States and Saudi Arabia both secretly supported the mujahedeen with some $60 million per year each. In 1984, they increased the yearly some to $350 million each. But is was the Pakistani ISI (in particular its key figure Hamid Gul) who decided who received the money. Only after an intervention by the later CIA boss Robert M. Gates, the followers of Ahmad Shah Masud also received arms [paragraph added on September 2, 2001].
 
During the Gulf War, Osama bin Laden opposed the US-Saudi alliance because King Fahd invited the United States and its allies to station forces in Saudi Arabia. The presence of American soldiers in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad with the holy cities of Mecca and Medina enraged bin Laden as well as other Arabs. Osama bin Laden turned radically anti-American. Another reason for him to turn against the United States was that when the Gulf War alliance was set up, the Palestinians were promised their own territory to administrate. Several conferences such as the one in Oslo took place in order to make the plan reality. However, until today, these promises could not fully be kept. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia has a corrupt and archaic regime, run by incompetent people. Despite its oil resources, the country has large debts.

In April 1991, after Saudi intelligence officials caught Osama bin Laden smuggling weapons from Yemen. The Saudi's withdrew his passport and later in 1991 expelled him for his political activities. In 1994, the Saudi government revoked his citizenship and moved to freeze his assets in Saudi Arabia because of his support for Muslim fundamentalist movements. Osama bin Laden first returned to Afghanistan. In 1992, he moved to Khartoum, Sudan. The ruling National Islamic Front (NIF) had made the country a safe haven for Muslim terrorists and extremists. Osama bin Laden began to set up legal businesses, including an import-export firm, a tannery, two farms and a road construction company. When Pakistan threatened to expel 480 mujahedeen near the Afghan border, bin Laden paid for the veterans to join him in Sudan. He also began to finance several terrorist camps in northern Sudan for radicals form Algeria, Egypt, Palestine and Tunisia.
 
According to US intelligence, the explosion of a bomb in a hotel in Aden, Yemen, on December 29, 1992, is considered the first terrorist attack involving bin Laden, who was considered one of the most influential men in Yemen. The two Yemeni Muslim militants arrested later had been trained in Afghanistan. In 1993, the World Trade Center was bombed by Muslim militants. Again, bin Laden was considered one of the men behind the terrorist attack.
 
In 1993, the State Department placed Sudan on their list of countries that sponsor terrorist activities. Osama bin Laden was accused of trying to obtain components of nuclear weapons and begining to work with Sudan's NIF to develop chemical weapons.
 
In 1995, Ramzi Yousef, the key figure behind the World Trade Center bombing, was captured in Pakistan and extradited to the United States. American investigators believe him to be financially linked to bin Laden. The same year, an unsuccessful assassination attempt on the life of the President of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, took place in Addis Abeba. American intelligence sources believe bin Laden was somehow involved.
 
In 1996, pressure by the United States and Saudi Arabia made the Sudan expel Osama bin Laden who moved back to Afghanistan. The same year, he wrote an open letter to King Fahd of Saudi Arabia. His first "Declaration of War" asked the king to drive U.S. forces from the Arabian Peninsula, to overthrow the Government of Saudi Arabia, to liberate Muslim holy sites and to support Islamic revolutionary groups around the world.
 
In 1996, President Clinton signed a top secret order that authorized the CIA to use any and all means to destroy bin Laden's network (according to PBS Frontline). In August 1996, a secret grand jury investigation began against Osama bin Laden in New York.
 
In May 1996, Osama bin Laden went back to Afghanistan where the Taliban, an Islamic fundamentalist militia, became the country's leading group. After four years of civil war, some Afghans saw the Taliban as a uniting force who would reinstall law and order. Soon, it became clear that the regime of terror they installed was even worse. All sorts of entertainment were banned and women's rights were abolished.

In February 1998, Osama bin Laden issued a joint declaration with the Islamic Group, Al Jihad, the Jihad Movement in Bangladesh and the "Jamaat ul Ulema e Pakistan" under the banner of the "World Islamic Front". It stated that Muslims should kill Americans (including civilians) anywhere in the world. Osama bin Laden called it a "fatwa" (a religious order issued by Islamic priests).
 
In Albania in June 1998, in a raid conducted by U.S. and Albanian security personnel, two suspected employees of bin Laden were arrested. Two weeks later, two more suspected bin Laden associates were arrested. 
 
On August 7, 1998, two bombs exploded simultaneously at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. In Kenya, 213 people died and in Tanzania 11 were killed.  According to Newsweek, U.S. intelligence intercepted a mobile phone conversation between two of bin Laden's lieutenants that implicated them in the embassy bombings.
 
In August 1998, the U.S. launched retaliation attacks against bin Laden with cruise missiles directed at suspected terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. They also bombed a pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum which, as it turned out, had been falsely accused of producing chemical weapons for bin Laden.
 
On November 4, 1998, a new American superceding indictment was issued against Osama bin Laden, Muhammad Atef (considered bin Laden's chief military commander) and other suspects charged with bombing two U.S. embassies and conspiring to commit other acts of terrorism against Americans abroad. Two rewards of five million dollars each were offered for Atef and bin Laden.
 
In connection with the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, on May 29, 2001, four followers of Osama bin Laden were convicted of charges including murder, conspiracy and perjury after a nine-week federal trial. Two of them face the death penalty at their sentencing, the other two face life in prison.
 
On September 11, 2001, 19 terrorists hijacked four passenger planes, two from American Airlines and two from United Airlines. In an unprecedented act of terrorism, the hijackers crashed two of them into New York City's 110-storey twin towers of the World Trade Center, killing over 5000 civilians. One American Airlines plane crashed into the Pentagon, killing more than 100 people. The fourth plane crashed in a rural area in Pennsylvania. The passengers probably hindered the hijackers to attack another building in Washington. Osama bin Laden is suspected to be the key financier and instigator of the terrorist attacks.
 
Time and again, one could read about "Kamikaze" attacks. That is incorrect in the sense that in the Second World War the Japanese pilots used their military planes (and not hijacked civilian passenger planes) and they crashed into military objects and personnel (not into the civilian population). The September 11 attacks were cowardly suicide attacks against innocent civilians.



Book added on June 29, 2004: 9/11 Commission Report. The Full Final Report of The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon The United States. W.W. Norton, Paperback, July 2004, 516 p. Get it from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.


Brand new but in French: Roland Jacquard: Au nom d'Oussama Bin Laden. September 2001, 400 p. Get it from Amazon.fr. Roland Jacquard is the president of  l'Observatoire internationale du terrorisme. He wrote his book before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
 

Walter Laqueur, Walter Reich: Origins of Terrorism : Psychologies, Ideologies, Theologies, States of Mind. Paperback, Woodrow Wilson Center Press, October 1998, 488 p. ISBN: 0943875897. Get it from: Amazon.com or Amazon.de.
 

Ahmed Rashid: Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and the Fundementalism in Central Asia. Yale University Press, 2000, 288 p. Get it from: Amazon.com.
 

Peter Marsden: The Taliban: War, Religion and the New Order in Afghanistan. Zed Books, 1998, 160 p. Get it from Amazon.com or Amazon.de.
 

Simon Reeve: The New Jackals: Ramzi Yousef, Osama bin Laden and the Future of
Terrorism
. Northeastern University Press, 1999, 256 p. Get it from Amazon.com.

Regarding the Taliban and their Islamic regime one can often read about a return to the Middle Ages in Afghanistan. Is that correct? No. In the Middle Ages, Islamic rulers such as the ones in Spain were relatively tolerant. It was up to the Spaniards to install a repressive regime in 1492 (the year in which Columbus "discovered" America): they chased out the last Moors as well as the Sephardic Jews from the Hispanic peninsula. Today's Taliban terror regime is a perversion of Islam. Even without the terror attacks in America, the "civilized" world should have intervened in Afghanistan a long time ago. The Taliban regime has already forced some one million Afghan refugees into Iran, some 100 000 into Tadchikistan and some 10 000 to Uzbekistan - these were the numbers before the September terrorist attacks. Since then, additional hundreds of thousands of people expecting an American military strike tried to flee to neighbouring countries.
 
The Taliban regime could not have survived without the support of the Pakistani intelligence service which has been active in Afghanistan since 1978, even before the Soviet invasion. The Pakistanis have supported the Taliban since 1994 and were largely responsible for helping them to seize power. In the past, American intelligence services have, at times, backed Pakistani and Taliban actions.
 
Neither the British colonials nor the Soviet invaders were able to control the Afghan territory. Present day Afghanistan is twice the size of Germany, but without highways and other features of modern infrastructure. It is a space divided by mountains and valleys. In short, a region virtually impossible to control.
 
Even if it were possible to catch Osama bin Laden, it is evident that the Saudi millionaire is just a small cog in al Qaeda. This umbrella organization grouping several terrorist forces with cells around the world can not easily be dismantled. As the Bush administration made clear, a broad political, diplomatic, military and economic and financial action is needed to come to terms with Osama bin Laden and his affiliated groups. And there are of course plenty of other terrorist groups around the world.
 
This should include peaceful solutions in the entire region. As long as Israel and its Prime Minister Ariel Sharon are not ready to accept a viable Palestine state, there will be no peace. In Palestine, unemployment reached around 40%. This is the climate in which an entire generation with no education and no future becomes an easy target for terrorist recruiters such as Osama bin Laden. Bush junior may also regret that his father did not chase Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War. Saddam's terror regime in conjunction with the Western economic sanctions against Iraq have destroyed one of the rare middle classes existing in the Arab world. Last but not least, there are regimes like Saudi Arabia which are not more likeable than let's say the one in Iran. As long as American and Western foreign policy in the region remains partial and partly hypocrite, there will be unrest, terror and even war. 
 
Regarding the Taliban, one should not forget another powerful reason for an intervention: the Afghan/Pakistan region is the world's largest heroin producer. Not only do they cause terrible suffering among heroin addicts especially in Europe, the heroin production and export also bring enormous sums of money into the pocket of the Taliban and terrorist groups. According to Russia, Osama bin Laden has 55 camps and 13 000 supporters in Afghanistan. Other sources say that Islamic terrorists from Algeria to Moro Rebels in the Philippines have been trained there.
 
So far Bush administration seems to be inclined to support the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, letting them do the dirty work on the ground to chase the Taliban. Military intervention in Afghanistan is an extremely delicate matter. There is not only the latent conflict between Muslim and Christian states and groups. There are important oil and gas fields in the region. There is the heroin. Pakistani and Afghans in the border region are both ethnically Pashtunes. Pakistan and its neighbour India are nuclear powers. In short, all the ingredients for a possible nightmare are united. It will soon turn out whether George W. Bush is an able president or not.