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Osama bin Laden
أسامة بن لادن
Bin Laden being interviewed by Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir (c. 1997)
Born Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden
(1957-03-10)March 10, 1957
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Died May 2, 2011(2011-05-02) (aged 54)
Abbottabad, Pakistan 34°10′9″N 73°14′33″E / 34.16917°N 73.2425°E / 34.16917; 73.2425
Place of burial Arabian Sea
Nationality Saudi Arabia (1957–1994)
Stateless (1994–2011)[1]
Years active 1979–2011
Successor Ayman al-Zawahiri[2]
Religion Sunni Islam (Qutbism)[3][4]
Military career
Allegiance al-Qaeda
Years of service 1988–2011

Soviet war in Afghanistan
Global War on Terrorism:

Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden (/ˈsɑːmə bɪn mˈhɑːmɨd bɪn əˈwɑːd bɪn ˈlɑːdən/; Arabic language: أسامة بن محمد بن عوض بن لادن‎, Usāmah bin Muḥammad bin ‘Awaḍ bin Lādin; March 10, 1957 – May 2, 2011) was the founder of al-Qaeda, the Sunni militant Islamist organization that claimed responsibility for the September 11 attacks on the United States, along with numerous other mass-casualty attacks against civilian and military targets.[5][6][7] He was a Saudi Arabian, a member of the wealthy bin Laden family, and an ethnic Yemeni Kindite.[8]

He was born in the bin Laden family to billionaire Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden in Saudi Arabia. He studied there in college until 1979, when he joined the mujahideen forces in Pakistan against the Soviets in Afghanistan. He helped to fund the mujahideen by funneling arms, money and fighters from the Arab world into Afghanistan, also gaining popularity from many Arabs.[9] In 1988, he formed al-Qaeda.[10] He was banished from Saudi Arabia in 1992, and shifted his base to Sudan, until US pressure forced him to leave Sudan in 1996. After establishing a new base in Afghanistan, he declared a war against the United States, initiating a series of bombings and related attacks.[11] Bin Laden was on the American Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) lists of Ten Most Wanted Fugitives and Most Wanted Terrorists for his involvement in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings.[12][13][14]

From 2001 to 2011, bin Laden was a major target of the War on Terror, as the FBI placed a $25 million bounty on him in their search for him.[15] On May 2, 2011, bin Laden was shot and killed inside a private residential compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, by members of the United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group and Central Intelligence Agency operatives in a covert operation ordered by United States President Barack Obama.[16][17]

Early life and education

Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden[18] was born in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia,[19] a son of Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden, a billionaire construction magnate with close ties to the Saudi royal family,[20] and Mohammed bin Laden's tenth wife, Hamida al-Attas (then called Alia Ghanem).[21] In a 1998 interview, bin Laden gave his birth date as March 10, 1957.[22]

Mohammed bin Laden divorced Hamida soon after Osama bin Laden was born. Mohammed recommended Hamida to Mohammed al-Attas, an associate. Al-Attas married Hamida in the late 1950s or early 1960s, and they are still together.[23] The couple had four children, and bin Laden lived in the new household with three half-brothers and one half-sister.[21] The bin Laden family made $5 billion in the construction industry, of which Osama later inherited around $25–30 million.[24]

Bin Laden was raised as a devout Wahhabi Muslim.[25] From 1968 to 1976, he attended the élite secular Al-Thager Model School.[21][26] He studied economics and business administration[27] at King Abdulaziz University. Some reports suggest he earned a degree in civil engineering in 1979,[28] or a degree in public administration in 1981.[29] One source described him as "hard working";[30] another said he left university during his third year without completing a college degree.[31] At university, bin Laden's main interest was religion, where he was involved in both "interpreting the Quran and jihad" and charitable work.[32] Other interests included writing poetry;[33] reading, with the works of Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery and Charles de Gaulle said to be among his favorites; black stallions; and association football, in which he enjoyed playing at centre forward and followed the English club Arsenal F.C.[34]

Personal life

In 1974, at the age of 17, bin Laden married Najwa Ghanem at Latakia, Syria;[35] they were separated before September 11, 2001. Bin Laden's other known wives were Khadijah Sharif (married 1983, divorced 1990s); Khairiah Sabar (married 1985); Siham Sabar (married 1987); and Amal al-Sadah (married 2000). Some sources also list a sixth wife, name unknown, whose marriage to bin Laden was annulled soon after the ceremony.[36] Bin Laden fathered between 20 and 26 children with his wives.[37][38] Many of bin Laden's children fled to Iran following the September 11 attacks and as of 2010, Iranian authorities reportedly continue to control their movements.[39]

Bin Laden's father Mohammed died in 1967 in an airplane crash in Saudi Arabia when his American pilot misjudged a landing.[40] Bin Laden's eldest half-brother, Salem bin Laden, the subsequent head of the bin Laden family, was killed in 1988 near San Antonio, Texas, in the United States, when he accidentally flew a plane into power lines.[41]

The FBI described bin Laden as an adult as tall and thin, between 6 ft 4 in and 6 ft 6 in (193–198 cm) in height and weighing about 160 pounds (73 kg). Bin Laden had an olive complexion and was left-handed, usually walking with a cane. He wore a plain white turban and he had stopped wearing the traditional Saudi male headdress.[42] Bin Laden was described as soft-spoken and mild-mannered in demeanor.[43]


There is no universally accepted standard for transliterating Arabic words and Arabic names into English;[44] bin Laden's name is most frequently rendered "Osama bin Laden". The FBI and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), as well as other U.S. governmental agencies, have used either "Usama bin Laden" or "Usama bin Ladin". Less common renderings include "Ussamah bin Ladin" and, in the French-language media, "Oussama ben Laden". Other spellings include "Binladen" or, as used by his family in the West, "Binladin". The decapitalization of bin is based on the convention of leaving short prepositions and articles uncapitalized in surnames; however, bin means "son of" and is not, strictly speaking, a preposition or article. The spellings with o and e come from a Persian-influenced pronunciation also used in Afghanistan, where bin Laden spent many years.

Osama bin Laden's full name, Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden, means "Osama, son of Mohammed, son of Awad, son of Laden". "Mohammed" refers to bin Laden's father Mohammed bin Laden; "Awad" refers to his grandfather, Awad bin Aboud bin Laden, a Kindite Hadhrami tribesman; "Laden" refers not to bin Laden's great-grandfather, who was named Aboud, but to a more distant ancestor.

The Arabic linguistic convention would be to refer to him as "Osama" or "Osama bin Laden", not "bin Laden" alone, as "bin Laden" is a patronymic, not a surname in the Western manner. According to bin Laden's son Omar bin Laden, the family's hereditary surname is "al-Qahtani" (Arabic language: القحطاني‎, āl-Qaḥṭānī), but bin Laden's father Mohammed bin Laden never officially registered the name.[45]

Osama bin Laden had also assumed the kunyah "Abū ‘Abdāllāh" ("father of Abdallah"). His admirers have referred to him by several nicknames, including the "Prince" or "Emir" (الأمير, al-Amīr), the "Sheik" (الشيخ, aš-Šaykh), the "Jihadist Sheik" or "Sheik al-Mujahid" (شيخ المجاهد, al-Mujāhid Šaykh), "Hajj" (حج, Ḥajj), and the "Director".[46] The word usāmah (أسامة) means "lion",[47] earning him the nicknames "Lion" and "Lion Sheik".[48]

Beliefs and ideology

According to former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer, who led the CIA's hunt for Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader was motivated by a belief that U.S. foreign policy has oppressed, killed, or otherwise harmed Muslims in the Middle East,[49] condensed in the phrase, "They hate us for what we do, not who we are." Bin Laden also said only the restoration of Sharia law would "set things right" in the Muslim world. He opposed such alternatives as "pan-Arabism, socialism, communism, democracy."[50]

This belief, in conjunction with violent jihad, has sometimes been called Qutbism after being promoted by Sayyid Qutb.[51] Bin Laden believed that Afghanistan, under the rule of Mullah Omar's Taliban, was "the only Islamic country" in the Muslim world.[52] Bin Laden consistently dwelt on the need for violent jihad to right what he believed were injustices against Muslims perpetrated by the United States and sometimes by other non-Muslim states.[53] He also called for eliminating the state of Israel, and forcing the United States to withdraw from the Middle East. He called on Americans to "reject the immoral acts of fornication, homosexuality, intoxicants, gambling, and usury", in an October 2002 letter.[54]

Bin Laden's ideology included the concept that civilians, including women and children, are legitimate targets of jihad.[55][56] Bin Laden was anti-Semitic, and delivered warnings against alleged Jewish conspiracies: "These Jews are masters of usury and leaders in treachery. They will leave you nothing, either in this world or the next."[57] Shia Muslims have been listed along with "heretics, [...] America, and Israel" as the four principal "enemies of Islam" at ideology classes of bin Laden's al-Qaeda organization.[58]

Bin Laden opposed music on religious grounds,[59] and his attitude towards technology was mixed. He was interested in "earth-moving machinery and genetic engineering of plants" on the one hand, but rejected "chilled water" on the other.[60]

His viewpoints and methods of achieving them had led to him being designated as a terrorist by scholars,[61][62] journalists from The New York Times,[63][64] the BBC,[65] and Qatari news station Al Jazeera,[66] analysts such as Peter Bergen,[67] Michael Scheuer,[68] Marc Sageman,[69] and Bruce Hoffman.[70][71] He was indicted on terrorism charges by law enforcement agencies in Madrid, New York City, and Tripoli.[72]

Bin Laden's overall strategy against much larger enemies such as the Soviet Union and United States was to lure them into a long war of attrition in Muslim countries, attracting large numbers of jihadists who would never surrender. He believed this would lead to economic collapse of the enemy nations.[73] Al-Qaeda manuals clearly express this strategy. In a 2004 tape broadcast by al-Jazeera, bin Laden spoke of "bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy".[74]

Militant activity

Mujahideen in Afghanistan

After leaving college in 1979, bin Laden went to Pakistan, joined Abdullah Azzam and used money and machinery from his own construction company to help the mujahideen resistance in the Soviet war in Afghanistan.[75] He later told a journalist: "I felt outraged that an injustice had been committed against the people of Afghanistan."[76] Under Operation Cyclone from 1979 to 1989, the United States provided financial aid and weapons to the mujahideen through Pakistan's ISI. Bin Laden met and built relations with Hamid Gul, who was a three-star general in the Pakistani army and head of the ISI agency. Although the United States provided the money and weapons, the training of militant groups was entirely done by the Pakistani Armed Forces and the ISI.

By 1984, bin Laden and Azzam established Maktab al-Khidamat, which funneled money, arms and fighters from around the Arab world into Afghanistan. Through al-Khadamat, bin Laden's inherited family fortune[77] paid for air tickets and accommodation, paid for paperwork with Pakistani authorities and provided other such services for the jihadi fighters. Bin Laden established camps inside Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan and trained volunteers from across the Muslim world to fight against the Soviet puppet regime, the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan; he would also participate in some combat activity, such as the Battle of Jaji. It was during this time that he became idolised by many Arabs.[9]

Formation and structuring of al-Qaeda

By 1988, bin Laden had split from Maktab al-Khidamat. While Azzam acted as support for Afghan fighters, bin Laden wanted a more military role. One of the main points leading to the split and the creation of al-Qaeda was Azzam's insistence that Arab fighters be integrated among the Afghan fighting groups instead of forming a separate fighting force.[78] Notes of a meeting of bin Laden and others on August 20, 1988 indicate that al-Qaeda was a formal group by that time: "Basically an organized Islamic faction, its goal is to lift the word of God, to make his religion victorious." A list of requirements for membership itemized the following: listening ability, good manners, obedience, and making a pledge (bayat) to follow one's superiors.[79]

According to Wright, the group's real name was not used in public pronouncements because "its existence was still a closely held secret".[80] His research suggests that al-Qaeda was formed at an August 11, 1988, meeting between "several senior leaders" of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Abdullah Azzam, and bin Laden, where it was agreed to join bin Laden's money with the expertise of the Islamic Jihad organization and take up the jihadist cause elsewhere after the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan.[81] Following the Soviet Union's withdrawal from Afghanistan in February 1989, Osama bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia in 1990 as a hero of jihad. Along with his Arab legion, he was thought to have "brought down the mighty superpower" of the Soviet Union.[82] He was angered by the internecine tribal fighting among the Afghans.[83]

The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait under Saddam Hussein on August 2, 1990, put the Saudi kingdom and the House of Saud at risk. With Iraqi forces on the Saudi border, Saddam's appeal to pan-Arabism was potentially inciting internal dissent. Bin Laden met with King Fahd, and Saudi Defense Minister Sultan, telling them not to depend on non-Muslim assistance from the United States and others, and offering to help defend Saudi Arabia with his Arab legion. Bin Laden's offer was rebuffed, and the Saudi monarchy invited the deployment of U.S. forces in Saudi territory.[84] Bin Laden publicly denounced Saudi dependence on the U.S. military, arguing the two holiest shrines of Islam, Mecca and Medina, the cities in which the Prophet Mohamed received and recited Allah's message, should only be defended by Muslims. Bin Laden's criticism of the Saudi monarchy led them to try to silence him. The U.S. 82nd Airborne Division landed in north-eastern Saudi city of Dhahran and was deployed in the desert barely 400 miles from Medina.[83]

Meanwhile, on November 8, 1990, the FBI raided the New Jersey home of El Sayyid Nosair, an associate of al-Qaeda operative Ali Mohamed. They discovered copious evidence of terrorist plots, including plans to blow up New York City skyscrapers. This marked the earliest discovery of al-Qaeda terrorist plans outside of Muslim countries.[85] Nosair was eventually convicted in connection to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and later admitted guilt for the murder of Rabbi Meir Kahane in New York City on November 5, 1990.

Bin Laden continued to speak publicly against the Saudi government, for which the Saudis banished him. In 1992 he went to live in exile in Sudan, in a deal brokered by Ali Mohamed.[86]

Sudan and return to Afghanistan

In Sudan, bin Laden established a new base for mujahideen operations in Khartoum. He bought a house on Al-Mashtal Street in the affluent Al-Riyadh quarter and a retreat at Soba on the Blue Nile.[87][88] During his time in Sudan, he heavily invested in the infrastructure, in agriculture and businesses. He was the Sudan agent for the British firm Hunting Surveys,[89] and built roads using the same bulldozers he had employed to construct mountain tracks in Afghanistan. Many of his labourers were the same fighters who had been his comrades in the war against the Soviet Union. He was generous to the poor and popular with the people.[90][91] He continued to criticize King Fahd of Saudi Arabia. In response, in 1994 Fahd stripped bin Laden of his Saudi citizenship and persuaded his family to cut off his $7 million a year stipend.[1][92]

By that time, bin Laden was being linked with Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ), which made up the core of al-Qaeda. In 1995 the EIJ attempted to assassinate the Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. The attempt failed, and Sudan expelled the EIJ.

The U.S. State Department accused Sudan of being a "sponsor of international terrorism" and bin Laden of operating "terrorist training camps in the Sudanese desert". According to Sudan officials, however, this stance became obsolete as the Islamist political leader Hassan al-Turabi lost influence in their country. The Sudanese wanted to engage with the U.S. but American officials refused to meet with them even after they had expelled bin Laden. It was not until 2000 that the State Department authorized U.S. intelligence officials to visit Sudan.[89]

The 9/11 Commission Report states:

In late 1995, when Bin Laden was still in Sudan, the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) learned that Sudanese officials were discussing with the Saudi government the possibility of expelling Bin Laden. CIA paramilitary officer Billy Waugh tracked down Bin Ladin in the Sudan and prepared an operation to apprehend him, but was denied authorization.[93] U.S. Ambassador Timothy Carney encouraged the Sudanese to pursue this course. The Saudis, however, did not want Bin Laden, giving as their reason their revocation of his citizenship. Sudan's minister of defense, Fatih Erwa, has claimed that Sudan offered to hand Bin Laden over to the United States. The Commission has found no credible evidence that this was so. Ambassador Carney had instructions only to push the Sudanese to expel Bin Laden. Ambassador Carney had no legal basis to ask for more from the Sudanese since, at the time, there was no indictment outstanding against bin Laden in any country.[94]

The 9/11 Commission Report further states:

In February 1996, Sudanese officials began approaching officials from the United States and other governments, asking what actions of theirs might ease foreign pressure. In secret meetings with Saudi officials, Sudan offered to expel Bin Laden to Saudi Arabia and asked the Saudis to pardon him. U.S. officials became aware of these secret discussions, certainly by March. Saudi officials apparently wanted Bin Laden expelled from Sudan. They had already revoked his citizenship, however, and would not tolerate his presence in their country. Also Bin Laden may have no longer felt safe in Sudan, where he had already escaped at least one assassination attempt that he believed to have been the work of the Egyptian or Saudi regimes, and paid for by the CIA.

Due to the increasing pressure on Sudan from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United States, bin Laden was permitted to leave for a country of his choice. He chose to return to Jalalabad, Afghanistan aboard a chartered flight on May 18, 1996; there he forged a close relationship with Mullah Mohammed Omar.[95][96] According to the 9/11 Commission, the expulsion from Sudan significantly weakened bin Laden and his organization.[97] Some African intelligence sources have argued that the expulsion left bin Laden without an option other than becoming a full-time radical, and that most of the 300 Afghan Arabs who left with him subsequently became terrorists.[89]

In August 1996, bin Laden declared war against the United States. Despite the assurance of President George H.W. Bush to King Fahd in 1990, that all U.S. forces based in Saudi Arabia would be withdrawn once the Iraqi threat had been dealt with, by 1996 the Americans were still there. Bush cited the necessity of dealing with the remnants of Saddam's regime (which Bush had chosen not to destroy). Bin Laden's view was that "the 'evils' of the Middle East arose from America's attempt to take over the region and from its support for Israel. Saudi Arabia had been turned into 'an American colony".[11]

He issued a fatwā against the United States, which was first published in Al Quds Al Arabi, a London-based newspaper. It was entitled "Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places."[98] Saudi Arabia is sometimes called "The Land of the Two Holy Mosques" in reference to Mecca and Medina, the two holiest places in Islam. The reference to 'occupation' in the fatwā referred to US forces based in Saudi Arabia for the purpose of controlling air space in Iraq, known as Operation Southern Watch.

In Afghanistan, bin Laden and al-Qaeda raised money from "donors from the days of the Soviet jihad", and from the Pakistani ISI to establish more training camps for Mujahideen fighters.[99] Bin Laden effectively took over Ariana Afghan Airlines, which ferried Islamic militants, arms, cash and opium through the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan, as well as provided false identifications to members of bin Laden's terrorist network.[100] The arms smuggler Viktor Bout helped to run the airline, maintaining planes and loading cargo. Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA's bin Laden unit, concluded that Ariana was being used as a "terrorist taxi service".[101]

Early attacks and aid for attacks

It is believed that the first bombing attack involving bin Laden was the December 29, 1992, bombing of the Gold Mihor Hotel in Aden in which two people were killed.[102]

Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir interviewing Osama bin Laden in Kabul in 1997

It was after this bombing that al-Qaeda was reported to have developed its justification for the killing of innocent people. According to a fatwa issued by Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, the killing of someone standing near the enemy is justified because any innocent bystander will find a proper reward in death, going to Jannah (Paradise) if they were good Muslims and to Jahannam (hell) if they were bad or non-believers.[103] The fatwa was issued to al-Qaeda members but not the general public.

In the 1990s, bin Laden's al-Qaeda assisted jihadis financially and sometimes militarily in Algeria, Egypt and Afghanistan. In 1992 or 1993 bin Laden sent an emissary, Qari el-Said, with $40,000 to Algeria to aid the Islamists and urge war rather than negotiation with the government. Their advice was heeded. The war that followed caused the deaths of 150,000–200,000 Algerians and ended with the Islamist surrender to the government.

Bin Laden funded the Luxor massacre of November 17, 1997,[104][105][106] which killed 62 civilians, and outraged the Egyptian public. In mid-1997, the Northern Alliance threatened to overrun Jalalabad, causing bin Laden to abandon his Najim Jihad compound and move his operations to Tarnak Farms in the south.[107]

Another successful attack was carried out in the city of Mazar-e-Sharif in Afghanistan. Bin Laden helped cement his alliance with the Taliban by sending several hundred Afghan Arab fighters along to help the Taliban kill between five and six thousand Hazaras overrunning the city.[108]

In February 1998, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri co-signed a fatwa in the name of the World Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders, which declared the killing of North Americans and their allies an "individual duty for every Muslim" to "liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque (in Jerusalem) and the holy mosque (in Mecca) from their grip".[109][110] At the public announcement of the fatwa bin Laden announced that North Americans are "very easy targets". He told the attending journalists, "You will see the results of this in a very short time."[111]

Bin Laden and Al-Zawahiri organized an al-Qaeda congress on June 24, 1998.[112] The 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings were a series of attacks that occurred on August 7, 1998, in which hundreds of people were killed in simultaneous truck bomb explosions at the United States embassies in the major East African cities of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya. The attacks were linked to local members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, brought Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri to the attention of the United States public for the first time, and resulted in the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation placing bin Laden on its Ten Most Wanted list.

In December 1998, the Director of Central Intelligence Counterterrorist Center reported to President Bill Clinton that al-Qaeda was preparing for attacks in the United States of America, including the training of personnel to hijack aircraft.[113] At the end of 2000, Richard Clarke revealed that Islamic militants headed by bin Laden had planned a triple attack on January 3, 2000 which would have included bombings in Jordan of the Radisson SAS Hotel in Amman and tourists at Mount Nebo and a site on the Jordan River, the sinking of the destroyer USS The Sullivans in Yemen, as well as an attack on a target within the United States. The plan was foiled by the arrest of the Jordanian terrorist cell, the sinking of the explosive-filled skiff intended to target the destroyer, and the arrest of Ahmed Ressam.[114]

Yugoslav wars

A former U.S. State Department official in October 2001 described Bosnia and Herzegovina as a safe haven for terrorists, and asserted that militant elements of the former Sarajevo government were protecting extremists, some with ties to Osama bin Laden.[115] In 1997, Rzeczpospolita, one of the largest Polish daily newspapers, had reported that intelligence services of the Nordic-Polish SFOR Brigade suspected that a center for training terrorists from Islamic countries was located in the Bocina Donja village near Maglaj in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 1992, hundreds of volunteers joined an "all-mujahedeen unit" called El Moujahed in an abandoned hillside factory, a compound with a hospital and prayer hall.

According to Middle East intelligence reports, bin Laden financed small convoys of recruits from the Arab world through his businesses in Sudan. Among them was Karim Said Atmani, who was identified by authorities as the document forger for a group of Algerians accused of plotting the bombings in the United States.[116] He is a former roommate of Ahmed Ressam, the man arrested at the Canadian-U.S. border in mid-December 1999 with a car full of nitroglycerin and bomb-making materials.[117][118] He was convicted of colluding with Osama bin Laden by a French court.[119]

A Bosnian government search of passport and residency records, conducted at the urging of the United States, revealed other former mujahideen who were linked to the same Algerian group or to other groups of suspected terrorists, and had lived in the area 60 miles (97 km) north of Sarajevo, the capital, in the past few years. Khalil al-Deek was arrested in Jordan in late December 1999 on suspicion of involvement in a plot to blow up tourist sites. A second man with Bosnian citizenship, Hamid Aich, lived in Canada at the same time as Atmani and worked for a charity associated with Osama bin Laden. In its June 26, 1997, report on the bombing of the Al Khobar building in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, The New York Times noted that those arrested confessed to serving with Bosnian Muslims forces. Further, the captured men also admitted to ties with Osama bin Laden.[120][121]

In 1999 the press reported that bin Laden and his Tunisian assistant Mehrez Aodouni were granted citizenship and Bosnian passports in 1993 by the government in Sarajevo. This information was denied by the Bosnian government following the September 11 attacks, but it was later found that Aodouni was arrested in Turkey and that at that time he possessed the Bosnian passport. Following this revelation, a new explanation was given that bin Laden "did not personally collect his Bosnian passport" and that officials at the Bosnian embassy in Vienna, which issued the passport, could not have known who bin Laden was at the time.[120][121] The Bosnian daily Oslobođenje published in 2001 that three men, believed to be linked to bin Laden, were arrested in Sarajevo in July 2001. The three, one of whom was identified as Imad El Misri, were Egyptian nationals. The paper said that two of the suspects were holding Bosnian passports.

By 1998 four members of Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) were arrested in Albania and extradited to Egypt.[122]

During his trial at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, former Serbian President Slobodan Milošević presented FBI documents that verified bin Laden's al-Qaeda had a presence in the Balkans and aided the Kosovo Liberation Army. The U.S. State Department had identified this as a terrorist organization shortly before the 1998 embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya. Milošević had argued that the United States aided the terrorists, which culminated in its backing of the 1999 NATO bombing of Yugoslavia during the Kosovo War.[123]

September 11 attacks

"God knows it did not cross our minds to attack the Towers, but after the situation became unbearable—and we witnessed the injustice and tyranny of the American-Israeli alliance against our people in Palestine and Lebanon—I thought about it. And the events that affected me directly were that of 1982 and the events that followed—when America allowed the Israelis to invade Lebanon, helped by the U.S. Sixth Fleet. As I watched the destroyed towers in Lebanon, it occurred to me punish the unjust the same way: to destroy towers in America so it could taste some of what we are tasting and to stop killing our children and women."

— Osama bin Laden, 2004[124]

United Airlines Flight 175 crashes into the south tower

After his initial denial,[125][126][full citation needed] in 2004 Osama bin Laden finally claimed responsibility for the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.[127][128][129] The attacks involved the hijacking of four commercial passenger aircraft[130] and flying them into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, New York and The Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, destroying the former, and severely damaging the latter.[131] It resulted in the deaths of 2,973 people[132] and the nineteen hijackers.[133] In response to the attacks, the United States launched the War on Terror to depose the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and capture al-Qaeda operatives, and several countries strengthened their anti-terrorism legislation to preclude future attacks. The CIA's Special Activities Division was given the lead in tracking down and killing or capturing bin Laden.[134]

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has stated that classified[135] evidence linking al-Qaeda and bin Laden to the September 11 attacks is clear and irrefutable.[136] The UK Government reached a similar conclusion regarding al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden's culpability for the September 11 attacks, although the government report noted that the evidence presented is not necessarily sufficient to prosecute the case.[137]

Bin Laden initially denied involvement in the attacks. On September 16, 2001, bin Laden read a statement later broadcast by Qatar's Al Jazeera satellite channel denying responsibility for the attack.[138] In a videotape recovered by U.S. forces in November 2001 in Jalalabad, bin Laden was seen discussing the attack with Khaled al-Harbi in a way that indicates foreknowledge.[139] The tape was broadcast on various news networks on December 13, 2001. The merits of this translation have been disputed. Arabist Dr. Abdel El M. Husseini stated: "This translation is very problematic. At the most important places where it is held to prove the guilt of bin Laden, it is not identical with the Arabic."[140]

2001 video of bin Laden

In the 2004 Osama bin Laden video, bin Laden abandoned his denials without retracting past statements. In it he said he had personally directed the nineteen hijackers.[128][141] In the 18-minute tape, played on Al-Jazeera, four days before the American presidential election, bin Laden accused U.S. President George W. Bush of negligence in the hijacking of the planes on September 11.[128] According to the tapes, bin Laden claimed he was inspired to destroy the World Trade Center after watching the destruction of towers in Lebanon by Israel during the 1982 Lebanon War.[142]

Through two other tapes aired by Al Jazeera in 2006, Osama bin Laden announced, "I am the one in charge of the nineteen brothers. [...] I was responsible for entrusting the nineteen brothers [...] with the raids" (May 23, 2006).[143] In the tapes he was seen with Ramzi bin al-Shibh, as well as two of the 9/11 hijackers, Hamza al-Ghamdi and Wail al-Shehri, as they made preparations for the attacks (videotape broadcast September 7, 2006).[144] Identified motivations of the September 11 attacks include the support of Israel by the United States, presence of the U.S. military in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the U.S. enforcement of sanctions against Iraq.

Criminal charges

Osama Bin Laden
Born (1957-03-10)March 10, 1957
Saudi Arabia
Died May 2, 2011(2011-05-02) (aged 54)
Abbottabad, Pakistan
Other names
  • Osama Bin Muhammad Bin Ladin
  • Shaykh Osama Bin Ladin
  • the Prince
  • the Emir
  • Abu Abdallah
  • Mujahid Shaykh
  • Hajj
  • the Director
Occupation Unknown
Height 6'4" to 6'6"
Weight Approximately 160 pounds

On March 16, 1998, Libya issued the first official Interpol arrest warrant against bin Laden and three other people. They were charged for killing Silvan Becker, agent of Germany's domestic intelligence service, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, in the Terrorism Department, and his wife Vera in Libya on March 10, 1994.[72][145] Bin Laden was still wanted by the Libyan government at the time of his death.[146][147] Osama bin Laden was first indicted by a grand jury of the United States on June 8, 1998 on a charges of "conspiracy to attack defense utilities of the United States" and prosecutors further charged that bin Laden was the head of the terrorist organization called al-Qaeda, and that he was a major financial backer of Islamic fighters worldwide.[148] 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[149] 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, from a phone purchased for him by al-Qaeda procurement agent Ziyad Khaleel in the United States.[150][151] However the Taliban ruled not to extradite Bin Laden on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence published in the indictments and that non-Muslim courts lacked standing to try Muslims.[152]

Bin Laden became the 456th person listed on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, when he was added on June 7, 1999, following his indictment along with others for capital crimes in the 1998 embassy attacks. Attempts at assassination and requests for the extradition of bin Laden from the Taliban of Afghanistan were met with failure prior to the bombing of Afghanistan in October 2001.[153] 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.[154]

Years later, on October 10, 2001, bin Laden appeared as well on the initial list of the top 22 FBI Most Wanted Terrorists, which was released to the public by the President of the United States George W. Bush, in direct response to the September 11 attacks, but which was again based on the indictment for the 1998 embassy attack. Bin Laden was among a group of thirteen fugitive terrorists wanted on that latter list for questioning about the 1998 embassy bombings. Bin Laden remains the only fugitive ever to be listed on both FBI fugitive lists.

Despite the multiple indictments listed above and multiple requests, the Taliban refused to extradite Osama bin Laden. They did however offer to try him before an Islamic court if evidence of Osama bin Laden's involvement in the September 11 attacks was provided. It was not until eight days after the bombing of Afghanistan began in October 2001 that the Taliban finally did offer to turn over Osama bin Laden to a third-party country for trial in return for the United States ending the bombing. This offer was rejected by President Bush stating that this was no longer negotiable, with Bush responding "there's no need to discuss innocence or guilt. We know he's guilty."[155]

On June 15, 2011, federal prosecutors of the United States of America officially dropped all criminal charges against Osama bin Laden following his death in May.[156]

Pursuit by the United States

U.S. propaganda leaflet used in Afghanistan, with bin Laden second from the left

Clinton administration

Capturing Osama bin Laden had been an objective of the United States government since the presidency of Bill Clinton.[157] Shortly after the September 11 attacks it was revealed that President Clinton had signed a directive authorizing the CIA (and specifically their elite Special Activities Division) to apprehend bin Laden and bring him to the United States to stand trial after the 1998 United States embassy bombings in Africa; if taking bin Laden alive was deemed impossible, then deadly force was authorized.[158] On August 20, 1998, 66 cruise missiles launched by United States Navy ships in the Arabian Sea struck bin Laden's training camps near Khost in Afghanistan, narrowly missing him by a few hours.[159] In 1999 the CIA, together with Pakistani military intelligence, had prepared a team of approximately 60 Pakistani commandos to infiltrate Afghanistan to capture or kill bin Laden, but the plan was aborted by the 1999 Pakistani coup d'état;[159] in 2000, foreign operatives working on behalf of the CIA had fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a convoy of vehicles in which bin Laden was traveling through the mountains of Afghanistan, hitting one of the vehicles but not the one in which bin Laden was riding.[158]

In 2000, prior to the September 11 attacks, Paul Bremer characterized the Clinton administration as "correctly focused on bin Laden", while Robert Oakley criticized their "obsession with Osama".[114]

Bush administration

Delta Force GIs disguised as Afghan civilians, while they searched for bin Laden in November 2001

Immediately after the September 11 attacks, U.S. government officials named bin Laden and the al-Qaeda organization as the prime suspects and offered a reward of $25 million for information leading to his capture or death.[46][160] On July 13, 2007, the Senate voted to double the reward to $50 million though the amount was never changed.[161] The Airline Pilots Association and the Air Transport Association offered an additional $2 million reward.[162]

According to The Washington Post, the U.S. government concluded that Osama bin Laden was present during the Battle of Tora Bora, Afghanistan in late 2001, and according to civilian and military officials with first-hand knowledge, failure by the United States to commit enough U.S. ground troops to hunt him led to his escape and was the gravest failure by the United States in the war against al-Qaeda. Intelligence officials assembled what they believed to be decisive evidence, from contemporary and subsequent interrogations and intercepted communications, that bin Laden began the Battle of Tora Bora inside the cave complex along Afghanistan's mountainous eastern border.[163]

The Washington Post also reported that the CIA unit composed of special operations paramilitary forces dedicated to capturing bin Laden was shut down in late 2005.[164] Bush had previously defended this scaling back of the effort several times, saying, "I don't know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don't care. It's not that important. It's not our priority."[165]

U.S. and Afghanistan forces raided the mountain caves in Tora Bora between August 14–16, 2007. The military was drawn to the area after receiving intelligence of a pre-Ramadan meeting held by al-Qaeda members. After killing dozens of al-Qaeda and Taliban members, they did not find either Osama bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri.[166]

Obama administration

Situation Room - Members of the Obama administration track the mission that killed bin Laden

On October 7, 2008, in the second presidential debate, on foreign policy, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama pledged, "We will kill bin Laden. We will crush al-Qaeda. That has to be our biggest national security priority."[167] Upon being elected, then President-elect Obama expressed his plans to "renew U.S. commitment to finding al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, according to his national security advisers" in an effort to ratchet up the hunt for the terrorist.[167] President Obama rejected the Bush administration's policy on bin Laden that "conflated all terror threats from al-Qaeda to Hamas to Hezbollah," replacing it with "with a covert, laserlike focus on al-Qaeda and its spawn."[168][169]

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said in December 2009 that officials had had no reliable information on bin Laden's whereabouts for years. One week later, General Stanley McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said in December 2009 that al-Qaeda will not be defeated unless its leader, Osama bin Laden, is captured or killed. Testifying to the U.S. Congress, he said bin Laden had become an "iconic figure, whose survival emboldens al-Qaeda as a franchising organization across the world", and that Obama's deployment of 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan meant that success would be possible. "I don't think that we can finally defeat al-Qaeda until he's captured or killed", McChrystal said of bin Laden. "Killing or capturing bin Laden would not spell the end of al-Qaeda, but the movement could not be eradicated while he remained at large."[170]

In April 2011, President Obama ordered a covert operation to kill or capture bin Laden. On May 2, 2011, the White House announced that U.S. Navy SEALs had carried it out, killing him in his Abbottabad compound in Pakistan.[171]

Activities and whereabouts after the September 11 attacks

While referring to Osama bin Laden in a CNN film clip on September 17, 2001, then President George W. Bush stated, "I want justice. There is an old poster out west, as I recall, that said, 'Wanted dead or alive' ".[172] Subsequently, bin Laden retreated further from public contact to avoid capture. Numerous speculative press reports were issued about his whereabouts or even death; some placed bin Laden in different locations during overlapping time periods. None were ever definitively proven. After military offensives in Afghanistan failed to uncover his whereabouts, Pakistan was regularly identified as his suspected hiding place. Some of the conflicting reports regarding bin Laden's continued whereabouts and mistaken claims about his death follow:

  • On December 11, 2005, a letter from Atiyah Abd al-Rahman to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi indicated 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 United States military's Combating Terrorism Center 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.[173][174]
  • Al-Qaeda continued to release time-sensitive and professionally verified videos demonstrating bin Laden's continued survival as recently as August 2007.[175] Bin Laden claimed sole responsibility for the September 11 attacks and specifically denied any prior knowledge of them by the Taliban or the Afghan people.[176]
  • In 2009, a research team led by Thomas W. Gillespie and John A. Agnew of UCLA used satellite-aided geographical analysis to pinpoint three compounds in Parachinar as bin Laden's likely hideouts.[177]
  • In March 2009, the New York Daily News reported that the hunt for bin Laden had centered in the Chitral District of Pakistan, including the Kalam Valley. Author Rohan Gunaratna stated that captured al-Qaeda leaders had confirmed that bin Laden was hiding in Chitral.[178]
  • In the first week of December 2009, a Taliban detainee in Pakistan said he had information that bin Laden was in Afghanistan in 2009. The detainee reported that in January or February (2009) he met a trusted contact who had seen bin Laden in Afghanistan about 15 to 20 days earlier. However, on December 6, 2009, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates stated that the United States had had no reliable information on the whereabouts of bin Laden in years.[179] Pakistan's Prime Minister Gillani rejected claims that Osama bin Laden was hiding in Pakistan.[180]
  • On December 9, 2009, BBC News reported that U.S. Army General Stanley A. McChrystal, who served as Commander of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan from June 15, 2009, until June 23, 2010, emphasized the continued importance of the capture or killing of bin Laden, thus indicating that the U.S. high command believed that bin Laden was still alive.[181]
  • On February 2, 2010, Afghan president Hamid Karzai arrived in Saudi Arabia for an official visit. The agenda included discussion of a possible Saudi role in Karzai's plan to reintegrate Taliban militants. During the visit an anonymous official of the Saudi Foreign Ministry declared that the kingdom had no intention of getting involved in peacemaking in Afghanistan unless the Taliban severed ties with extremists and expelled Osama bin Laden.[182]
  • On June 7, 2010, the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Siyassa reported that bin Laden was hiding out in the mountainous town of Savzevar, in north eastern Iran.[183] On June 9, The Australian News's online edition repeated the claim.[184]
  • On October 18, 2010, an unnamed NATO official suggested that bin Laden was "alive and well and living comfortably" in Pakistan, protected by elements of the country's intelligence services. A senior Pakistani official denied the allegations and said the accusations were designed to put pressure on the Pakistani government ahead of talks aimed at strengthening ties between Pakistan and the United States.[185]
  • On April 16, 2011, a leaked Al Jazeera report claimed that bin Laden had been captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan.[186]

On March 29, 2012 Pakistani newspaper Dawn acquired a report produced by Pakistani security officials, based on interrogation of his three surviving wives, that detailed his movements while living underground in Pakistan.[187]

In a 2010 letter, bin Laden chastised followers who had reinterpreted al-tatarrus — an Islamic doctrine meant to excuse the unintended killing of non-combatants in unusual circumstances – to justify routine massacres of Muslim civilians which had turned Muslims against the jihadi movement. Of the groups affiliated with al-Qaida, Bin Laden condemned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan for an attack on members of a hostile tribe, declaring that "the operation is not justified, as there were casualties of noncombatants." Bin Laden wrote that the tatarrus doctrine "needs to be revisited based on the modern-day context and clear boundaries established." He asked a subordinate to draw up a jihadist code of conduct that would constrain military operations in order to avoid civilian casualties. In Yemen, Bin Laden urged his allies to seek a "truce" that would bring the country "stability" or would at least "show the people that we are careful in keeping ... the Muslims safe on the basis of peace." In Somalia, he called attention to the extreme poverty caused by constant warfare, and he advised al-Shabab to pursue economic development. He instructed his followers around the world to focus on education and persuasion rather than "entering into confrontations" with Islamic political parties.[188]

Whereabouts just prior to his death

In April 2011, various intelligence outlets were able to pinpoint bin Laden's suspected location near Abbottabad, Pakistan. It was originally believed that bin Laden was hiding near the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, but he was found 100 miles (160 km) away in a three-story mansion in Abbottabad at 34°10′9.51″N 73°14′32.78″E / 34.1693083°N 73.2424389°E / 34.1693083; 73.2424389.[189][190][191] Bin Laden's mansion was located 0.8 miles (1.3 km) southwest of the Pakistan Military Academy, the country's "West Point".[192][193][194][195] Google Earth maps show that the compound was not present in 2001, but it was present on images taken in 2005.[196]


Website of the Federal Bureau of Investigation listing bin Laden as deceased on the Most Wanted List on May 3, 2011

Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan on May 2, 2011, shortly after 1:00 am local time[197][198] by a United States special forces military unit. The operation, code-named Operation Neptune Spear, was ordered by United States President Barack Obama and carried out in a U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operation by a team of United States Navy SEALs from the United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group (also known as DEVGRU or informally by its former name, SEAL Team Six) of the Joint Special Operations Command, with support from CIA operatives on the ground.[199][200] The raid on bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan was launched from Afghanistan.[201] After the raid, U.S. forces took bin Laden's body to Afghanistan for identification, then buried it at sea within 24 hours after his death.[202]

Pakistan's protection of bin Laden

Critics accused Pakistan's military and security establishment of protecting bin Laden.[203] For example, Mosharraf Zaidi, a leading Pakistani columnist, stated, "It seems deeply improbable that bin Laden could have been where he was killed without the knowledge of some parts of the Pakistani state."[204] Pakistan's president Asif Ali Zardari denied that his country's security forces sheltered bin Laden,[205][206] and called any supposed support for bin Laden by the Pakistani government "baseless speculation".

It was speculated that the issue might further strain U.S. ties with Pakistan.[207][208] Bin Laden was killed in what some suggest was his residence for five years.[209][210] It was an expensive compound located less than a mile from Pakistan Military Academy,[211][212][213] probably built for him[214] and less than 100 kilometers' drive from the capital.

The Pakistani government's foreign office issued a statement that "categorically denies" any reports by the media that the country's leadership, "civil as well as military, had any prior knowledge of the U.S. operation against Osama bin Laden".[215][216]

Pakistan's United States envoy, ambassador Husain Haqqani, promises a "full inquiry" into how Pakistani intelligence services failed to find bin Laden in a fortified compound, just a few hours drive from Islamabad, and stated that "obviously bin Laden did have a support system; the issue is, was that support system within the government and the state of Pakistan or within the society of Pakistan?"[217]

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