Osama bin Laden: Face of modern-day terror

An Israeli barber reads a Hebrew newspaper in the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem with headlines announcing the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. special forces in Pakistan, May 3, 2011. UPI/Debbie Hill
An Israeli barber reads a Hebrew newspaper in the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem with headlines announcing the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. special forces in Pakistan, May 3, 2011. UPI/Debbie Hill | License Photo

ABBOTTADAD, Pakistan, May 3 (UPI) -- Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaida network leader who eluded capture many times before his death this week, redefined the threat of terror in the 21st century.

With the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, bin Laden became the embodiment of evil for the United States as he hid in the rugged mountains along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and teased the West on videotapes aired by sympathetic broadcasters and Web sites.


Nearly a decade after President George W. Bush recalled Old West wanted poster's signature "Wanted Dead or Alive," bin Laden was killed in a firefight with U.S. forces who raided a compound where he had been hiding. He was believed to be 54 when he died Monday.

Long before the U.S. attacks, bin Laden was a hero in much of the Islamic world, characterized by a longtime CIA officer as "the North Star" of global terrorism, The New York Times reported. He united unrelated militant groups from Egypt to the Philippines under the singular al-Qaida banner and his vision of a borderless brotherhood of radical Islam.


Pre-bin Laden terrorism usually was state-sponsored; he turned that model on its head, experts told the Times. From 1996 to 2001 he bought the protection of the Taliban in Afghanistan, then the country's rulers, all the while making al-Qaida a multinational enterprise that exported terrorism much as any other commodity.

The breadth of his power remains unknown.

His was a modern war, using faxes, e-mails and videos to issue fatwas (religious decrees) against a person or peoples. Al-Qaida followers kept bomb-making blueprints on CD and communicated by encrypted memos on laptops as the network sought to create Islamic political power by ousting governments through jihad, or holy war.

Bin Laden presented himself as a Muslim ascetic -- a Saudi billionaire's son who rejected a privileged life for a cause.

The crucible for bin Laden and the United States was the 1989 defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan, For the United States, which supported the Afghan resistance with arms and ammunition, the Soviet retreat was the start of the end of the Cold War. For bin Laden, who had supported the resistance with money, construction equipment and housing, the Soviet defeat was an affirmation of Muslim power.


Long before Sept. 11, 2001, bin Laden was considered partially responsible for the killing of U.S. soldiers in Somalia and Saudi Arabia; the first attack on the World Trade Center; the bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia and a failed attempt to kill President Bill Clinton.

In February 1998, bin Laden declared it the duty Muslims to "kill Americans wherever they are found," the Times reported. After the bombings of two U.S. Embassies in East Africa in August 1998, Clinton declared bin Laden "Public Enemy No. 1."

In the weeks following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, a videotape found in Kandahar, Afghanistan, showed bin Laden rejoicing in the horror, the Times said.

"We calculated in advance the number of casualties from the enemy, who would be killed based on the position of the tower," he said. "We calculated that the floors that would be hit would be three or four floors. I was the most optimistic of them all."

Bin Laden's voice was heard periodically for the next decade, issuing threats, warnings and pronouncements on video and audiotape. from wherever he was hiding. In October he appealed for aid for flood victims in Pakistan, blaming the West for causing climate change.


Osama bin Laden was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the son of Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden, a wealthy businessman with ties to the Saudi royal family, and Mohammed bin Laden's 10th wife, Hamida al-Attas, a biography in said.

Osama was raised as a devout Wahhabi Muslim. From 1968 to 1976, he attended the secular al-Thager Model School, then studied economics and business administration at King Abdulaziz University. Reports conflict about the concentration of his degree and when he earned it.

In 1974, at the age of 17, Osama married Najwa Ghanem. CNN reported that, as of 2002, bin Laden had married four women and fathered 25 or 26 children. Other sources report that he has fathered between 12 to 24 children.

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