OBITUARY: Bin Laden: Al-Qaeda leader, America's number one enemy
By Anne-Beatrice Clasmann May 2, 2011, 3:47 GMT
Saudi-born billionaire Osama Bin Laden smiles as he sits in a cave in the Jalalabad region of Afghanistan in this 1988 photo. EPA/STR
Cairo/Washington - America's 'public enemy number one' saw himself as the latest in a line of ancient Muslim warriors defending the honour of Islam, with sword in one hand and scripture in the other, and spreading the word across the world.
The gaunt, grey-bearded millionaire lectured his followers in a quiet monotone. Index finger raised like a teacher, Osama bin Laden delivered his messages of hate and murder, sprinkled with pious quotes and verses from the Koran.
He made no attempt to conceal his satisfaction at the horror wrought by the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, which killed 2,976 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
Bin Laden, 54, died Sunday as a US strike team attacked his previously secret compound in Pakistan, US President Barack Obama announced.
Meticulously planned by his al-Qaeda terrorist network, September 11 was just the most infamous of many salvos in bin Laden's 'war against the infidels,' but it was the one that changed the world forever.
Al-Qaeda is believed to have organized the suicide truck bombings in 1998 against US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing hundreds of mostly Africans.
The next major strike came on October 12, 2000, off the coast of Yemen, where bin Laden's followers mounted a suicide boat attack on the USS Cole, killing 17 sailors.
At the wedding of one of his sons in January 2001 - with arrangements for the September attacks well under way - bin Laden read out a poem he wrote about the USS Cole bombing, in a chilling preview of the slaughter that he would soon unleash inside the United States at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
'The pieces of the bodies of infidels were flying like dust particles,' he wrote. 'Had you seen it with your own eyes, you would have been very pleased, and your heart would have been filled with joy.'
Born in 1957 in the Saudi port of Jeddah, he was one of 57 children of Yemeni construction magnate Mohammed Awad bin Laden. The elder bin Laden was a devout Muslim with close ties to the Saudi royal family, who had amassed a great fortune through lucrative royal contracts.
Some who knew the young Osama described him as a quiet, pious youth, with a close relationship to his mother that he maintained into adulthood.
He was still a boy when his father was killed in a helicopter crash. The craft was supposedly flown by a US pilot.
Osama bin Laden's 'career' began in earnest in 1979 following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. He went to Pakistan and met with resistance leaders, raising money and organizing shipments of weapons.
He would eventually take up arms and join the mujaheddin in its struggle to repel the Red Army.
Men who fought alongside him recall a daring, even reckless guerrilla fighter, who was already a hardened opponent of the United States and US foreign policy. But he did not spurn support from US intelligence services in the fight against their mutual Soviet enemy, which he later denied.
Following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia, where he worked on expanding the family business empire.
He maintained close links with Arab veterans of the Afghan war, establishing a network that eventually became the foundation of al- Qaeda - Arabic for 'The Base.'
The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990 provided the second turning point in bin Laden's life. He was shocked and dismayed when the ruling House of Saud responded to the menace of Saddam Hussein by allowing the US military to establish bases on Saudi soil.
Bin Laden regarded the presence at the time of 500,000 US troops in Saudi Arabia as a desecration of Islam's holiest sites in Mecca and Medina, though foreign troops were never near those cities. He began decrying the Saudi regime and lobbying religious figures for support in his campaign, quickly burning his bridges with the kingdom's rulers.
In 1991, he was expelled from Saudi Arabia for his anti-regime activities, and most of the bin Laden family eventually disowned him. A now-stateless fugitive, he took refuge in Sudan, where he spent the next five years assisting Khartoum's Muslim fundamentalist regime with with construction projects and rebuilding his financial empire.
In 1996, amid pressure from the US, bin Laden was expelled from Sudan and returned to Afghanistan. He began to forge strong ties with the ruling Taliban, whose harsh and militant interpretation of Islam was in harmony with his own ideals.
In Afghanistan, bin Laden built a private army and spent his own inherited fortune to establish a haven for terrorists recruits. He declared a jihad, or holy war, against the United States.
Veterans of the Afghan war and Muslim militants from all over the world found their way to al-Qaeda camps, where they swore personal fealty to bin Laden, and many offered themselves as martyrs for suicide attacks.
Bin Laden and his followers labeled 'infidels' all those they believed responsible for the repression of Muslims worldwide. On the list were the US, Britain and Israel, as well as many of the rulers of the Muslim world, including the regimes already toppled or under pressure from the surge of protests and uprisings since January.
The African embassy bombings and the attack on the USS Cole put bin Laden in US sights, but the aftermath of 9/11 lead to a 'war on terror' mounted by then-president George W Bush. The Taliban regime was quickly ousted by rival Afghan forces, helped by a small US-led force, putting al-Qaeda and bin Laden on the run.
He eventually disappeared, with a 25-million-dollar US reward for his capture - 'dead or alive,' as Bush said.
The attack on Afghanistan and the years that followed saw many of al-Qaeda`s top operatives captured or killed.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the confessed top planner of the 9/11 attacks, was arrested in Pakistan in 2003. He has been held for years at the US naval prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and faces trial by a military tribunal along with four alleged co-conspirators.
Over the years, bin Laden released some 30 audio or video tapes, sometimes commenting on the 9/11 attacks, condemning and threatening Western or Arab governments, or commenting on a world affairs.
In his possibly final tape in January, he demanded that France withdraw from the NATO-led military effort in Afghanistan, where the regrouped Taliban movement continues to wage an insurgency.
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