Osama Bin Laden (C. 1957 2011) & Al-Qaeda

Osama Bin Laden (C. 1957 2011) & Al-Qaeda

Osama bin Laden (c. 1957 – 2011) & Al-Qaeda

Early life:

  • Born in Saudi Arabia; 7th son & 17th child (among at least 50) of extremely wealthy businessman.
  • Mother was businessman’s 4th wife and Syrian, not Saudi, highly unusual among Saudi elite. Known within family as “slave wife”; Osama was “slave child”. Osama seen as a misfit.
  • Like most Saudi’s, steeped in Wahhabism, a puritanical, ardently anti-Western strain of Islam.
  • Never traveled beyond Middle East, unlike siblings, who were widely travelled.
  • Father died, leaving millions to all his children, including Osama.
  • Osama’s siblings took over family business, worth billions, distributing Snapple, Disney products, Volkswagens across Middle East.


  • Radicalized at University of Jidda (Saudi Arabia) where he:
  • joined Muslim Brotherhood, a group of Islamic radicals who believed that much of the Muslim world, including the leaders of Saudi Arabia, lived as infidels, in violation of the true meaning of the Koran.
  • was influenced by radical Islamic scholar Abdullah Azzam, who became bin Laden’s mentor and whose ideas would become the underpinnings for Al Qaeda. Azzam taught that Jihad ,or holy war, was the responsibility of all Muslims until the lands once held by Islam were reclaimed. His motto: “Jihad and the rifle alone: no negotiations, no conferences and no dialogue.”
  • Saw 1989 defeat of Soviets by Afghan resistance fighters in a decade-long Cold War struggle for Afghanistan as an affirmation of Muslim power and as an opportunity to topple infidel governments through jihad. (Bin Laden had supplied the Afghan resistance with money and weapons to fight the Soviets. In classic Cold War fashion, so had the U.S.)
  • Was deeply offended by presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia during the Persian Gulf War (1990-91). Called American troops invaders and declared a "jihad," or "holy war," against the United States.
  • In 1998, bin Laden declared it the duty of every Muslim to “kill Americans wherever they are found.” (Bin Laden declared “Public Enemy Number 1” by President Bill Clinton in 1998.)

Al Qaeda

  • means “the base” or “the foundation” ; formed in 1988 or 1989.
  • loosely connected, far-flung network of disparate militant groups, from Egypt to Chechnya, from Yemen to the Philippines, united by the vision of a borderless brotherhood of radical Islam.
  • Bin Laden gave this alliance of terrorist groups money, training and expertise; they gave him operational cover and a furthering of his cause.
  • most important of those alliances was with the Taliban, who rose to power in Afghanistan largely because of Bin Laden’s financial aid, and in turn provided him refuge and a launching pad for holy war.
  • Precise reach of Al Qaeda unknown: how many members it could truly count on; how many countries its cells had penetrated; and whether it has chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.

Bin Laden responsible for the following acts of terrorism against US:

  • 1993 attack on World Trade Center
  • 1993 killing of American soldiers in Somalia
  • 1996 attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya & Tanzania, killing over 200 civilians
  • 2000 attack on naval ship USS Cole, killing 17 American sailors
  • 2001 attacks (9/11) on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon & a plane that crashed enroute to its target, killing at least 3000 civilians
  • foiled plots to hijack a dozen jets, crash a plane into the C.I.A. headquarters, and kill President Bill Clinton.

Al Qaeda affiliates responsible for these major acts of terrorism abroad:

  • 2002 Bali (Indonesia) bombings killing 202, injuring 250.
  • 2004 Beslan (Russian school) hostage crisis, killing at least 334, including 186 children.
  • 2004 attack on Madrid commuter trains, killed 191 and injuring over 1800
  • 2005 London attacks (7/7) against commuter transport, killing 56, injuring 700
  • 2008 Mumbai attacks, killing 164, injuring at least 308
  • 2013 Algerian attack on Tigantourine gas facility; 800 taken hostage; 39 foreigners killed
  • 2014 in Iraq on religious minorities
  • Most attacks have been in Middle East and have claimed many Muslim lives


After Osama bin Laden, The Economist, May 7th-13th, 2011

The Death of Osama bin Laden, The New York Times, Friday, May 6, 2011

The 9/11 Interactive Timeline.

Osama bin Laden, Wikipedia,