Osama bin Muhammad bin Awad bin Laden, the seventeenth of fifty-two children of Muhammad bin Laden, a wealthy Saudi Arabian construction magnate, is a religious fundamentalist considered responsible for many acts of terrorism in the world. Born in 1958, bin Laden grew to be an intensely religious man after his interest was piqued by mosques in Mecca and Medina that his family was rebuilding.
The billionaire family's ties with Saudi royalty gave them free rein for construction contracts - building roads across the vast deserts of Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden himself was well-educated, with a degree in Civil Engineering. He would have lived abroad peacefully, but the USSR invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Bin Laden was a part of the 1980s Jihad (a holy war) against the USSR. With a strange twist of fate, it was the USA that funded this effort. Bin Laden did everything from recruiting troops to supplying weapons and vehicles. Despite inadvertent CIA help, bin Laden maintained a distance from the US. It was obvious he didn't like America any more than the Soviet Union.
In the mid-80s, bin Laden co-founded the Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK, "Services Office") to continue funding for recruitement and supplies to the Afghan resistance. He also took strong stances on the various Palestine issues. In 1988, bin Laden formed the Al-Qa'ida ("the base"), his main headquarters in Afghanistan. In 1989, the MAK split when the other co-founder died; the extremists threw their support in with bin Laden. He described the Al-Qa'ida as an organization to:
"... unite all Muslims and establish a government which follows the rule of the Caliphs."1
In 1992, bin Laden found a reason to start his own personal war with the US. The US-led UN-sanctioned Marines aiding in a famine in Somalia were shot at by bin Laden's forces, using AK-47's (a cult favorite among terrorists) and rocket launchers. Bin Laden pointed out that the US was interfering in Muslim territory; indeed, there were some warring Muslims stopping relief to many Somalians. Bin Laden claimed that the relief effort wasn't the real mission of the Americans.
"The American imposes himself on everyone. Americans accuse our children in Palestine of being terrorists--those children, who have no weapons and have not even reached maturity. At the same time, Americans defend a country, the state of the Jews, that has a policy to destroy the future of these children.
"We are sure of our victory against the Americans and the Jews as promised by the Prophet: Judgment day shall not come until the Muslim fights the Jew, where the Jew will hide behind trees and stones, and the tree and the stone will speak and say, 'Muslim, behind me is a Jew. Come and kill him.'"2
On February 23, 1993, bin Laden did the unthinkable - he attacked America on its own turf. A truck rolled near the World Trade Center in New York and exploded - 6 people were killed; 1000+ were injured in the gas explosion. Although the FBI managed to name the man who planned the bombing as one Ramzi Yousef, they could not determine immediately who he was working for. After months of tedious search, Yousef's connections with a group funded by bin Laden became clear. Once again, bin Laden came in the spotlight, although he later denied any connections with Yousef. Yousef was captured in 1995 in a known bin Laden-controlled location.
In October 1993, bin Laden's men in Somalia shot down 2 US helicopters. 18 US soliders died. Again, bin Laden explained his actions as a counterattack against the US's foul intentions for the area. In December 1994, bin Laden's men used liquid explosives to kill one and injure ten in a Philippine Airlines bombing. By this time, bin Laden's extremist agenda and constant criticism of the Saudi government forced him to flee and live in nearby Sudan. However, by 1996, he would be residing in Afghanistan permanently, after being chased out of Sudan because of an assassination attempt against Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.
Five US military men were killed in Riyadh in 1995. In 1996, shortly before his relocation to Afghanistan, the Khobar Towers, a US military barracks in Saudi Arabia, was bombed - 19 personnel died; hundreds were injured. It was the strongest attack against the US in more than a decade.
"American history does not distinguish between civilians and military, not even women and children. They are the ones who used bombs against Nagasaki. Can these bombs distinguish between infants and military? America does not have a religion that will prevent it from destroying all people."3
On August 7, 1998, two United States embassies in Africa were bombed by bin Laden's men. One was in Nairobi, Kenya, where 224 people died with over 5000 injured; the other was in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where 11 people died. Both bombings utilized truck bombs. Bin Laden's mode of operation was emerging - he used relatively low-tech bombing styles to obtain a highly effective message by targetting important facilities. Truck bombs are crude - and highly effective in open locations with dense population. Unlike his contemporaries, bin Laden did not invest too much time in "high tech" biological warfare or nuclear capability - he used the tried-and-true methods of guerilla warfare, adapted to the modern world.
In late August, President Clinton mandated a bombing of bin Laden's Afghanistan base, the Al-Qa'ida. While the base was thoroughly demolished, and there were casualties, bin Laden and his top henchmen escaped and went into seclusion in the country. Later that year, in December, 16 tourists (all Western) were taken hostage by tribesmen from Yemen. After a two hour fight, 4 people died and 2 were injured. Again, bin Laden was labelled as the instigator.
Osama bin Laden is believed to be one of the major suspects of the destruction of the World Trade Center and the damaging attack on the Pentagon in 2001. He, and the Taliban government of Afghanistan, deny his involvement. Bin Laden is particularly dangerous because of his religious fanaticism, his skewed views on peace efforts, his indifference to distinguishing citizens from military personnel, the charisma to attract youth for his cause, and the financial strength to plan and fund his operations. Note that bin Laden's first name is often written as "Usama" (as in his FBI profile) or "Ussama".
Note: For more information on the Al-Qa'ida, The Smoking Gun has uploaded 3 scans of the CIA's unclassified fact sheet of Osama bin Laden. They are available at: http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/binladen1.shtml for anyone interested.
1 The CIA's unclassified fact sheet for Osama bin Laden; available online at http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/binladen1.shtml
2 John Miller's interview for Frontline; available online at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/binladen/who/miller.html
3 As above
"Greetings, America. My Name is Osama Bin Laden". http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/binladen/who/miller.html
"Profile of a Private Terrorist". http://abcnews.go.com/sections/world/DailyNews/terror_binladin_990110.html
"FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitive". http://www.fbi.gov/mostwant/topten/fugitives/laden.htm
"Unclassified CIA Fact Sheet". http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/binladen1.shtml