Middle East Encyclopedia

Encyclopedia of the Middle East

Osama Bin Laden

MidEastWeb Middle East

Osama Bin Laden

Osama Bin Laden (Arabic: أسامة بن محمد بن عوض بن لادن  Usama bin Muhhamad bin Awad Bin Laden) was born 10 March 1957. He is a member of the wealthy Saudi Arabian bin Laden family and a founder of the Islamist terrorist organization Al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda came to the attention of the world after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, and has been associated with numerous other terrorist attacks.

Osama Bin Laden is on the American Federal Bureau of Investigation's list of Ten Most Wanted Fugitives.

Since 2001, Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda have been major targets of the United States' government. Bin Laden and fellow Al-Qaeda leaders are widely believed to be hiding in the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan's Federally Administered Tribal Areas, though there are also persistent rumors that he has been killed.

Osama Bin Laden Family and Early Life

Osama bin Laden was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. According to a 1998 interview, he  his birth date is 10 March 1957. A different source gives his birth date as July 30, 1957. ref  He was one of about 57 children of Muhammed Awad bin Laden, a wealthy Saudi businessman with close ties to the Saudi royal family. Muhammed bin Laden, born in Yemen, migrated to Saudi Arabia sometime around 1930. He was initially a porter in the port of Jedda, and rose from poverty to become a wealthy construction magnate. In the 1960s, he helped Feisal persuade King Saud to step down. The Saudi treasury was empty after the abdication of Feisal, so bin Laden paid the salaries of government employees for six months. In gratitude, he was given all the major construction work in the kingdom and for a time was Minister of Public Works. Bin Laden corporation undertook the remodeling of the principal mosques in Mecca and Medina, and also the repair of the Jerusalem Al-Aqsa mosque in 1969. He was a pious and supposedly simple man, who kept the bag that he had used as a porter in his palace as a momento. ref

Osama bin Laden was the only son of Muhammed bin Laden's tenth wife, Hamida al-Attas, a Syrian. Muhammad Bin Laden divorced her soon after Osama was born.  Osama's mother then married Muhammad al-Attas. The couple had four children together, and Osama grew up with three stepbrothers and one stepsister.

Bin Laden was reportedly raised as a devout Wahhabi Muslim.  However, according to one report, from 1968 to 1976 he attended the secular Al-Thager Model School in Jedda, Saudi Arabia.  In 1974, at the age of 17, Osama bin Laden married Najwa Ghanem at Latakia. Since then, various sources claim he has approximately four wives and 25 children. After graduation from high school, Bin Laden  studied economics and business administration at King Abdul Aziz University. According to various reports, he earned a degree in civil engineering in 1979,ref   or a degree in public administration in 1981.ref   Another source  claims  he left university without completing a degree. At university, bin Laden's main interest was religion, He was involved in both "interpreting the Quran and jihad" and charitable work. He supposedly had two distinguished teachers in Islamic studies at the university. The first was the Palestinian Abdullah Azzam who later became his companion in revolution,  and the second was Muhammad Quttub, a famous Islamic writer and philosopher, ref

Osama Bin Laden Fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan

Supposedly, Osama Bin Laden went to the area of Afghanistan while he was still a student or just after, as soon as the Soviets invaded. At first his trips were confined to border areas in Pakistan, but in 1982 he decided to enter Afghanistan. He brought construction machinery from the Bin Laden corporation which he gave to the resistance fighters. In 1984 he established a guesthouse (Baitul al Ansar) in Peshawar, Pakistan for the Saudis coming to fight in Afghanistan. He did not set up his own fighting units yet, but rather directed the volunteers to different groups. In parallel, Abdullah Azzam either alone or with Bin Laden, had set up a propaganda center (Maktab al Kidamat, MAK, Afghan Service Center, "Jihad Service Center")   that drummed up support for the Jihad against the Soviets and gathered recruits.

In 1986 Osama decided to have his own camps inside Afghanistan and within two years he built more than six camps and set up his own fighting forces. The guest house and camps proved to be attractants for Arab Jihad fighters, including some who had had military experience in their home countries. Until 1989, Osama Bin Laden and his forces had apparently fought about 6 major battles with the Soviets. During this period, Osama bin Laden more or less commuted between Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. Bin Laden had teamed up with Ayman Zawahiri, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leader and with the Palestinian leader and Islamist Abdullah Azzam.

Osama Bin Laden and the formation of Al Qaeda

Al-Qaeda, "the base," was evidently formed about 1987 or 1988. One theory is that it was a database of names of people coming into the camps.ref  However, Azzam had written an article about a group called "the base" or Al-Qaeda in 1987.ref It was evidently an organizational framework for recruiting and integrating Arab fighters into the Afhan fighting. Toward the end of 1989, as the Soviets withdrew, there may have been a disagreement among the leaders of Al-Qaeda about the future use of the fighters they had mobilized. Abdullah Azzam evidently wanted to keep the fighting confined to circumscribed targets like Afghanistan and Israel. Zawahiri wanted to attack Muslim regimes that were insufficiently religious. Abdullah Azzam was killed along with his two sons by a bomb in November 1989. 

Osama Bin Laden Returns to Saudi Arabia 

Toward the end of 1989 or beginning of 1990 Osama Bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia. He may have been planning to stir up unrest in Yemen. He gave several lectures warning that Saddam Hussein of Iraq was about to attack Saudi Arabia, and this caused alarm in the regime, which at that time was un good terms with Saddam Hussein. When the Americans intervened to protect Saudi Arabia, Bin-Laden pleaded with the Saudi monarchy not to rely on foreign troops.  He managed to direct a number of fighters, some say as many as 4,000, to Afghanistan, where they were to be trained to fight off an invasion by Iraq.  For these reasons his movements were restricted and he was not allowed to leave the kingdom. Osama bin Laden seems to have turned against the Saudi regime at this point. Late in 1991, he fled Saudi Arabia despite government restrictions, first to Afghanistan and then to Sudan.

Osama Bin Laden in Sudan

In Sudan, the country's Islamist regime that had overthrown Jaafer Numeiri, and its ruler, Hassan al-Turabi, gave him shelter. Bin Laden, helped build a road linking the capital, Khartoum, with Port Sudan and an airport. He also became involved in the export of Sudanese goods, like gum, corn, sunflower and sesame products. A number of terror incidents occurred during this period that may have been the work of  Al-Qaeda. These include the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York and the 1995 bombing of the Egyptian embassy in Pakistan. During this period, Bin Laden may have sent fighters to Bosnia, and apparently was given Bosnian citizenship.

In 1994, the Saudis openly stripped him of his citizenship.  In 1995 or 1996 he was forced to flee Sudan after the government rescinded its welcome to him under international pressure. He fled to Afghanistan. In June of 1996, the Saudis were shocked by the Khobar bombing, which may have been the work of Al-Qaeda, In 1996 Al Qaeda also issued the first of Osama Bin Laden's Fatwas, "Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places", addressing US Secretary of Defense William Perry by name, and claiming the al Khobar bombing:

The crusader army became dust when we detonated al-Khobar with courageous youth of Islam fearing no danger, If (they are) threatened, "The tyrants will kill you," they reply, "My death is a victory. I did not betray that king, he did betray our Qiblah. And he permitted in the holy country the most filthy sort of humans. I have made an oath by Allah, the Great, to fight whoever rejected the faith.

Bin Laden and his group issued a second and more widely publicized Fatwa in 1998, (see  Osama Bin Laden Fatwa of 1998) again threatening death to Americans in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. These gave the world a florid description of the Jihadist ideology and amply warning of Bin Laden's plans to attack the US and its allies. Curiously, the world largely ignored both Fatwas, and the US administration ignored the radical Islamist ideology in those Fatwas and publically at least, preferred to characterize Bin Laden as a sort of bandit terrorist.

Osama Bin Laden's Ideology

The nature of Bin Laden's radical Islamism is evident from his Fatwas and his actions and those of his group. His first emphasis is on cleansing the Muslim lands of non-Muslims and the regimes that support them through Jihad. It is permissible, according to him, to kill women and children in support of Jihad. Influenced by Zawahari, he is a follower of Sayyid Qutb. Therefore, he warns Americans against "fornication" and homosexuality and he is a rather blatant anti-Semite. He considered that the Taleban state run by Mullah Omar in Afghanistan was an exemplar of a proper Islamic state. One of his sons describes him as cruel and evil.ref   

Terror attacks associated with Osama Bin Laden

Several major terror attacks can be definitely attributed to Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. These include the August 7, 1998 truck bombings of US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya that took hundreds of lives. This was apparently the work of Ayman Zawahiri, Bin Laden's second in command, and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. The US responded by a massive missile attack in Afghanistan and Sudan. The attack on a Sudanese pharmaceutical plant was evidently based on faulty intelligence. The attack attack in Afghanistan struck the Al-Qaeda camp, but according to one of his sons, Osama Bin Laden had gotten advance notice of the attack, probably from Pakistani intelligence, and evacuated the camp two hours earlier.ref

On October 12, 2000, a suicide boat exploded a shaped charge against the hull of the USS Cole anchored in the port of Aden, killing 17 sailors. This was evidently the work of Al-Qaeda assisted by Sudan. ref

The most dramatic attacks perpetrated by Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden, of course were the attacks of September 11, 2001, in which a two hijacked airplanes slammed into the World Trade Center in New York, and a third crashed into the Pentagon in Washington DC, killing  2,974 persons and injuring over 6,000. Bin Laden admitted responsibility for these attacks in 2004 ref , and many of the perpetrators were arrested and convicted, but that did not prevent conspiracy theorists from continuing to insist that the attacks were the work of the Israeli Mossad, the CIA or the FBI.

Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden was probably involved in the 1995 attempt to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Sudan, since that attack has been linked to Ayman Zawahiri's Egyptian Islamic Jihad.

Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden are involved to an unknown extent in financing and arming the organization known as Al-Qaeda in Iraq, responsible for numerous brutal bombings and headed by Abu Musab al Zarqawi until his death on June 7, 2006.

Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda probably indirectly inspired and may have aided several other attacks. The 2002 terror attacks in Bali, Indonesia were evidently financed by Osama Bin Laden.ref Some of the same persons were evidently involved in the 2005 Bali attacks, and therefore it is logical to suspect involvement of Al-Qaeda there. Terror strikes in Morocco and Algeria ref   have also been attributed to Al-Qaeda or claimed by them and Al-Qaeda members have been arrested there.

Al-Qaeda was also implicated in the London bombings of July 7 and July 21 2005, as well as the Madrid bombings of March 11, 2004. However, it has never been possible to prove actual involvement rather than "inspiration."

Osama Bin Laden has not made a public statement or appearance in several years, and there are rumors that he is dead. In an interview with David Frost,ref Benazir Bhutto made a reference to Omar Sheikh, whom she said had "murdered Osama Bin Laden." But subsequently she referred to Osama Bin Laden as still alive. ref ref

Ami Isseroff

Synonyms and alternate spellings:

Further Information:   Wright, Lawrence, The Looming Tower : Al-Qaeda And The Road To 9/11, New York : Knopf, 2006.

USA Credit Card - Donate On-Line - Help us live and grow

Encyclopedia of the Middle East

Note - This encyclopedia is a work in progress. It is far from complete and is being constructed and improved all the time. If you would like to contribute articles or expansions of existing articles, please contact news (at) mideastweb.org.  Suggestions and corrections are welcome. The concise version of this dictionary is at our Middle East Glossary.

Spelling - Spelling of words in Middle-Eastern languages is often arbitrary. There may be many variants of the same name or word such as Hezbollah, Hizbolla, Hisbolla or Husayn and Hussein. There are some conventions for converting words from Semitic languages such as Arabic and Hebrew There are numerous variant renderings of the same Arabic or Hebrew words, such as "Hizbollah," "Hisbulla" etc. It is not possible to find exact equivalents for several letters. 

Pronunciation - Arabic and Hebrew vowels are pronounced differently than in English. "o" is very short. The "a" is usually pronounced like the "a" in market, sometimes as the "a" in "Arafat."  The " 'A " is guttural.  " 'H "- the 'het ('Hirbeh, 'Hebron, 'Hisbollah') designates a sound somewhat similar to the ch in "loch" in Scots pronunciation, but made by touching the back of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. The CH should be pronounced like Loch, a more assertive consonant than 'het.

The "Gh" combination, and sometimes the "G," designate a deep guttural sound that Westerners may hear approximately as "r." The "r" sound is always formed with the back of the tongue, and is not like the English "r."

More information: Hebrew, Arabic

Copyright 2007- Present,  MidEastWeb for Coexistence RA.

All original materials at MidEastWeb are copyright by MidEastWeb and/or by their authors unless otherwise noted. Please do not copy materials from this Web site to your Web site or to forums without permission. Please tell your friends about MidEastWeb. Please forward these materials in e-mails to friends with links to this URL - http://www.mideastweb.org and to the URL of the material. You can print out materials for your own use or classroom use, giving the URL of  MidEastWeb. For pages marked Copyright, printed material should bear this notice:

"Copyright by MidEastWeb for Coexistence R.A - Middle East Resources. - http://www.mideastweb.org. All rights reserved. "

and should give the URL of the original. Reproduction in any other form - by permission only. Consult detailed terms of use and copyright information

Mideastweb: Middle East Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Issues in a Nutshell Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Brief History Zionism Zionism: Definition & brief history

Osama Bin Laden