Bin Ladin, Osama (Usama Bin Ladin, Ibn Laden; 1957–)

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BIN LADIN, OSAMA (Usama bin Ladin, ibn Laden; 1957–)

Saudi Islamist militant, born in Saudi Arabia to one of the richest families in the kingdom, owners of an important conglomerate of construction companies. At the beginning of the 1980s, after studies in economics and theology that put him in contact with various Islamic groups, Osama bin Laden joined the ranks of the Islamic Legion, which had been formed by Prince Turki ibn Abdelaziz Faisal, head of Saudi security services. This small group was concerned with helping the Afghan people in their struggle against the Soviet Army. Prince Turki was also one of the leaders of the World Islamic League. Bin Laden created al-Qaʿida in 1986 with Ayman al-Zawahri, leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, under the cover of the Islamic Salvation Foundation. In the organization, bin Laden was responsible for recruiting, financing, and arming volunteers from different Arab countries. In Peshawar, Pakistan, he benefited indirectly from the material help that the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was providing to the Afghan rebels, which was being delivered through the Pakistani special services, or ISI. In 1991, having been back in Saudi Arabia for a year, he openly expressed his opposition to the pro-American policies of the Saudi rulers, thereby identifying with the fundamentalism espoused by Sheikhs Sfar al-Hawli and Salman al-Awdah, founders of the Islamic Resurgence Movement. At the time of the Gulf War, he accused the Saudi regime of having "profaned the land of Islam" by welcoming U.S. troops there.

In the autumn of 1991, he decided on exile in Sudan, where he created a number of commercial enterprises, from which a share of the profits went to finance Islamic Jihad through the Sudanese Islamic al-Shamal Bank, in which he was a major stockholder. In 1992, he was suspected of supporting the militias that were harassing American troops in Somalia. Two years later, in April 1994, he was officially stripped of Saudi nationality. In the summer of 1996 he was suspected of having financed two anti-American attacks in Saudi Arabia: that of 13 November, in Riyad, on a building where American advisors were staying, and that of 27 June, in Khobar, against a U.S. military base. In autumn 1996, he left Khartoum under pressure from Sudanese authorities, first going to Pakistan, then to Afghanistan, where he became a mainstay of the Taliban regime. On 23 February 1998, at Peshawar, with several leaders of the Jihad, he established the World Islamic Front for Holy War against Jews and Crusaders, a sort of federated movement of extremist groups. On 6 June, in an interview given to the American network ABC, he upheld the start of an open war against Americans, who, he specified, "whether civilian or military, are all targets of a fatwa." On the following 7 August, a double attack against the American embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es-Salaam, Tanzania, cost the lives of 258 people, including 12 Americans. U.S. intelligence agencies accused bin Laden of having ordered these attacks. On 20 August, in spite of missile strikes against camps at Khost, in the Afghan province of Paktia, which were thought to be harboring his followers, the Americans failed to dislodge him.

An international hunt was initiated for networks that he was believed to control. In September, one of his financiers, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, a Sudanese national, was arrested in Bavaria, Germany. In October 1999, the U.S. government requested bin Laden's extradition from the Afghan government, which was led by the Taliban and underwritten by Saudi Arabia. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) offered a reward of $5 million for his capture. On 17 February 2001, fourteen of his partisans were indicted for terrorist activities by the Jordanian authorities. On 5 February a trial of four men accused of belonging to his network and of being responsible for terrorist actions on American soil opened in New York City. On 13 September, two days after the suicide attack on the New York World Trade Center and on the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., which caused several thousand deaths, the FBI, suspecting bin Laden of being responsible, renewed its offer of $5 million for his capture. The next day, with the support of Congress, the Bush administration started to prepare a military operation directed against the Taliban regime in Kabul. On 18 September, the United Nations Security Council demanded "the immediate and unconditional surrender of Osama bin Laden" from the Afghan government. On 19 September the council of Afghan ulemas asked him to leave Afghanistan of his own accord. On 23 September, U.S. secretary of state Colin Powell announced that the United States was ready to offer a reward of $25 million for information leading to his capture. On 25 September, Saudi Arabia broke off diplomatic relations with the Taliban regime. Three days later, Saudi Arabia authorized the United States to use its military bases in the operation against Afghanistan. On 7 October, Operation Enduring Freedom started with the first U.S. aerial strikes on Afghanistan. Bin Laden went into the mountains on the Pakistan border that fall. He escaped a major American assault on an al-Qaʾida base at Tora Bora in December and could not be located, although he was seen thereafter on several videotaped messages that he sent to Arabic-language broadcasters.

SEE ALSO Gulf War (1991); International Islamic Front; Islamic Jihad; World Islamic Front for Holy War against Jews and Crusaders; Zawahri, Ayman Muhammad al-.