Fatwa Issued by Osama Bin Laden

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Fatwa Issued by Osama Bin Laden

"Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places"

Book excerpt

By: Osama Bin Laden

Date: August 23, 1996

Source: "Declaration of War . . . ," as published in Rubin, Barry, and Judith Colp Rubin's Anti-American Terrorism and the Middle East: Defense of Legitimate Rights, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

About the Author: Born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 1957, Osama Bin Laden was the youngest son of a multimillionaire construction mogul and his fourth and youngest wife. From an early age, Bin Laden embraced his father's conservative view of Islam. Most biographers trace Bin Laden's radicalism to his university days at King Abdul-Aziz University in Jeddah, where he was exposed to the teachings of his professor and spiritual leader Shaykh Abdullah Azzam. In 1979, Bin Laden traveled to Afghanistan to support the resistance to the Soviet invasion, using his family's money and connections to provide logistical support and aid to the Afghani fighters. As the years of conflict wore on, Bin Laden's participation intensified, his role evolving from financier to combat engineer, to finally commander of his own Arab forces fighting his own front against the Soviet invaders. By this time, Bin Laden had formed al-Qaeda, which began as an organization to channel money and supplies from international supporters to the resistance. In 1989, Bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia for what he thought would be a short visit. Two surprises awaited him there. The first was that he had become famous as a leader of the resistance in Afghanistan. The Saudi public had strongly supported the resistance and followed the events of the conflict closely. The second was that his passport had been restricted, preventing him from leaving Saudi Arabia again. The Saudi government had become increasingly worried about his popularity and radicalism during the mid-eighties, and were concerned that he would use his connections to open another front for jihad (holy war), perhaps in Yemen. Bin Laden's conflict with Saudi authorities came to a head with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990. The final straw came when Saudi Arabian King Fahd allowed the United States and its allies to occupy the Saudi kingdom as a staging ground for operations in the first Gulf War. Claiming later that his religious sensibilities were offended by the presence of United States troops (especially women), Bin Laden was transformed by that event into an implacable foe of both the Saudi government and the United States. Today, Bin Laden is considered by governments on three continents to be the most dangerous terrorist in the world. The U.S. government holds Bin Laden responsible for the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the attack on the USS Cole in October 2000, and the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.


In the months leading up to the first Gulf War, the Saudi Arabian government was aware that its decision to allow American troops on the Arabian Peninsula would not be a popular one. Afraid of what Bin Laden might do, and mindful of his considerable ability to incite like-minded Islamists among the populace, the Saudis placed him under house arrest as the first U.S. forces were arriving. In 1991, he managed to convince his elder brothers to use their influence with the government to obtain permission for him to take a brief visit to Pakistan. Departing in April of that year, he never returned to Saudi Arabia.

After an interlude in Afghanistan, Bin Laden went to Sudan, where he resided until May of 1996. In Khartoum, he reconnected with his old allies from the Afghan resistance, now members of Sudan's ruling National Islamic Front (NIF). He built a number of construction, agriculture, and trading businesses which turned a handsome profit. He brought in his old fighters from Afghanistan and employed them in his businesses. At that time, Bin Laden began to sponsor attacks on U.S. interests in Yemen and Somalia.

The first of these operations seems to have failed because of faulty intelligence. Although the attacks on two hotels in Yemen killed two tourists, no U.S. soldiers were occupying them at the time of the explosions. Citing the fact that the U.S. troops left Yemen for Somalia within days after the attacks, Bin Laden would later claim the bombing as the first al-Qaeda victory against the United States.

He was more successful in Somalia. In 1993, eighteen U.S. soldiers were ambushed and killed in Mogadishu. Bin Laden later claimed responsibility for the action, though some have disputed his assertion that his fighters were personally involved.

Returning to Afghanistan in 1996, he issued his first public declaration of war against the United States. With this declaration, published in a London newspaper, Bin Laden begins an extended dialogue with Arab and Western journalists that will span the next few years. The following excerpt reveals both the depth of his enmity and his rationale for declaring the international jihad against America that persists to this day.

[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]

[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]


Although the target of the fatwa (an official order from an Islamic leader) is very specific (U.S. troops stationed in Saudi Arabia), the scope of the charge against the United States is a great deal broader.

Bin Laden casts the occupation by U.S. troops as the latest and greatest insult suffered by the Muslim world in their ancient struggle with the Zionist-crusader forces. In invoking the crusades, he places the conflict in a religious context, appeals to centuries-old resentments, and provides a theological imperative for jihad against the United States and Israel.

The jihad was widened in February 1998 to include civilian targets. In a joint statement with his associates in the name of the World Islamic Front, Bin Laden charged faithful Muslims across the world with killing Americans wherever they could be found. On August 7 of that year, the eighth anniversary of the ordering of U.S. troops into the Gulf region, bombs exploded simultaneously at the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224 people and injuring thousands.



Cook, David. Understanding Jihad. Berkley: University of California Press, 2005.

Jacquard, Roland. In the Name of Osama Bin Laden: Global Terrorism and the Bin Laden Brotherhood, Revised and Updated Edition. Durham: Duke University Press, 2002.

Web sites

pbs.org. "Hunting Bin Laden" <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/binladen/> (accessed June 26, 2005).