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Profile: Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda


Osama's Ancestry:

Osama bin Laden's father, Mohammed, was born in a remote valley in Yemen, moved to Saudi Arabia in 1931 as a dockworker in Jeddah, then as a bricklayer with Aramco, the giant oil company, in Dhahran. From that point on Mohammed bin Laden's luck and wealth grew in tandem with Saudi Arabia's oil boom as he became the nation's leading (and billionaire) builder. He had more than a dozen wives and more than 50 children. His fourth wife, Alia, from Syria, was 14 when they married, 16 when she had her only child--a son, whom they named Osama, which means "the Lion." Osama was born March 10, 1957, in Riadh, Saudi Arabia.

Osama's Youth:

Osama grew up idolizing his father even though Mohammad and Alia divorced soon after Osama's birth and Alia remarried and had three more sons and a daughter. Osama attended Al Thagher, an exclusive school in Riadh, where he took English classes, played soccer and joined an Islamic study group when he was in eighth or ninth grade. His height aside (he would eventually be 6 foot 4) he was not a remarkable student. But he was reportedly honest, sober and serious. Especially about his involvement in the Islamic study group.

A 1978 Visit to the United States?:

In his adolescence in Riadh Osama liked to drive a white Chrysler and a gray Mercedes--fast. He spent some of his time with his numerous half-brothers, many of whom had traveled to Lebanon or the United States and elsewhere to study and visit. Bin Laden himself went to London when he was 10 to treat an eye condition. He was part of a family safari in East Africa in his teen years. And he reportedly visited the United States in 1978, so his son could get medical treatment, according to Khaled Batarfi, a Saudi Arabian editor who was a neighbor of bin Laden's and played on the same soccer team in their youth.

Marriage, Family, Jihad:

Osama had four wives and 19 children. When Osama's father died in a plane crash in 1967, he inherited anywhere from $30 million to $300 million. He'd studied civil engineering. He worked in his father's building company, but in 1979, when he was 22, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan propelled him in his first holy war. He considered the invasion of an Islamic state an offense against God. He raised millions of dollars for the Afghan resistance, some of it from his pocket, and shipped off heavy equipment from his father's company to help build tunnels, roads and camps in Afghanistan.

Fighting Soviets in Afghanistan:

In 1984 Osama moved to Pakistan, the hub of the CIA's secret war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. He formed forming an organization called Makhtab al Khadimat to recruit and train Muslim volunteers from the Arab world and elsewhere willing to fight in Afghanistan. Makhtab al Khadimat would become al-Qaeda. The CIA funded Makhtab al Khadimat in its anti-Soviet phase, even though Osama made it clear even then that he would fight any Western influence anywhere in Islamic lands. That's how he met Egyptian Ayman al-Zawahiri, one of the plotters in the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in 1981.

The Sudan:

After taking up arms and forming his own army of Arab fighters in Afghanistan against the Soviets, bin Laden briefly moved back to Saudi Arabia, was appalled by the nation's corruption, then moved to the Sudan in 1991, where he set up numerous successful businesses and edged away from holy war. He thought of abandoning al-Qaeda and sticking to big-time farming. Al-Zawahiri, the continued presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia and their arrival in Somalia convinced him otherwise. Bin Laden resumed financing terrorism operations -- including the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993.

Return to Afghanistan:

The Saudi government revoked bin Laden's citizenship in 1994 because of his terrorism activities. Under pressure from the United States the Sudan expelled him in 1996. Saudi Arabia barred his return. So Bin Laden went back to Afghanistan, where the newly installed Taliban regime, funded by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, welcomed him. On Aug. 23, 1996, bin Laden declared war on the United States. He set up camp in Tora Bora and welcomed Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks. They hatched the plot and the first would-be hijackers, including Mohammed Atta, arrived in Afghanistan in 1999.

9/11 and After:

Despite praising the attacks, bin Laden initially denied responsibility for them. But by 2004 his videotaped statements showed him taking explicit responsibility for guiding the "19 brothers," as he called the hijackers. By then he was believed to be in hiding in the western mountains of Pakistan after escaping capture in the battle of Tora Bora in Afghanistan in December 2001, following the American-backed reconquest of Afghanistan by anti-Taliban forces. Al-Qaeda is belived to have reconstituted since, using its Pakistan bases and training camps to regroup.

Dead or Alive? Dead:

Bin Laden's health was long been in question. So had his whereabouts between 9/11 and 2010. He was reported to be suffering from a kidney disease before the 9/11 attacks, with trips to Pakistan for treatment. In 2006 Saudi intelligence claimed he had died of typhoid. Bin Laden resurfaced in videotaped messages on several occasions since 9/11, notably before the 2004 presidential election in the United States, and again in September 2007 (after a three-year silence), in a message presaging more attacks. Bin Laden did not say where. Initial analysis confirmed the voice was bin Laden's.

The Killing of Bin Laden, May 1, 2011:

In August 2010, the Obama administration received intelligence that bin Laden may have been living, possibly for years, in a luxury mansion built in 2005 in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, a resort and retirement town few dozen miles north of the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. Obama ordered the compound raided during the night of May 1 to May 2. The raid was conducted by dozens of U.S. Navy Seals. According to Obama, bin Laden was found there, and killed. Bin Laden's body was positively identified through DNA methods before it was prepared for burial according to Muslim custom, and dropped into the Arabian Sea less than 24 hours after he was killed.
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