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Osama bin Laden

bin Laden, Osama or Usama (ōsäˈmə bĭn lädˈən, ŭsäˈmə) [key], 1957?–2011, Saudi-born leader of Al Qaeda, a terrorist organization devoted to uniting all Muslims and establishing a transnational, strict-fundamentalist Islamic state. The youngest son of a wealthy Yemeni-born businessman, bin Laden was trained as a civil engineer (grad. 1979, King Abdul Aziz Univ., Jidda), but following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (see Afghanistan War) he went to Pakistan where he helped to finance the mujahidin and to found Makhtab al Khadimat [services office] (MAK), which recruited and trained non-Afghani Muslims to fight in the war.

In 1987 he split with MAK to begin a jihad [holy war] against Israel and Western influence in Islamic countries; he founded Al Qaeda the next year. Following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, he returned to his family's construction business in Saudi Arabia. When U.S. troops were stationed (1990) on Saudi soil during the First Persian Gulf War he became violently opposed to the Saudi monarchy and the United States. After he was caught smuggling arms in 1991, he went to Sudan, where he began financing terrorist training camps while investing in businesses and increasing his fortune. His Saudi citizenship was revoked in 1994.

After the attempted assassination (1995) of Egyptian president Mubarak, to which bin Laden was linked, he was expelled (1996) from Sudan and reestablished himself in Afghanistan, where the extreme Islamist Taliban had come to power. That same year he issued a "declaration of war" against the United States. Al Qaeda trained terrorists that were linked to the 1996 car bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, and the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Bin Laden also was reported to have financed or trained Islamic guerrillas operating in Kosovo, Kashmir, the Philippines, and elsewhere.

He was indicted in the United States for the embassy bombings, and the United States launched retaliatory cruise missile attacks against his Afghanistan camps in 1998. Following the 2001 attacks the United States demanded the Taliban hand him over. When the Afghanis refused, U.S. forces began military action against Afghanistan, and in conjunction with opposition forces there largely defeated Taliban and Al Qaeda forces by Jan., 2002. Bin Laden, however, was not captured. It had been thought that bin Laden was hiding in Pashtun-dominated areas of Pakistan near Afghanistan, but in 2011 he was killed in a U.S. raid in Abbottabad, NE Pakistan, where he had lived for five years. It was unclear how much control he had exercised over Al Qaeda's everyday operations during this period.

See his Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden (2005); biography by M. Scheuer (2011); M. Owen, No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama bin Laden (with K. Maurer, 2012); studies by P. L. Bergen (2001, 2006, and 2011), A. J. Dennis (2002), R. Jacquard (2002), S. Coll (2004 and 2008), J. Randal (2004), and L. Wright (2006).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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See more Encyclopedia articles on: Middle Eastern History: Biographies

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