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Osama bin Laden

Born in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia in 1957 into an Yemeni family, Osama bin Laden left Saudi Arabia in 1979 to fight against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. His commitment to the spread of a fundamentalist variant of Islam is traced back to the late 1970s when he established links with the cadre of the Muslim Brotherhood while pursuing a civil engineering degree at King Abdul Aziz University in Saudi Arabia. On graduating, he formed the Islamic Salvation Foundation in Saudi Arabia, through which he is reported to have initially funded the Mujahideen in Afghanistan, where he later emerged as a key player in the fight against the erstwhile Soviet Union. While in Afghanistan, he founded the Maktab al-Khidimat (MAK), which recruited terrorists from around the world and also imported material to aid the Afghan resistance against the Soviet Army. Bin Laden fought alongside the Afghan guerrillas during the US-backed Jehad, or ‘holy war’, against the Soviet Union after it invaded Afghanistan in 1979. During the Afghan conflict, bin Laden is also reported to have established many terrorist-training camps.

He perceived the Afghan conflict in the context of ‘Muslim believers vs. heretics’. In his view, the term, ‘heretics’ embraces the ‘pragmatic’ Arab regimes (including his homeland Saudi Arabia), and the US, which he believes is attempting to capture the Muslim holy sites of Mecca and Medina, as also assisting the Jewish community in their conquest of Palestine. In accordance with such a worldview, he not only encourages the perpetration of terrorist violence but also justifies acts of terror through various religious edicts. While propounding that Jehad is necessary to ‘raise the Muslim world above the world of the heretics’, he also argues that terrorism is justified by the ‘degraded moral standards of his enemies, the Christians and the Jews’. The US, bin Laden maintains, is responsible for the ‘most reprehensible acts of world terrorism’, such as the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as also the bombing in Iraq.

After the Soviet withdrawal, the ‘Arab Afghans’, as bin Laden's faction came to be called, turned their attention against the United States of America and its allies in the Middle East. Since the Persian Gulf War in 1991, bin Laden has utilised his public statements to deliberately create an image as the leader of a religious struggle on behalf of what he perceives to be the dispossessed of the Islamist community. According to reports, his opposition to the United States increased after the Persian Gulf War in 1991 and the US decision to station troops in Saudi Arabia. In a lengthy statement in 1996, outlining his philosophy, bin Laden denounced the ‘occupation’ of the Arab Holy Land by ‘American crusader forces’, which he described as the ‘latest and greatest aggression’ against the Islamist world since the death of the prophet Muhammad. According to bin Laden, the U.S. represents ‘forces of evil bringing corruption and domination into the Islamist world’.

Osama bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia to work in the family construction business after the Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, but was expelled in 1991 because of his anti-government activity there. In the early 1990s, he founded a London-based group, the Advisory and Reform Committee that distributed literature against the Saudi regime. Owing to bin Laden’s opposition to the ruling Al Saud family, Saudi Arabia revoked his citizenship in 1994 and his family disavowed him, although some of his brothers have reportedly maintained contact with him. Kept under house arrest in Jeddah because of his opposition to the Saudi alliance with the United States, bin Laden fled the country in April 1991, moving first to Afghanistan and later to the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. A fundamentalist Islamist regime had come to power in Sudan by then, and was permitting Muslims to enter the country without visas and bin Laden seized the opportunity. Upon relocating himself in Sudan with the approval of National Islamic Front (NIF) leader Hassan al-Turabi, and in concert with various NIF leaders, he built a network of businesses, including an Islamist bank, an import-export firm, as also firms that exported agricultural products. He is reported to have spent the next five years in Sudan until US pressure prompted the Sudanese regime to expel him, whereupon he returned to Afghanistan. While residing in Sudan, bin Laden financed and assisted setting up at least three terrorist training camps in cooperation with the National Islamic Front of Hassan al-Turabi, and his construction company is reported to have worked directly with certain Sudanese military officials to transport and supply terrorists to such camps. The business enterprises in Sudan, some of which are still reported to be operational, enabled him to offer safe haven as also employment in Sudan to Al Qaeda cadres, promoting their involvement in radical Islamist movements in their countries of origin (especially Egypt) as well as in anti-U.S. terrorist activities. In Sudan, bin Laden invested in various commercial ventures including construction, farming and banking. He is reported to have constructed bridges, an international airport and a roadway. He also invested in peanuts, fruit industry, sunflowers and wheat. He reportedly has some business interests in Yemen as well and is believed to have investments in European and Asian firms. He is also reported to have evinced interest at one time in acquiring chemical weapons, and probably, nuclear materials, too.

Laden is reported to be operating several terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, where Islamist terrorists prepare for Jehad in places as far apart as in Central Asia, Jammu and Kashmir, West Asia, southeast Asia and, increasingly, Western (especially US) targets. Laden has been provided shelter by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan for several years now and the Taliban have refused repeated US requests for his extradition. He had given huge amounts of money to the Taliban leadership, though the exact amounts are not known. It was their requirement for money that made the Taliban initially agreed to host bin Laden, who later cemented ties by entering into a matrimonial alliance with Taliban chief Mullah Omar. Since the August 1998 US retaliatory strikes on Afghan camps and the Sudanese pharmaceutical plant, the Taliban leadership has attempted to distance itself from bin Laden. However, the Taliban regime have rejected repeated US requests to extradite him, claiming that the United States has not provided convincing evidence regarding bin Laden’s involvement in anti-US terrorist activity.

In order to further his terrorist acts, Laden formed the International Islamic Front for Jihad against the Jews and the Crusaders on May 28, 1998. The outfit also issued a fatwa (religious edict) proclaiming that the ‘Jehad against the heretics who conquer Muslim lands’ is a duty incumbent upon all ‘believing Muslims’. His Al-Qaeda (meaning "The Base") network is extensive and has the capability to carry out large-scale terrorist acts. The Group has three primary objectives: a) Building unity with the various Shiite Muslim terrorist outfits, including those in Iran and the Hezbollah, to cooperate against the ‘common enemy’, the US and its allies; b) US forces stationed on the Saudi peninsula, including both in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, should be attacked; and c) the US forces stationed in the Horn of Africa, including in Somalia, should be attacked. Like many other fundamentalist Islamist outfits, bin Laden’s Al Qaeda believes that Western Civilization has corrupted the Islamist community. The US is blamed for trying to destroy the Islamist nations as also the Islamist populace. Therefore, the Al Qaeda wants to create a ‘new Islamic state’ that would rule the world. Osama bin Laden is reported to maintain extensive links with a number of international terror outfits in as many as sixty countries across the world. These groups benefit from bin Laden's funding network and training camps.

The terrorist operations with which bin Laden is believed to be linked, include the following:

  • The first anti-US terrorist act that the US government links bin Laden to is the December 29, 1992 bombing of a hotel in Aden, Yemen, where the US troops were camping en route to Somalia. The US personnel were there to support the United Nations (UN) relief operations in Somalia (Operation Restore Hope). Two Austrian tourists were killed in the explosion. Two Yemeni Muslim terrorists, linked to bin Laden and reportedly trained in Afghanistan, were later arrested for the attack.

  • U.S. investigations have established financial and logistical links between bin Laden and Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, prime suspect of the February 1993 World Trade Center bombing. On February 8, 1995, nearly two years after the World Trade Centre bombing, Yousef was arrested in a Pakistan guesthouse by local authorities before being turned over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Yousef had been indicted on March 11, 1993. The owner of the guesthouse was reportedly a member of Laden’s family.

  • Osama bin Laden is also suspected to have been involved in the attempted assassination in June 1993 of Jordan's Crown Prince Abdullah.

  • On October 3 and 4, 1993, eighteen US troops were killed in a terrorist attack in Mogadishu, Somalia.

  • Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda cadres reportedly aided the Islamist Group assassination attack against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during his visit to Ethiopia in June 1995.

  • Osama bin Laden’s terror network was responsible for plots in Asia orchestrated by Ramzi Ahmad Yusuf, who was later arrested in Pakistan, brought to the United States, and convicted in November 1997 of masterminding the World Trade Center bombing. The plots in Asia, all of which failed, were: to assassinate the Pope during his late 1994 visit to the Philippines and President Clinton during his visit there in early 1995; to bomb the US; and Israeli embassies in Manila in late 1994; and to bomb US flights across the Pacific in 1995.

  • The four Saudi nationals who confessed to the November 13, 1995, bombing of a US military training facility in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, admitted to being inspired by bin Laden and other Islamist terrorists. Three of the confessors were also veterans of conflicts in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Chechnya.

  • Bin Laden is also a suspect in the bombing of Egyptian Embassy in Pakistan in November 1996 in which 17 persons were killed. The Egyptian Islamist Jihad, one of the key outfits in the Laden terror network was responsible for this attack.

  • In a November 1996 press interview, bin Laden said that he had provided weapons to anti-US militias in Somalia during Operation Restore Hope and that his cadres carried out attacks against US forces stationed there.

  • In February 1998, Osama bin Laden issued a joint declaration with the Islamist Group, Al Jihad, the Jihad Movement in Bangladesh and the Jamaat-ul-Ulema-e-Pakistan, under the banner of the World Islamic Front, which allegedly stated that Muslims should kill Americans including civilians anywhere in the world.

  • On August 7, 1998, two bomb blasts devastated the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The blast in Nairobi, Kenya killed 213 persons, including 12 US nationals, and the blast in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killed 11 persons and injured 85 others. Consequently, on June 7, 1999, bin Laden was placed on the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted List," and a $5 million reward was offered for his capture. He was also indicted as the mastermind behind the US embassy bombings. The embassy bombings occurred after a six month period in which bin Laden had issued repeated and open threats, including a February 1998 pronouncement calling for the killing of US civilians and servicemen worldwide. For their alleged role in these bombings, 17 members of the Al Qaeda, including bin Laden, have been indicted by the Manhattan federal court, of whom six are in custody in the United States and three in Great Britain.

  • Bin Laden is also a suspect in the bombing of the United States ship USS Cole, in Yemen, in October 2000, in which 17 persons were killed. In the past three years, he has issued three fatwa's declaring war on the American forces in Saudi Arabia.

  • Bin Laden is the "prime suspect" in the mass terror attacks of September 11, 2001, in the US.

Osama bin Laden reportedly utilizes his personal fortune of an estimated $300 million in financial assets to fund his Al-Qaeda network consisting of over 3,000 Islamist terrorists. Over ten thousand Islamist terrorists have also been trained in camps run by the Al-Qaeda. Among the various commercial undertakings that are owned and managed by his associates and front organizations are an Ostrich raising business in Kenya, forestry interests in Turkey, diamond trading in Africa, bridge construction in Sudan as also agricultural holdings in Tajikistan. Another source of funding is the millions of dollars in the form of donations from wealthy Muslim individuals and organisations that the Al Qaeda receives. Osama is also reported to have succeeded in persuading the Muslim clergy in various Arab countries to issue a religious edict that would render it obligatory for Muslims to offer Zakat (alms) given annually to the poor and to the erstwhile Arab militia who fought the Afghan war. According to news reports, various Saudi Arabia-based individuals were allegedly donating $1 million to $2 million a month through mosques and other fund-raising avenues to assist bin Laden. Media reports have also indicated that various mosques, Islamist charities and other non-governmental organizations have diverted money raised in the United States, Europe and other parts of the world to the Al-Qaeda. Funds from various international charities that collect money for refugees and other relief works in the Middle East have reportedly been diverted to terrorism. Laden's Al Qaeda network is reported to have an array of bank accounts stretching from London to Girocredit in Vienna to several other banks at Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. His Al Qaeda terror cells around the world also engage in clandestine fund raising activities.

In addition to these investments and resources, bin Laden had also inherited a huge fortune from his father, a construction magnate in Saudi Arabia. The dispersed transnational financial activity of bin Laden's Al Qaeda are essentially aimed at providing him with a way to transfer and receive large sums of money around the globe while avoiding detection by nations and law enforcing authorities seeking to arrest him and destroy his operations. Witnesses in the trial of the 1998 US embassy bombings suspects said Osama bin Laden’s commercial undertakings manufacture goods that reportedly are carried through other countries, including Cyprus, to evade international sanctions against Sudan as also to secure more profits through sale in Europe and America.

In building this terror network, bin Laden has been able to assemble a coalition of disparate radical Islamist groups of varying nationalities to work towards the common goal of the expulsion of non-Muslim Forces and influence from Muslim-inhabited lands. The virulent ideological variant of Islam, enshrined in several pronouncements signed by bin Laden and his network of terror, has led him to support Islamist terrorists against Serb forces in Bosnia; against the Russian forces in Chechnya; against Indian forces in Jammu and Kashmir; Chinese forces in Xinjiang, pro-Western governments in Egypt, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, and Uzbekistan, and against U.S. troops and citizens in the Persian Gulf, Somalia, Yemen, Jordan, and the U.S. mainland itself.

The Inter Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan's external intelligence agency, and bin Laden have had a close association with each other for many years. The ISI actively assists bin Laden in the expansion of his Islamist terrorist infrastructure across various parts of South Asia, particularly India. The ISI extends intelligence and logistics support to bin Laden. Bin Laden also has close links with a number of Pakistan based terrorist organisations, including the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen (HuM), which has links with the Dhaka-based Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami. Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami has reportedly been assigned the task of recruiting Bangladeshi and Indian Muslims to fight in Kashmir under the command of HuM. Some of its cadres are trained in camps around Khost in Afghanistan, built by bin Laden. Laden also supports and finances various other terrorist organisations operating from Pakistan, including the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), who are trained by the ISI. Laden has also increasingly become a rallying point for Islamist terrorists in different parts of the world, including, prominently, India where his photographs are reported to have been found in the possession of slain terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir.





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