|FBI photo, unknown date|
The United States government named him as the prime suspect ultimately responsible for the September 11, 2001 Terrorist Attack, which killed 3062 people and prompted the United States' "War on Terror". Bin Laden has denied this accusation, though he has expressed admiration for whoever was responsible. In December, 2001 the US state department released what it described as direct evidence of his involvement: a 'home video' of Osama bin Laden purportedly found in Afghanistan and apparently showing that bin Laden had foreknowledge of the September 11th attacks (for more, see videos of bin Laden). After the decision by Afghanistan's Taliban government not to unconditionally extradite bin Laden in 2001, the United States invaded Afghanistan and overthrew the Taliban.
Bin Laden is also wanted by the United States in connection with the August 7, 1998 bombings of the United States embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya, in which over 200 people died. Due to this incident, he is on the FBI Most Wanted Terrorists list.
Before the Sept 11th attacks, many Muslims had come to admire bin Laden for his charity work and his defense of Islam. However, this support is not unanimous or unwavering: he has been banned from his own country of Saudi Arabia and disowned by his family, who has changed the English spelling of their name to further distance themselves from him. Despite these moves, some of his relatives say he continues to receive financial support from his family (See external links below).
Bin Laden was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 1957, the 17th of 52 children of Muhammad bin Laden, a wealthy man involved in construction and with close ties to the royal family of Saudi Arabia. His family originally came from Yemen. He was raised as a devout Muslim and in interviews he frequently invokes Allah. As a college student, he studied business and project administration, possibly as preparation for taking over parts of his father's extensive construction and civil engineering business. After his father died, bin Laden inherited what was first estimated to be a fortune of $300 million; more recent estimates put his holdings at about $25 million.
His wealth and connections permitted him to pursue his interest in supporting the mujahedeen, Muslim guerrillas fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan following the Soviet invasion in 1979. (See the History of Afghanistan.) By 1984 he was running a front organization called Maktab al-Khidamat[?] (MAK), which funneled money, arms and fighters into the Afghan war. MAK was nurtured by Pakistan's state security services and the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI), the United States Central Intelligence Agency's primary mechanism for the covert conduct of war against the Soviet occupation. By 1988, Bin Laden had split from the MAK and established a new guerilla group, dubbed al-Qaida, which included many of the more militant MAK members he had met in Afghanistan. The Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989.
Bin Laden was lauded as a hero in Saudi Arabia, but during the Gulf War against Iraq he was critical of Saudi Arabia's dependence on the U.S. military and demanded that all foreigners leave the country. It was the U.S. support of what he viewed to be a corrupt, materialist, and irreligious Saudi monarchy that turned him against the United States. He began to criticize the monarchy and was forced to flee to Sudan in 1991, where he set up a new base of operations. He lost his Saudi citizenship in 1994 after he admitted his involvement in terrorist attacks in Riyadh and Dahran.
In 1996 Sudan made repeated overtures to the United States to extradite bin Laden, arrest him, monitor him, and/or provide intelligence on the activities of him and his associates, but the Clinton administration never accepted their offers. The 1997 Luxor tourist massacres in Egypt are believed to have been financed by bin Laden. In 1998 bin Laden left Sudan for Afghanistan, where he had a close relationship with some of the leaders of the Taliban government which had taken control in 1996.
Also in 1998, he was a co-signatory with Ayman Zawahiri[?] (formerly of Egyptian Islamic Jihad) to a fatwa, or religious/legal edict, put out in the name of the World Islamic Front for Jihad against Jews and Crusaders, declaring it the religious duty of all Muslims "to kill the Americans and their allies - civilians and military ... in any country in which it is possible." (statement linked below)
U.S. President Bill Clinton ordered his assets frozen in 1998, but none were ever found. Clinton also admits authorizing bin Laden's arrest and/or assassination while in office; one assassination attempt with cruise missiles in August 1998 failed, while killing 19 other people. The U.S. never apologized for these killings, since the attack was directed at what they considered to be a meeting of terrorists. The U.S. offered a $25 million reward for information leading to his apprehension or conviction and, in 1999, convinced the United Nations to impose sanctions against Afghanistan in an attempt to force the Taliban to extradite him.
His current location is unknown. Attempts to locate him in Afghanistan during the US military campaign in Afghanistan failed.
The United States military has reported that bin Laden is believed to be suffering from a kidney disorder, requiring him to have access to a doctor and medical facilities.