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Ethan Gonzalez
Ethan Gonzalez

Osama bin Laden: The Life and Legacy of the Al-Qaeda Founder

Osama bin Laden: A Biography of the Al-Qaeda Leader


Osama bin Laden was one of the most notorious and influential figures in modern history. He was the founder and leader of al-Qaeda, a militant Islamist organization that carried out numerous terrorist attacks against the United States and other Western powers, including the September 11, 2001 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people. He was also a key figure in the Afghan War against the Soviet Union in the 1980s, where he gained fame and respect among many Muslims as a mujahid (holy warrior).

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Bin Laden's life spanned from his birth in Saudi Arabia in 1957 to his death in Pakistan in 2011. During this time, he witnessed and participated in many political and religious upheavals that shaped his worldview and motivated his actions. He also faced many challenges and enemies, both internal and external, that tested his resolve and resilience.

This article aims to provide a comprehensive biography of Osama bin Laden, covering his early life, his involvement in the Afghan War, his rise of al-Qaeda, his war against the United States, his hunt for bin Laden, his death. It also evaluates his legacy and influence on al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups. The article is based on reliable sources, such as books, articles, and reports, that are referenced throughout. The article is divided into five main sections, each with subheadings, to make it easier to follow and understand.

Early life

Family background and education

Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 1957 or 1958. He was the 17th of 52 children born to Mohammed bin Laden, a Yemeni immigrant who owned the largest construction company in the Saudi kingdom. Young Osama had a privileged, cosseted upbringing. He attended elite schools and enjoyed hobbies such as horse riding and hunting. He was also deeply religious, following the strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam that prevails in Saudi Arabia.

His father was a close associate of the Saudi royal family, who entrusted him with many major construction projects, such as the expansion of the Grand Mosque in Mecca and the Prophet's Mosque in Medina. His mother, Alia Ghanem, was from a secular middle-class family in Latakia, Syria. She divorced Mohammed when Osama was still young and remarried another man. Osama maintained a close relationship with his mother and visited her frequently.

Osama bin Laden studied business administration at King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, where it is likely that he also received instruction in religious studies from Muḥammad Quṭb, brother of the Islamic revivalist Sayyid Quṭb, and Abdullah Azzam, a militant leader. His time at the university was key to his future role as leader of al-Qaeda, not only in influencing his radical views but also in providing him with the skill to market al-Qaeda.

Involvement in the Afghan War

Shortly after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, bin Laden, who viewed the invasion as an act of aggression against Islam, began traveling to meet Afghan resistance leaders and raise funds for the resistance. By 1984 his activities were centred mainly in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he collaborated with Azzam to recruit and organize Arab volunteers to fight the Soviet occupation. Bin Laden's financial resources, along with his reputation for piety and for bravery in combat, enhanced his stature as a militant leader.

A computer database he created in 1988 listing the names of volunteers for the Afghan War led to the formation that year of a new militant network named al-Qaeda (Arabic: the Base), although the group remained without clear objectives or an operational agenda for several years. Al-Qaeda was initially conceived as a service organization that would provide training, funds, weapons, and logistical support to other Islamist groups fighting in various conflicts around the world.