INDEPTH: OSAMA BIN LADEN|
Who is Osama bin Laden?
CBC News Online | Jan. 19, 2006
On March 7, 2004, as the snows melted in the mountains of Afghanistan and U.S. President George W. Bush eyed a November election, the United States launched Operation Mountain Storm in the rugged border between Afghanistan and Pakistan to find the elusive Osama bin Laden.
American soldiers patrol a stretch of road in Paktia province near the Pakistani border, March 1, 2004 near Khost, about 200 kilometres southeast of Kabul. (AP Photo/Ed Wray)
The United States said the operation, based at their headquarters in Kandahar, would unfold in secret across eastern and southern Afghanistan. Spokesperson Lt.-Col. Bryan Hiferty gave few details when he confirmed on March 13 that Operation Mountain Storm was underway, but he did tell the Associated Press, "The leaders of al-Qaeda and the leader of the Taliban need to be brought to justice – and they will be."
The U.S. also sent the elite special forces outfit, Task Force 121, a joint unit of commandos and CIA officers, to the border region to find bin Laden and the leader of the Taliban, Mullah Muhammed Omar. Intelligence sources have told several U.S. media organizations that Task Force 121 was key in tracking down the former president of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, and after that success, the task force was sent to Afghanistan.
There is one big difference between Saddam, and bin Laden and many of his al-Qaeda and Taliban followers. While Saddam spent most of his time in luxury, choosing which palace to sleep in each night, bin Laden and his men have years of experience dodging a previous enemy, the Soviet Union, which occupied Afghanistan until it was driven out in the 1980s.
Osama bin Laden
Bin Laden was still at large in January 2006. Many experts believe that bin Laden remains in hiding somewhere in the mountains near Khowst, an area that European intelligence sources have told the media is still controlled by the Taliban. It is an area of old tribal loyalties, where local leaders have always been fiercely independent from any ruler of Afghanistan or Pakistan.
Pakistani security forces have also stepped up operations in the border area. Reports say that President Perez Musharraf was reluctant to stir up the hornets' nest of tribes and Islamic fundamentalists in the region, until a couple of failed attempts to assassinate him.
There have been accusations both in the American media and from Europe that while the United States painted bin Laden as public enemy number 1, the Americans "neglected" Afghanistan when its focus turned to Iraq in March 2003, a charge top U.S. officials vehemently deny.
There are also persistent reports that the U.S. invasion of Iraq changed al-Qaeda's focus, with bin Laden and his senior advisors moving resources from Afghanistan to Iraq because it was a good place to fight "the American crusaders," according to a Taliban source quoted by Newsweek magazine.
A new generation
The Washington Post has reported that there is a new generation of al-Qaeda, led by Osama's eldest son, Saad bin Laden, 24, who is said to be in Iran along with Saif el-Adel, al-Qaeda's chief of military operations, and Abullah Ahmed Abdullah, al-Qaeda's chief financial officer. The three and their followers are, according to the Post, surrounded by an elite Iranian security force, loyal to hard-line Iranian Islamists, who act both as guards and jailers, both preventing attack or arrest and restricting their movements.
However, communication between father and son is apparently still possible, using written messages carried by courier and sometimes even satellite phones, which according to some sources, are hard for U.S. signals intelligence to pinpoint in the rugged mountains.
According to the Washington Post, intelligence sources believe that the orders and organization for two suicide bombings, in Saudi Arabia and Morocco in May 2003, came through Saad bin Laden, rather than directly from his father.
Despite American efforts, or perhaps because of them, Osama bin Laden is a hero to many people in the Middle East and South Asia. Bazaars and marketplaces are full with bin Laden merchandise including posters, video and audio tapes, and T-shirts.
The life of Osama bin Laden
Osama bin Laden has been called America's most wanted terrorist suspect at least since the bombing in 1998 of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
The U.S. State Department said bin Laden is "one of the most significant financial sponsors of Islamic extremist activities in the world."
His code name, "The Contractor," is maybe the best indicator of bin Laden's link to terrorism. Officials in many countries including the United States say that bin Laden's money has paid for attacks in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. His personal wealth is estimated at $250 million US.
Osama bin Laden is believed to be the youngest of 24 brothers in a family that came from Yemen and built up one of the largest construction companies in the Arab world, Bin Laden Group, an empire based in the Saudi city of Jidda that made its fortune in building projects for the Saudi royal family.
As a teenager and a young man, Osama bin Laden was reported to be a typical Saudi of his generation, a bit of a playboy who used his family fortune to have fun outside of Saudi Arabia in Europe and the Gulf states.
The invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in 1979 changed bin Laden's life. Like many young Islamists, he went to Afghanistan to help fight the invaders, to take part in the jihad against the infidel Soviets.
Bin Laden apparently received training from the CIA, which was backing the Afghan holy warriors the mujahedeen who were tying down Soviet forces in Afghanistan.
He gave the family money and his own expertise gleaned from the family business to MAK, Maktab al-Khidimat, which recruited young Muslim men from around the world. He also used his fortune to help buy equipment for the Afghan resistance.
In 1984, he helped Abdullah Azzam, founder of the Pakistani "Office of Services," establish training camps across the border in Afghanistan. The Office of Services' goal was to recruit and train Muslim volunteers. Bin Laden provided financial support and handling of military affairs. Two years later, in 1986, Bin Laden established his own training camp for Persian Gulf Arabs called al Masadah, or the Lion's Den.
In 1988, as the Soviet occupation faltered in Afghanistan, bin Laden turned to a global crusade. He founded the group called al-Qaeda, Arabic for The Base. According to one report from the CIA in 2001, al-Qaeda had at least 5,000 trained militants, who created cells in 50 countries. The purpose of these camps was to take militants from around the world and shape them into an international network that would bring all Muslims under a militant version of Islamic law.
In 1989, the collapsing Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan and bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia to join his family's construction company. He kept up his contacts with al-Qaeda.
In 1991, bin Laden moved the headquarters of al-Qaeda to Sudan, where a militant Islamic government had come to power.
In 1993, a bomb exploded in an underground parking garage at the World Trade Center in New York, killing six people and injuring another 1,000. The attack was linked to al-Qaeda.
In 1994, Saudi Arabia stripped bin Laden of citizenship for alleged terrorist links and his family disavowed him, at least publicly.
In 1996, bin Laden was forced to leave Sudan for Afghanistan following intense pressure from the U.S. on the government. While in Sudan, bin Laden met a man who was probably a key ally, Imad Mugniyah, a Lebanese said to be a leader of Hezbollah, wanted by the United States for kidnappings and killings during the civil war in Lebanon in the 1980s. By September of that year, the militant Taliban, capitalizing on the divisions in Afghanistan, which was torn by civil war between the mujahedeen factions, took over the country and imposed strict Islamic rule. Bin Laden's son Saad was with Osama when he returned to Afghanistan.
By 1998, bin Laden had teamed up with an Egyptian militant, Ayman Zawahiri, to form "The International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders," which acted as an umbrella group for international militant groups. It issued a religious order saying it was a religious duty of Muslims to kill Americans anywhere possible. The group in effect declared war against the West, but the declaration was ignored by most of the media and discounted by many in the intelligence community. In October 1998, the U.S. Justice Dept. indicted bin Laden for his alleged role in ordering the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
In 1999, bin Laden moved to the village of Farmifadda, Afghanistan, and later settled in a compound near Jalalabad. In October 2000, suicide bombers attacked the U.S.S. Cole in Aden harbour in Yemen. Bin Laden was suspected of ordering the attack.
On September 11, 2001, members of al-Qaeda hijacked American passenger planes and attacked New York and Washington. Soon after the attack, bin Laden and his associates fled Jalalabad for the mountains. On Oct. 7, the United States and its allies began the attack on Afghanistan and the Taliban regime quickly collapsed.
In December 2001, U.S. intelligence pinpointed bin Laden in a cave complex at Tora Bora. U.S. special and regular forces and Afghan allies attacked the caves, but bin Laden successfully slipped through their fingers and disappeared into the mountains.
In his own words:
In an interview with ABC correspondent John Miller on May 28, Bin Laden made the following comment on the fatwa issued calling Muslims to kill Americans regardless of whether they are civilians or military:
"Allah ordered us in this religion to purify Muslim land of all non-believers… After World War II, the Americans became more aggressive and oppressive, especially in the Muslim world. American history does not distinguish between civilians and military, and not even women and children. They are the ones who used the bombs against Nagasaki. Can these bombs distinguish between infants and military? America does not have a religion that will prevent it from destroying all people."