The Man That He Was
Osama Bin Laden, the man who became America’s nemesis and kept the superpower running in circles for ten years, was born in 1957, the 17th of 52 children of Mohamed Bin Laden, a multimillionaire builder responsible for building 80% of Saudi Arabia’s roads and palaces and, above all, reconstructing Islam’s holiest mosque in Mecca.
His father’s death in 1968, when he was 11, brought Osama a fortune running into many millions of dollars.
In 1974, he married the 14-year-old Najwa Ghanem, his mother’s niece, and enrolled in the economics and management faculty of the King Abdul Aziz University, Jeddah, though he eventually graduated in civil engineering. At the University, Bin Laden came into contact with teachers and students of the more conservative brand of Islam. Raised in a palace in Jeddah, Osama grew up polite, courteous, diligent and, from an early age, pious.
Theological debate at university and the influence of charismatic preachers such as Abdullah Azzam, laid the foundations of the young man’s own thinking, embracing fundamentalist Islam as a bulwark against what he saw as the decadence of the West.
The year of Bin Laden’s graduation, 1979, was a tumultu-
ous one in the Islamic world. In February, Ayatollah Khomeini created the Islamic republic in Iran. Then, in November, rebels took over the mosques in Mecca and demanded a return to true Islamic rule. When soldiers eventually broke their siege and killed the ringleaders, Bin Laden saw the assault as an atrocity committed on the holiest soil in Islam. A month later came the third defining event of the year: the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union.
Bin Laden moved to Afghanistan in 1981 where, for a decade, he fought an ultimately victorious campaign with the mujahedeen.
With the Soviets leaving Afghanistan, Bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia, but found that he was unwelcome to the authorities in the kingdom. In August 1990, when Iraq annexed Kuwait and threatened Saudi security, he offered to raise an army of Arab Afghan veterans to fight Saddam. His offer was rejected and the house of al-Saud sought U.S. help instead.
By January 1991, some 300,000 foreign troops were stationed on Saudi territory. Bin Laden accused the Americans of “desecrating holy Arab soil” and issued a ‘fatwa’ declaring jihad against the USA.
Shortly thereafter there were bomb attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Osama was indicted as chief suspect. Bin Laden soon appeared on the FBI’s “most wanted” list, with a reward of up to $25m on his head. Bin Laden was implicated in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York, a 1995 car bomb in the Saudi capital Riyadh and a truck bomb in a Saudi barracks, which killed 19 U.S. soldiers. But though America’s presidents including Barack Obama have alleged that he masterminded the 9/11 attack on the WTC,
there never has been a shred of evidence to link him with the incident.
In fact, the allegation is as reckless as the claim that Saddam Hussein was associated with Al-Qaeda or that Mohammad Atta visited Baghdad. All that Osama did following the 9/11 attack was to compliment the courage of those who carried out the impossible feat. But that was something that many more people across the world did at the time.
In his Abbotabad compound, Osama was facing a team of well-trained and armed-to-the-teeth guys. Their number according to various sources was at least 25 or at most 80. They killed several people. They overpowered several other men and bound their hands. They could have done the same with bin Laden, who was as unarmed as those others. Yet they killed him. His daughter says that they captured him first and then killed him. And evidently they fired so many revengeful shots that the body was in no shape to be photographed which is why President Obama has firmly declined to release any pictures of the corpse.
They took away the body and buried him at sea. Osama’s propagation of a violent brand of Islam made him unpopular with many moderate Muslims, but, like Syed Qutb, he was led by his beliefs. May his soul find peace in death that had eluded him in his life.