Thursday, September 13, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

E-mail article     Print

Osama bin Laden: from U.S. friend to foe

To fully understand how Osama bin Laden became a world-famous suspected terrorism mastermind and an America-hater, it is necessary to see how he became an Islamic "holy warrior."

Bin Laden, whose full name is Osama bin Muhammad bin Awad bin Laden, is the son of a wealthy Saudi businessman who sits on a fortune in his own right.

He is an engineer who first achieved prominence in Afghanistan during an Islamic insurgency against the invading Soviet Union in the 1980s. He is said to have received considerable money during the 10-year battle from the CIA, which covertly helped finance the insurrection during the Cold War.

In 1989, when the fighting ended with Moscow's retreat, bin Laden returned home to Saudi Arabia. There, he began a confrontation with the Saudi monarchy over its decision to invite U.S. troops into Saudi Arabia, the site of two of Islam's holiest places, Mecca and Medina.

Many devout Muslims believe that the land of Saudi Arabia, where the prophet Mohammed lived and died, is sacred and should be off-limits to nonbelievers.

In 1990, the United States deployed its troops to Saudi Arabia in response to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. The result was the Persian Gulf War.

Target: America

Some attacks against the U.S. in which Osama bin Laden is accused of playing a role.

Feb. 26, 1993: A bomb at New York's World Trade Center kills six people, injures 1,000.

Nov. 13, 1995: A car bomb in Saudi Arabia kills five U.S. servicemen.

June 25, 1996: A car bomb in Saudi Arabia shatters an apartment complex housing U.S. servicemen, killing at least 19 and wounding 400.

Aug. 7, 1998: Bombs at U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania kill 224 people, including 12 Americans, and injure thousands.

December 1999: Jordanian intelligence uncovers a plot to attack U.S. installations during millennium celebrations.

Oct. 12, 2000: A suicide bombing of the USS Cole in the Yemenite port of Aden kills 17 sailors, injures 39 others.

— The Associated Press

Bin Laden rallied disgruntled Saudi veterans of the Afghan insurgency and openly accused Saudi Arabia's King Fahd of selling the holy sites of Islam to the United States.

Hounded by Saudi intelligence officials, bin Laden left in 1992 for Sudan, where hard-line Islamist Hasan Turabi was in power. There, bin Laden's al Qaeda organization took shape, embracing an extremist Islamist philosophy from North African countries and the Persian Gulf states.

Since then, terrorist attacks against U.S. targets have occurred at regular intervals, including the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the 1996 bombing of U.S. military housing in Saudi Arabia and the 1999 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa.

In 1996, Sudan bowed to relentless pressure from the United States and asked bin Laden to leave. He moved to Afghanistan, with 180 followers and three wives, to join a guerrilla colleague from the days of the Soviet invasion. There he reportedly enjoys the protection of the Taliban, Islamic fundamentalists who have seized control of the country.

Bin Laden never claimed responsibility for any of these attacks, though he has been accused of playing a role in most of them.

Attacks foreshadowed

In fact, the seeds of Tuesday's campaign of terror might be traced to the federal files of New York's first World Trade Center bombing trial.

FBI agents and federal attorneys at the trial of now-convicted trade-center bomber Ramzi Yousef told jurors about "Operation Bojinga."

The 1995 plan, allegedly backed by bin Laden, was to place over two days time-triggered nitroglycerin bombs aboard up to 20 U.S. passenger planes flying between Los Angeles, Singapore and Hong Kong to punish the United States for its support of Israel.

But a premature blast blew their cover in January of that year, and authorities in the Philippines swept in to seize Yousef and others.

Yousef was sentenced to life in prison as mastermind of the 1993 blast that killed six people and wounded 1,000 more but failed to topple the trade center's twin structures.

Prosecutors said he was a soldier in the shadowy underground of bin Laden, part of the Abu Sayyas organization, a Filipino Muslim extremist group whose fury at U.S. support for Israel seemed far removed from the Middle East.

But U.S. intelligence officials have long argued that bin Laden has a far-flung, disparate band of followers of his al Qaeda organization that is capable of carrying out bold, well-orchestrated operations.

Bin Laden has urged young Muslims worldwide to wage a jihad, or holy war, against the United States and operates several training camps in Afghanistan. The students include militants from Chechnya, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, China and most Arab countries.

"There are training camps in every province of Afghanistan," said a senior Taliban official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "The Arabs are coming and going all the time."

At the wedding of his son in southern Kandahar in February, a rare public appearance, bin Laden praised last year's suicide bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen that killed 17 American servicemen.

Official denials

On Tuesday, officials with the Taliban, the ruling organization of Kabul, Afghanistan, said bin Laden had nothing to do with this week's attacks.

According to a Palestinian journalist, bin Laden praised the attacks but denied involvement.

"Osama bin Laden thanked almighty Allah and bowed before him when he heard this news," said Jamal Ismail, Abu Dhabi Television's bureau chief in Islamabad, quoting a bin Laden aide.

"But he had no information or knowledge about the attack."

However, the London-based Arab journalist Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor of the Al-Quds, al-Arabi newspaper, said bin Laden's followers predicted a major attack in a phone call to his newspaper last month.

"They said it would be a huge and unprecedented attack, but they did not specify," Atwan said.

For his part, bin Laden has emerged from the shadows to sometimes conduct news interviews in his native Arabic, such as the one broadcast in June 1998 by ABC's "Nightline."

In that broadcast, he called all Americans legitimate targets under a supposed fatwa, or Islamic edict, that allows Muslims to punish U.S. citizens for their government's involvement in the Middle East.

He said the United States has been a co-conspirator in Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians and has killed Iraqi civilians in its campaign to strangle Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

So, he said, "we believe the biggest thieves in the world and the terrorists are the Americans. The only way for us to fend off these assaults is to use similar means. We do not differentiate between those dressed in military uniforms and civilians; they are all targets in this fatwa."

The FBI has placed a $5 million bounty on bin Laden's head, and the State Department has called him "one of the most significant sponsors of Islamic extremist activities in the world today."


Get home delivery today!