Al Qaeda

bin Laden, Osama

Osama bin Laden (ōsä´mə bĬn läd´ən, ŭsä´mə), 1957?–2011, Saudi-born leader of Al Qaeda, a terrorist organization devoted to uniting all Muslims and establishing a transnational, strict-fundamentalist Islamic state. The youngest son of a wealthy Yemeni-born businessman, bin Laden was trained as a civil engineer (grad. 1979, King Abdul Aziz Univ., Jidda), but following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan (see Afghanistan War) he went to Pakistan where he helped to finance the mujahidin and to found Makhtab al Khadimat [services office] (MAK), which recruited and trained non-Afghani Muslims to fight in the war.

In 1987 he split with MAK to begin a jihad [holy war] against Israel and Western influence in Islamic countries; he founded Al Qaeda the next year. Following the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, he returned to his family's construction business in Saudi Arabia. When U.S. troops were stationed (1990) on Saudi soil during the First Persian Gulf War he became violently opposed to the Saudi monarchy and the United States. After he was caught smuggling arms in 1991, he went to Sudan, where he began financing terrorist training camps while investing in businesses and increasing his fortune. His Saudi citizenship was revoked in 1994.

After the attempted assassination (1995) of Egyptian president Mubarak, to which bin Laden was linked, he was expelled (1996) from Sudan and reestablished himself in Afghanistan, where the extreme Islamist Taliban had come to power. That same year he issued a "declaration of war" against the United States. Al Qaeda trained terrorists that were linked to the 1996 car bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, and the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Bin Laden also was reported to have financed or trained Islamic guerrillas operating in Kosovo, Kashmir, the Philippines, and elsewhere.

He was indicted in the United States for the embassy bombings, and the United States launched retaliatory cruise missile attacks against his Afghanistan camps in 1998. Following the 2001 attacks the United States demanded the Taliban hand him over. When the Afghanis refused, U.S. forces began military action against Afghanistan, and in conjunction with opposition forces there largely defeated Taliban and Al Qaeda forces by Jan., 2002. Bin Laden, however, was not captured. It had been thought that bin Laden was hiding in Pashtun-dominated areas of Pakistan near Afghanistan, but in 2011 he was killed in a U.S. raid in Abbottabad, NE Pakistan, where he had lived for five years. It was unclear how much control he had exercised over Al Qaeda's everyday operations during this period.

See his Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden (2005); biography by M. Scheuer (2011); M. Owen, No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama bin Laden (with K. Maurer, 2012); studies by P. L. Bergen (2001, 2006, and 2011), A. J. Dennis (2002), R. Jacquard (2002), S. Coll (2004 and 2008), J. Randal (2004), and L. Wright (2006).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2013, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Al Qaeda in Its Third Decade: Irreversible Decline or Imminent Victory?
Brian Michael Jenkins.
Rand, 2012
The Rise and Fall of al-Qaeda
Fawaz A. Gerges.
Oxford University Press, 2011
The Zawahiri Era
Scheuer, Michael.
The National Interest, No. 115, September-October 2011
Islamic Radicalism and Global Jihad
Devin R. Springer; James L. Regens; David N. Edger.
Georgetown University Press, 2009
Librarian’s tip: Discusses Al Qaeda throughout the book
The Death of Osama Bin Laden
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Vol. 30, No. 5, July 2011
US Attempts Annihilating Al Qaeda: The Americans Are Cutting Down the Jihadist Movement's Leaders in a Savage and Largely Secret Campaign of Counter-Terror That Is Redefining How Future Wars Will Be Fought
Blanche, Ed.
The Middle East, No. 428, December 2011
The Strategic Failures of Al Qaeda
McCabe, Thomas R.
Parameters, Vol. 40, No. 1, Spring 2010
The Evolving Threat of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb
Sage, Andre Le.
Strategic Forum, No. 268, July 1, 2011
The Al Qaeda Enigma: There Is Not One, but Many Different Al Qaedas, Most of Whom Have Little Connection to Their Supposed Ideological Partners Elsewhere in the World
Gearon, Eamonn.
The Middle East, No. 418, January 2011
Al Qaeda's Fantasy Ideology: War without Clausewitz
Harris, Lee.
Policy Review, August-September 2002
Al-Qaida's Jihad in Europe: The Afghan-Bosnian Network
Evan Kohlmann.
Berg, 2004
The Origins of Al Qaeda's Ideology: Implications for US Strategy
Henzel, Christopher.
Parameters, Vol. 35, No. 1, Spring 2005
Transnational Terrorism and the Al Qaeda Model: Confronting New Realities
Smith, Paul J.
Parameters, Vol. 32, No. 2, Summer 2002
The Myth of the Invincible Terrorist
Harmon, Christopher C.
Policy Review, No. 142, April-May 2007
Changing the Game: Assessing Al Qaeda's Terrorist Strategy
Thornton, Ryan.
Harvard International Review, Vol. 27, No. 3, Fall 2005
Terrorism's War with America: A History
Dennis Piszkiewicz.
Praeger, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 11 "Osama Bin Laden" and Chap. 12 "Al Qaeda's War"
Global Responses to Terrorism: 9/11, Afghanistan and Beyond
Mary Buckley; Rick Fawn.
Routledge, 2003
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "Al-Qaeda: Organization and Operations"
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