Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda terrorist who oversaw Sept. 11 attacks dead

By Chris Dolmetsch and Jim O'Connell

Bloomberg News

Published: Sunday, May 1 2011 10:00 p.m. MDT

Osama bin Laden, who used a family inheritance to build the global terrorist network that killed almost 3,000 people in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks targeting New York and Washington, has died in a U.S. military action, according to President Barack Obama.

The Saudi-born bin Laden, who helped found al-Qaeda in 1988 after fighting Soviet troops in Afghanistan, was targeted in a compound in Pakistan. He was 54.

For the U.S. public, bin Laden was the face of terrorism. He appeared in videotapes threatening strikes against the West, including a message praising the Sept. 11 attacks as "divine blows" against America. The attacks with hijacked airliners prompted a national security initiative for commercial aviation that has altered air-travel for every American since then.

"He really was able to drive some parts of U.S. foreign policy and domestic policy in a major way," said Thomas M. Sanderson, a deputy director and senior fellow at the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington. Bin Laden and his allies "generated a degree of hysteria in the United States, genuine fear and provided part of the cover for invading Iraq."

Al-Qaeda has become a more disperse organization in the past decade. Still, bin Laden's demise may hamper the coordination of terrorist organizations and reduce recruitment by his network and other groups.

While attempts at additional large-scale terror attacks on the U.S. have failed since 9/11, al-Qaeda has been linked to strikes in other nations.

Attacks in Europe

A group claiming to be part of al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the bombings of Madrid commuter trains on March 11, 2004, that killed 191 people and injured more than 1,500. In an audiotape broadcast in April 2004 by the al-Arabiya television network, a speaker identified as bin Laden called the Madrid bombings and the Sept. 11 attacks "your just returns."

Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's top lieutenant, claimed responsibility for the July 7, 2005, bombing on London's transport system that killed 52 people, the city's deadliest attack since World War II.

More recently, the Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda said it was behind a Christmas Day 2009 plot in which a Nigerian man was charged with trying to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight carrying 278 passengers as it approached Detroit.

Bin Laden was driven by his anger at the West, epitomized to him by U.S. influence in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam. "What America is tasting today is something very little of what we have tasted for decades," bin Laden said, a gun at his side, in taped comments broadcast by al-Jazeera TV minutes after a U.S.-led coalition began bombing Afghanistan on Oct. 7, 2001.

Family Wealth

Osama bin Laden formed al-Qaeda with money from a family inheritance and preached an extreme interpretation of Islam. He built a network spanning 60 countries including followers willing to commit suicide for the cause.

The U.S. commission that investigated the 9/11 attacks concluded that bin Laden's focus on the wounded pride of Muslims won him "thousands of followers and some degree of approval from millions more."

"He appeals to people disoriented by cyclonic change as they confront modernity and globalization," the commission said in its final report.

For many Muslims, bin Laden was an underdog who fought a powerful infidel enemy.

"He was able to create a story, a narrative, that Islam was under attack by the West and its Arab allies and others," Sanderson said.

Even before the Sept. 11 attacks, bin Laden was one of U.S. law enforcement's most wanted, accused in connection with bombings of American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya on Aug. 7, 1998, which killed 224 people. He also was linked to the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, which killed 17 U.S. sailors.

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