Osama bin Laden: scion who became apostle of Islamic radicalism

By John-Thor Dahlburg and Alex Rodriguez

Los Angeles Times

Published: Monday, May 2 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (MCT) — Osama bin Laden, a scion of one of Saudi Arabia's wealthiest families, became the grim apostle of a strain of Islamic radicalism that exalted violence against non-believers, and the leader of a terrorist network that launched repeated attacks in the West, most spectacularly in the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2011.

Bin Laden, 54, was born to privilege, one of more than 50 offspring of a Saudi construction magnate. He spent his youth in air-conditioned mansions filled with crystal chandeliers, gold statues and Italian tapestries.

Yet he became a figure of worldwide influence as a supporter of Islamic freedom fighters in Afghanistan in the 1980s and, later, as an organizer and financier of terrorist cells who concealed his movements and whereabouts, living in safe houses, remote camps and even caves in Sudan, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The world's most wanted man was killed Sunday during a firefight with U.S. forces in Abbotabad, Pakistan, 30 miles northeast of Islamabad. He had a $25 million bounty on his head set by the U.S. government.

Yossef Bodansky, a terrorism expert who wrote a best-selling biography of bin Laden, labeled him "the man who declared war on America." For former President George W. Bush and countless Americans, he was simply "the evil one."

In 1994, Saudi Arabia stripped bin Laden of his citizenship. Many members of his family, closely linked to the ruling monarchy, had disavowed him long before.

Yet he was also a hero to many in the Islamic world, a conquering avenger akin to Saladin, the sultan who drove the Christian Crusaders from Jerusalem more than eight centuries ago.

"We believe that the biggest thieves in the world and the terrorists are the Americans," bin Laden said in a February 1999 magazine interview. "The only way for us to fend off these assaults is to use similar means. We do not worry about American opinion or the fact that they place prices on our heads."

Bin Laden was most notorious for the hijackings by a suicide squad of 19 young Arab men who turned airliners into flying bombs on Sept. 11, 2001. Nearly 3,000 people died.

Bin Laden also had been indicted in the Aug. 7, 1998, bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and injured 5,000. He was suspected of involvement in the October 2000 bombing of the U.S. destroyer Cole in Yemen, which killed 17 sailors.

Bin Laden once gloated that "our boys" participated in the 1993 battle in the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia, that killed 18 U.S. servicemen and led to a hasty U.S. withdrawal from the Muslim nation.

It was this pullout that bin Laden said led him and his fellow Islamic militants to conclude that the American soldier "was just a paper tiger."

In February 1998, at a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan, he and leaders of other hard-line Muslim groups announced the creation of the International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders.

In its first fatwa, or religious edict, the front declared that "to kill Americans and their allies, both civil and military, is an individual duty of every Muslim who is able, in any country where this is possible."

After the Sept. 11 attacks, a resurgence of flag-waving patriotism swept the U.S. Security aboard airplanes and in airports increased dramatically. Stunned and wounded, the nation psychologically mobilized for war.

The battle against terrorism took America to mountainous expanses of Afghanistan and the desert sands of Iraq, both places where thousands of U.S. troops remain deployed.

To what extent bin Laden's influence will outlive him is a critical question.

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