Osama bin Laden
His father Mohammed Awad bin Laden came to the kingdom from
Hadramout (South Yemen) sometime around 1930. The father started
his life as a very poor laborer (porter in Jeddah port), to end
up as owner of the biggest construction company in the kingdom.
During the reign of King Saud, bin Laden the father became very
close to the royal family when he took the risk of building King
Saud's palaces much cheaper than the cheapest bid. He impressed
King Saud with his performance but he also built good relations
with other members of the royal family, especially Faisal.
During the Saud-Faisal conflict in the early sixties, bin Laden
the father had a big role in convincing King Saud to step down
in favor of Faisal. After Saud's departure the treasury was
empty and bin Laden was so supportive to King Faisal that he
literally paid the civil servants' wages of the whole kingdom
for six months. King Faisal then issued a decree that all
construction projects should go to bin Laden. Indeed, he was
appointed for a period as the minister of public works.
In 1969 the father took the task of rebuilding Al-Aqsa mosque
after the fire incident. Interestingly the bin Laden family say
that they have the credit of building all the three mosques,
because later on their company took over the task of major
extension in Mecca and Medina mosques.
The father was fairly devoted Moslem, very humble and generous.
He was so proud of the bag he used when he was a porter that he
kept it as a trophy in the main reception room in his palace.
The father used to insist on his sons to go and manage some
The father had very dominating personality. He insisted to keep
all his children in one premises. He had a tough discipline and
observed all the children with strict religious and social code.
He maintained a special daily program and obliged his children
to follow. At the same time the father was entertaining with
trips to the sea and desert. He dealt with his children as big
men and demanded them to show confidence at young age. He was
very keen not to show any difference in the treatment of his
Early Life, School and Marriage
Osama was exposed very early on his age to this experience but
he lost his father when he was 13. He married at the age of 17
to a Syrian girl who was a relative. He grew up as religiously
committed boy and the early marriage was another factor of
protecting him from corruption.
Osama had his primary, secondary and even university education
in Jeddah. He had a degree in public administration 1981 from
King Abdul-Aziz university in Jeddah. Countries of the Arabian
Peninsula, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Sudan are the only
countries he has been to. All stories of trips to Switzerland,
Philippines, and London are all unfounded.
Structuring His Mentality
In addition to the general Islamic commitment he started forming
an Islamic responsibility at early age. His father used to host
hundreds of pilgrims during Hajj season from al over the world.
Some of those were senior Islamic scholars or leaders of Muslim
movements. This habit went on even after his father's death
through his elder brothers. He used to make good contacts and
relations through those gatherings.
At secondary school and university he adopted the main trend of
many educated Muslims at that time, Muslim Brotherhood. There
was a collection of Muslim scholars in Jeddah and Mecca at that
period. There was nothing extraordinary in his personality and
that trend was rather very non-confrontational. Interestingly,
the 1980 raid in the Grand Mosque in Mecca was not appealing to
him, neither the theology or that group. He had two
distinguished teachers in Islamic studies, which was a
compulsory subject in the university. First was Abdullah Azzam
who became later as one of the big names in Afghanistan and the
second was Mohammed Quttub, a famous Islamic writer and
Afghanistan, The First Encounter
The first encounter with Afghanistan was as early as the first
two weeks of Soviet invasion. He went to Pakistan and was taken
by his hosts Jamaat Islami from Karachi to Peshawar to see the
refugees and meet some leaders. Some of those leaders like
Rabbani and Sayyaf were common faces to him because he met them
during Hajj gatherings That trip which was a secret trip lasted
for almost a month and was an exploratory rather than action
trip. He went back to the kingdom and started lobbying with his
brothers, relatives and friends at the school to support the
mujahedeen. He succeeded in collecting huge amount of money and
material as donations to jihad. He made another trip to take
this material. He took with him few Pakistanis and Afghanis who
were working in bin Laden company for more than ten years.
Again, he did not stay more than a month The trip was to
Pakistan and the border only and was not to Afghanistan. He went
on collecting money and going in short trips once or twice a
year until 1982.
In 1982 he decided to go inside Afghanistan. He brought with him
plenty of the construction machinery and put them at the
disposal of the mujahedeen He started spending more and more
time in Afghanistan occasionally joining actual battles but not
in an organized manner. His presence was encouraging to more
Saudis to come but the numbers were still small at that period.
In 1984 he had one further step in strengthening his presence in
Afghanistan by establishing the guesthouse in Peshawar (Baitul'ansar).
That house was supposed to be the first station of Arab
mujahedeen when they come to Afghanistan before going to the
front or start training. At that period Osama did not have his
own command or training camps. He used to send the newcomers to
one of the Afghan factions.
The guesthouse establishment was coinciding with the formation
of Jihad Service Bureau by Abdullah Azzam in Peshawar. The
Bureau was very active in terms of media, publications and
charity work. The Bureau publications were important in
attracting more Saudis and Arabs to Afghanistan.
In 1986 Osama decided to have his own camps inside Afghanistan
and within two years he built more than six camps. Some were
mobilized more than once. He decided to have his own front and
to run his own battles with his own command. Among the Arab
fighters he had, there were senior Arab ex-military men from
Syria and Egypt with good military experience. The story of the
guesthouse and the camps was very attractive for more Arab
mujahedeen to come and there was a significant surge in their
numbers at that period.
In addition to many exchanges of fire and small operations, the
first major battle he had face to face with the Soviet army with
pure Arab personnel was the battle of Jaji in the province of
Baktia 200 kilometers away from Khost. From then until 1989 he
had more than five major battles with hundreds of small
operations and exchanges of fire. During the period 1984-1989 he
was staying more in Afghanistan than Saudi Arabia. He would
spend a total of eight months a year or more in Afghanistan.
In 1988 he noticed that he was backward in his documentation and
was not able to give answers to some families asking about their
loved ones gone missing in Afghanistan. He decided to make the
matter much more organized and arranged for proper
documentation. He made a tracking record of the visitors, be
they mujahedeen or charity or simple visitors. Their movement
between the guesthouse and the camps had to be recorded as well
as their first arrival and final departure. The whole complex
was then termed Al-Qa'edah which is an Arabic word meaning "The
Base." Al-Qa'edah was very much public knowledge. It was funny
to see some people triumphing because they discovered it!
Back to the Kingdom
Late 1989 after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, he went
to the kingdom in an ordinary trip. There he was banned from
travel and was trapped in the kingdom. The Soviet withdrawal
might have been a factor but the main reason for the travel ban
were his intentions to start a new "front" of jihad in South
Yemen. In addition, he embarrassed the regime by lectures and
speeches warning of impending invasion by Saddam. At that time
the regime was at very good terms with Saddam. He was instructed
officially to keep low profile and not to give public talks.
Despite the travel ban he was not hostile to regime at this
stage. Indeed he presented a written advice in the form of a
detailed, personal, private and confidential letter to the king
few weeks before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
After The Iraqi Invasion
He reacted swiftly to Iraqi invasion and saw it fulfilling his
prophecy. He immediately forwarded another letter to the king
suggesting in detail how to protect the country from potentially
advancing Iraqi forces. In addition to many military tactics
suggested, he volunteered to bring all the Arab mujahedeen to
defend the kingdom. That letter was presented in the first few
days of the incident, and the regime response was of
While he was expecting some call to mobilize his men and
equipment he heard the news which transferred his life
completely. The Americans are coming. He always describes that
moment as shocking moment. He felt depressed and thought that
maneuvers had to change. Instead of writing to the king or
approaching other members of the royal family, he started
lobbying through religious scholars and Muslim activists. He
succeeded in extracting a fatwah from one of the senior scholars
that training and readiness is a religious duty. He immediately
circulated that fatwah and convinced people to have their
training in Afghanistan. It was estimated that 4000 went to
Afghanistan in response to the fatwah. The regime was not happy
with his activities so they limited his movement to Jeddah only.
He was summoned for questioning twice for some of his speeches
and activities and was given warnings. To intimidate him, the
regime raided his farm in the suburb of Jeddah by the National
Guard. He was not there during the raid and was very angry when
told. He wrote a letter of protest to Prince Abdullah. Abdullah
apologized and claimed he is not aware and promised to punish
who ever were responsible.
Fleeing The Kingdom
Osama was fed up with this almost house arrest situation and did
not imagine himself able to stay in the country with the
American forces around. One of his brothers was very close to
King Fahad and also close to Prince Ahmed, deputy minister of
interior. He convinced his brother that he needed to leave the
country to sort out some business matters in Pakistan and come
back. There was a difficult obstacle, the stubborn Prince Nayef,
minister of interior. His brother waited until Nayef went in a
trip outside the kingdom and extracted lifting the ban from
prince Ahmed. When he arrived in Pakistan around April 1991 he
sent a letter to his brother telling him that he is not coming
back and apologized for letting him down with the royal family.
In Afghanistan Again
After his arrival to Pakistan he went straight to Afghanistan
because he knew the Pakistani intelligence would hand him back
to the Saudis. There, he attended the collapse of the communist
regime and the consequent dispute between the Afghan parties. He
spent great effort to arbitrate between them but with no success
He ordered his followers to avoid any involvement in the
conflict and told them it was a sin to side with any faction.
During his stay the Saudis tried more than once to kidnap or
kill him in collaboration with the Pakistani intelligence. His
friends in the Saudi and Pakistani establishments would always
leak the plan and make him ready for it. After his failure in
sorting the Afghani dispute, he decided to leave Afghanistan.
The only alternative country he had was Sudan. He left
Afghanistan disguised in private jet only few months after his
arrival. That was late 1991.
His choice of Sudan had nothing to do with jihad or "terrorism."
He was attracted to Sudan because of what was at that time an
Islamic banner raised by the new regime in Sudan. He wanted to
have good refuge as well as help the government in its
construction projects. There was no intention from his side or
from the Sudanese regime to have any military activity in Sudan.
Indeed the Sudanese government refused even sending some of his
followers to the front in the south. He was treated in Sudan as
a special guest who wanted to help Sudan when everybody was
turning away. In Sudan he mobilized a lot of construction
equipment and enrolled himself in busy construction projects. He
spent good effort in convincing Saudi businessmen to invest in
Sudan and had reasonable success. Many of his brothers and
Jeddah merchants had and still have investment in real estate,
farming and agricultural industry. In Sudan he had again escaped
an assassination attempt which turned out later to be the plan
of Saudi intelligence.
Somalia and Yemen
During his stay in Sudan anti-American incidents happened in
Somalia and South Yemen. Neither of the two incidents was
performed by his group in the proper sense of chain of command.
Both were performed by people who had training in Afghanistan
and had enough anti-American drive. He might have given some
sanctioning to the operations but one thing was certain, the
Sudanese were completely unaware of either.
Saudis go anti-bin Laden
Between his arrival to Sudan and early 1994 he was not regarded
publicly as Saudi opposition and Saudi citizens were visiting
him without too much precautions. Only the well-informed people
would know that he was classified as enemy to the Saudi regime.
His assets were frozen sometime between 1992 and 1994 but that
was not published. The Saudis decided to announce their
hostility early 1994 when they publicized withdrawing his
Bin Laden Goes anti-Saudi
After long silence and tolerance, bin Laden replied by issuing a
communiqué condemning the Saudi decision and saying that he does
not need the "Saudi" reference to identify himself and it is not
up to Al-Saud to admit or expel people from Arabian Peninsula.
He then formed together with activists and scholars from the
kingdom a group called "Advice and Reform Committee" (ARC). The
ARC was, according to its communiqués and published agenda, a
purely political group. The ARC published around 17 communiqués
which might have contained harsh criticism of the Saudi regime
and plenty of religious rhetoric but never contained reference
for violence or incitment of violence.
The car bomb in spring 1995 in Riyadh was the first major
anti-American action in the kingdom. Bin Laden never claimed
responsibility, but the Saudi government tried to link the
incident to bin Laden by showing video confessions of four "Arab
Afghans" involved in the bombing.
Out of Sudan
Sudan was exposed to huge international pressure for hosting bin
Laden and his followers, and bin Laden felt that he is becoming
an embarrassment to the Sudanese. Early in 1996 he started
making contacts with his old friends in Afghanistan to prepare
for his reception. He fled Sudan in a very well planned trip
with many of his followers to go straight to Jalalabad in
In Afghanistan Third Time
When he arrived there, the situation in Afghanistan was very
unsettled between the many factions, but he had very good
relations with all factions and all would protect him. The area
he arrived to was under control of Yunis Khalis, a very
influential warlord who later on joined Taliban.
The Khobar Bombing
June 1996, after his arrival in Afghanistan was the Khobar
bombing. Nobody claimed responsibility, but sources from inside
the Saudi ministry of interior confirmed involvement of Arab
Afghans, with possible link to bin Laden The Saudi government
wanted to frame Shi'a, at the beginning but Americans were very
suspicious of the Saudi story. Bin Laden himself never claimed
responsibility but gave many hints that he might have been
involved. The Saudi government has acknowledged recently that
bin Laden's men were behind the bombing.
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This web page was last updated on:
09 December, 2008