Osama bin Laden, hunted as the mastermind behind the worst-ever terrorist attack on U.S. soil, has been killed, sources told ABC News.
His death brings to an end a tumultuous life that saw bin Laden go from being the carefree son of a Saudi billionaire, to terrorist leader and the most wanted man in the world.
Bin Laden created and funded the al Qaeda terror network, which was responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. The Saudi exile had been a man on the run since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan overthrew the ruling Taliban regime, which harbored bin Laden.
In a video filmed two months after the Sept. 11 attacks, bin Laden gloated about the attack, saying it had exceeded even his “optimistic” calculations.
“Our terrorism is against America. Our terrorism is a blessed terrorism to prevent the unjust person from committing injustice and to stop American support for Israel, which kills our sons,” he said in the video.
Long before the Sept. 11 attacks, bin Laden was known as an enemy of the United States. He was suspected of playing large roles in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. Embassies in Africa and the attack on the USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden in October 2000.
In addition, authorities say bin Laden and his al Qaeda network were involved in previous attacks against U.S. interests — including the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, failed plots to kill President Clinton and the pope, and attacks on U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia and Somalia.
Bin Laden also used his millions to bankroll terrorist training camps in Sudan, the Philippines and Afghanistan, sending “holy warriors” to foment revolution and fight with fundamentalist Muslim forces across North Africa, in Chechnya, Tajikistan and Bosnia.
Until the capture of one of his top al Qaeda lieutenants in March 2003, there had been no confirmation of his whereabouts — or even that he was still alive — since late 2001, when he appeared in a series of videotapes later released to news organizations.
In recent years, several audio recordings of bin Laden have been authenticated by U.S. officials and made public. In an 18-minute videotape weeks before the 2004 U.S. presidential election, bin Laden threatened fresh attacks on the United States as well as his intent to push America into bankruptcy.
Young Man With a Privileged Life
Born in 1957, bin Laden was a son of Saudi Arabia’s wealthiest construction magnate. Saudi sources remembered him as a typical young man whose intense religiosity began to emerge as he grew fascinated with the ancient mosques of Mecca and Medina, which his family’s company was involved in rebuilding.
Bin Laden attended schools in Jedda, Saudi Arabia, and was encouraged to marry early, at the age of 17, to a Syrian girl and family relation. She was to be the first of several wives. He attended King Abdul-Aziz University and was slated to join the family business. He soon chose a different path, however.
Former classmates of bin Laden recall him as a frequent patron of nightclubs, who drank and caroused with his Saudi royalty cohorts. Yet it was also at the university that bin Laden met the Muslim fundamentalist Sheik Abdullah Azzam, perhaps his first teacher of religious politics and his earliest radical influence.
Azzam spoke fervently of the need to liberate Islamic nations from foreign interests and interventions, and he indoctrinated his disciples in the strictest tenets of the Muslim faith. Bin Laden, however, would eventually cultivate a brand of militant religious extremism that exceeded his teacher’s.
He began his relationship with fundamental Islamic groups in the early 1970s. His religious passion exploded in 1979 when Russia invaded Afghanistan. Bin Laden left his comfortable Saudi home for Afghanistan to participate in the Afghan jihad, or holy war, against the Soviet Union — a cause that the United States funded, pouring $3 billion into the Afghan resistance via the CIA.
Turning Against the Saudi Elite
His active opposition to the Soviet Union and his monetary support in purchasing arms, establishing training camps, and building houses, roads and other infrastructure, cemented his position as a hero among many people.
In 1988, he and the Egyptians founded al Qaeda, (“The Base”), a network initially designed to build fighting power for the Afghan resistance.
Bin Laden’s politics became more radical during the war. Upon returning to his home in Saudi Arabia, he was widely honored as a hero. But he returned to a country that he perceived had stepped away from the fundamentals of Islam. He declared the Saudi ruling family “insufficiently Islamic” and increasingly advocated the use of violence to force movement toward extremism.
Bin Laden saw American influence in Saudi Arabia as counter to everything he believed. He fell into disfavor with the Saudi government and moved his family to Sudan where he established terrorist camps — training and equipping terrorists from a dozen countries.
Bin Laden would not compromise his religious beliefs and after three years of continued criticism of the Saudi royal family, his own family disowned him.
Saudi Arabia stripped bin Laden of his citizenship in the mid-’90s for his alleged activities against the royal family, after he had left the country for Sudan. He later was expelled from Sudan under U.S., Egyptian and Saudi pressure. In 1996, he took refuge in Afghanistan.
Back to Afghanistan
Former mujahideen commanders close to the Taliban said that, in Afghanistan, bin Laden bankrolled the hard-line Islamic militia’s capture of Kabul under the leadership of Mullah Mohammed Omar. He became one of Omar’s most trusted advisers.