After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Russians have continued to fight bin Laden's combat brigades in the long-running guerrilla wars in Chechnya and the former Soviet republic of Tadjikistan. One of the benefits of Russia's democratic transition is that a tremendous amount of formerly classified intelligence material is freely available on the Internet.
But some of the information on the Net may be deliberate misinformation. This is field intelligence and is, therefore, unconfirmed. The following biography is based on such material as well as information published in the West.
Osama bin Mohammed bin Avad bin Laden is also known by his noms de guerre "Modjahed," "Abu Abdallah," "Khadz" or "The Director." He was born on June 28, 1957 in the city of Jidda, Saudi Arabia, on the shore of the Red Sea. He was the 17th of 52 children.
His father, Mohammed bin Laden, was an impoverished peasant from Yemen who emigrated to Saudi Arabia after World War II. There he started a construction business, eventually winning the contracts for some of Saudi Arabia's most prized mosques and palaces, and developing a very close relationship with the Saudi royal family. He became one of the richest men in Saudi Arabia, possessing a fortune estimated in the billions of dollars; Osama bin Laden's share of this fortune is estimated at almost $300 million.
As a teen-ager, bin Laden joined the ultraconservative Wahhabi sect of Islam and served with the police enforcing sharia laws. (The Wahhabi movement is supported by the Saudi monarchy, among others, and today is one of the fastest growing tendencies in the Islamic world; it is ultra-puritanical and anti-modern; in things like avoiding contact with women or nonbelievers.) Bin Laden attended the King Abdul Aziz University in Jidda, where one of his teachers, Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, would later play a prominent role in mobilizing Arab support for the Mujahedin fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Bin Laden graduated in 1979 with a degree in economics and management.
In January 1980, several weeks after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, bin Laden went to Peshawar, Pakistan, to join the anti-Soviet resistance movement. Although he would later participate in some battles against the Soviet-backed government of Afghanistan, bin Laden's main role was to stay behind the front lines, financing and organizing brigades of Islamic volunteers going into battle. He not only invested some of his personal financial resources to fund the combat brigades, he also received military and financial assistance from the intelligence services of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United States. Bin Laden eventually came to control a force of about 2,000 Islamic fighters from different Arab countries. He established several guerrilla training camps: Al-Ansar and Masadat in Sudan and several others in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The fighters trained in these camps came from all over the Islamic world and were willing to fight wherever they felt Islam was being threatened.
The defeat of the Soviet Army in Afghanistan played a key role in the downfall of the Soviet empire and the demise of communism. The final withdrawal of the Soviet troops in 1989 gave Islamic fighters all over the world a tremendous sense of self-confidence. Arguably, it was the first major victory of an Islamic cause over a European power in four centuries.
The Soviet defeat produced in bin Laden not just a feeling of pride and self-confidence, but megalomania. He speaks about his dream of creating a unified Islamic empire, encompassing 50 countries, stretching from North Africa and the Balkans, encompassing the whole Middle East (including Israel, naturally) and former Soviet Central Asia, all the way to Indonesia and the Philippines on the Pacific. It turned out that bin Laden regarded the Soviet Union not as the primary enemy, but merely as the weakest link in the chain. He turned his attention to waging war against his erstwhile ally, the United States.
Bin Laden's war against the U.S. would take the form of a prolonged terrorist campaign. In 1989, the same year that the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan, bin Laden founded his international terrorist organization, Al Qaeda (The Base) to train fighters for the global jihad against America.
Back in Saudi Arabia in 1990, bin Laden found the Saudi monarchy cooperating closely with the United States in repelling Sadam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. Angered by the presence of U.S. troops on Saudi soil during the Gulf War, bin Laden criticized the Saudi monarchy for selling out to the "infidel" Americans. The Saudi authorities placed him under house arrest, but he fled to Sudan, where an Islamic fundamentalist regime had just taken power and unleashed a genocidal war against its own Christian minority in the southern part of the country.
In Sudan over the course of five years, bin Laden gathered several hundred of his Afghan veterans from Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, the Palestinian refugee camps, Uganda, Eritrea, Somalia, Albania, Bosnia, Chechnya and the Philippines. With the blessing of the government of Sudan, he set up three terrorist training camps. His fighters made their first sallies against America in 1993, when they helped train the Islamic militias that attacked American troops performing a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Somalia and helped coordinate the first World Trade Center bombing a month later.
In 1995, bin Laden's operatives detonated a car bomb that killed five American servicemen stationed in Saudi Arabia. In 1996, a larger car bomb killed 19 American servicemen at a housing complex in Saudi Arabia.
By this time, the United States had focused on bin Laden as the primary terrorist threat to America. Intense diplomatic pressure forced Sudan to expel bin Laden in 1996 and close down his terrorist training camps there. He went back to Afghanistan, where he joined forces with the fanatical Taliban militia, which was in the process of taking over the country from the more moderate Islamic government.
Bin Laden helped the Taliban with money, troops and expertise and they allowed him to set up his terrorist training centers there. In 1998, the Taliban regime even declared that bin Laden was innocent in the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania; it also rejected any claims of his culpability in the bombing of the USS Cole in October 2000.
Meanwhile, in February 1998, bin Laden created a new organization called the International Islamic Front, whose stated mission was to wage a jihad against "Crusaders" (Christians) and Jews. In this connection, bin Laden issued a fatwa (religious decree) that stated, "Killing Americans is the duty of any orthodox Muslim."
Bin Laden recently boasted that the Saudi Arabian government offered him $500 million and legal immunity if he returned to Saudi Arabia and gave up his terrorist activities; bin Laden refused.
Today bin Laden's primary bases in Afghanistan are two fortified regions, near the city of Khost, 100 miles south of the capital, Kabul. These bases, called Al-Badr 1 and Al-Badr 2, consist of a whole network of training camps, fortifications, bunkers and tunnels. He terrorist network is estimated to consist of several thousand operatives worldwide; he also provides financial and logistical support for an array of Islamic terrorist organizations stretching from Algeria to the Philippines.
Bin Laden continues to use his own personal fortune to finance his jihad, but he also receives financing from well-wishers in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other Islamic countries; another source of revenue is the international heroin trade, in which Afghanistan is one of the key players.
A Global Network Of Terror: List of terrorist organizations affiliated with Osama bin Laden