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Osama bin Laden: How Did He Become a Terrorist?

Osama bin Laden: How Did He Become a Terrorist?

Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind 9/11, was one of the most wanted terrorists of our times. In this Historyplex article, we shall find out how Osama bin Laden became a terrorist, and also present a list of his deadly attacks and acts of violence.
Satyajeet Vispute
Did You Know?
Osama bin Laden went to King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, and obtained a degree in civil engineering in the year 1979.

For more than a decade, Osama bin Laden was the dreaded face of international terrorism. He was instrumental in a number of unprovoked violent attacks around the world, the deadliest of which arguably were the 9/11 attacks in which thousands of innocent people lost their lives.

In the lines to follow, we shall find out how bin Laden became one of the most feared international criminals of our time. We shall go through a timeline, highlighting all the important events that took place on his journey of terror, which ultimately culminated in his assassination.

Early Life

Born in 1957, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Osama Bin Laden was the 17th child out of 52 children. His father, Mohammed bin Laden, was a Yemeni immigrant, who started out with limited means, and later went on to become the owner of one of the largest construction companies in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Osama's siblings received their education from abroad. Their father's company, in the mean time, expanded and became a large conglomerate, which included the distribution of consumer goods such as cars (Volkswagen) and beverages (Snapples) in the Middle East. Following their education, most of Osama's siblings joined their father's company.

Osama, however, chose not to leave his homeland and its culture. He did his schooling in Jeddah, and like most Saudi men, married young and joined the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.

Pan Islamism

In the 1970s, when Osama was in college, he became a follower of Islamic scholar Abdullah Azzam. Azzam advocated that all Muslims should partake in jihad (holy war) against the infidels, for the purpose of creating a single united Islamic sate governed by a single caliphate, viz. an Islamic government led by a caliph - a person who is considered the successor of prophet Muhammad.

At that time, western culture was gradually making its influence felt in the Middle East, which Osama vehemently opposed. For him, Islam wasn't just a religion; it was a way of life. And so, when Osama saw the growth of Western culture in the lives of his people, he considered it to be a dangerous threat.

In 1979, when Russian troops invaded Afghanistan, Osama and Azzam moved to the Pakistani city of Peshawar, which lies on the border with Afghanistan. They intended to join the resistance against the Soviet invasion. Though Osama and Azzam never became fighters themselves, they were able to obtain financial and moral support for the Afghan fighters, also known as the mujahideen.

Further, they also contributed by encouraging young men from all over the Middle East to join in the Afghan jihad. They founded an organization known as Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK), which recruited, trained, and provided supplies to the jihadis. MAK is known to have had offices even in Brooklyn, Tucson, and Arizona.

Thus, Osama successfully begun his mission of uniting the Muslims towards a single cause, thereby taking the first steps towards pan Islamism.

The Afghan War

The Second Cold War between Russia and America lasted from 1979 to 1985. In April 1978, the communist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) seized power in Afghanistan with the support of Russia. Threatened by this Soviet movement in the Middle East, America expressed its support to the mujahideen. The Afghan War was fought between the pro-Soviet Democratic Republic of Afghanistan and the mujahideen supported by America.

The mujahideen rebel forces caused a lot of damage and casualties to the Russian forces. Ultimately, the war became too expensive for the Soviet Union, which decided to withdraw from Afghanistan in 1989.

The Russian defeat at the hands of the mujahideen was a great victory for Osama bin Laden. Through the significant role that he played in this movement, Osama had established himself as a key leader whom many jihadis looked up to. He was considered a war hero, and the fact that he had left behind a life of richness and comfort for supporting the jihadis gave him an almost prophetic stature among the fighters.


During the last stages of the Afghan War (1988 - 1989), bin Laden, along with Azzam and other militants, founded a new group known as al-Qaeda, which literally meant 'the base'.

After Russia withdrew, Osama moved back to Saudi Arabia, and started raising funds for a new mission. The pro-Western royal family of Saudi Arabia, suspicious and fearful of his intentions, tried to snub his activities. Osama's passport was seized, and his offer to send Al-Qaeda militants to protect the borders after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 was turned down. Even more embarrassingly, the Saudi royal family decided to approach America for help, instead.

All of this left a bitter taste in Osama's mouth, who swore that he would make Al-Qaeda rise and become a great power, which would wipe off the influence of the infidels (America) from the Islamic lands.

The next year, Laden left Saudi Arabia, and made his way into the more Islamic fundamentalist nation of Sudan. There, he laid low for one year, making careful preparations and planning his course of action.

Al-Qaeda struck the first time, when a bomb went off in Yemen. It was placed strategically at a hotel in which American troops, on their way to a peacekeeping mission in Somalia, were staying. A couple of Austrian tourists died in the blast; however, no American life was lost. Yet, the message behind this attack was clear - bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda had declared a holy war against the US and the rest of the world.

Jihad to the World

Following the blast, American troops quickly left Yemen, which greatly emboldened bin Laden. Soon, he began plotting even more violent attacks, which were carried out leading to devastating effects. Some of the significant ones from among those are:

1) Laden was responsible for training and arming Somali rebels, who in 1993, killed 18 American servicemen in Mogadishu.

2) Al-Qaeda was held responsible for the first bombing of the World Trade Center in New York in 1993.

3) They attempted to assassinate Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in 1995. That same year, they bombed the U.S. National Guard Training Center in Riyadh.

4) In 1996, a truck bomb went off, destroying the Khobar Towers - an American military residence in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

5) On August 7, 1998, truck bombs were simultaneously detonated at the US embassies in two East African cities - Dar es Salaam and Nairobi. Eleven people lost their lives in Dar es Salaam and 85 were injured, while 213 died in Nairobi and around 4,000 were wounded. This attack prompted the FBI to put bin Laden on its 'Most Wanted' list.

6) On October 12, 2000, a small vessel packed with explosives rammed into the hull of the American naval destroyer U.S.S. Cole, which docked off the coast of Yemen. 17 sailors died in the blast, and another 38 were injured. Osama bin Laden took the credit for this attack.

7) On September 11, 2001, Al-Qaeda operatives hijacked four commercial airliners and crashed two of them into the World Trade Center, and one on the Pentagon. This was the biggest foreign attack on American soil ever, in which 2,996 people were killed (2,977 victims and 19 hijackers), and more than 6,000 people were injured.

Death of Osama bin Laden

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the blame directly fell on Al-Qaeda and bin Laden. Initially, bin Laden denied any involvement, but subsequently, he admitted it over a video tape that he released to the press. America declared a war on terrorism, and targeted bin Laden, who was now the most wanted enemy of the US.

The CIA and other intelligence agencies put every effort and carried out one of the most sophisticated and extensive man hunts ever, and yet, bin Laden managed to elude them for almost a decade. He kept operating from the shadows, issuing fatwas, sending out threatening and inciting videos, recruiting young jihadis, and plotting further attacks.

Finally, in August of 2010, intelligence narrowed down upon bin Laden being 35 miles from Islamabad, in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. For several months, CIA agents carried out a surveillance of the house in which he was suspected to be residing. They used satellite images and photographs taken by drones to confirm their target.

On May 2, 2011, a team of Navy SEALs was deployed all the way from Afghanistan into the compound under the orders of President Obama. They invaded the house and found Osama in the bedroom upstairs with a pistol and an assault rifle close at hand. Before he could act, he was shot in the head and chest, which killed him instantly, thus ending his reign of terror.