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Picture montage from video showing bin Laden. Source: InterCenter, Sept 25, 2009
Bin Laden frequently appeared in TV messagesImage: AP

Bin Laden protrait

May 2, 2011

Osama bin Laden, who US and Pakistani authorities say they killed on Sunday, throws the spotlight back on America's 'public enemy number one.' DW’s Esther Saoub reviews bin Laden's trail of terror.


He seemed known to everyone, but hardly anyone had met him. The "world's most dangerous terrorist"- as the Americans called him – leaves behind a stereotype image: his head wrapped in a turban, a small, tanned face with ostensibly placid eyes, a graying beard. His voice was also familiar via innumerable audio and video recordings in which he accused Western politicians of behaving dishonestly.

“While your airplanes and tanks destroy the homes of our people and children in Palestine, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya and Pakistan you laugh in our faces and say 'we're not attacking Islam, no!' That you're clamping down on terrorists while calling for peaceful co-existence, for dialogue instead of the struggle of cultures."

"Nonetheless, reality shows that you are lying. The Western politicians want dialogue only for dialogue's sake. They take us by the arm only to gain time. They don't want a ceasefire, but rather capitulation."

Nighttime photo showing crowd celebrating bin Laden's death
Americans celebrated bin Laden's death in the streetsImage: AP

Osama Bin Laden had a rigid and headstrong view of what is proper and false, of justice and injustice, precepts that he regarded as unshakeable. And, he had the money and the persuasiveness to win over thousands for himself and his beliefs.

At the age of only 15, the son of a wealthy building firm owner in Saudi Arabia became one of the managers of the family empire. Simmultaneously, he studied civil engineering.

In 1982 Bin Laden entered the-then Soviet occupied Afghanistan at the request of the Saudi secret service to set up supply routes, fortifications and tunnel systems for the Mujahedin insurgents. He financed the construction of numerous training camps for volunteer fighters from around the Muslim world. When he returned to Saudi Arabia in the early nineties he condemned the deployment of American troops in his home country, described their presence as a "desecration of holy sites" and demanded the creation of a godly state.

Bin Laden und Ayman al-Zawahri in photo dated October 7, 2001
Bin Laden had an extreme view of IslamImage: AP

Eventually he was expelled and deprived of his Saudi nationality, but he took with him his share of his father's construction firm. Osama bin Laden first resided in Sudan until the United States forced his expulsion and he returned to Afghanistan. There, together with his surviving lieutenant, the Egyptian surgeon Aiman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden set up the network al Qaeda, meaning "the base." Al Qaeda went on to plan attacks in Yemen, Somalia, Saudi Arabia and eventually in the United States.

In a video released after his deadliest terror attack on September 11, 2001, bin Laden sought to justify the demolition of the World Trade Center's twin towers in New York and crash of a hijacked plane into the Pentagon in Washington. These attacks killed around 3,000 people.

President Obama at Pentagon commemoration
Tens years later - a moment's silence at the PentagonImage: AP

The 9/11 attacks, as they came to be known, were also the starting point for an international so-called war against terrorism.

Three months later a military alliance led by the United States and mandated by the United Nations ousted the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden was hunted but remained elusive.

From time to time the chief terrorist made pronouncements via video or audio recordings in repetitive messages that spoke of the so-called holy war against the infidels, or unbelievers, and praised Islamist terrorists who carried out attacks in his name in London, Madrid and in Iraq.

Entrapped by his fanatical religious creed, bin Laden decided against Saudi luxury and attempted to live out his understanding of the Koran in a strictly literal way in the deserts of Afghanistan while pursuing a war against all those who did not share his view of the world.

Author: Esther Saoub / ipj
Editor: Nicole Goebel

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