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Baddest Bad Guy: Osama bin Laden
Dave Carlson - November 2, 2006


This paper explores some of the events related to Osama bin Laden’s life that led to his being listed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List since June 1999. This paper discusses bin Laden’s expulsion from his native country of Saudi Arabia, the birth of the Taliban, bin Laden’s declaration of war on the United States with his subsequent fatwa pronouncement to kill Americans everywhere, and an explanation of how zakat (“holy tax”) money is used to fund efforts to wage war against the United States. Bin Laden makes no distinction between U.S. Military Forces and civilian citizens, and calls all Muslims to fulfill a holy duty to participate in his declared holy war on the United States of America.

Evolution of Today’s Baddest Bad Guy

Unless you have been napping in the International Space Station for many years, you most likely have heard of Osama bin Laden (see Figure 1). This paper will explore some of the events related to bin Laden’s life that led to his being listed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List since June 1999 (http://www.fbi.gov/wanted/topten/fugitives/laden.htm). You will read about bin Laden’s expulsion from his native country of Saudi Arabia, the birth of the Taliban, bin Laden’s declaration of war on the United States and his subsequent call to kill Americans, and an explanation of how a “holy tax” is used to fund efforts to wage war against the United States.

Osama bin Laden - Time Magazine Cover
Figure 1. Osama bin Laden
(Time, 2001, cover)

Oberschall (2004) defines terrorism as “an extreme, violent response to a failed political process engaging political regimes and ethnic and ideological adversaries over fundamental governance issues” (p. 26). The acts of Osama bin Laden could add “religious conviction and the creation of theocratic states” to that definition.

Bin Laden’s Expulsion from Saudi Arabia

In 1991, over the pleas of bin Laden’s friends and family, the government of Saudi Arabia ordered his immediate expulsion from the kingdom (Williams, 2005, p. 43). The primary reason for his expulsion was the discovery by Saudi security police of credible evidence that linked bin Laden to a plot to destabilize the government (Williams, 2005, p. 43). The Saudi government cemented bin Laden’s permanent exile in history by revoking his citizenship in 1994 (Oberschall, 2004, p. 26). The effects on bin Laden of his revocation of citizenship was compounded by his being “cut off” by his family the same year (Bergen, 2006, p. 10).

What caused this tall skinny boy from the sleepy port city of Jeddah, near the Red Sea (Bergen, 2006, p. 1), to become a disgrace to his native country? His birthright did not decry his future status of “most wanted man in the world” (Beyer, 2001, ¶ 1). On the contrary, his father, Sheikh Muhammad bin Awad bin Laden was one of the most revered men in Saudi Arabia. Among many notable accomplishments, he was responsible for the construction of mosques in Mecca and Medina, as well as restoration of the Dome of the Rock Mosque in Jerusalem, three of the most holy places for Muslim believers. In Osama bin Laden’s own words, his father “was one of the founders of the infrastructure of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia” (Bergen, 2006, p. 2).

However, his father was incredibly anti-Israel and anti-Jewish because he was of the opinion that Palestine belongs to Arabs (Bergen, 2006, p. 8). Osama had a great deal of respect for his father and put much credence in his father’s beliefs, so it is natural that this hatred of the Jews stayed with him. His father’s tragic and sudden death in a 1967 plane accident (Bergen, 2006, p. 9) left a significant void in bin Laden’s life.

Khaled Batarfi, a close childhood friend of bin Laden, said that his friend did not hate America during his youth. Batarfi supported his argument by citing the fact that bin Laden owned a Chrysler car (Bergen, 2006, p. 22). Batarfi further claims that bin Laden visited the United States on a brief trip to seek medical attention for his son Abdallah’s deformed hand (Bergen, 2006, p. 22). At a later date, bin Laden would contradict Batarfi’s characterization that he was not anti-American as a young man (Williams, 2005, p. 31). Additionally, no corroborating evidence has surfaced to support Batarfi’s claim that bin Laden ever visited the United States (Bergen, 2006, p. 22).

It is alleged that bin Laden’s initial public distrust for the Saudi regime came in 1979. On November 20, 1979 Juhayman al Utaybi led a group of several hundred Islamist militants to seize and occupy the world’s holiest Muslim site, the Al Haram mosque in Mecca (Bergen, 2006, p. 23). King Fahd ordered the Saudi security force to work with French Special Forces to retake the mosque by force. Bergen (2006) shares bin Laden’s reaction to the event:

[King] Fahd defiled the sanctity of Al Haram [the holy mosque in Mecca]. He showed stubbornness, acted against the advice of everybody, and sent tracked and armored vehicles into the mosque. I still recall the imprint of tracked vehicles on the tiles of the mosque. People still recall that the minarets were covered with black smoke due to their shelling by tanks. (p. 23)

The following month (December 1979) the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, which was the first time since World War II that a non-Muslim force had invaded and occupied a Muslim nation (Bergen, 2006, p. 24). Bergen (2006) describes this as the most transformative event of bin Laden’s life. The invasion “uncoupling him from his tranquil domestic life of work and family in Saudi Arabia, and launching him into what would become effectively a full-time job helping the Afghan resistance” (p. 24).

Bin Laden joined forces with Abdullah Azzam, a charismatic Palestinian cleric, who was an influential force, both ideologically and organizationally, for recruiting Muslims to assist with the Afghan struggle against the Soviet invasion (Bergen, 2006, p. 24). Bin Laden revered Azzam as his mentor. In 1984 they formed the Services Office to find positions for Arab volunteers with various relief organizations assisting Afghan refugees or with Afghan groups resisting the presence of the Soviets in Afghanistan (Bergen, 2006, p. 24). The Services Office eventually would lead to the development of Al Qaeda (Bergen, 2006, p. 32).

In 1986 bin Laden began to shift his alliance from Azzam to Dr. Ayman al Zawahiri. This shift of alliance eventually became a permanent symbiotic relationship between bin Laden and Zawahiri (Bergen, 2006, p. 63). Bin Laden’s leadership and financial resources combined with al Zawahiri’s planning skills came together to form the head of Al Qaeda.

Bin Laden became increasingly critical of events in Saudi Arabia. Addressing the people of Islam, he stated that “the greatest disaster to befall the Muslims since the death of the Prophet Muhammad—is the occupation of Saudi Arabia” (Howarth & Lawrence, 2005, p. 25) in reference to the alliance of Saudi Arabia with the United States. He went on to criticize the decisions of the Saudi government to become the biggest purchaser of weapons from America in the world and America’s biggest trading partner in the region, while at the very same time the Americans are occupying Saudi Arabia and supporting—with money, arms, and manpower—their Jewish brothers in the occupation of Palestine and their murder and expulsion of Muslims there. (Howarth & Lawrence, 2005, p. 29)

Bin Laden’s attitude toward Saudi policies were made clear, when he proclaimed to Muslims everywhere, “your brothers in Saudi Arabia and Palestine are calling for your help and asking you to share with them in the jihad against the enemies of God, your enemies the Israelis and Americans” (Howarth & Lawrence, 2005, p. 30). It is interesting to note that when he quoted Qur’an 08:72 to justify his jihad (“if they seek your aid in religion, it is your duty to help them”), he failed to note the second half of the verse, which adds the condition, “except against a people with whom ye have a treaty of mutual alliance. And (remember) Allah seeth all that ye do” (http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/quran/008.qmt.html).

It is understandable why the Saudi government did not want bin Laden preaching these radical Islamic beliefs in their country. Following his exile from Saudi Arabia, bin Laden eventually found a home in Afghanistan with an emerging quasi-military force called the Taliban.

Birth of the Taliban

Beginning with the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in 1979, stability of the civilian government seemed to decrease in direct proportion to the increasing strength of the forces opposing the Soviet Union. When the war ended chaos, violence, and lawlessness became the norm in Afghanistan (Williams, 2005, p. 46). The seventeen years of war left a scar on the country’s ability to govern its self. Afghanistan “was utterly destroyed—as failed as a state could be” (Benjamin & Simon, 2002, p. 135).

After their mutual enemy was defeated and driven from their country, regional Afghani warlords turned their attentions to reaping the spoils of war by pillaging the countryside. Additionally, they established toll collection points along every road leading to Kabul’s marketplace (Williams, 2005, p. 46). Forced payment of exorbitant tolls for safe passage became the norm throughout Afghanistan. The fee for a single truck to enter Kabul was two million afghanis (about US$300) (Williams, 2005, p. 47).

The birth of the Taliban (meaning students) organization in 1994 initially appeared to be a good thing for the people of Afghanistan (Benjamin & Simon, 2002, p. 135). The most cited reason for the formation of the vigilantly group was an incident involving the kidnapping and gang rape of two teenage girls by the followers of a local warlord. Mullah Mohammed Omar, an outraged village cleric, recruited thirty students to form a force to attack the camp holding the girls. After freeing the two captives they hung the warlord from the barrel of a tank and left him hanging as a warning for all to see (Benjamin & Simon, 2002, p. 135). Omar turned out to be a natural leader. Benjamin & Simon (2002) observed that his leadership was unchallenged. Omar’s followers revered him as both a warrior and a saint (p. 137).

Motivated by their success against this warlord, the unlikely band of student conquerors continued to achieve success against increasingly powerful warlords. The Taliban continued to vanquish marauding bands and disarmed local troublemakers (Benjamin & Simon, 2002, p. 136). Each victory bolstered their courage and confidence, along with their numbers. Benjamin and Simon (2002) record that as the Taliban continued to increase their stocks of weapons and ammunition, they attracted an increasing number of students to join their organization (p. 135).

The cheers of the Afghan people quickly turned to moans, and much of their fear returned as they came to realize there was a price for stability: the Taliban enforced an extreme brand of Islamic justice practiced in refugee camps (Benjamin & Simon, 2002, p. 136). Common penalties for crimes included amputation, stoning, and crushing from walls toppled onto the accused. The Taliban “legal system” had no provisions for due process (Benjamin & Simon, 2002, p. 136). Free-flowing accusations led to swift and merciless punishment.

Added to the positive side of the Taliban equation is the fact that crime rates fell and most people felt a semblance of personal safety replace; something they had not experienced in recent memory. Influenced by the consistent demonstrated incorruptibility of the Taliban, young men and boys from both Afghanistan and Pakistan added to the growing swell of Taliban warriors (Benjamin & Simon, 2002, p. 136).

One of the warriors who found a home among the Taliban was Osama bin Laden. In many Muslim circles the Taliban were considered primitive, unschooled, and unruly as well as “excessive in their zeal” (Benjamin & Simon, 2002, p. 137). Bin Laden did not seem to share that opinion about his new hosts. He quickly accepted his role as an honored guest (Benjamin & Simon, 2002, p. 137) among the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Bin Laden’s Declaration of Holy War on America

From the safely of the Afghan mountains, Osama bin Laden assumed “a more visible and vocal leadership role in international terrorism, calling openly for a jihad against America and its allies” (Esposito, 2002, p. 20). On August 23, 1996, Osama bin Laden issued a fatwa from Afghanistan entitled Declaration of War on the Americans Occupying the Country of the Two Holy Places (Williams, 2005, p. 51).

A fatwa, is a legal pronouncement in Islam made by a mufti, a scholar capable of issuing judgments on Sharia (Islamic law). Usually a fatwa is issued at the request of an individual or a judge to settle a question where fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) is unclear. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fatwa)

In November 1996, bin Laden repeated his threat against the United States and its allies if Washington did not remove its troops from the Gulf region (Esposito, 2002, p. 21). In 1998, he followed up with a fatwa decreeing that it was the duty of Muslims everywhere to kill American citizens and U.S. allies (Esposito, 2002, p. 21).

Bin Laden’s hatred for the United States is openly reflected in his declaration that “every grown-up Muslim hates America, Christians, and Jews. It is part of our belief and our religion. Ever since I was a boy, I have been harboring feelings of hatred toward America” (Williams, 2005, p. 31).

The Prophet Muhammad commanded that two religions must not exist in Arabia (Williams, 2005, p. 42). When King Fahd of Saudi Arabia partnered with the French to liberate a mosque (Bergen, 2006, p. 23) and called upon the United States to protect Saudi Arabia from invasion, many Muslims, including bin Laden, believed this violated their understanding of the Prophet’s injunction that nonbelievers should not be permitted to live anywhere within the Arabian Peninsula (Williams, 2005, p. 42).

Jihad conveys the meaning of fighting in the way of God against Satan, apostates (murtadd), or infidels (Hashim, 2001, p. 18). A major driving force for Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda is the belief that they are doing the work of God. Mohammad Abdel Salam Al-Farag wrote a little-known manifesto, Al-Faridah Al-Gha’ibah (the neglected duty) advocating that jihad should be recognized as the sixth pillar of Islam (Hashim, 2001, p. 18).

The Pillars of Islam are:

  • Shahada (profession of faith),
  • Salat (prayers),
  • Qakat (almsgiving or charity),
  • Sawn (fasting),
  • Hajj (pilgrimage) (Hashim, 2001, p. 18).
Al-Farag’s addition of jihad as a sixth pillar could replace the hajj as a Muslim’s ultimate expression of faith. Assuming jihad does not become a pillar of Islam, the third pillar reveals insight into bin Laden’s most tangible support for his personal jihad -- money.

The Third Pillar of Islam

The third pillar of Islam is qakat (almsgiving or charity). Money collected for this Islamic tithe is called zakat. It involves a process of obligatory redistribution of wealth to other Muslims within an Islamic nation or community (Sawatzky, 2005, p. 11). Esposito (2002) defines zakat as an “annual alms tax or tithe of 2 + percent levied on wealth and distributed to the poor” (p. 172). Many times a devout Muslim will have difficulty deciding where to pay this “holy tax” and give it to an established Islamic charity to distribute where the need is greatest.

The primary role of Islamic charities is to provide basic goods and services to communities consistent with the values and teachings of Islam (Looney, 2006, ¶ 7). Looney (2006) explains that some charities also have raised money for causes that threaten U.S. government policy (¶ 11). He goes on to explain that it is difficult for law enforcement officials to discern which charities are fulfilling their intended mission and which ones are promoting causes against America.

Looney (2006) identifies al-Qaeda as “the most successful of the terrorist organizations at exploiting Islamic charities and non governmental organizations” (¶ 24). It is alleged that bin Laden commingled personal and zakat funds to support the Taliban in their bid to take over Kabul, Afghanistan. Williams (2005) says these funds provided weapons, ammunition, fleets of vehicles, food, and expedient hospital facilities (p. 55).

Looney illustrates his understanding of some methods used to funnel zakat funds to terrorist organizations (see Figure 2).

Charities and the Terrorist Money Trail
Figure 2. Charities and the Terrorist Money Trail
(Looney, 2006, ¶ 30)

Looney (2006) summarizes his study of Islamic charities with these broad generalizations:

  1. Most of the unclassified information we have concerning the relationship between Islamic charities and terrorist groups comes from evidence presented at the trials in the United States of these charities. Often this information is very rough and the figures difficult to confirm. This has led to a series of conventional wisdoms and min-sets that may be out of date or simply incorrect.
  2. Money is very fungible -- especially if one is determined. The one pot theory of finance stresses the fact that money contributed for a specific purpose -- say humanitarian programs, simply frees up funds for other objectives. Trying to follow a money trail of certain contributors to Islamic charities may be futile at best and potentially extremely misleading.
  3. The vast quantities of money flowing into Islamic charities, together with the large number of these organizations with links to terrorist organizations suggest that this is a long-term problem. While the current anti-terrorist finance strategies should be maintained, they should also be broadened and shifted to focus on longer term issues.
  4. The problem of aggressively confronting Islamic charities is that terrorist financing is a hydra -- if one head gets cut off, two more appear -- leaving policy makers always behind the power curve. Are there other indirect measures in addition to those noted above that might be effective in combating charity based terrorist/insurgency funding? One option is to focus not only on money, but on the demand driving the money. Within such an expanded policy framework, funding for terror is viewed as a product of an ideology which must be countered. (¶ 49)

Because of the great difficulty following zakat funds through a myriad of distribution channels, unknown fortunes found their way into Al Qaeda coffers. Supported by the influx of significant amounts of zakat-based financing, bin Laden was able to plan and fund significant terrorist acts.

Bin Laden’s Second Fatwa against the United States

Extremists such as bin Laden believe terrorist acts are justified because U.S. foreign policy has led to the death of Arabs (Ferguson, p. 15). Bin Laden’s second fatwa against the United States came in February 1998, on behalf of the International Islamic Front (Williams, 2005, p. 71). Williams (2005) presents the fatwa’s three reasons why Muslims throughout the world should unite in a holy war against the United States:

First, for over seven years the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples. If some people have in the past argued about the fact of the occupation, all the people of the Peninsula have now acknowledged it. The best proof of this is the American’s continuing aggression against the Iraqi people using the Peninsula as a staging post, even though all its rulers are against their territories being used to that end, but they are helpless. (p. 71)

Second, despite the great devastation inflicted on the Iraqi people by the crusader-Zionist alliance, and despite the huge number of those killed, which has exceeded 1 million, the Americans are once again trying to repeat the horrific massacres, as though they were not content with the protracted blockade imposed after the ferocious war [Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979] or the fragmentation and devastation. So now they come to annihilate what is left of this people and to humiliate their Muslim neighbors. (p. 71)

Third, if the Americans’ goals behind these wars are religious and economic, their aim is also to serve the Jews’ petty state and divert attention from its occupation of Jerusalem and murder of Muslims there. The best proof of this is their eagerness to destroy Iraq, the strongest neighboring Arab state, and their endeavor to fragment all the states of the region such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Sudan into paper statelets and through their disunion and weakness to guarantee Israel’s survival and the continuation of the brutal crusade occupation of the Peninsula. (p. 72)

A chilling reality of this fatwa is that bin Laden makes no distinction between military forces and civilian citizens of the United States. He orders all Muslims to “kill Americans—including civilians—anywhere in the world where they can be found” (U.S., 1998, p. 107). In May 1998 bin Laden issued a televised threat that Al Qaeda will not distinguish between military and civilian personnel (U.S., 1998, p. 107).

The first significant consequence of this fatwa came on August 7, 1998 when Al Qaeda coordinated a near-simultaneous bombing of American embassies located in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (Kushner, 2003, p. 22). These two attacks killed at least 224, including civilians, and forced thousands to seek medical treatment for wounds caused by the attacks. Bin Laden justified the attack on the Kenya embassy because he considered the embassy to be the most significant intelligence-gathering center in the Middle East (Kushner, 2003, p. 22). The timing of the attack was exactly seven years following the movement of troops into Saudi Arabia to begin Operation Desert Shield (Kushner, 2003, p. 22). From Osama bin Laden’s perspective, he and the entire Muslim world are at war with the United States of America.


Osama bin Laden began his life as a member of a hard-working, respected Saudi Arabian family. Within a few years after reaching adulthood, bin Laden began his campaign toward the dubious distinction of world’s most wanted man. This paper discussed the events leading up to expulsion from and revocation of citizenship by his native country of Saudi Arabia, his connection with the Taliban in Afghanistan, and his declaration of holy war on the United States.

Additionally, you read about funds intended to support religious activities being funneled through various organizations to support the efforts of terrorist activities. Al Qaeda became the terrorist organization most successful at exploiting this enormous financial resource.

Finally, the paper revealed the chilling reality of a fatwa against the United States that called for the death of Americans everywhere. Bin Laden makes no distinction between U.S. Military Forces and civilian citizens, and called all Muslims to fulfill their religious duty to participate in his declared holy war on the United States of America.

Osama (Usama) bin Laden is wanted by the FBI for “MURDER OF U.S. NATIONALS OUTSIDE THE UNITED STATES; CONSPIRACY TO MURDER U.S. NATIONALS OUTSIDE THE UNITED STATES; ATTACK ON A FEDERAL FACILITY RESULTING IN DEATH” (http://www.fbi.gov/wanted/topten/fugitives/laden.htm). Osama bin Laden is at large and remains a credible persistent danger to the United States and its allies.


Benjamin, D. and Simon, S. (2002). The age of sacred terror. New York: Random House.

Bergen, P. L. (2006). The Osama bin Laden I know: An oral history of Al Qaeda's leader. New York: Free Press.

Beyer, L. (2001, September 24). The most wanted man in the world. Time. Retrieved October 30, 2006 from http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1101010924-175116,00.html

Esposito, J. L. (2002). Unholy war: Terror in the name of Islam. New York: Oxford University Press.

Ferguson, A. (2003). The attack against the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. New York: Rosen Publishing Group.

Hashim, A. S. (2001, Autumn). The world according to Usama bin Laden. Naval War College Review, 54(4), 11-35.

Howarth, J. and Lawrence, B. B. (2005) Messages to the world: The statement of Osama bin Laden. New York: Verso.

Kushner, H. W. (2003). Encyclopedia of Terrorism. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Looney, R. (2006, March). The mirage of terrorist financing: The case of Islamic charities. [Electronic Version] Strategic Insights, 5(3). Retrieved October 29, 2006 from http://www.ccc.nps.navy.mil/si/2006/Mar/looneyMar06.asp

Oberschall, A. (2004, March). Explaining terrorism: The contribution of collective action theory. Sociological Theory, 22(1), 26-37.

Sawatzky, N. (2005). The conflicting goals of the Islamic doctrine of zakat and the United Nations Development Programme: A systematic study. Retrieved October 30, 2006 from http://ecommons.uwinnipeg.ca/archive/00000167/01/IDS_2006_sawatsky.pdf

Time. (2001, November 26). Inside the manhunt. [Image]. Retrieved October 29, 2006 from http://www.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,20011126,00.html

U.S. v. bin Laden, (S.D. NY S (9) 98 Cr. 1023), indictment filed November 4, 1998. [Electronic version]. Retrieved October 31, 2006 from http://cns.miis.edu/pubs/reports/pdfs/binladen/indict.pdf

Williams, P. L. (2005). The Al Qaeda connection: International terrorism, organized crime, and the coming apocalypse. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.


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