- The Washington Times - Monday, May 2, 2011

Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden, known to most as Osama bin Laden, was the product of privilege; the 17th of 52 children of a Saudi businessman who made billions in the construction industry and lived a lavish lifestyle. With an inherited fortune estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars, bin Laden went on to marry four women — some say seven — and fathered at least two dozen children.

But the prodigal son left the life of secular private schools, economic courses at an elite Jeddah university, multiple marriages and luxury vacations to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, using overt and covert CIA funding to train his Islamic Jihad Mujahideen.

Over time, he declared “holy war” on America, and an ally became an enemy — not just any enemy, but the “Most Wanted” of America’s foes, the world’s most prominent terrorist.

It was the trappings of his well-appointed life that may have led to his ignoble death Sunday in Abbottabad, Pakistan — in a million-dollar three-story mansion, not a cave.

Taken down by an elite group of U.S. Navy SEALs, with intelligence support from the CIA, bin Laden was shot in the head when he resisted during a gunfight that lasted just minutes. The man who had called for the death of thousands died hiding behind a woman, initially thought to be one of his wives. There were no eulogies when his body was slipped from the USS Carl Vinson into the North Arabian Sea; just what do you say of a man who killed 3,000 of your countrymen — certainly nothing that can be printed here.

The closest thing to a farewell note came from President Obama, the man who had ordered bin Laden’s death, who called the killing “a good day for America.” People in this country and elsewhere cheered and waved flags.

Fifteen years ago, bin Laden assembled an army he called al Qaeda — Arabic for “the base” — and issued a fatwa, or religious order, titled “Declaration of War Against Americans Who Occupy the Lands of the Two Holy Mosques.” He praised as heroes those willing to kill U.S. soldiers “so they can get to Paradise.”

During his reign of terror, al Qaeda operatives attacked the World Trade Center in New York in 1993, killing six and injuring 1,042; bombed two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998, killing 224 people, including 12 Americans; attacked the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000, killing 17 U.S. sailors; and crashed three hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001, killing nearly 3,000 people. It also carried out numerous other bombings throughout the world.

Jihadist setbacks

To carry out his holy war, bin Laden enlisted the aid of several like-thinking jihadists, most of whom have since been captured or killed. The March 2003 arrest in Pakistan of al Qaeda’s top planner, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, along with the seizure of a treasure trove of secret al Qaeda documents, was one of bin Laden’s biggest setbacks.

Captured by a Pakistani security force in Rawalpindi, Mohammed was named as the principal architect of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon; the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; the attack on the USS Cole; a scheme in the Philippines to blow up 12 U.S. airliners over the Pacific Ocean; an attempt to blow up an airliner with explosives hidden in tennis shoes; and fatal bombings in Indonesia and a synagogue in Tunisia.

He also has been identified in the January 2002 kidnapping and slaying of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Karachi, Pakistan. Investigators think Mohammed was the man who slit Mr. Pearl’s throat on tape after the journalist disappeared while doing a story on Islamic extremists.

Bin Laden lost another of his top advisers less than two months after the Sept. 11 attacks when Mohammed Atef was killed in U.S. bombing raids in Afghanistan. Atef, who served as one of bin Laden’s closest associates, was considered a likely candidate for succession in the event of bin Laden’s death.

U.S. intelligence officials say they think Atef, who helped plan the Sept. 11 attacks, directed the August 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. He served as a top lieutenant to Ayman al-Zawahri, founder of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and top bin Laden confidant, during Afghanistan’s war with the Soviet Union in the 1980s. They later joined al Qaeda and rose to key positions as bin Laden’s most trusted advisers.

Bin Laden suffered another setback in April 2002 when Abu Zubaydah, a key leader of his al Qaeda network, was among more than three dozen suspected terrorists rounded up in raids in Pakistan and turned over to U.S. authorities. Zubaydah was identified as a major al Qaeda recruiter and a suspect in the suicide strikes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon,

Just six months later, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a senior al Qaeda leader described as the terror network’s chief of operations in the Persian Gulf, was captured and turned over to U.S. officials. Considered an explosives expert, al-Nashiri is believed by authorities to have directed and arranged financing for the Cole attack and to have made the bomb used to blow a hole in the side of the destroyer.

Another top al Qaeda leader, Abu Musab Zarqawi, once described as the most-wanted terrorist in Iraq, was killed in June 2006 when U.S. warplanes dropped 500-pound bombs on his safe house.

Although he has been described as soft-spoken and mild-mannered, bin Laden was also known to U.S. intelligence officials to be vain. He used the caves in Tora Bora “as a way of identifying himself with the prophet in the minds of many Muslims,” and he often dyed his beard to hide the gray. He did retakes of videotape speeches and recitations of poetry if he was displeased by his appearance. And he once asked a reporter to retake a picture because his neck appeared to be too large.

In the end, a decade-long search for bin Laden ended when a team of SEALs swept into a compound over 18-foot high walls to confront and neutralize the world’s most prominent terrorist.

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