Osama bin Laden (1957-2011)

Osama bin Laden founded a worldwide terrorist network called Al Qaeda (ahl KAY-dah) in 1988. He said the purpose of the group was to fight who he called the "enemies of Islam," particularly the United States and other Western nations.

The United States has linked bin Laden and Al Qaeda to the worst terrorist acts ever carried out on U.S. soil—the September 11, 2001, attacks. The group has also been linked to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Overseas, Al Qaeda was connected to the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa and the 2000 attack on a U.S. Navy destroyer, the USS Cole, in Yemen.

Osama bin Laden was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 1957. He inherited a fortune when his father, a wealthy builder, died in 1968. He went to Afghanistan in 1979 to fight against the invasion by the Soviet Union. After the Soviets withdrew in 1989, Bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia. There, he turned his energies against his own government, which he considered "pro-western," and the United States. He later fled the country and settled in Sudan in 1991. He was expelled from Sudan in 1996 before returning to Afghanistan.

By that time, a radical Islamic group called the Taliban controlled most of Afghanistan. Bin Laden established close ties with the Taliban. The group allowed him to set up training camps for terrorists.

Following the September 11 attacks, U.S. President George W. Bush declared a war on terrorism. The U.S. demanded that the Taliban hand over bin Laden. The Taliban refused. The U.S. launched a military campaign in Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban, which it did by the end of 2001. It also vowed to capture or kill bin Laden. Many top Al Qaeda leaders were captured or killed, but bin Laden avoided capture. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) put him at the top of its Ten Most Wanted Criminals list. He was thought to be hiding in the mountains along the Afghan border with Pakistan. Bin Laden remained at large for nearly 10 years after the September 11 attacks.

In September 2010, the United States received top-secret information about bin Laden's possible whereabouts. Government officials said there was a "strong possibility" that he was hiding in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. After months of intelligence work, President Barack Obama ordered an attack on the compound. On May 1, 2011, U.S. forces invaded the compound. Bin Laden was shot and killed in a firefight. His body was later buried at sea.

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