Osama Bin Laden is often presented as single-handedly controlling world “terrorism” from a bunker in Afghanistan or Pakistan. It is a myth that has suited both Bin Laden and his enemies.
Al Qaida members carried out the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, but that does not make it a tight knit organisation. If anything it has become less coherent over the past decade.
Bin Laden’s gained wider support as more people wanted to resist Western imperialism in the Middle East.
The US says that Bin Laden was killed in a mansion in Abbottabad, a major Pakistani military town just 40 miles from the capital Islamabad. This suggests he had allies in high places in the Pakistani military.
In fact for many years Bin Laden was an ally of the US.
Osama Bin Laden was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. His father was a Yemeni-born construction millionaire and the family is closely entwined with the Saudi royal family.
Bin Laden collaborated with the US during the war against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. He was angered by the “communist” invasion of a Muslim country.
The CIA channelled funds through the Pakistani ISI intelligence forces. More than 100,000 Afghan insurgents were trained by 1992.
Bin Laden went along with a Saudi project to spread their version of Islam, Wahhabism. This undermined other guerrilla leaders—but created a movement that could not operate independently from Western interests.
The CIA was happy to ally itself with the most conservative elements of the Afghan resistance.
Bin Laden funnelled Saudi and US money, combined with the fortune he had inherited, to bring in arms and fighters. He built the Khost tunnel complex as a major arms depot in 1986.
He returned to Saudi Arabia in 1990 as a hero who, along with his Arab legion, “had brought down the mighty superpower” of the Soviet Union, according to a Saudi report.
After Iraq invaded Kuwait that year, Bin Laden wanted to use his Mujahadeen fighters, who had fought in Afghanistan, to defend Saudi Arabia. But the king rejected the offer, instead calling on the US.
Bin Laden publicly denounced Saudi Arabia’s dependence on the US military, opposing the presence of non-Muslim troops in Islam’s central holy places.
His criticism of the Saudi monarchy led that government to attempt to silence him.
He had to leave for Sudan in 1992 and returned to Afghanistan in May 1996. In 1997 the CIA first planned to assassinate him.
The US tried again to kill Bin Laden in August 1998 in the wake of bomb attacks on its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. It also bombed the al-Shifa medicine factory in Sudan.
It took US officials ten months to admit, albeit off the record, that the factory had nothing to do with terrorism.
The US was slower to turn on its other former allies. When the Taliban took over in Afghanistan in 1996, state department spokesperson Glyn Davies said the US could see “nothing objectionable” about the Taliban’s policies.
The Taliban had been backed by the ISI, the same Pakistani intelligence organisation that had funnelled CIA funds to the Mujahadeen.
Bin Laden took over the loose guerrilla group Al Qaida in 1989.
The US invasion after 9/11 was supposedly to capture him.
The Taliban had tried to avoid the attack by offering to hand over Bin Laden if the US handed over the evidence that proved he was behind the attack.
Bin Laden has been on the run ever since. There has been a worldwide increase in terrorist attacks attributed to Al Qaida, but all the evidence suggests that these are caused by an increase in the West’s military activity.
Bin Laden himself was seen as a figurehead rather than an active leader.
Ten years ago, Al Qaida could present itself as the only serious response to the power of the West.
Thankfully, the situation has changed now. It is the mass uprisings that continue to grow across the Middle East that really threaten imperial control.