Osama Bin Laden (1957- 2011) was the leader of Al Qaeda and the mastermind behind the terrorist bombings of 11 September 2001. Born into a wealthy family in Saudi Arabia, he studied engineering before leaving Saudi Arabia to join the resistance to Soviet occupation in Afghanistan in 1979. While in Afghanistan, he formed his own militia—Al Qaeda—to fight the Soviets. Upon his return from Afghanistan, he joined a number of Islamic traditionalists who criticized the moderation of the Saudi government and what they perceived as the increasing secularization of Saudi society.
During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Bin Laden condemned the Saudi government for permitting American troops to use Saudi territory to stage their attack against Iraq, a fellow Muslim country. He subsequently declared a fatwa, or declaration of war, against the United States for corrupting holy Muslim lands.
Beginning in 1992, Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda made several terrorist attacks against the United States, including the 1998 bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. First operating out of the Sudan, Bin Laden moved his training camps to Afghanistan in 1996 where he plotted the 2001 attacks on New York and the Pentagon.
After September 11,, Bin Laden remained in hiding in Afghanistan and Pakistan for nearly a decade, issued several communications claiming responsibility for the attacks and defending their place within a broader ambition of expelling the United States and western culture from Muslim territories.
On 2 May 2011, Bin Laden was killed by American Special Forces in a surprise raid against his secret compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.