Profile: Osama bin Laden

Osama bin Laden
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While known as Osama bin Laden, also spelled Usama bin Ladin, his full name was Osama bin Muhammad bin Awad bin Laden. ("bin" means "son" in Arabic, so his name also tells his genealogy. Osama was the son of Muhammad, who was the son of Awad, and so forth).

Family Background

Bin Laden was born in 1957 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia's capitol. He was the 17th of over 50 children born to his Yemeni father, Muhammad, a self-created billionaire whose fortune came from building contracting. He died in a helicopter accident when Osama was 11 years old.

Osama's Syrian born mother, born Alia Ghanem, married Muhammad when she was twenty-two. She remarried following divorce from Muhammad, and Osama grew up with his mother and stepfather, and their three other children.


Bin Laden was schooled in the Saudi port city, Jedda. His family's wealth gave him access to the elite Al Thagher Model School, which he attended from 1968-1976. The school combined British style secular education with daily Islamic worship.

Bin Laden's introduction to Islam as the basis for political, and potentially violent—activism, was through informal sessions run by the Al Thagher's teachers, as New Yorker writer Steve Coll has reported.

Early Adulthood

In the mid-1970s, bin Laden was married to his first cousin (a normal convention among traditional Muslims), a Syrian woman from his mother's family. He later married three other women, as permitted by Islamic law. It has been reported that he has from 12-24 children.

He attended King Abd Al Aziz University, where he studied civil engineering, business administration, economics and public administration. He is remembered as enthusiastic about religious debates and activities while there.

Key Influences

Bin Laden's first influences were the Al Thagher teachers who offered extra-curricular Islam lessons. They were members of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist political group begun in Egypt which, at that time, promoted violent means to achieve Islamic governance.

Another key influence was Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian-born professor at King Abd Al Aziz University, and a founder of Hamas, the Palestinian militant group. After the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Azzam solicited bin Laden to raise money and recruit Arabs to help the Muslims repel the Soviets, and he played an instrumental role in the early establishment of al-Qaeda.

Later, Ayman Al Zawahiri, the leader of Islamic Jihad in the 1980s, would play a significant part in the development of bin Laden's organization, Al Qaeda.

Organizational Affiliations

In the early 1980s, bin Laden worked with the mujahideen, guerrillas fighting a self-proclaimed holy war to oust the Soviets from Afghanistan. From 1986-1988, he himself fought.

In 1988, bin Laden formed Al Qaeda (the Base), a militant transnational network whose original backbone was Arab Mujahideen who fought the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Ten years later, bin Laden forged the Islamic Front for Jihad against the Jews and Crusaders, a coalition of terrorist groups intending to wage war against Americans and battle their Middle Eastern military presence.


Bin Laden expressed his ideological goals in both action and words, with his periodically videotaped public statements.

After founding Al Qaeda, his objectives were the related goals of eliminating the Western presence in the Islamic/Arab Middle East, which includes battling American ally, Israel, and overthrowing local allies of the Americans (such as the Saudis), and establishing Islamic regimes.

In-Depth Sources

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Zalman, Amy, Ph.D. "Profile: Osama bin Laden." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Zalman, Amy, Ph.D. (2020, August 28). Profile: Osama bin Laden. Retrieved from Zalman, Amy, Ph.D. "Profile: Osama bin Laden." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 21, 2021).