THE man responsible for the worst terrorist atrocity on US soil was buried in the North Arabian Sea yesterday. It is fitting that Saudi Arabia, his country of birth, spurned a request to conduct his funeral, instead giving the green-light for the US to cast his body into the sea, where his grave cannot become a shrine for extremists.
Osama bin Laden – “young lion” in Arabic – was born in Saudi Arabia in 1957 to a wealthy family with close ties to the Saudi royal family. Described as a softly-spoken young man who often wrote poetry, he studied economics and business administration at King Abdulaziz University. It was there he first developed an interest in jihad.
His commitment to the cause was cemented after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979. He travelled to the war-torn country, along with thousands of other Muslims, to fight alongside and help to train “Mujahideen” fighters. As time passed he grew in stature; he used his connections and family wealth to help fund operations throughout the area, although suggestions he was bankrolled by the CIA have always been denied.
It was this base of operations that eventually became Al-Qaeda. Bin Laden left Saudi to live in Sudan, where he dreamt of creating a “pure” Islamic state. However, his increasing tendency towards violence and hatred caused both his family and his country to officially denounce him. He soon became an infamous international figure, implicated in numerous terrorist attacks, and was forced out of Sudan, settling in Afghanistan in 1996 and declaring war on the US.
He remained on the US radar, being the target of at least one airstrike attempt, while he planned the attack that would kill 2,752 innocent Americans. Perhaps drawing on personal demons – his father and brother were both killed in aircraft crashes – on September 11 he razed the Twin Towers, forever changing the course of history.
Q&A: WHAT NEXT FOR AL-QAEDA?
Q. WHAT HAPPENS TO AL QAEDA NOW THAT BIN LADEN IS DEAD?
A. The terrorist organisation’s figurehead may be dead but nobody seriously expects Al Qaeda to pack up and go home. Hillary Clinton has vowed to continue the war on terror, saying yesterday “The fight continues and we will never waiver.” Bin Laden’s death will, however, be a body-blow that Al-Qaeda will struggle to recover from. The man most likely to take over the helm is Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian eye-surgeon who is also on the US’ most wanted list. He is understood to be the one of the key men behind the September 11 attacks and the US government has placed a $25m (£15m) bounty on his head. Other prominent Al-Qaeda figures include Libyan Abu Yahya al-Libi, Egyptian Khalid al-Habib, who heads the group’s Afghan operations, and bin Laden’s son Saad bin Laden.
Q. DOES THIS IMPROVE THE AL QAEDA SECURITY THREAT?
A. Most defence sources agree that bin Laden’s death has little material impact on the threat-level in the UK. Al-Qaeda cells operate autonomously with little or no central guidance. The government has warned that cells are still likely to be active in the UK and urged the public to remain vigilant.
Q. HAS THE OFFICIAL SECURITY LEVEL CHANGED?
A. The official UK security level has remained at “severe”. However, security at diplomatic missions has been increased. Airports, defence bases and other key infrastructure targets will also review their security measures, with sources warning Al-Qaeda cells may seek to reassert their presence in the wake of bin Laden’s death.
Q. WHERE DOES THIS LEAVE PAKISTAN?
A. The operation to kill bin Laden was carried out without the help, or permission, of Pakistani intelligence operatives. This underlines the lack of trust between the US and Pakistan. While Pakistan has welcomed the outcome of the operation, it will raise difficult questions for its embattled regime.