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Social Psychology of Terrorism

Social Psychology of Terrorism

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Published by Dafi D. Wiradimadja

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Published by: Dafi D. Wiradimadja on Jun 15, 2011
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Osama bin Laden (“Usama bin Muhammad bin Laden, Shaykh Usama bin
Laden, the Prince, the Emir, Abu Abdallah,
Mujahid Shaykh, Hajj, the Director”)

Position: Head of Al-Qaida.

Background: Usamah bin Mohammad bin
Laden, now known in the Western world as
Osama bin Laden, was born on July 30, 1957, in
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the seventeenth son of
Mohammad bin Laden. The late Mohammad bin
Laden rose from peasant origins in Yemen to
become a small-time builder and contractor in
Saudi Arabia and eventually the wealthiest
construction contractor in Saudi Arabia.. He had
more than 50 children from several wives. Osama
bin Laden’s mother was reportedly a Palestinian.
Depending on the source of information, she was
the least or most favored of his father’s ten wives,

Library of Congress – Federal Research Division

The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism


and Osama was his father’s favorite son. He was raised in the Hijaz in western
Saudi Arabia, and ultimately al Medina Al Munawwara. The family patriarch died
in the late 1960s, according to one account, but was still active in 1973,
according to another account. In any case, he left his 65 children a financial
empire that today is worth an estimated $10 billion. The Saudi bin Laden Group
is now run by Osama's family, which has publicly said it does not condone his
violent activities.

After being educated in schools in Jiddah, the main port city on the Red Sea
coast, bin Laden studied management and economics in King Abdul Aziz
University, also in Jiddah, from 1974 to 1978. As a student, he often went to
Beirut to frequent nightclubs, casinos, and bars. However, when his family's
construction firm was rebuilding holy mosques in the sacred cities of Mecca and
Medina in 1973, bin Laden developed a religious passion for Islam and a strong
belief in Islamic law. In the early 1970s, he began to preach the necessity of
armed struggle and worldwide monotheism, and he also began to associate with
Islamic fundamentalist groups.

Bin Laden’s religious passion ignited in December 1979, when the Soviet Union
invaded Muslim Afghanistan. Bin Laden’s worldview of seeing the world in
simplistic terms as a struggle between righteous Islam and a doomed West
prompted him to join the mujahideen in Pakistan, just a few days after the
invasion. In the early 1980s, he returned home to fund, recruit, transport, and
train a volunteer force of Arab nationals, called the Islamic Salvation Front (ISF),
to fight alongside the existing Afghan mujahideen. He co-founded the
Mujahideen Services Bureau (Maktab al-Khidamar) and transformed it into an
international network that recruited Islamic fundamentalists with special
knowledge, including engineers, medical doctors, terrorists, and drug smugglers.
In addition, bin Laden volunteered the services of the family construction firm to
blast new roads through the mountains. As commander of a contingent of Arab
troops, he experienced combat against the Soviets first-hand, including the siege
of Jalalabad in 1986—one of the fiercest battles of the war, and he earned a
reputation as a fearless fighter. Following that battle, bin Laden and other Islamic
leaders concluded that they were victims of a U.S. conspiracy to defeat the jihad
in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

By the time the Soviet Union had pulled out of Afghanistan in February 1989, bin
Laden was leading a fighting force known as "Afghan Arabs," which numbered
between 10,000 and 20,000. That year, after the Soviets were forced out of
Afghanistan, bin Laden disbanded the ISF and returned to the family construction

Library of Congress – Federal Research Division

The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism


business in Saudi Arabia. However, now he was a celebrity, whose fiery
speeches sold a quarter million cassettes. The Saudi government rewarded his
hero status with numerous government construction contracts. Following Iraq’s
invasion of Kuwait on August 2, 1990, bin Laden urged the Saudi government
not to compromise its Islamic legitimacy by inviting infidel Americans into Saudi
Arabia to defend the country, but he was ignored..

Although bin Laden, unlike most other Islamic leaders, remained loyal to the
regime while condemning the U.S. military and economic presence as well as the
Iraqi invasion, Saudi officials increasingly began to threaten him to halt his
criticism. Consequently, bin Laden and his family and a large band of followers
moved to Sudan in 1991. While living modestly in Sudan, bin Laden established a
construction company employing many of his former Afghan fighters. In addition
to building roads and infrastructure for the Sudanese government, he ran a farm
producing sunflower seeds and a tannery exporting goat hides to Italy. Sudan
served as a base for his terrorist operations. In 1992 his attention appears to have
been directed against Egypt, but he also claimed responsibility that year for
attempting to bomb U.S. soldiers in Yemen, and again for attacks in Somalia in
1993. He also financed and help set up at least three terrorist training camps in
cooperation with the Sudanese regime, and his construction company worked
directly with Sudanese military officials to transport and supply terrorists training
in such camps. During the 1992-96 period, he built and equipped 23 training
camps for mujahideen. While in Sudan, he also established a supposedly
detection-proof financial system to support Islamic terrorist activities worldwide.

In the winter of 1993, bin Laden traveled to the Philippines to support the
terrorist network that would launch major operations in that country and the
United States. In 1993–94, having become convinced that the House of al-Saud
was no longer legitimate, bin Laden began actively supporting Islamic extremists
in Saudi Arabia. His calls for insurrection prompted Saudi authorities to revoke his
Saudi citizenship on April 7, 1994, for “irresponsible behavior,” and he was
officially expelled from the country. He subsequently established a new residence
and base of operations in the London suburb of Wembley, but was forced to
return to Sudan after a few months to avoid being extradited to Saudi Arabia. In
early 1995, he began stepping up activities against Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

In mid-May 1996, pressure was applied by the Saudi government on Sudan to
exert some form of control over bin Laden. That summer, he uprooted his family
again, returning to Afghanistan on board his unmarked, private C-130 military
transport plane. Bin Laden established a mountain fortress near the city of

Library of Congress – Federal Research Division

The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism


Kandahar southwest of Jalalabad, under the protection of the Afghan
government. From this location, he continues to fund his training camps and
military activities. In particular, bin Laden continues to fund the Kunar camp,
which trains terrorists for Al-Jihad and Al-Jama’ ah al-Islamiyyah. After attending
a terrorism summit in Khartoum, bin Laden stopped in Tehran in early October
1996 and met with terrorist leaders, including Abu Nidal, to discuss stepping up
terrorist activities in the Middle East.

A mysterious figure whose exact involvement with terrorists and terrorist
incidents remains elusive, bin Laden has been linked to a number of Islamic
extremist groups and individuals with vehement anti-American and anti-Israel
ideologies. His name has been connected to many of the world’s most deadly terrorist
operations, and he is named by the U.S. Department of State as having financial and operational
connections with terrorism. Some aspects of bin Laden’s known activities have been
established during interviews, mainly with Middle Eastern reporters and on three
occasions of the release of fatwas (religious rulings) in April 1996, February 1997,
and February 1998. Each threatened a jihad against U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia
and the Holy Lands, and each called for Muslims to concentrate on “destroying,
fighting and killing the enemy.”Abdul-Bari Atwan, editor of al-Quds al-Arabi
[London], who interviewed bin Laden at his Afghan headquarters in the
Khorassan mountains, reports that:

The mujahideen around the man belong to most Arab states, and are of
different ages, but most of them are young. They hold high scientific
degrees: doctors, engineers, teachers. They left their families and jobs and
joined the Afghan Jihad. There is an open front, and there are always
volunteers seeking martyrdom. The Arab mujahideen respect their leader,
although he does not show any firmness or leading gestures. They all told
me that they are ready to die in his defense and that they would take
revenge against any quarter that harms him.

A tall (6'4" to 6'6"), thin man weighing about 160 pounds and wearing a full
beard, bin Laden walks with a cane. He wears long, flowing Arab robes fringed
with gold, and wraps his head in a traditional red-and-white checkered
headdress. He is said to be soft-spoken, extremely courteous, and even humble.
He is described in some sources as ordinary and shy. He speaks only Arabic.
Because he has dared to stand up to two superpowers, bin Laden has become an
almost mythic figure in the Islamic world. Thanks to the ineffectual U.S. cruise
missile attack against his camps in Afghanistan following the bombings in Kenya

Library of Congress – Federal Research Division

The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism


and Tanzania in August 1998, thousands of Arabs and Muslims, seeing him as a
hero under attack by the Great Satan, have volunteered their service.

In 1998 bin Laden married his oldest daughter to Mullah Muhammad Omar, the
Taliban’s leader. He himself married a fourth wife, reportedly a young Pushtun
related to key Afghan leaders. Thus, Bodansky points out, now that he is related
to the Pushtun elite by blood,
the ferocious Pushtuns will defend and fight for him and never allow him to be
surrendered to outsiders. Bin Laden’s son Muhammad, who was born in 1985,
rarely leaves his father’s side. Muhammad has already received extensive military
and terrorist training and carries his own AK-47. He serves as his father’s vigilant
personal bodyguard.

Library of Congress – Federal Research Division

The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism


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