Why does the world admire Pakistan

Usama bin Ladin - the most hated and most admired terrorist chief in the world

He shocked the world with the attacks of September 11, 2001. In the beginning, however, many Muslims admired the billionaire son from Saudi Arabia for daring to challenge the world power USA. He was then constantly on the run and isolated until he was tracked down and shot in Pakistan ten years ago.

Ten years ago, Usama bin Ladin was tracked down by an American special command in his hiding place in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad and shot. For the Americans, the risky nocturnal action was a great triumph. It had taken them almost ten years to find the mastermind behind the attacks of September 11, 2001, in which nearly 3,000 people were killed.

President Barack Obama was visibly relieved at the announcement of the death of the 54-year-old founder of al-Qaeda, but he was unusually reluctant for such a historic moment. His administration tried to avoid triumphalism and let the "public enemy number one" disappear rather silently. Photos of his body were not even published.

Charisma and humility

After bin Ladin was clearly identified, his body was thrown from an aircraft carrier into the Arabian Sea. Washington wanted to prevent his grave from becoming a place of pilgrimage for Islamist extremists. The house in which the terrorist chief had spent the last years of his life with three wives and several children and grandchildren was later also demolished by the Pakistani authorities.

While bin Ladin was the epitome of evil in the western world, many Muslims initially saw him as a hero who defended their interests against the imperialist West. His humble manner and charisma helped him in his rise to the «defender of Muslims». He could win people over and convey his ideas to simpler people. The fact that he came from a very privileged background and voluntarily renounced comfort and luxury contributed to the myth of the saints. The educated Saudi presented himself as an ascetic with a white turban and a long beard. Usually he wore a simple white habit or a worn camouflage suit.

Usama was born in Riyadh in 1957, the seventeenth of more than fifty children of a very wealthy building contractor. The family had close ties to the Saudi royal family, and the sons attended the best schools and universities. In contrast to other offspring of the clan, Usama had never studied or lived in the United States, which may have favored his anti-Western stance. He studied business administration in Jidda, where he first came into contact with Islamist fundamentalists and became enthusiastic about their ideology.

From business student to mujahideen

After the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, the young Saudi began to support the Mujahideen with funds and weapons. From his point of view, the invasion represents aggression against Islam. He moves to Peshawar and makes a name for himself as a generous donor as well as a hands-on logistician. In the following years he recruited Arab fighters for jihad in the Hindu Kush and built up a valuable database with names of extremists from all over the world, which he later used as the basis for Qaeda. Incidentally, the Afghan resistance was also actively supported by the USA at the time.

After the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, he returned to Saudi Arabia and was celebrated as a war hero. When Riyadh participates in a US-led military alliance in the second Gulf War, it breaks with the ruling house. Bin Ladin calls for a fight against the growing influence of the USA in the Muslim world. He accuses Washington of supporting autocratic regimes and exploiting natural resources in the Middle East. He dreams of overturning the existing order and establishing a great Islamic state.

In 1994, Saudi Arabia revoked bin Ladin's citizenship and freezes his wealth. The clan officially excludes the prodigal son from the multi-billion dollar family business.

Exiled from Saudi Arabia and Sudan

Usama settles in Sudan and begins training Islamist extremists there. When he was also expelled from Sudan under American pressure in 1996, he returned to Afghanistan, which is now largely controlled by the Taliban. Under their protection, he declares "holy war" on the USA. Sensational terrorist attacks by his Qaeda on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 claim 224 lives. 17 soldiers are killed in a suicide attack on the warship USS "Cole" in the port of Aden.

By challenging world power, bin Ladin has become the icon of many frustrated young Muslims from Morocco to Indonesia. On posters in Peshawar you can read: “I love Osama bin Laden”. Usama is becoming the most popular name for newborn babies in northwestern Pakistan. Countless companies and shops are named after him. At the turn of the millennium, his Qaeda had a worldwide network of thousands of radicalized followers.

With the attacks of 9/11, the alaeda leader's popularity reached its peak. In the eyes of his admirers, he brought the almighty USA to its knees with the incomparable act of terrorism. The fact that he inevitably provokes a harsh reaction from the completely shocked opponent and the beginning of a new culture war, which will bring great suffering to many innocent Muslims, is not the focus at the time. According to a study by the Pew Research Center in 2003, a clear majority of respondents in large Muslim countries such as Indonesia, Nigeria or Pakistan stated that they share bin Ladin's political judgment and see the USA as a threat to Islam.

The Taliban refuse to extradite the Qaeda chief, arguing that doing so is against their code of hospitality. The great popularity of bin Ladin in the region and his personal relationship with the Taliban chief Mullah Omar should also play a role. The two know each other from the Mujahideen times, and Mullah Omar is married to bin Ladin's eldest daughter.

On October 7, 2001, the United States and NATO allies launched an offensive against Qaeda and its supporters in Afghanistan. The Taliban will be expelled from large parts of the country by the end of the year. Bin Ladin escapes an attack on the Tora Bora cave complex in December. After that he is constantly on the run and increasingly disappears from the public eye.

The US is still looking for him in the Afghan-Pakistani border area. The terrorist chief is apparently hiding in less suspicious areas of Pakistan. Amal Ahmed al-Sadah, the youngest wife of Usama, a Yemeni who was married to him as a teenager in 2000, will state that she was in Peshawar, in the Swat Valley, in Haripur and after her husband's murder had stayed in the Abbottabad complex from 2005 onwards.

A hard and merciless father

The Qaeda chief had a total of four wives and twenty children. Family members said he was a ruthless father. Jihad was more important to him than the well-being of the family. Many of his older children therefore withdrew from his environment as adults. His favorite son Hamza, whom he had chosen as his successor, was the only one who remained true to his father's ideals after his death. He was killed in an anti-terrorist operation in the Afghan-Pakistani border area in 2019 at the age of 30.

The first wife, Najwa Ghanhem, was Usama's cousin and had married him when she was 15 and he was 17 years old. She bore him eleven children and divorced him in 2001. Her son Omar describes in the book “Growing up bin Laden” that the father forced the sons to go on long marches in the desert so that they could learn to survive without water. In his exile in Sudan he became more and more paranoid and also took women and small children with him to such survival training courses.

Omar turned his back on his father in 1999 after the latter proposed to him in Afghanistan that he should become a suicide bomber. "My father hated his enemies more than he loved his sons," is his sad verdict.

In Abbottabad, too, bin Ladin still has part of his family around him. When the Navy-Seal team stormed the house on the night of May 2, 2011, there were, in addition to his youngest wife Amal and two older Saudi wives, several smaller children and grandchildren from Bin Ladin as well as an older daughter and an adult son, who dies in the operation.

Years before his death, bin Ladin lost its popularity in the Muslim world. Assassinations by his followers in Pakistan or Iraq cost many Muslim civilians their lives, and the Qaeda terror began to deter even naive admirers. In certain circles in Pakistan bin Ladin is celebrated as a “freedom fighter” to this day, and Prime Minister Imran Khan seemed to be serving this audience when he called him a “martyr” last summer. Most Pakistanis also see the Qaeda leader today as a terrorist, in whose name many innocent people were killed and who thereby also violated the teachings of Islam.

Isolation and loss of meaning after 9/11

After 2004, bin Ladin took up regular video messages in his hiding place again. His hateful statements are becoming more and more cryptic. He spends the last five years of his life completely isolated from the outside world. He and his family never leave Abbottabad's home. For security reasons there is no internet and no telephone connection. If bin Ladin wants to deliver or receive messages, he has to rely on the help of two Pashtuns, who act as his couriers and protectors and live with their families in the same complex.

According to statements from roommates, bin Ladin is kept up to date with world events. He watches TV a lot and reads political books. After the storm, large quantities of documents, hard drives and other pieces of evidence were confiscated from his house.

In his diary and in letters, bin Ladin claims to the end that the “holy war” will succeed and that the United States will be doomed to failure. But the Islamic revolution, for which he wanted to mobilize, does not take place. At the beginning of 2011, the Qaeda chief expressed his enthusiasm about the uprisings of the Arab Spring. For the young people who take to the streets en masse in North Africa and the Middle East, however, it is irrelevant. They do not demand an Islamic state, but personal freedoms and democracy.

A media junkie to the end

Bin Ladin must have suffered badly from his isolation and loss of meaning. Officially, he still functions as the head of al-Qaeda, but he can hardly influence day-to-day business. The vain terrorist reminisces in Abbottabad and is more interested than ever in his image. After his death, the investigators found numerous documentaries and articles about him on his computer.

Former schoolmates have told biographers that Usama was a news junkie as a teenager and sat in front of the television all the time. So he must have recognized the power of the media spectacle during the sensational hostage dramas of the 1970s, which he made use of in 2001 like no one before him. In everything bin Ladin did, he made sure that it was properly staged - whether it was about fundraising or acts of terrorism. In this respect, when Barack Obama had the terrorist chief thrown into the sea ten years ago without pomp and noise, he probably did exactly what would have annoyed him most.