The life and death of Osama bin Laden

Osama bin Laden, the longtime al-Qaeda leader and chief architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, was killed on May 1, 2011, by U.S. forces. He was 54 years old. He was born into Saudi riches, only to end up leading a self-declared holy war against the United States as head of one of the most ruthless, far-flung terrorist networks in history. The following is a timeline detailing major events in bin Laden's life.


Mohammed bin Laden and his wife, Alia, give birth to Osama bin Laden, which means "young lion" in Arabic.


Mohammed bin Laden, Osama's father, dies in a plane crash in Saudi Arabia.


Bin Laden marries his first wife, Najwa, a 14-year old cousin whom he came to know during sojourns to Syria to visit his mother's family. He takes a second, and then third wife after university. He has fathered at least 23 children.


Bin Laden enters Jeddah's King Abdulaziz University, where he participates in the Muslim Brotherhood - an Islamist organization intent on imposing Koranic law throughout Muslim societies.


The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan begins late in the year. It profoundly influences bin Laden's course. Muslims around the world rally to the Afghan cause.


After graduating from King Abdul Aziz University with a civil engineering degree, Osama bin Laden went to Afghanistan to help finance, recruit and train Afghan freedom fighters, or mujahideen, battling against Soviet forces deployed to support Afghanistan's communist government.


Bin Laden finances Abdullah Azzam and his establishment of a Services Office in Peshawar, Pakistan. Azzam, a radical Palestinian professor of Islamic studies uses the Services Office as a clearinghouse for information about the Afghan war and a vehicle for channeling recruits into Afghanistan.


Bin Laden moves his family to Peshawar and throws himself more actively into the war in Afghanistan.

With ethnic Afghan factions fighting increasingly among themselves, bin Laden moves back to Saudi Arabia.


Getty Images

Al-Qaeda established "the Base" in Afghanistan, to serve as a resource for radical Muslims


Osama bin Laden reportedly receives about $8 million in cash as part of a one-time distribution to Mohammed bin Laden's heirs.


Bin Laden leaves Saudi Arabia, settling in Sudan, whose ruler, Hassan al-Turabi, shares bin Laden's dream of establishing a purist Islamic state.


After trying unsuccessfully to persuade bin Laden to cease his militant activities and return to Saudi Arabia, his siblings publicly repudiate him in February. His shares of the family business are sold, and he is cut off from all dividend and loan payments. Saudi Arabia revokes his citizenship.


Under pressure from the Saudis and Americans, Sudanese authorities force bin Laden out of the country, and seize a number of his personal assets. He relocates to the Afghan city of Jalalabad and declares war against the United States.


Bin Laden reunites with Ayman al-Zawahari, longtime al-Qaeda leader, and they announce a new coalition, the International Islamic Front for Jihad Against the Crusaders and the Jews.

Late 1998

Osama bin Laden in a photo dated December 24, 1998.

Suicide truck bombers affiliated with al-Qaeda strike U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killing 224 people, and wounding several thousand more. President Bill Clinton orders cruise missiles to fire at targets in Afghanistan and Sudan, but bin Laden is not hurt.

Oct. 2000

Al-Qaeda strikes again, when two Yemeni operatives ram a skiff full of explosives into the hull of the U.S. destroyer USS Cole in the Yemeni port of Aden, killing 17 U.S. sailors and injuring more than 30 others.

Sept. 11, 2001

The twin towers smoke immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Al-Qaeda carries out the Sept. 11 attacks, hijacking planes in flying them into landmark targets in the U.S.

Dec. 2001

Bin Laden's base in the Tora Bora mountains of Afghanistan is captured by U.S. backed forces, but bin Laden is not found.

Gene Thorp - The Washington Post

  1. Nov. 10: Osama bin Laden makes his last public appearance.
  2. Early December: U.S.-backed forces drive al-Qaeda fighters from their Tora Bora stronghold.
  3. Mid-December: Osama bin Laden escapes in to Pakistan.

Sept. 2002

Al-Jazeera broadcasts tape claiming to be the voice of bin Laden, honoring the Sept. 11 attackers.

Sept. 2004

In a video, bin Laden claims credit for orchestrating the Sept. 11 attacks.

March 25, 2005

Bin Laden releases a video threatening the United States. (VIDEO)

Nov. 2007

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Excerpt of the November 29, 2007 propaganda video "To the European Peoples." Video by SITE Intelligence Group

After Sept. 11, bin Laden periodically appeared in video and audio releases to communicate with the world.

Jan. 2010

In an audio message, bin Laden takes responsibility for the failed "Christmas Day Bombing" attempted in Detroit.

May 1, 2011

President Obama announces Osama bin Laden has been killed by U.S. forces.

Osama bin Laden is killed by U.S. forces in what officials describe as a surgical raid on his luxury hideout in Pakistan. He is later buried at sea.

GRAPHIC: The Washington Post. Published May 2, 2011.