Usama ibn Ladin was born into an extremely wealthy family in Saudi Arabia and enjoyed a privileged upbringing. At university he met the Islamist thinker ‘Abd Allah Azzam (1941–89), under whose influence he became convinced of the need to liberate the Muslim world from foreign intervention. Ibn Ladin participated in the Afghan resistance to the occupation of the country by Soviet forces, during which period he founded al-Qa‘ida (al-Qaeda, ‘the Base’), an organization that initially operated in Afghanistan but later expanded its operations to other venues. When the Americans were invited to station troops in Saudi Arabia in the wake of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, Ibn Ladin was outraged and publicly denounced the move. Disowned by his family and banished from Saudi Arabia, he began orchestrating attacks on American targets, issuing a public declaration of war against America itself in 1996. The following statements, made in 1998 and thus before the events of 11 September 2001, outline his views.
(i) From an interview with his followers:
The call to wage war against America was made because America has spearheaded the crusade against the Islamic nation, sending tens of thousands of its troops to the land of the two Holy Mosques [Saudi Arabia], over and above its meddling in its affairs and its politics and its support of the oppressive, corrupt, and tyrannical regime that is in control [the Saudi monarchy]. These are the reasons behind the singling out of America as a target. And not exempt from responsibility are those Western regimes whose presence in the region offers support to the American troops there. We know at least one reason behind the symbolic participation of the Western forces and that is to support the Jewish and Zionist plans for expansion of what is called the Great Israel. Surely, their presence is not out of concern over their interests in the region […] Their presence has no meaning save one and that is to offer support to the Jews in Palestine who are in need of their Christian brothers to achieve full control over the Arab Peninsula, which they intend to make an important part of the so-called Great Israel.
The terrorism we practice is of the commendable kind, for it is directed at the tyrants and the aggressors and the enemies of Allah, the tyrants, the traitors who commit acts of treason against their own countries and their own faith and their own prophet and their own nation. Terrorizing those and punishing them are necessary measures to straighten things and to make them right. Tyrants and oppressors who subject the Arab nation to aggression ought to be punished. The wrongs and the crimes committed against the Muslim nation are far greater than can be covered by this interview. America heads the list of aggressors against the Muslims. The recurrence of aggression against Muslims everywhere is proof enough. For over half a century, Muslims in Palestine have been slaughtered and assaulted and robbed of their honor and of their property. Their houses have been blasted, their crops destroyed. And the strange thing is that any act by them to avenge themselves or to lift the injustice befalling them causes great agitation in the United Nations, which hastens to call for an emergency meeting only to convict the victims and to censure the wronged and the tyrannized whose children have been killed and whose crops have been destroyed and whose farms have been pulverized. […] In today’s wars, there are no morals, and it is clear that mankind has descended to the lowest degrees of decadence and oppression. They rip us of our wealth and of our resources and of our oil. Our religion is under attack. They kill and murder our brothers. They compromise our honor and our dignity and if we dare to utter a single word of protest against their injustice, we are called terrorists.
What prompted us to address the American government in particular is the fact that it is on the head of the Western and crusading forces in their fight against Islam and the Muslims. […] We, however, differentiate between the Western government and the people of the West. If the people have elected these governments in the latest elections, it is because they have fallen prey to the Western media, which portrays things contrary to what they really are. And while the slogans raised by these regimes call for humanity, justice and peace, the behavior of their governments is completely the opposite. It is not enough for their people to show pain when they see our children being killed in Israeli raids launched by American planes, nor does this serve the purpose. What they ought to do is change their governments that attack our countries. The hostility that America continues to express against the Muslim people has given rise to feelings of animosity on the part of Muslims against America and against the West in general. Those feelings of animosity have produced a change in the behavior of some crushed and subdued groups, who, instead of fighting the Americans inside the Muslim countries, went on to fight them inside the United States of America itself.
The Western regimes and the government of the United States of America bear the blame for what might happen. If their people do not wish to be harmed inside their very own countries, they should seek to elect governments that are truly representative of them and that can protect their interests.
Source: ‘Interview with Usama bin Laden by His Followers, 1998’. (2004) Trans. Akram Fouad Khater, in Akram Fouad Khater (ed.), Sources in the History of the Modern Middle East. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company, pp. 360–2.
(ii) Comments on the jihad against Jews and crusaders:
No-one argues today about three facts that are known to everyone; we will list them, in order to remind everyone:
First, over seven years the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases in the peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples.
If some people have in the past argued about the fact of the occupation, all the people of the peninsula have now acknowledged it. The best proof of this is the Americans’ continuing aggression against the Iraqi people using the peninsula as a staging post, even though all its rulers are against their territories being used to that end, but they are helpless.
Second, despite the great devastation inflicted on the Iraqi people by the crusader–Zionist alliance, and despite the huge number of those killed, which has exceeded 1 million […] despite all this, the Americans are once again trying to repeat the horrific massacres, as though they are not content with the protracted blockade imposed after the ferocious war or the fragmentation and devastation.
So here they come to annihilate what is left of its people and to humiliate their Muslim neighbors.
Third, if the Americans’ aims behind these wars are religious and economic, the aim is also to serve the Jews’ petty state and divert attention from its occupation of Jerusalem and murder of Muslims there. The best proof of this is their eagerness to destroy Iraq, the strongest neighboring Arab state, and their endeavor to fragment all the states of the region – such as Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Sudan – into paper statelets and through their disunion and weakness to guarantee Israel’s survival and the continuation of the brutal crusade occupation of the peninsula.
All these crimes and sins committed by the Americans are a clear declaration of war on God, His Messenger, and Muslims.
The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies – civilians and military – is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it, in order to liberate the al-Aqsa Mosque and the holy mosque [Mecca] from their grip, and in order for their armies to move out of all the lands of Islam, defeated and unable to threaten any Muslim. This is in accordance with the words of Almighty God, ‘and fight the pagans all together as they fight you all together’ [Qur’an 9: 36], and ‘fight them until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevail justice and faith in God’ [Qur’an 8: 39].
Source: ‘Jihad against Jews and Crusaders: World Islamic Front Statement’. (2004) Trans. Akram Fouad Khater, in Akram Fouad Khater (ed.), Sources in the History of the Modern Middle East, pp. 364.