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Life of Bin Laden: 10 Must Reads

A portrait of Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama

As the world processes the news that Sept. 11 mastermind Osama bin Laden was killed in a U.S. military operation in Pakistan, we collected some of the most insightful and informative pieces of reading on the terror leader — his early years, transformation to terrorist, the long hunt to find him and more:

In Arab World, Bin Laden’s Confused Legacy
The New York Times by Anthony Shadid and David D. Kirkpatrick
“The words were not uncommon in angry Arab capitals a decade ago. Osama bin Laden was hero, sheikh, even leader to some. After his death Sunday, a man who once vowed to liberate the Arab world was reduced to a footnote in the revolutions and uprisings remaking a region that he and his men had struggled to understand.”

A Transformed Mideast Receives Death News
The Wall Street Journal by Margaret Coker
“News of Osama bin Laden’s death reached a Middle East that has been vastly transformed in recent months by popular nonviolent uprisings that threaten the type of long-entrenched autocratic leaders who helped first inspire his terrorist organization….For many in the Middle East, the phenomenon of violent jihad made popular by Mr. bin Laden had faded into history long before Mr. bin Laden’s death.”

Bin Laden: From Millionaire’s Son to Most-Wanted
NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly
“The fight against the Soviets, following Moscow’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, was a defining struggle in bin Laden’s life. He traveled to the region, raised money from other wealthy Muslims to finance the fight and engaged in at least one battle himself.”

Osama bin Laden, Born to Privilege, Dies a Pariah

The Los Angeles Times by John-Thor Dahlburg and Alex Rodriguez
“In his public pronouncements, Bin Laden rarely displayed emotion, and seldom smiled. But a video apparently made in early November 2001 and obtained by U.S. authorities showed a very different Bin Laden. On that tape, made during a meeting with supporters in eastern Afghanistan, Bin Laden laughed when recalling the carnage of Sept. 11.”

Obituary: Osama bin Laden
Al Jazeera
“In his death on May 2, 2011, Osama bin Laden kept a promise made in a 2006 audio message. Alluding to the United States’ hunt for him, the al-Qaeda leader stated his determination to avoid capture: ‘I swear not to die but a free man.’ His death ends the largest manhunt in history that began a decade ago involving thousands of US troops in Afghanistan and tens of thousands of Pakistani soldiers in the rugged mountains along the border.”

Death Comes for the Master Terrorist: Osama bin Laden (1957-2011)
Time by Lisa Beyer
“Almost 10 years ago, Osama bin Laden ghosted away from the Afghan battlefields. Since then, it is as if the doomsday sheikh had slipped into a twilight zone where the only proof that he was alive was the chilling voice on a spool of tape, the occasional video image — and a string of terrorist outrages and wars lengthening around the globe that claim inspiration from him and his cause.”

Bin Laden Killed: Leader of Terrorist Group Al-Qaeda Was 54
The Washington Post by Bradley Graham
“Osama bin Laden, 54, who 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, died Sunday in the manner he had often predicted: in a strike by U.S. forces.”

Osama bin Laden Obituary
The Guardian by Jason Burke and Lawrence Joffe
“To his enemies, whatever colour or creed, he was a religious fanatic, a terrorist with the blood of thousands on his hands, a man who had brought war and suffering to a broad swath of the Islamic world and come close to provoking a global conflagration on a scale not seen for decades. To his supporters, whose numbers peaked in the few years after the attacks of 11 September 2001 in America that he masterminded, he was a visionary leader fighting both western aggression against Muslims and his co-religionists’ lack of faith and rigour.”

And two pieces of reading from earlier years, but that help lend background and insight to this week’s news:

The Spider in the Web: A Trickier Enemy is Hard to Imagine
The Economist
Sept. 20, 2001
“To millions of people in the western world, he has come to be viewed as the personification of evil. On the streets of Cairo, in the mountains of northern Pakistan, and even in the air-conditioned luxury of his native Saudi Arabia, he has many admirers, both open and secret.”

Young Osama: How He Learned Radicalism, and May Have Seen America
The New Yorker by Steve Coll
Dec. 12, 2005
“It was in this upstairs dormitory, a schoolmate of bin Laden’s told me, that a young Syrian physical-education teacher led an after-school Islamic study group for a few outstanding boys, and it was there, beginning at about age fourteen, that bin Laden received his first formal education in some of the precepts of violent jihad.”

Find all of our coverage of the death of Osama bin Laden.

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