The fifteenth anniversary of Al Qaeda’s attacks on New York’s World Trade Center, the Pentagon in Washington DC, and the attempted attack that resulted in a plane crash in Pennsylvania has just passed. Almost 3,000 people were murdered that day by Islamist terrorists.
We all know that the attackers were fundamentalist Muslims who were followers of Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden himself, originally from Saudi Arabia, was a member of the Wahhabi sect of Islam. The Wahhabis are dominant in Saudi Arabia and holds the reins of power in that country following an arrangement with the royal family, the House of Saud.
The Wahhabis, who themselves prefer the name Muwahhidun (Unitarians) or ahl al-hadith (people of hadith), are named after the eighteenth-century preacher and scholar, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703–1792). They were originally a revivalist movement that was committed to going back to a purer form of Islam. They thought that Islam had moved too far away from what it was originally and were particularly upset by the practice of visiting of shrines and tombs, which they see as idolatry. Idolatry (shirk) is the greatest sin in Wahhabism.
The Wahhabis were persecuted early on, but that changed when they made the aforementioned agreement with the House of Saud. Via this agreement they promised obedience to the royal family (as long as Islam wasn’t violated) in return for protection. In that way obedience to political leaders became part of Wahhabism. Before long, Wahhabism had spread throughout Saudi Arabia and was in control of government and the judiciary. It’s why the form of sharia practiced in that country is little different from that of DAESH in their self-declared caliphate.
Bin Laden and his followers are opposed to this modern form of Wahhabism that defers to political leaders. For example, he considered that he had the right to issue fatwas (rulings on sharia or Islamic law), but most within Islam would not consider him a legitimate authority to do that. He issued fatwas in 1996 and 1998 calling for Muslims to fight those who either support Israel, or support non-Muslim military forces in the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia. He held the delusional belief that this would make those forces withdraw from the region and stop foreign aid to Israel.
Bin Laden was considered a major terrorist long before 9/11. He not only planned and participated in terrorism himself and inspired others to do the same, he used his considerable fortune to sponsor attacks against Israel and the West. To give him his full name, Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden was the son of billionaire construction magnate Yemeni Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden and his tenth wife, Syrian-born Hamida al-Attas. He inherited US$25-30 million from his father, which he used to support terrorist causes. Following his education at King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, where he studied economics and business administration, he joined the mujaheddin to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
(It’s not known for sure whether he completed a degree, and if so, in what subject. Some reports say he completed a civil engineering degree in 1979, others a degree in public administration in 1981. Some say he left university in his third year to join the mujaheddin without any formal qualifications at all.)
He is said to have been very involved in religion at university, and this may be where he became involved with extremist activities.
His financial support made him very popular in the wider pan-Arab movement. In 1988 he formed al-Qaeda, which eventually led to his banishment from his home country in 1992. He was connected to multiple terrorist attacks in the 1980s and 1990s.
In 1997 he was interviewed by CNN‘s Peter Arnett and Peter Bergen in Afghanistan where he was already in hiding from the US. This is the interview where, when asked what his future plans were, he said, “You will see, and hear about them, in the media. God willing.”
Even back then his extreme anti-Semitism is obvious. He seems to believe Jews are controlling the US government, and that they are behind a vast anti-Muslim conspiracy. He also makes it clear back then that he considers civilians valid targets merely for being in non-Muslim in Saudi Arabia.
In 2002 bin Laden sent an open “Letter to the American People” explaining his reasons for his previous and ongoing attacks. It initially appeared on the internet in Arabic, and the English translation is not by or from him. (The full translation can we read here.) In it, although there is much criticism of America and Americans (by which he means the United States of America and her people) and aspects of their foreign policy, all his justification of his actions are religious. To bin Laden, it is Islam, and the fact that the US does not follow Islam and sharia, that gives him the right to murder.
Bin Laden opens his letter with a quote from the Qur’an:
In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful, “Permission to fight (against disbelievers) is given to those (believers) who are fought against, because they have been wronged and surely, Allah is Able to give them (believers) victory” [Quran 22:39]
The letter includes multiple statements that make it clear that bin Laden thought it was his extreme interpretation of Islam that justified his actions. The establishment of Israel was always a particular point of contention with him, and his rhetoric against that country was especially strong:
Why are we fighting and opposing you [the USA]? …
You attacked us in Palestine:
(i) Palestine, which has sunk under military occupation for more than 80 years. The British handed over Palestine, with your help and your support, to the Jews, who have occupied it for more than 50 years; years overflowing with oppression, tyranny, crimes, killing, expulsion, destruction and devastation. The creation and continuation of Israel is one of the greatest crimes, and you are the leaders of its criminals. And of course there is no need to explain and prove the degree of American support for Israel. The creation of Israel is a crime which must be erased. Each and every person whose hands have become polluted in the contribution towards this crime must pay its*price, and pay for it heavily.
(ii) It brings us both laughter and tears to see that you have not yet tired of repeating your fabricated lies that the Jews have a historical right to Palestine, as it was promised to them in the Torah. Anyone who disputes with them on this alleged fact is accused of anti-semitism. This is one of the most fallacious, widely-circulated fabrications in history. The people of Palestine are pure Arabs and original Semites. It is the Muslims who are the inheritors of Moses (peace be upon him) and the inheritors of the real Torah that has not been changed. Muslims believe in all of the Prophets, including Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon them all. If the followers of Moses have been promised a right to Palestine in the Torah, then the Muslims are the most worthy nation of this.
When the Muslims conquered Palestine and drove out the Romans, Palestine and Jerusalem returned to Islaam, the religion of all the Prophets peace be upon them. Therefore, the call to a historical right to Palestine cannot be raised against the Islamic Ummah that believes in all the Prophets of Allah (peace and blessings be upon them) – and we make no distinction between them.
(iii) The blood pouring out of Palestine must be equally revenged. You must know that the Palestinians do not cry alone; their women are not widowed alone; their sons are not orphaned alone.
Bin Laden’s opposition to the establishment of Israel is rooted in the claim that the Jews have an historical right to the region based on the Torah. That particular reason to oppose its establishment is fair. However, since he follows it up with the equally unjustifiable reason that it is actually Muslims that have the historical right to the region he destroys his own argument. His reasoning is that the Torah is wrong and the Qur’an is right. His belief is that Islam has always existed and that Palestine (and the rest of the world for that matter) has been Muslim from the time Allah created the earth. The Jews took over that land, but with the coming of Muhammad, that land was returned to its rightful owner, the Muslims.
Bin Laden was not so much interested in the rights and wrongs of everything that has happened between the Israelis and Palestinians since the establishment of Israel. What was important to him was that the Qur’an said that the land belonged to the Muslims and that was, therefore, the end of the argument. Muslims believe that the Bible and Torah have been corrupted and only the Qur’an has a correct record of history. This is one of the reasons secular Muslims, who support modern lawmaking and human rights legislation, are criticized for not being “proper” Muslims.
In the following part of the letter, he justified attacking US civilians. Again, it is couched in religious language, including the religious concept of free will:
(3) You may then dispute that all the above does not justify aggression against civilians, for crimes they did not commit and offenses in which they did not partake:
(a) This argument contradicts your continuous repetition that America is the land of freedom, and its leaders in this world. Therefore, the American people are the ones who choose their government by way of their own free will; a choice which stems from their agreement to its policies. Thus the American people have chosen, consented to, and affirmed their support for the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians, the occupation and usurpation of their land, and its continuous killing, torture, punishment and expulsion of the Palestinians. The American people have the ability and choice to refuse the policies of their Government and even to change it if they want.
(b) The American people are the ones who pay the taxes which fund the planes that bomb us in Afghanistan, the tanks that strike and destroy our homes in Palestine, the armies which occupy our lands in the Arabian Gulf, and the fleets which ensure the blockade of Iraq. These tax dollars are given to Israel for it to continue to attack us and penetrate our lands. So the American people are the ones who fund the attacks against us, and they are the ones who oversee the expenditure of these monies in the way they wish, through their elected candidates.
(c) Also the American army is part of the American people. It is this very same people who are shamelessly helping the Jews fight against us.
(d) The American people are the ones who employ both their men and their women in the American Forces which attack us.
(e) This is why the American people cannot be not innocent of all the crimes committed by the Americans and Jews against us.
(f) Allah, the Almighty, legislated the permission and the option to take revenge. Thus, if we are attacked, then we have the right to attack back. Whoever has destroyed our villages and towns, then we have the right to destroy their villages and towns. Whoever has stolen our wealth, then we have the right to destroy their economy. And whoever has killed our civilians, then we have the right to kill theirs.
There is a lot that is wrong with the argument above of course. For example, there are many in the US who did and do oppose the actions of their government. Of course, bin Laden is sending them a message that if they oppose what their government is doing they should at the very least convert to Islam. DAESH has extended this message in recent years by encouraging people to take action via so-called “lone-wolf” attacks.
Bin Laden was answering two questions in his open letter. The second was, “What are we calling you to, and what do we want from you?” The answer to this was also long and based on his radical interpretation of Islam. The very first thing wrote in this part of his statement was also religious: “The first thing that we are calling you to is Islam.”
What bin Laden wanted, and those who are carrying on in his wake continue to want, is for the whole world to convert to Islam.
He goes on:
(a) The religion of the Unification of God; of freedom from associating partners with Him, and rejection of this; of complete love of Him, the Exalted; of complete submission to His Laws; and of the discarding of all the opinions, orders, theories and religions which contradict with the religion He sent down to His Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Islam is the religion of all the prophets, and makes no distinction between them – peace be upon them all.
It is to this religion that we call you; the seal of all the previous religions. It is the religion of Unification of God, sincerity, the best of manners, righteousness, mercy, honour, purity, and piety. It is the religion of showing kindness to others, establishing justice between them, granting them their rights, and defending the oppressed and the persecuted. It is the religion of enjoining the good and forbidding the evil with the hand, tongue and heart. It is the religion of Jihad in the way of Allah so that Allah’s Word and religion reign Supreme. And it is the religion of unity and agreement on the obedience to Allah, and total equality between all people, without regarding their colour, sex, or language.
(b) It is the religion whose book – the Quran – will remained preserved and unchanged, after the other Divine books and messages have been changed. The Quran is the miracle until the Day of Judgment. Allah has challenged anyone to bring a book like the Quran or even ten verses like it.
There is more of course. Reading this letter from him there can be no doubt that Osama bin Laden thought that he was on a mission from God. He wrote of some of the injustices suffered at the hands of the US military, many of which any reasonable person would be in sympathy with. These include situations where civilians were bombed. The illegal war in Iraq following 9/11 greatly increased the number of civilians who have been injured and killed and therefore increased the number of those who have a direct connection with someone who has suffered. The political situation created in Iraq following the war made things even worse. However, using religion to justify the murder of civilians is disturbing to say the least.
Whatever the injustices suffered at the hands of the United States (real or imagined) no one has the right to force their religion on others, despite what bin Laden and those who believe as he did, think. The reality is that Islam, as interpreted by them, does not mean “… total equality between all people, without regarding their colour, sex, or language.” It means the oppression of women and murder of LGBT people, apostates, and anyone who doesn’t share their beliefs, including fellow Muslims who have a different interpretation of the religion. (In fact the letter includes a section that justifies the murder of Muslims that don’t share their beliefs.)
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has an extremely professional on-line magazine called Inspire. Back on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 they published the following in Issue 7 (“Shaykh Usama” is Osama bin Laden):
We dedicate this special supplement to the greatest events of the Expeditions of Washington DC, and New York, as Shaykh Usama would call it, or simply 9/11. As American mourns and we celebrate this glorious event, we look into what 9/11 means ten years on. We have all been touched one way or another by the attacks. They are a marking point in history. There was a world before 9/11 and another one, drastically different, post 9/11. I remember one scholar was asked about the effects of the attacks right after they occurred. He said, “It is too early. Ask me ten years from now.” Well here we are ten years on and it is time for us to look into the effects of 9/11 on America and the world.
Shaykh Usama might be dead but his deeds are not. 9/11 has left a permanent scar on the American psyche and will love long after in the hearts of every American. The pain, suffering and agony that Shaykh Usama brought to America is fair payback for the pain, suffering and agony that America has brought to millions of Muslims around the world, in Palestine, in Iraq, in Afghanistan and elsewhere. America got part of what it deserves. The rest will be served by the heroic mujahidin [jihadi fighter] who are continuing on the path of jihad until they achieve victory or meet their Creator. 9/11 was neither the beginning of the war between Muslims and the West nor was it the end. It was merely an episode in a long, protracted war that started at the time of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) and will end with al-Malhama [Armageddon], the epic battle mentioned in the hadith.
The story of 9/11 is the story of jihad. It is the story of a small band of men who were guided by Allah, made the intentions to fight, trained on the battlefields and then culminated their struggle with martyrdom to end up their short, but eventful lives, in meeting their Lord.
The 10th anniversary of 9/11 passed with the world commenting on it. We bring to you some of the images from that decade to remind our readers of that great day.
We ask Allah to shower His blessings on the nineteen brothers who fulfilled their duty and moved on and all those who participated in the planning of that glorious event and we ask Allah to grant us the strength to carry on the fight and to grant us victory against our enemies. Âmîn [Amen].
Osama bin Laden also provided a short justification on video of the 9/11 murders. It covers similar points to the letter and he paints himself and Islam as an innocent victim (a sheep butting a wolf).
Personally, I think there is no doubt that bin Laden’s motivation has always been his extreme interpretation of Islam and that he believed what he was doing was the Right Thing, right up until he was killed by a US Navy seal on 2 May 2011.
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