Osama bin Laden was killed ten years ago. Here’s why it’s still important.


Ten years after September 11, US forces finally caught up with Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the deadliest attacks on American soil, killing him in a raid on the Pakistani compound that housed him and his family.

The moment punctuated America’s journey through the trauma of 9/11, but it was anything but a conclusion. The conflict spurred by the attacks continued for a second decade – making headlines even today, as the Biden administration prepares to end a major involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq.

For CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen, bin Laden‘s death left important questions unanswered.

How did a privileged, soft-spoken young man turn into a global terrorist leader determined to wage war on America and kill thousands of people? How and why has the world missed or ignored so many warning signs of Bin Laden’s growing influence and threat? How does Bin Laden’s legacy today inspire his ideological heirs to spread violence?

Bergen, who produced Bin Laden’s first television interview in 1997, this month published “The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden” (Simon & Schuster), a biography of the terrorist leader that combines information gleaned over more than 20 years of Bergen history. journalism with hundreds of interviews and thousands of pages of government and personal documents about Bin Laden that only became available after his death.

On Tuesday, Bergen will discuss the findings of his book during a visit with the University of Virginia Colonnade Club. the virtual event, free and open to the public, starts at 6:30 p.m. (the Zoom link will be active at the start of the event.)

UVA Today contacted Bergen by email ahead of the event to discuss their book, including its links to UVA.

Q. Osama bin Laden has been dead for a decade, and the United States has not suffered another major terrorist attack on its soil since September 11th. Why did you have to write a book about him during this time?

A. Two decades after the September 11 attacks, many students I teach only understand the attacks on New York and Washington through the prism of history rather than lived experience, because they do not understand the attacks on New York and Washington. were not alive when 9/11 happened. A brilliant student asked me, “Is there a difference between al Qaeda and the Taliban?” There is a lot to unpack out there. And many of the men and women who volunteer to fight in America’s long wars after 9/11 similarly see 9/11 as a past event in history. So now is a good time to write a reassessment of Bin Laden in all the many dimensions of his life.

Q. The book is packed with information both about Bin Laden and the American efforts to assess his risk and then capture or kill him. What have you learned that surprised even you, a person who has been reporting this story closely for years?

A. How well bin Laden’s two oldest women, Umm Hamza, who had a doctorate. in child psychology, and Siham Sabar, who had a doctorate. in Quranic grammar, played a key and hidden role in formulating his ideas and helping him prepare his public statements.

Q. You say the book is an attempt to explain Bin Laden’s transformation from a deeply religious, soft-spoken person into a radical leader determined to kill as many Americans as possible. What did you learn from this survey that could be of use to us in the future?

A. There was nothing inevitable in the transformation of Bin Laden over the decades from a calm, humble and religious young man to the head of a global terrorist network who intended to kill thousands of civilians . This book is an attempt to explain how this transformation happened. For Bin Laden, his radicalization was a process that spanned decades.

Q. One of the protagonists of your book is an AVU graduate and State Department analyst named Gina Bennett, who began to see bin Laden’s fingerprints all over the activities in the early days of Al- Qaeda – long before September 11. Why was she so important to the story?

A. Barely a week after the University of Virginia, with a degree in economics and foreign policy, Gina Bennett began working at the State Department as a clerk-typist in June 1988. After a few months, the boss of Bennett said to her, “Gina, you don’t belong here. I will promote you so that you can get a job as an intelligence analyst.

Bennett started in the State Department’s Office of Intelligence and Research, one of America’s smaller intelligence agencies. Bennett’s first job was as a “Terrorism Watch Officer,” working eight-hour shifts, during which she monitored intelligence and media to analyze trends in terrorism and respond to terrorist attacks when they occurred. .

The Berlin Wall fell at the end of 1989, then the Soviet Union collapsed, but Bennett felt there was a looming Cold War legacy – the “Afghan Arabs”, who were Arab veterans. anti-Soviet jihad in the 1980s in Afghanistan. Bennett realized that Afghan Arabs were returning to their home countries such as Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia, and she noticed that some were joining armed groups.

Bennett began researching the bombings of two hotels in Aden, Yemen, in December 1992, which housed American soldiers who were traveling to Somalia on a humanitarian mission to feed starving Somalis. Yemeni officials said the attack was funded by an “Osama bin Laden”, then living in Sudan.

Bennett circulated a classified document, titled “The Wandering Mujahidin: Armed and Dangerous,” on August 21, 1993. The newspaper identified “Usama bin Laden” as a donor who supported Islamic militants in “places as diverse as Yemen. and the United States. States. ”Bin Laden’s funding had also enabled hundreds of Afghan Arabs to resettle in Sudan and Yemen.

It was the first time that the US government issued a warning about the dangers of a global jihadist movement led by the mysterious multimillionaire Osama bin Laden. And the warning wasn’t issued by the CIA or the FBI, but by a junior State Department intelligence analyst.

Q. Should we be concerned that there is another bin Laden in the works right now?

A. We are in a much better position to counter another Bin Laden now. There were only 16 people on the US 9/11 no-fly list. At the time bin Laden died, there were more than 40,000, and an additional 1 million people were on a list that guaranteed they would be subject to secondary screening if they boarded a flight to states. -United. In 2001, there were 32 task forces where several law enforcement agencies worked together to mount terrorism cases. That number had more than tripled by the time bin Laden was killed.

The attacks also spawned the Department of Homeland Security, the National Counterterrorism Center, and the Transportation Security Administration. The US intelligence budget also increased dramatically after 9/11, tripling to around $ 70 billion by the time the CIA tracked down bin Laden in Abbottabad.


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