Photo Of The Day

Picture: Camera Press

Picture: Camera Press

Bin Laden family vacationing in Falun, Sweden in 1971

1971: Osama bin Laden aged 14 (second from right in green top and blue trousers) on a visit to Falun, Sweden.

That year 23 members of the wealthy Bin Laden family visited Falun combining a business visit to close a deal with Volvo.

Salem bin Laden (Osama?s elder brother) visited Falun on a combined business and pleasure trip through Europe. He was accompanied by 22 members of his family, which in total consisted of 52 children. The young sheikh, who was 26 years old, arrived in his private jet to Borlange airport, while the rest of the family arrived by car. He had visited the club Ophelia in Falun. The young sheikh was reported to be a big fan of discos and had visited the discos of Falun at various times in the past, however not together with his family.

The sheikh is said to be owner of a big and successful construction company in his home country, Saudi Arabia. In Gothenburg it is said that he surprised Volvo by entering their office and ordering a large number of trucks for his company.

With a broad grin on his face in this photograph, the young?Osama bin Laden?appears no different from any of the other happy, relaxed and carefree adolescent members of his family in the picture.

Over the next three decades however, Osama underwent a transformation so profound that he became one of the most feared, and hated, men in history; the world?s most wanted man and the architect of a new brand of global terrorism that changed the entire political landscape and led to the deaths of thousands of innocent people.

As the photograph illustrates, Osama bin Laden?s life story is one of contradictions.

As a young man he enjoyed considerable affluence and his early life yields few clues as to why he should have turned into the leader of the world?s most devastating terrorist movement.

Born in Riyadh on March 10, 1957, Osama bin Laden was son of a self-made billionaire and the 17th of 52 children.

His father, Mohammed bin Laden, had started out as an illiterate dockside labourer in Yemen. However, he became immensely wealthy after travelling to the newly created kingdom of?Saudi Arabia?and founding his own construction company which, after the discovery of oil in the Arabian Peninsula, grew into one of the biggest construction conglomerates in the Middle East, building palaces for the royal elite, vast highways across the desert even and holy shrines.

He boasted that, using his private helicopter, he could visit the three holiest locations in Islam – Mecca, Medina and the Al-Asqa mosque in Jerusalem – in a single day. He became so wealthy that when the Saudi Royal family found itself unable to pay civil servants in 1964 he stepped in and picked up the bill.

Osama bin Laden?s Syrian-born mother, Hamida Alia Ghanoum, was Mohammed?s tenth spouse and shunned the Saudi veil in favour of high-end fashion. This, coupled with the fact she was foreign, diminished her status within the family.

Bin Laden grew up with the rest of his father?s wives and children at a palace in Jeddah, and was described by one of his teachers as a ?shy, retiring, gracious and courteous boy? who was ?very neat, precise and conscientious in his work?.

Although raised in an atmosphere of Sunni Muslim piety, the bin Laden family were exposed to western influences. According to his childhood friends he liked western films, particularly karate movies starring Bruce Lee, loved playing football and visited several European countries, including Sweden. According to some reports he was a keen supporter of Arsenal, the north London club.

When bin Laden was 10 years old, ?his father was killed in a helicopter crash, and he reportedly inherited $20 million. Most of bin Laden?s siblings were educated in the West, spending their formative years in London, Sweden or the US. Bin Laden, however, opted to remain in Jeddah and it was there where he began to take a much keener interest in religion.

He attended the KingAbdulAzizUniversity in Jeddah, where he studied economics and public administration. He preferred the compulsory Islamic studies part of his course, and was increasingly exposed to the radical fringe of contemporary Islam and the teachings of an extremist Islamic thinker, Abdullah Azzam. He was also inspired by the writings of Sayyib Qutb, a major figure in radical Islam who said that true Muslims must free themselves by jihad.

In 1979, as his religious views hardened, he found the cause that was to change his life ? the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Immediately after the Soviet invasion, Azzam issued a fatwa declaring that the Afghan struggle was a jihad and it was every Muslim?s duty to join. He moved to Peshawar, Pakistan, where Bin Laden joined him, furious at the way Muslims were being suppressed by the Russians. ?I was so enraged I went there at once,? Bin Laden later told interviewers.

Over the next four years Bin Laden divided his time between Peshawar and Saudi Arabia, returning home to lobby brothers, relatives and old school friends to support the fight against the Soviets. By 1984 he was spending most of his time in Peshawar, where he became known as the ?Good Samaritan?, turning up unannounced at Muslim hospitals where wounded Afghan and Arab fighters were being treated and distributing cashew nuts and chocolates. He later sent their families cheques.

By the late 1980s bin Laden was actively involved in fighting in Afghanistan. He used the family business to help build militant camps and hideaways in the Afghan mountains, and throughout the 1980s he was careful to nurture the image of himself as an Arab devoted to fighting the Soviets, modeling himself on the great medieval Muslim leader Saladin.

He produced documentaries in which he was filmed eating poor food and living in caves in the Afghan hills, impressing potential donors and inspiring a new generation of recruits in the Middle East.

In 1988, with the Soviet?s in retreat, Osama established?al-Qaeda?? meaning ‘the base? in Arabic ? a new organization that would wage jihad beyond the borders of?Afghanistan.