Osama Bin Laden: A Timeline

10 March 1957 Born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, only child of the businessman Mohammed Bin Laden by Alia Ghanem (later "Hamida"), his tenth wife. (It is estimated that Bin Laden Sr has 22 wives - though no more than four at a time - and fathers 52 children in all.) The Bin Ladens have close ties to the Saudi royal family and he is raised as a devout Wahhabi Muslim
1967 Bin Laden Sr dies in a plane crash
1968 Enters the secular al-Thager Model School in Jeddah
1974 Marries his first wife, Najwa, a cousin
1976 Enters King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah to study economics and business administration, graduating in 1981
1979 Soviet troops invade Afghanistan. The action enrages him
Early 1980s Moves to Afghanistan and from there to Peshawar, Pakistan
1984 Becomes involved in the organisation Maktab al-Khidamat with the Palestinian Sunni scholar Abdullah Azzam. The group, a forerunner to al-Qaeda, channels money, arms and fighters into the Afghan war
August 1988 Al-Qaeda is formed at a meeting attended by senior leaders of Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ), Azzam and Bin Laden. It is agreed that the jihadist cause will continue after the Soviet army withdraws from Afghanistan
1992 Moves to Sudan to take part in Hassan al-Turabi's Islamic revolution
1994 Saudi Arabia revokes his citizenship after he publicly criticises the Saudi government for harbouring US troops during the first Gulf war
1995 EIJ, with which Bin Laden is closely associated, attempts to assassinate President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. It fails, and the EIJ is expelled from Sudan
May 1996 Bin Laden returns to Afghanistan, landing in Jalalabad, and forms a close relationship with the Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar
1998 Co-signs a fatwa with Ayman al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian al-Qaeda leader, declaring the killing of Americans and their allies - "civilian and military" - an "individual duty for every Muslim"
August 1998 EIJ and Bin Laden are held responsible for attacks on US embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya
June 1999 Bin Laden becomes the 456th person to be listed on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list
11 September 2001 Attacks on New York and Washington, DC by 19 plane hijackers kill nearly 3,000 people
16 September 2001 Bin Laden releases a taped statement to al-Jazeera denying any involvement in the 11 September attacks:
“I stress that I have not carried out this act, which appears to have been carried out by individuals with their own motivation." Further statements emerge in October and November defending the attacks and criticising the "crusader" west, but still not taking responsibility. By this time, Bin Laden is believed to be in hiding in Afghanistan
October 2004 Finally claims responsibility for the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States in a videotape broadcast on the pan-Arab television network al-Jazeera
December 2005 A letter obtained by the US security services indicates that Bin Laden and the al-Qaeda leadership are based in the Waziristan region of Pakistan
May 2006 Al-Jazeera broadcasts a five-minute audiotape from Bin Laden in which he claims that he assigned the hijackers to perform the 11 September attacks
July 2007 US Senate votes to double the $25m reward for information leading to his capture or death
August 2007 US and Afghan forces raid the mountain caves in Tora Bora, Afghanistan, killing al-Qaeda and Taliban members but failing to find Bin Laden
2007-2009 A series of audiotapes is released, purportedly containing messages from Bin Laden encouraging the insurgency in Iraq and calling for an end to western military involvement in Afghanistan
December 2009 Defence Secretary
Robert Gates says that US officials have had no reliable information on Bin Laden's whereabouts for "years". That same month, the Pakistani prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, denies that Bin Laden is in Pakistan
18 October 2010 An unnamed Nato official says Bin Laden is "alive and well and living comfortably" in Pakistan, under the protection of elements of that country's intelligence services
21 January 2011 In an audiotape broadcast on al-Jazeera, Bin Laden says the release of two French journalists held by Afghan rebels depends on the pullout of French soldiers from Afghanistan. He also warns Paris that there will be a "high price" for its policies: "We repeat the same message to you - the release of your prisoners in the hands of our brothers is linked to the withdrawal of your soldiers from our country." This is the final tape release before his death
1 May 2011 President Barack Obama announces that Bin Laden has been killed by US special forces during a covert operation in Abbottabad, Pakistan. It is alleged that Bin Laden used his fourth wife as a human shield, but this is later disputed. His body is buried at sea within 24 hours

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 09 May 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Beyond the cult of Bin Laden

Ralph Steadman for the New Statesman.
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Tim Farron: Theresa May is "the prisoner of the Ukip wing of her party"

The Liberal Democrat leader on his faith, Blairism and his plan to replace Labour as the opposition. 

This is Tim Farron’s seventh general election. His first was in 1992, when his Tory opponent was a 36-year-old called Ther­esa May. He was just 21 and they were both unsuccessful candidates in the Labour fortress of North-West Durham. He recalls talking “to a bunch of ex-miners who weren’t best pleased to see either of us, some kid Liberal and some Tory”. Now he sees his former and current opponent as “the prisoner of the Ukip wing of her party . . . I think it has rendered Ukip almost pointless – she is Ukip now.”

May was elected to parliament in 1997, but it took Farron until 2005 to join her. She leads the dominant Conservatives while he heads a party of only nine Liberal Democrat MPs. Still, their reversal of fortunes gives him hope. “After the 1992 election, every­one said there’s no way for a non-Tory government, and it turned out there was. So let’s not assume it’s a given there’s a Tory government [for ever].”

In April, I accompanied Farron to Manchester Gorton, in the lead-up to a by-election that was cancelled by May’s decision to call a snap election on 8 June. Still, the 46-year-old’s party has been in campaign mode for months; Lib Dems spoke of using last December’s Richmond Park by-election to test their messaging. It clearly had an effect: the incumbent Conservative, Zac Goldsmith, lost to their candidate, Sarah Olney.

Brexit, to which the Liberal Democrats are vehemently opposed, will be a dominant theme of the election. Their party membership has just exceeded 100,000, close to an all-time high, and they have enjoyed much success in council by-elections, with more to come in the local elections of 4 May.

However, any feel-good factor swiftly evaporated when Farron appeared on Channel 4 News on 18 April. He was asked by the co-presenter Cathy Newman whether or not he believes that homosexuality is a sin, a question that he answered obliquely in 2015 by saying that Christianity started with acknowledging that “we’re all sinners”.

This time, he told Newman, he was “not in the position to make theological announcements over the next six weeks . . . as a Liberal, I’m passionate about equality”.

The Channel 4 interview divided opinion. One Liberal politician told me that Farron’s stance was “completely intolerable”. Stephen Pollard, the influential editor of the Jewish Chronicle, described it as
“a very liberal position: he holds certain personal views but does not wish to legislate around them”. Jennie Rigg, the acting chair of LGBT+ Liberal Democrats, said it was “as plain as the nose on my face that Tim Farron is no homophobe”.

Farron declined the chance to clarify his views with us in a follow-up phone call, but told the BBC on 25 April: “I don’t believe that gay sex is a sin,” adding, “On reflection, it makes sense to actually answer this direct question since it’s become an issue.”

For his critics, Farron’s faith and politics are intertwined. He sees it differently, as he told Christian Today in 2015: “. . . the danger is sometimes that as a Christian in politics you think your job is to impose your morality on other people. It absolutely isn’t.”

Tim Farron joined the then Liberal Party at the age of 16 but didn’t become a Christian until he was 18. Between completing his A-levels in Lancashire and going to Newcastle University to read politics, he read the apologetics, a body of Christian writing that provides reasoned arguments for the gospel story. “I came to the conclusion that it was true,” he told me. “It wasn’t just a feel-good story.”

In speeches, Farron now takes on the mannerisms of a preacher, but he had a largely non-religious upbringing in Preston, Lancashire. “I don’t think I’d been to church once other than Christmas or the odd wedding,” he says. “I went once with my dad when I was 11, for all the good that did me.”

When we meet, it is Theresa May’s religion that is in the spotlight. She has condemned the National Trust for scrubbing the word “Easter” from its Easter egg hunt, a row it later emerged had been largely invented by the right-wing press in response to a press release from a religious-themed chocolate company.

“It’s worth observing there’s no mention of chocolate or bunny rabbits in the Bible,” Farron reminds me. “When people get cross about, in inverted commas, ‘us losing our Christian heritage’ they mean things which are safe and comfortable and nostalgic.” He pauses. “But the Christian message at Easter is shocking, actually, and very radical.”

British politics is tolerant of atheists (such as Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg) alongside those who, like David Cameron, are culturally Christian but whose faith is “a bit like the reception for Magic FM in the Chilterns: it sort of comes and goes”. But the reaction to Farron’s equivocation on homosexuality prompted many to wonder if a politician who talks openly about his faith is now seen as alarming. Nebulous wishes of peace and love at Christmas, yes; sincere discussions of the literal truth of the Resurrection? Hmm.

Tim Farron’s beliefs matter because he has a mission: to replace not only Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the opposition but Theresa May in Downing Street. Over lassis at the MyLahore curry house in Manchester, he tells me that Britain is facing two calamities. “One is Brexit, indeed hard Brexit . . . and the other is a Tory government for 25 years. We have to present a genuine, progressive alternative that can not only replace Labour as an opposition, it can replace the Tories as a government.” This is ambitious talk for a party with nine MPs. “I understand the ridicule that will be thrown at me for saying those things: but if you don’t want to run the country, why are you in politics?” He pauses. “That’s a question I would ask most people leading the Labour Party at present.”

What does he think of May, his one-time opponent in North-West Durham? “She strikes me as being very professional, very straightforward, somebody who is very conservative in every sense of the word, in her thought processes, her politics, in her style.” He recalls her 2002 conference speech in which she warned Tory activists: “Our base is too narrow and so, occasionally, are our sympathies. You know what some people call us: the nasty party.”

“In many ways, she was the trailblazer for Cameron in being a softer-focused Tory,” he says. “It now looks like she’s been trapped by the very people she was berating as the nasty party all those years ago. I like to think that isn’t really her. But that means she isn’t really in control of the Conservative Party.”

Voters, however, seem to disagree. In recent polls, support for the Conservatives has hovered between 40 and 50 per cent. Isn’t a progressive alliance the only way to stop her: Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, the SNP and Plaid Cymru all working together to beat the Tories?

“Let’s be really blunt,” he says. “Had Jeremy Corbyn stood down for us in Richmond Park [where Labour stood Christian Wolmar], we would not have won. I could have written Zac Goldsmith’s leaflets for you: Corbyn-backed Liberal Democrats.

“I’m a pluralist,” he adds. “But any progressive alliance has got to be at least equal to the sum of its parts. At the moment, it would be less than the sum of its parts. The only way the Tories are losing their majority is us gaining seats in Hazel Grove –” he ticks them off with his fingers, “– in Cheadle, in the West Country and west London. There’s no chance of us gaining those seats if we have a kind of arrangement with the current Labour Party in its current form.”

What about the SNP? “Most sensible people would look at that SNP manifesto and agree with 99 per cent of it,” Farron says. “But it’s that one thing: they want to wreck the country! How can you do a deal with people who want to wreck the country?”

There’s no other alternative, he says. Someone needs to step up and offer “something that can appeal to progressive younger voters, pro-Europeans and, you know, moderate-thinking Middle England”. He wants to champion a market economy, strong public services, action on climate change, internationalism and free trade.

That sounds like Blairism. “I’m a liberal, and I don’t think Blair was a liberal,” he replies. “But I admire Blair because he was somebody who was able to win elections . . . Iraq aside, my criticisms of Blair are what he didn’t do, rather than what he did do.”

Turning around the Tory tide – let alone with just nine MPs, and from third place – is one hell of a job. But Farron takes heart from the Liberal Party in Canada, where Justin Trudeau did just that. “I’m not Trudeau,” he concedes, “He was better-looking, and his dad was prime minister.”

There is a reason for his optimism. “I use the analogy of being in a maze,” he says, “You can’t see a way out of it, for a progressive party to form a majority against the Tories. But in every maze, there is a way out. We just haven’t found it yet.” 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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