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The man who wanted to die at the hands of Americans

Osama bin Laden, who was killed in Pakistan on Sunday, was a son of the Saudi elite who redefined the threat of terrorism for the 21st century.

world Updated: May 03, 2011 00:49 IST

Osama bin Laden, who was killed in Pakistan on Sunday, was a son of the Saudi elite who redefined the threat of terrorism for the 21st century.

With the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, bin Laden was elevated to the realm of evil in the American imagination once reserved for dictators like Hitler and Stalin.

He was a new national enemy, his face on wanted posters, gloating on videotapes, taunting the United States and Western civilisation.

It took nearly a decade before that quest finally ended in Pakistan with the death of Bin Laden during a confrontation with American forces.

By accounts of people close to the family, Osama bin Muhammad bin Awad bin Laden was born in 1957, the seventh son and 17th child, among 50 or more, of his father.

He styled himself a Muslim ascetic, a billionaire's son who gave up a life of privilege for the cause.

But he was media savvy and acutely image conscious; before a CNN crew that interviewed him in 1997 was allowed to leave, his media advisers insisted on editing out unflattering shots.

The world's most threatening terrorist, was also known to submit to dressings down by his mother.

Terrorism before Bin Laden was often state-sponsored, but he was a terrorist who had sponsored a state. For five years, 1996 to 2001, he paid for the protection of the Taliban, then the rulers of Afghanistan.

After the attacks of September 11, Bin Laden did what had become routine: He took to Arab television. He appeared, in his statement to the world, to be at the top of his powers.

President Bush had declared that the nations of the world were either with the Americans or against them on terrorism; Bin Laden held up a mirror image, declaring the world divided between infidels and believers.

Bin Laden had long eluded the allied forces in pursuit of him, moving, it was said, under cover of night with his wives and children, apparently between mountain caves. Yet he was determined that if he had to die, he, too, would die a martyr's death.

His greatest hope, he told supporters, was that if he died at the hands of the Americans, the Muslim world would rise up and defeat the nation that had killed him.