On this day: Bin Laden declares jihad

February 23 1998: A fatwa against Jews

By Jennifer Lipman, February 22, 2011

Long before the September 11 attacks on the United States, Osama bin Laden had made himself known as a terror threat. In 1996 he declared that Muslims should raise jihad against the west, and two years later he outlined his belief that killing “Jews and crusaders” was an "individual duty for every Muslim".

The fatwa stated: “All these crimes and sins committed by the Americans are a clear declaration of war on God, his messenger, and Muslims. And ulema have throughout Islamic history unanimously agreed that the jihad is an individual duty if the enemy destroys the Muslim countries.

“The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies - civilians and military - is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it.”

Published in London in the Arabic Newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi, this declaration of jihad – signed alongside his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri under the auspices of the World Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders – was no empty threat, as the world would learn that August.

Following the bombing of the US embassy bombings in East Africa in August 1998, which killed 224, the Saudi Arabian born al Qaeda leader was placed on the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted" list with a $5 million bounty on his head. The reward became $25 million after some 3,000 people were killed on September 11.

What the JC said: September 11 was certainly perceived at the time by millions of Muslims as a euphoric moment, a taste of triumphal joy at the conflagration which had exposed the impotence of Western civilisation. Almost overnight, Osama bin Laden became a hero among the Arab masses, in the wider Muslim world and across the far-flung Muslim diaspora. This maverick Saudi millionaire had inflicted upon the Americans their first major defeat since Vietnam. He symbolised the restoration of wounded Arab and Muslim pride.

See more from the JC archives here.

Last updated: 9:50am, May 2 2011