Kate Zernike and Michael T. Kaufman in The New York Times:
Osama bin Laden, who was killed in Pakistan on Sunday, was a son of the Saudi elite whose radical, violent campaign to recreate a seventh-century Muslim empire redefined the threat of terrorism for the 21st century.
Long before, he had become a hero in much of the Islamic world, as much a myth as a man — what a longtime C.I.A. officer called “the North Star” of global terrorism. He had united disparate militant groups, from Egypt to Chechnya, from Yemen to the Philippines, under the banner of Al Qaeda and his ideal of a borderless brotherhood of radical Islam.
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. He bought the time and the freedom to make Al Qaeda — which means “the base” — a multinational enterprise to export terror around the globe.
For years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the name of Al Qaeda and the fame of Bin Laden spread like a 21st-century political plague. Groups calling themselves Al Qaeda, or acting in the name of its cause, attacked American troops in Iraq, bombed tourist spots in Bali and blew up passenger trains in Spain.
To this day, the precise reach of his power remains unknown: how many members Al Qaeda could truly count on; how many countries its cells had penetrated; and whether, as Bin Laden boasted, he sought to arm Al Qaeda with chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.
He waged holy war with distinctly modern methods. He sent fatwas — religious decrees — by fax and declared war on Americans in an e-mail beamed by satellite around the world. Qaeda members kept bomb-making manuals on CD and communicated with encrypted memos on laptops, leading one American official to declare that Bin Laden possessed better communications technology than the United States. He railed against globalization, even as his agents in Europe and North America took advantage of a globalized world to carry out their attacks, insinuating themselves into the very Western culture he despised. More: