In 1996, the magazine tracked him down
After the car carrying Sheik Abdullah Azzam hit a land mine, on this day 25 years ago — Nov. 24, 1989 — it took years for TIME to take note of what had come to pass: Azzam’s death meant that his number-two in the jihadi organization Azzam had founded would come to lead the movement.
That man was named Osama bin Laden. It was 25 years ago that he went from being a financier and deputy to the top global proponent of jihad.
Bin Laden received a small mention in TIME in 1993 in a list of figures related to the history of fighting in Afghanistan — but in 1996 the magazine’s Scott MacLeod secured an exclusive interview. Here’s how it happened, as he would describe in the May 6 issue of that year:
Osama bin Laden is a hard man to find. An exile from Saudi Arabia, he has lived in Sudan for five years, but he is a recluse, and his whereabouts are known only to his aides and a handful of Sudanese officials. To arrange to see him, I first had to track down one of bin Laden’s associates in London. Then, at a tearoom near Charing Cross Station, I made a request for a meeting. Several weeks later, bin Laden sent encouragement. I traveled to Khartoum, and waited for a few days at a hotel when a message came through the front desk, “The businessman will see you.”
A Toyota with black-tinted windows picked me up and drove me through Khartoum. Finally, after arriving at a building on the outskirts of the city, I was shown into a cramped office where several bodyguards stood watchfully. Tall, barefoot, smiling broadly, bin Laden greeted me in a gold-trimmed robe and red-checkered headdress.
The final story functions more as an introduction to extremism than as a profile of the man in question, but it nevertheless appears to hint at what the world now knows was the extent of his influence.
Read the full story here in the TIME Vault: The Palladin of Jihad