Name: Usamah Bin Mohammad Bin Laden
Born: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 1957
Background: Raised in Al Madina Al Munawwara and Hijaz; family originally from Yemen
Education: After the schools of Jedda, studied management and economics in King Abdul Aziz University. Upon graduation, he went off to Afghanistan to join the mujahedeen freedom fighters. He co-founded the Maktab al-Khidamat, or service agency, that recruited foot soldiers from 50 countries to feed Afghan resistance fighters; bin Laden also imported bulldozers and other heavy equipment to build roads, hospitals and supply depots.
Money: Bin Laden is reportedly a multimillionaire; his money allegedly comes from a family construction business. His family has a fortune of about $5 billion, accoding to Time magazine. Wealth is traced to his father, a successful businessman and reportedly a financial backer of major Islamic terrorist organizations around the world.
Life: It wasn't unusual to find wealthy Saudis on the periphery of the Afghan struggle against the Soviet Union. They'd arrive in Afghan refugee camps, open briefcases full of cash, and distribute dollars to war widows and wounded veterans.
Usama bin Laden was unusual. The son of a Saudi construction magnate went into the rugged Afghan mountains to fight, gaining a reputation for bravery and determination. He used his millions to buy bulldozers to gouge guerrilla trails in the heart of Afghanistan, and to bring in, by his count, thousands of Egyptians, Lebanese, Turks and others to join their Afghan Muslim brothers in the struggle against an ideology that spurned religion.
Following the Soviet retreated from Afghanistan, bin Laden has used his millions to fund attacks against the United States, including the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World trade Center and the Pentagon and the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, which killed 257 people. Veterans of the pan-Muslim army bin Laden raised to fight the Soviets remain loyal to the tall, robed figure some call a hero.
The U.S. State Department calls him "one of the most significant sponsors of Islamic extremist activities in the world today."
Throughout the 1980s, the United States and bin Laden were on the same side against the now-collapsed Soviet state. Bin Laden made no secret that he saw secular, powerful Washington as much an infidel as Moscow. But his first priority was Moscow, which invaded Afghanistan to prop up a communist government in December, 1979.
The few outsiders who have met bin Laden describe him as modest — almost shy. He rarely gives interviews. But he has allowed himself to be photographed, narrow eyes staring intently into the camera under a white turban, his long, thin face made even longer by a brush of graying beard falling to his chest.
He is believed to have at least three wives.
In a series of fatwas, or religious edicts, faxed to the outside world from his hideout in Afghanistan, bin Laden has laid out his case against the United States: its soldiers protecting oil in his homeland are desecrating Muslim holy sites with their very presence; its power has emasculated Arab countries, turning them into client states; its friend is Israel.
"We — with God's help — call on every Muslim who believes in God and wishes to be rewarded to comply with God's order to kill the Americans and plunder their money wherever and whenever they find it," read one fatwa.