Osama bin Laden was born on March 10, 1957, in Riyadh, into a family who owned a construction dynasty estimated worth $5 billion by the mid-1990s. When the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, they began a war in which 1 million people were killed and 5 million were sent into exile.

During the war, Osama bin Laden, then 22, lobbied his family and friends to support the cause of the Afghan freedom fighters, the mujahideen, and made several trips to Pakistan, where he continued his fundraising work.

During this time the United States also supported the cause of the mujahideen against the Soviets. The Reagan administration authorized the CIA to establish training camps for the mujahideen in Afghanistan and Pakistan and asked King Fahd of Saudi Arabia to match U.S. contributions.

King Fahd instructed the minister of intelligence, Turki al-Faisal, to raise money from private sources and Faisal, knowing of bin Laden’s efforts toward the cause, entrusted bin Laden with the task of raising money. Besides raising money for the effort, bin Laden helped encourage Arab volunteers to fight in Afghanistan against the Soviets. He kept a database of his volunteers; the word database translates to Arabic as al-Qaeda.

When the Soviets left Afghanistan in 1989, the United States withdrew its support for the mujahideen, and the country was plunged into chaos and civil war. When Iraq, built up as a major military power by the United States against Iran, invaded Kuwait, the United States sent thousands of troops into Saudi Arabia. The U.S.-Saudi alliance was criticized by bin Laden, who objected to the presence of U.S. troops on land sacred to Muslims.

Bin Laden began publicly criticizing the Saudi regime. As a result, he was placed under house arrest. He convinced King Fahd that he had business to take care of in Pakistan as a means of escaping the country, and eventually found refuge in Sudan with Hasan al-Turabi, the leader of the country’s Islamic Front.

While in Sudan, bin Laden opposed the presence of U.S. troops in Somalia, and al-Qaeda affiliates in Yemen bombed two hotels housing American troops in transit to Somalia. Following an attack by al-Qaeda on the World Trade Center in 1993, the Saudi government froze bin Laden’s assets in the country and stripped him of his citizenship.

Meanwhile, in 1994, the Taliban (translated as "students"), a small group of graduates from madrassas (schools of Islamic learning) led by Mullah Muhammad Umar, took control of the city of Kandahar, Afghanistan. The Taliban were able to seize leaders of warring factions, and called for the city to disarm. Fatigued by two years of anarchy, the city willingly agreed to the restoration of order.

The Taliban announced that it was their duty to set up an Islamic society in Afghanistan, and gained popular support. By 1996 they had taken Kabul and established a government willing to provide sanctuary to Osama bin Laden and to accept his support of their regime.

In 2000, bin Laden was linked to the attack on the American guided missile destroyer USS Cole in Aden Harbor, Yemen, and on September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda was held responsible by the United States for the attack on the twin towers and the Pentagon. While the Taliban regime fell as a result of U.S. attacks on Afghanistan on October 10, 2001, the United States was unable to capture Osama bin Laden or destroy the Taliban.