Born in 1957 to a life of privilege, Bin Laden was one of more than 50 offspring of a Saudi construction magnate. He spent his youth in mansions filled with crystal chandeliers, gold statues and Italian tapestries.
FOR THE RECORD:
Bin Laden obituary: The obituary of Osama Bin Laden in the May 2 Section A incorrectly reported the date of his Al Qaeda network's terrorist attacks on the United States as Sept. 11, 2011. The attacks took place in 2001. Additionally, the obituary omitted the day Bin Laden was killed. It was early Monday in Pakistan. An earlier online version of this article said it was Sunday.
Yet he became a figure of worldwide influence as a supporter of Muslim freedom fighters in Afghanistan in the 1980s and, later, as an organizer and financier of terrorist cells who concealed his whereabouts, living in safe houses, remote camps and even caves in Sudan, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
PHOTOS: Osama bin Laden dead
The world's most wanted man was killed during a firefight with U.S. forces in Abbotabad, about 30 miles northeast of the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. He had a $25-million bounty on his head set by the U.S.
Yossef Bodansky, a terrorism expert who wrote a biography of Bin Laden, labeled him "the man who declared war on America." For former President George W. Bush and countless Americans, he was simply "the evil one."
In 1994, Saudi Arabia stripped Bin Laden of his citizenship. Many members of his family, closely linked to the monarchy, had disavowed him long before.
Hatred for America
Yet for a time, he was also a hero to many in the Muslim world, an avenger akin to Saladin, the sultan who drove the Christian Crusaders from Jerusalem more than eight centuries ago.
"We believe that the biggest thieves in the world and the terrorists are the Americans," Bin Laden said in a February 1999 magazine interview. "The only way for us to fend off these assaults is to use similar means. We do not worry about American opinion or the fact that they place prices on our heads."
Bin Laden was most notorious for the hijackings by a suicide squad of 19 young Arab men who turned airliners into bombs on Sept. 11, 2001. Nearly 3,000 died.
He also had been indicted in the Aug. 7, 1998, bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed 224 people, including 12 Americans, and injured 5,000. He was suspected of involvement in the October 2000 bombing of the U.S. destroyer Cole in Yemen, which killed 17 sailors.
Bin Laden once gloated that "our boys" participated in the 1993 battle in the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia, in which 18 U.S. servicemen were killed and which led to a hasty U.S. withdrawal.
It was this pullout that he said led him to conclude the "American soldier was just a paper tiger."
In February 1998, at a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan, he and other hard-line leaders announced the creation of the International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders.
In its first religious edict, the front declared that "to kill Americans and their allies, both civil and military, is an individual duty of every Muslim who is able, in any country where this is possible."
Over the years, he attracted recruits from Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Egypt, Yemen, Pakistan and other Muslim countries, and his diffuse terrorist network is said to operate in 60 nations. But the recent uprisings in the Arab world, with secular middle-class professionals and women at the barricades, have raised questions about just how much his brand of militant Islam resonates on the streets.