With a billionaire father who enjoyed ties to the Saudi royal family, bin Laden had a privileged upbringing and was educated as a young man at Al Thager Model School in Jedda, Saudi Arabia. He took the first of several wives at age 17.
Bin Laden attended King Abdulaziz University in Jedda, where he studied economics and engineering. Pious since his youth, bin Laden was drawn to the currents of fundamentalist Islam moving through the country.
In 1979, he traveled to Afghanistan to aid Muslim fighters battling the Soviet occupation of their country, which lasted until 1989. While in Afghanistan, bin Laden forged ties with other Islamic militants willing to use terrorism to advance their cause.
In 1988, bin Laden helped found al-Qaida, a terrorist group whose acts would spark wars and upend global politics. He moved operations to the Sudan in 1991 and operated there until 1996 after pressure from the international community forced his return to Afghanistan.
In 1998, al-Qaida stepped up its activities and bombed two U.S. embassies in East Africa, killing more than 200 people. In 2000, the group bombed the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen, killing 17 American servicemen.
On Sept. 11, 2001, multiple attacks on United States soil claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people.
Sunday night, hundreds gathered in front of the White House and on the streets surrounding Ground Zero in Manhattan and cheered the news of bin Laden's death. In his message to the nation, President Barack Obama had this message for those who lost loved ones on Sept. 11:
"We have never forgotten your loss," Obama said, "or wavered in our commitment to do what it takes to prevent another attack on our shores."