Azzam spoke fervently of the need to liberate Islamic nations from foreign interests and interventions, and he indoctrinated his disciples in the strictest tenets of the Muslim faith. Bin Laden, however, would eventually cultivate a brand of militant religious extremism that exceeded his teacher's.
He began his relationship with fundamental Islamic groups in the early 1970s. His religious passion exploded in 1979 when Russia invaded Afghanistan. Bin Laden left his comfortable Saudi home for Afghanistan to participate in the Afghan jihad, or holy war, against the Soviet Union -- a cause that the United States funded, pouring $3 billion into the Afghan resistance via the CIA.
Turning Against the Saudi Elite
His active opposition to the Soviet Union and his monetary support in purchasing arms, establishing training camps, and building houses, roads and other infrastructure, cemented his position as a hero among many people.
In 1988, he and the Egyptians founded al Qaeda, ("The Base"), a network initially designed to build fighting power for the Afghan resistance.
Bin Laden's politics became more radical during the war. Upon returning to his home in Saudi Arabia, he was widely honored as a hero. But he returned to a country that he perceived had stepped away from the fundamentals of Islam. He declared the Saudi ruling family "insufficiently Islamic" and increasingly advocated the use of violence to force movement toward extremism.
Bin Laden saw American influence in Saudi Arabia as counter to everything he believed. He fell into disfavor with the Saudi government and moved his family to Sudan where he established terrorist camps -- training and equipping terrorists from a dozen countries.
Bin Laden would not compromise his religious beliefs and after three years of continued criticism of the Saudi royal family, his own family disowned him.
Saudi Arabia stripped bin Laden of his citizenship in the mid-'90s for his alleged activities against the royal family, after he had left the country for Sudan. He later was expelled from Sudan under U.S., Egyptian and Saudi pressure. In 1996, he took refuge in Afghanistan.
Back to Afghanistan
Former mujahideen commanders close to the Taliban said that, in Afghanistan, bin Laden bankrolled the hard-line Islamic militia's capture of Kabul under the leadership of Mullah Mohammed Omar. He became one of Omar's most trusted advisers.
One of bin Laden's main strengths among the Muslim people was that followers saw him as a true believer in the faith. In their eyes he transcended other leaders who are viewed as dictators who care little for Islam or the people they lead. Bin Laden entered their lives with a message they can follow and he had the cash at his disposal to carry out that message.
Bin Laden was said to personally control about $300 million of his family's $5 billion fortune. His role as a financier of terrorism is pivotal, experts said, because he revolutionized the financing of extremist movements by forming and funding his own private terror network.
In 1998, he issued an edict openly declared war on America: "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."