Osama bin Laden was born into one of Saudi Arabia's most prosperous families, but he left home in search of revolution, found a path of fanaticism, inspired a murderous organization that terrorized the West, and ultimately became the most wanted man in the world.
On Sunday, the most intense manhunt in history finally caught up with bin Laden, whose money and rageful preaching inspired the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which killed almost 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, and ripped a hole in America's sense of security in the world.
Reviled in the West as the personification of evil, bin Laden was admired and even revered by some radical Muslims who embraced his vision of unending jihad against the United States and Arab governments he deemed as infidels.
His actions set off a chain of events that led the United States into wars in Afghanistan, and then Iraq, and a clandestine war against extreme Islamic adherents that touched scores of countries on every continent but Antarctica. America's entire intelligence apparatus was overhauled to counter the threat of more terror attacks at home.
Bin Laden was killed in an operation led by the United States, President Barack Obama said Sunday, touching off scenes of jubilation at the site of the World Trade Center, in Washington and elsewhere. A small team of Americans carried out the attack and took custody of bin Laden's remains, Obama said.
Bin Laden's al-Qaida organization has also been blamed for the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa that killed 231 people and the 2000 attack on the USS Cole that killed 17 American sailors in Yemen, as well as countless other plots, some successful and some foiled.
Perhaps as significant was his ability — even from hiding — to inspire a new generation of terrorists to murder in his name. Most of al-Qaida's top lieutenants have been killed or captured in the years since Sept. 11, 2001, and intelligence officials in Europe and Asia say they now see a greater threat from homegrown radical groups energized by bin Laden's cause.
As his years in hiding dragged on, he became less and less of a presence. Revolutions and upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa in recent months were largely inspired by young people seeking economic and political freedom, rather than bin Laden's radical vision of an Islamic caliphate ruled by Shariah law.
Al-Qaida is not thought to have provided logistical or financial support to the group of North African Muslims who pulled off the March 11, 2004, bombings in Madrid, Spain — which killed 191 people — but they were certainly inspired by its dream of worldwide jihad. Likewise, no link has been established between al-Qaida's leadership and the four British Muslim suicide bombers who killed 52 people in London on July 7, 2005, but few believe the attack would have taken place had bin Laden not aroused the passions of young Muslim radicals the world over.
The war in Iraq — justified in part by erroneous intelligence that suggested Saddam Hussein had both weapons of mass destruction and a link to al-Qaida — became a cauldron in which some of the world's next generation of terrorists honed skills.
Al-Qaida took advantage of the chaos of post-Saddam Iraq — helping to drag the United States into a quagmire that led to the death of some 5,000 American troops, and many scores of thousands of Iraqis.
Indeed, bin Laden's legacy is a world still very much on edge.
Terms like dirty bomb, full-body scan and weapons of mass destruction became staples of the global vocabulary; and others like Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and extraordinary rendition fueled a burning anger in the Muslim world.
But long before bin Laden became the world's most hunted man, few believed fate would move him in that direction.
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