How a Rich Boy Turned to Terror

Kuwait was a turning point, say Osama bin Laden experts
By Mark Russell,  Newser Staff
Posted May 2, 2011 9:33 AM CDT
A 1998 file photo of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan.    (AP Photo/Mazhar Ali Khan)

(Newser) – Long before Osama bin Laden was America's most reviled terrorist, he was the quiet boy of a rich Saudi family, "a gentle, enthusiastic young man of few words who didn't raise his voice while talking," according to a former Saudi intelligence chief. Born in 1954, bin Laden was one of 54 children and grew up in mansions littered with crystal chandeliers, gold statues, and Italian tapestries, reports the LA Times. As a 10-year-old, he reportedly inherited $300 million after his father died in a plane crash. Bin Laden was a tireless reader of Islamic literature whose path to militant Islam began as a teen in the 1970s, when he got caught up in the fundamentalist movement then sweeping Saudi Arabia, reports the AP.

He began to grow more radical in the next decade, after joining the Afghan war against the Soviets, where he was able to use his family's money to help the mujahedeen fighters. But what AP calls the "seminal moment" happened in 1990, when US troops landed in Saudi Arabia to drive Iraqi forces out of the tiny, oil-rich country of Kuwait. When bin Laden criticized Riyadh's close alliance with Washington—bin Laden had offered to pull together an army of Afghan war vets to protect Saudi Arabia, an offer that was refused by the royal family—he was stripped of his Saudi citizenship in 1994. The intelligence chief then describes "radical changes in his personality," from a "gentle man interested in helping Muslims into a person who believed that he would be able to amass and command an army to liberate Kuwait." Things escalated from there; click for more.

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