Osama Bin Laden's belief that violent attack on both Middle Eastern and Western targets is a legitimate political route stems from both his early influences and his own experience.
Bin Laden and the Muslim Brotherhood: Bin Laden grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, a period of great turmoil throughout the Middle East. Raised in a strict Islamic environment (like most of his peers), bin Laden was exposed at school to the ideas of his Muslim Brotherhood teachers. The Muslim Brotherhood, often considered the forerunner to contemporary Islamist terrorist groups, was founded in Egypt in the late 1920s, when Egypt was under British occupation. The group saw Islamic rule as necessary to counter Western influence. They advocated violence to achieve Egyptian independence.
Bin Laden paid attention to Muslim Brotherhood members in after-school sessions. In these sessions, they taught Islam both as a religion and as a political system that could be achieved through violence. By most accounts, bin Laden was a serious, studious youth who increasingly turned to religious ideas and texts in his teens, but there are no satisfactory explanations for his turn to unwavering extremism.
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Bin Laden in Afghanistan: Bin Laden's personal involvement with militant Islam go back to 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. The United States, funded Islamic resistance fighters, called Mujahideen, to combat the Soviets. While it has been rumored that bin Laden received direct training from the American CIA, this is unlikely.
The Mujahideen fierce guerrilla tactics led to a Soviet withdrawal in 1989. The pullout was seen as a victory for Islam in much of the region.
Bin Laden was encouraged to help the Afghan effort by Abdullah Azzam, a former professor. Azzam had gone to Afghanistan's neighbor, Pakistan, early on in the war. He encouraged bin Laden to solicit funds and recruit Arab fighters (the Afghans, although Muslim, aren't ethnically Arab, or Arabic speakers).
Osama Sets his Sights on the United States: Two years after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, war broke out in another part of the Islamic world, when Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in the summer of 1990. The United States and a coalition of allies that included Saudi Arabia responded with military force.
For bin Laden, the American use of Saudi bases to stage their entry into Kuwait amounted to an intolerable foreign occupation of the home of Islam's holiest sites. He began to build the organization that would become Al Qaeda (the base), made up of warriors who had fought in Afghanistan. The Saudi government perceived bin Laden as a threat, and expelled him in 1991.
Bin Laden Builds his Base, Americans take Notice: In 1992, bin Laden took up residence in Sudan, a North African country with an Islamist government. For the next four years, he continued to develop Al Qaeda's network and to train guerrilla fighters. Expelled from Sudan in 1996, bin Laden relocated to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
Bin Laden declares war: The United States was aware of bin Laden by the late 1980s, but it was not until after the Ramzi Yousef's World Trade Center bombing in 1993 that counterterrorism officials considered him a serious threat, when they apprehended Yousef in a house belonging to bin Laden, with other documents connecting him to Al Qaeda.
In 1998, bin Laden issued a fatwa in which he expressed his grievances with Saudi Arabia and the United States. In his view these included the Saudi abandonment of Islamic law, and its willingness to permit the United States to "occupy" it. For bin Laden, this occupation was not only military, but also economic. In his view, American power and policies were running Saudi oil production, and devastating the ability of the Saudi Muslims to develop their own country.
Bin Laden also makes reference to other ways that Muslims had been attacked by either the United States or their ally, Israel: in Lebanon, in Bosnia, in Iraq and elsewhere. He urges a violent response to these injustices: "The walls of oppression and humiliation cannot be demolished except in a rain of bullets."