Osama Bin Laden is both one of the CIA's most wanted
and a hero to many young people in the Arab world.
He and his associates were already being sought by the US on charges
of international terrorism, including in connection with the 1998 bombing
of American embassies in Africa and last year's attack on the USS Cole
In May this year a US jury convicted four men believed to be linked
with Bin Laden of plotting the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.
Bin Laden, an immensely wealthy and private man, has been granted
a safe haven by Afghanistan's ruling Taleban movement.
During his time in hiding, he has called for a holy war against the
US, and for the killing of Americans and Jews. He is reported to be
able to rally around him up to 3,000 fighters.
He is also suspected of helping to set up Islamic training centres
to prepare soldiers to fight in Chechnya and other parts of the former
Sponsored by US and Pakistan
His power is founded on a personal fortune earned by his family's
construction business in Saudi Arabia.
Born in Saudi Arabia to a Yemeni family, Bin Laden left Saudi Arabia
in 1979 to fight against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
The Afghan jihad was backed with American dollars and had the blessing
of the governments of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
He received security training from the CIA itself, according to Middle
Eastern analyst Hazhir Teimourian.
While in Afghanistan, he founded the Maktab al-Khidimat (MAK), which
recruited fighters from around the world and imported equipment to aid
the Afghan resistance against the Soviet army.
Egyptians, Lebanese, Turks and others - numbering thousands in Bin
Laden's estimate - joined their Afghan Muslim brothers in the struggle
against an ideology that spurned religion.
Turned against the US
After the Soviet withdrawal, the "Arab Afghans", as Bin Laden's faction
came to be called, turned their fire against the US and its allies in
the Middle East.
Bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia to work in the family construction
business, but was expelled in 1991 because of his anti-government activities
He spent the next five years in Sudan until US pressure prompted the
Sudanese Government to expel him, whereupon Bin Laden returned to Afghanistan.
Terrorism experts say Bin Laden has been using his millions to fund
attacks against the US.
The US State Department calls him "one of the most significant sponsors
of Islamic extremist activities in the world today".
According to the US, Bin Laden was involved in at least three major
attacks - the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 1996 killing of 19
US soldiers in Saudi Arabia, and the 1998 bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.
BBC correspondent James Robbins says Bin Laden had "all but admitted
involvement" in the Saudi Arabia killings.
Some experts say he is part of an international Islamic front, bringing
together Saudi, Egyptian and other groups.
Their rallying cry is the liberation of Islam's three holiest places
- Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem.
Analysts say Bin Laden's organisation is very different from the groups
that carried out bombings and hijackings in the past in that it is not
a tightly knit group with a clear command structure but a loose coalition
of groups operating across continents.
American officials believe Bin Laden's associates may operate in over
forty countries - in Europe and North America, as well as in the Middle
East and Asia.
The few outsiders who have met Bin Laden describe him as modest, almost
shy. He rarely gives interviews.
He is believed to be in his 40s, and to have at least three wives.