When the metamorphosis was complete, the organization created to fund and staff the anti-Soviet struggle had become Al Qaeda, a multinational network of Muslim extremists.
In 1989, with President Mikhail S. Gorbachev in the Kremlin, the Soviets withdrew, leaving behind a pro-Kremlin government whose army proved surprisingly strong in the field. The mujahedin fought the regime, and one another. Bin Laden, who had advocated the unity of all believers, grew increasingly disgusted, and finally returned to Jidda.
Despite his bitter disappointment at the end, Bin Laden had learned indelible lessons in Afghanistan. The Soviets' comeuppance demonstrated that even a superpower was no match for the righteous power of an Islamic holy war.
The fight broadens
The next great cataclysm to shake the Arab world would push Bin Laden even further into religious and political extremism, and eventually put him at loggerheads with Saudi ruling family.
It came Aug. 2, 1990, when Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's forces overran Kuwait.
The panicked Saudis worried that their country might be next. Though Bin Laden had grown increasingly critical of the monarchy, he offered to raise an army of Afghan war veterans to defend the kingdom.
Members of the royal family gave him a polite hearing, but refused his offer.
Instead, they called on the United States to provide protection.
For Bin Laden, the presence of U.S. forces on Saudi soil was a desecration of sacred ground. He appears to have experienced it as a personal humiliation.
"If Italy invited Muslim soldiers to protect the Vatican City, what would be the feeling of the Christian world?" he later said.
When Bin Laden denounced what he called a sacrilege, Saudi authorities threatened to confiscate all his property unless he kept silent.
Bin Laden's creed would take years to ripen fully, but already he was on a collision course with the United States. He came to believe Washington's presence in the Muslim world was keeping autocrats and dictators in power and was preventing the establishment of true Islamic states. The priority would become kicking the Americans out.
Under mounting Saudi pressure, Bin Laden, his four wives, children and a retinue of followers left in 1991 for Sudan, where
he put his organizational and financial talents to work to devise a way to fund radical Islamic groups.
Bin Laden set up a trading company to that could engage in import-export operations without arousing suspicion. He also formed a holding company that controlled investments in at least nine firms that allegedly would come to mix legitimate commercial endeavors with terrorism.
He was joined in Sudan by several hundred "Arab Afghans," veterans of the anti-Soviet jihad, and training camps were set up.
It was in his adopted African home that Bin Laden undertook the real work of developing Al Qaeda into a well-financed terrorist operation capable of adapting quickly to changing circumstances.