Monday, September 10, 2007
Story of the Day - Osama bin Laden
Osama bin Muhammad bin 'Awad bin Laden, born March 10, 1957,) most often referred to as Osama bin Laden or Usama bin Laden, is a Saudi Arabian-born militant Islamist who is reported to be the founder of the organization al-Qaeda. He is a member of the wealthy bin Laden family. In conjunction with several other Islamic militant leaders, bin Laden issued two fatwas—in 1996 and then again in 1998—that Muslims should kill civilians and military personnel from the United States and allied countries until they withdraw support for Israel and withdraw military forces from Islamic countries.
Although there is no definitive account of the number of children born to Osama's father, Muhammed bin Laden, the number is generally said to be 55. Various accounts place Osama as his seventeenth son. Muhammed bin Laden was married 22 times, although to no more than four women at a time per Sharia law. Osama was born the only son of Muhammed bin Laden's tenth wife, Syrian Hamida al-Attas (née Alia Ghanem).
Osama bin Laden, Terrorist
* Born: 1957
* Birthplace: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
* Best Known As: Mastermind of the 11 September 2001 attacks
Also known as: Usama bin Laden, Ussamah bin Laden
The Islamic fundamentalist leader Osama bin Laden (born 1957), a harsh critic of the United States and its policies, is widely believed to have orchestrated the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa, as well as the October 2000 attack on the "USS Cole" in the Yemeni port of Aden. But it is his role as the apparent mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon that have made bin Laden one of the most infamous and sought-after figures in recent history.
The 6-foot-5, lanky, bearded leader - soft-spoken and effeminate, even when he rails against America - is a man of tremendous wealth, and makes an unlikely spokesman for the poor and oppressed people of Islam whom he claims to represent. Nevertheless, his call for a jihad, or holy war, against the United States and Israel, has been heeded by like-minded fundamentalist Muslims.
Raised in Great Wealth
Born in Riyadh, the capital city of Saudi Arabia, Osama bin Laden was the son of Mohammad bin Laden, one of the country's wealthiest business leaders. Some sources state that he is the seventh son, while others claim that he is the seventeenth of some 50 children born to the construction magnate and his various wives. Young bin Laden led a privileged life, surrounded by pampering servants and residing in air-conditioned houses well insulated from the oppressive desert heat. He may have heard tales of poverty from his father, who started his career as a destitute Yemeni porter. He moved to Saudi Arabia and eventually become the owner of the kingdom's largest construction company.
Mohammed bin Laden's success was in part due to the strong personal ties he cultivated with King Saud after he rebuilt the monarch's palaces for a price much lower than any other bidder. Favored by the royal family, Mohammed served for a time as minister of public works. King Faisal, who succeeded Saud, issued a decree that all construction projects go to Mohammed's company, the Binladin Group. Among these construction projects were lucrative contracts to rebuild mosques in Mecca and Medina. When Mohammed died in a helicopter crash in 1968, his children inherited the billionaire's construction empire. Osama bin Laden, then 13 years old, purportedly came into a fortune of some $300 million.
A Passion for Religious Politics
Young bin Laden attended schools in Jedda, and was encouraged to marry early, at the age of 17, to a Syrian girl and family relation. She was to be the first of several wives. In 1979 he earned a degree in civil engineering from King Abdul-Aziz University. He seemed to be preparing to join the family business, but he did not continue on that course for long.
Former classmates of bin Laden recall him as a frequent patron of Beirut nightclubs, who drank and caroused with his Saudi royalty cohorts. Yet it was also at the university that bin Laden met the Muslim fundamentalist Sheik Abdullah Azzam, perhaps his first teacher of religious politics and his earliest influence. Azzam spoke fervently of the need to liberate Islamic nations from foreign interests and interventions, and he indoctrinated his disciples in the strictest tenets of the Muslim faith. Bin Laden, however, would eventually cultivate a brand of militant religious extremism that exceeded his teacher's.
Joined the Afghan War
As a student in the late 1970s, bin Laden was galvanized by events that seemed to pit both the Western world and communist Russia against Muslim nations. One of these was the Camp David peace accords between Egypt and Israel; another was the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan. In December 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, bin Laden, like many other Muslims, rose to join the jihad declared against the attackers. He did not initially enter the fray as a soldier, but instead channeled his efforts into the organization and financing of the mujahedeen, or Afghan resistance. Over the next ten years, he used his tremendous wealth to buy arms, build training camps, and provide food and medical care. He was said to have occasionally joined the fighting, and to have participated in the bloody siege of Jalalabad in 1989, in which Afghanistan wrested control from the Soviet Union.
The United States, then embroiled in the Cold War with the Soviet Union, provided help to bin Laden and his associates. Although in many respects he worked side by side with the Americans to defeat the Soviets, bin Laden remained wary of the Western superpower. "To counter these atheist Russians, the Saudis chose me as their representative in Afghanistan," bin Laden later told a French journalist in an interview quoted by the Public Broadcasting System's (PBS) Frontline. "I did not fight against the communist threat while forgetting the peril from the West. … [W]e had to fight on all fronts against communist or Western oppression."
Formed "Al Qaeda"
During the war, bin Laden forged connections with the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, the militant group linked with the 1981 assassination of President Anwar el-Sadat. Under the influence of this group, bin Laden was persuaded to help expand the jihad and enlist as many Muslims as possible to rebel against so-called infidel regimes. In 1988 he and the Egyptians founded Al Qaeda, ("The Base"), a network initially designed to build fighting power for the Afghan resistance. Al Qaeda would later become known as a radical Islamic group with bin Laden at the helm, and with the United States as the key target for its terrorist acts.
After the war, bin Laden was touted as a hero in Afghanistan as well as in his homeland. He returned to Saudi Arabia to work for the Binladin Group, but he remained preoccupied with extremist religious politics. Now it was his homeland that concerned him. In 1990 Saudi Arabia's King Fahd, worried about a possible invasion by Iraq, asked the United States and its allies to station troops that would defend Saudi soil. Eager to protect its interests in the oil-producing kingdom, the United States complied. Bin Laden, euphoric after the Afghan victory and proud of the power of Muslim nations, was outraged that Fahd had asked a non-Muslim country for protection. He now channeled his energy and money into opposition movements against the Saudi monarchy.
As an outspoken critic of the royal family, bin Laden gained a reputation as a troublemaker. For a time, he was placed under house arrest in Jedda. His siblings, who had strong ties to the monarchy, vehemently opposed his antics and severed all ties - familial and economic - with their upstart brother. "He was totally ostracized by the family and by the kingdom," Daniel Uman, who worked with the Binladin Group, told an interviewer for the New York Times. The Saudi government, ever watchful of bin Laden, caught him smuggling weapons from Yemen and revoked his passport. No longer a Saudi citizen, he was asked to leave the country.
With several wives and many children, bin Laden relocated with his family to Sudan, where a militant Islamic government ruled. In Sudan, he was welcomed for his great wealth, which he used to establish a major construction company as well as other businesses. He also focused on expanding Al Qaeda, building terrorist training camps and forging ties with other militant Islamic groups. His primary aim had become to thwart the presence of American troops in Muslim countries.
Orchestrated First Terrorist Attacks
Bin Laden regarded even American humanitarian efforts as disgraces to Muslim countries. The first terrorist attack believed to trace back to bin Laden involved the December 1992 explosion of a bomb at a hotel in Aden, Yemen. American troops, en route to Somalia for a humanitarian mission, had been staying at the hotel, but they had already left. Two Austrian tourists were killed. Almost a year later, 18 American servicemen were shot down over Mogadishu in Somalia. Bin Laden initially claimed not to be involved in the attack, yet he later admitted to an Arabic newspaper that he had played a role in training the guerrilla troops responsible for the attack.
Several months later, on February 26, 1993, a bomb exploded in the parking garage of the World Trade Center in New York City, killing six and injuring more than 1,000. Though it has not been proven, bin Laden is widely suspected of being the mission's ringleader. Many believe it was the terrorist leader's first attempt to destroy the towers, which suicide hijackers succeeded in toppling in 2001. United States and Saudi leaders pressured the Sudanese government to expel bin Laden. In 1996 he left the country voluntarily, according to Sudanese officials.
Declared Holy War Against United States
That same year, bin Laden openly declared war on America, calling upon his followers to expel Americans and Jews from all Muslim lands. In a statement quoted by PBS's Frontline, he called for "fast-moving, light forces that work under complete secrecy." Interviewed by Cable News Network (CNN) in 1997, bin Laden said, "[The United States] has committed acts that are extremely unjust, hideous, and criminal, whether directly or through its support of the Israeli occupation." The following year he issued an edict evoking even stronger language: "We - with God's help - call on every Muslim who believes in God and wishes to be rewarded to comply with God's order to kill the Americans and plunder their money wherever and whenever they find it."
After the Sudanese government asked him to leave, bin Laden operated out of Afghanistan. He is believed to have orchestrated at least a dozen attacks, some successful, some not. Among the worst of these were two truck bombings, both on August 7, 1998, of U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The Nairobi bombing killed 213 people (only 12 were Americans) and wounded 4,500. The Dar es Salaam attack left 11 dead and 85 wounded. This news, compounded by intelligence reports suspecting that bin Laden had been attempting to acquire chemical and biological weapons, prompted U.S. action. President Bill Clinton responded with cruise missile attacks on suspected Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan. In November 1998 the U.S. State Department promised $5 million to anyone with information leading to bin Laden's arrest.
Despite attempts to apprehend him, bin Laden eluded the American government and continued plotting against it. Not all of his efforts were successful. A failed plan to bomb Los Angeles International Airport on New Year's Eve, 1999 - suspected to be one of several failed attacks designed to correspond with the millennium - was linked to Al Qaeda. Bin Laden is also suspected of orchestrating a botched attack on the USS The Sullivans, a U.S. warship stationed off the coast of Yemen. "[I]n what seemed to us a kind of comic presentation of what happened," recalled New York Times reporter Judith Miller, "the would-be martyrs loaded up their boat with explosives and set the little dingy out to meet The Sullivans and the [dingy] was overloaded and sank."
The same group, with bin Laden at the helm, is widely believed to be responsible for the October 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole, carried out in the same waters only a few months after the Sullivans failure. The terrorists had apparently learned from their mistakes. The attack killed 17 U.S. navy personnel and left many wounded. Yemeni officials later reported that five suspects in the incident had admitted to training in bin Laden's Al Qaeda camps.
Prime Suspect in Attacks on America
Bin Laden's hatred for America had become well known, but nothing had prepared Americans for the most extravagant and heinous plot allegedly hatched by the terrorist leader: the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. On the clear, late-summer morning, two hijacked commercial jets flew into the twin towers of the World Trade Center. About an hour later, another hijacked airliner slammed into the Pentagon in the nation's capital. A fourth hijacked jet did not reach its target, crashing in Western Pennsylvania instead. When the massive towers collapsed in flames, thousands perished. Among those lost in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania were the 19 hijackers, most of whom have been linked to Al Qaeda operations. Bin Laden denied involvement in the attacks, but he praised the hijackers for their acts.
The U.S. government nevertheless regarded the terrorist leader as their prime suspect. President George W. Bush demanded that Afghanistan's Taliban government turn him over or face war, but to no avail. In early October, U.S. forces began striking Afghan targets, declaring a war on terrorism and on the countries that harbor terrorists.
Bin Laden's followers, who support a radical fundamentalist brand of Islam, remain devoted to their leader and continue to heed his call for a holy war. Ever wary of the price America has put on his head, he has reportedly chosen a successor: Muhammad Atef, an Egyptian Muslim who married bin Laden's daughter in January 2001.
A Biography of Osama Bin Laden
This document was given to FRONTLINE by a source close to bin Laden who would like to remain anonymous. FRONTLINE found it a very useful source of information, but could not independently verify much of the information contained herein. Some of the information is true. However, some of it runs contrary to accounts given by other reliable sources. That said, this document does provide some important details regarding bin Laden and his family life.
Born 1957 for Syrian mother, Osama bin Laden was the seventh son among fifty brothers and sisters.
His father Mohammed Awad bin Laden came to the kingdom from Hadramout (South Yemen) sometime around 1930. The father started his life as a very poor laborer (porter in Jeddah port), to end up as owner of the biggest construction company in the kingdom. During the reign of King Saud, bin Laden the father became very close to the royal family when he took the risk of building King Saud's palaces much cheaper than the cheapest bid. He impressed King Saud with his performance but he also built good relations with other members of the royal family, especially Faisal. During the Saud-Faisal conflict in the early sixties, bin Laden the father had a big role in convincing King Saud to step down in favor of Faisal. After Saud's departure the treasury was empty and bin Laden was so supportive to King Faisal that he literally paid the civil servants' wages of the whole kingdom for six months. King Faisal then issued a decree that all construction projects should go to bin Laden. Indeed, he was appointed for a period as the minister of public works.
In 1969 the father took the task of rebuilding Al-Aqsa mosque after the fire incident. Interestingly the bin Laden family say that they have the credit of building all the three mosques, because later on their company took over the task of major extension in Mecca and Medina mosques.
The father was fairly devoted Moslem, very humble and generous. He was so proud of the bag he used when he was a porter that he kept it as a trophy in the main reception room in his palace. The father used to insist on his sons to go and manage some projects themselves.
The father had very dominating personality. He insisted to keep all his children in one premises. He had a tough discipline and observed all the children with strict religious and social code. He maintained a special daily program and obliged his children to follow. At the same time the father was entertaining with trips to the sea and desert. He dealt with his children as big men and demanded them to show confidence at young age. He was very keen not to show any difference in the treatment of his children.
Osama was exposed very early on his age to this experience but he lost his father when he was 13. He married at the age of 17 to a Syrian girl who was a relative. He grew up as religiously committed boy and the early marriage was another factor of protecting him from corruption.
Osama had his primary, secondary and even university education in Jeddah. He had a degree in public administration 1981 from King Abdul-Aziz university in Jeddah. Countries of the Arabian Peninsula, Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Sudan are the only countries he has been to. All stories of trips to Switzerland, Philippines, and London are all unfounded.
In addition to the general Islamic commitment he started forming an Islamic responsibility at early age. His father used to host hundreds of pilgrims during Hajj season from al over the world. Some of those were senior Islamic scholars or leaders of Muslim movements. This habit went on even after his father's death through his elder brothers. He used to make good contacts and relations through those gatherings.
At secondary school and university he adopted the main trend of many educated Muslims at that time, Muslim Brotherhood. There was a collection of Muslim scholars in Jeddah and Mecca at that period. There was nothing extraordinary in his personality and that trend was rather very non-confrontational. Interestingly, the 1980 raid in the Grand Mosque in Mecca was not appealing to him, neither the theology or that group. He had two distinguished teachers in Islamic studies, which was a compulsory subject in the university. First was Abdullah Azzam who became later as one of the big names in Afghanistan and the second was Mohammed Quttub, a famous Islamic writer and philosopher.
The first encounter with Afghanistan was as early as the first two weeks of Soviet invasion. He went to Pakistan and was taken by his hosts Jamaat Islami from Karachi to Peshawar to see the refugees and meet some leaders. Some of those leaders like Rabbani and Sayyaf were common faces to him because he met them during Hajj gatherings That trip which was [a] secret trip lasted for almost a month and was an exploratory rather than action trip. He went back to the kingdom and started lobbying with his brothers, relatives and friends at the school to support the mujahedeen. He succeeded in collecting huge amount of money and material as donations to jihad. He made another trip to take this material. He took with him few Pakistanis and Afghanis who were working in bin Laden company for more than ten years. Again, he did not stay more than a month The trip was to Pakistan and the border only and was not to Afghanistan. He went on collecting money and going in short trips once or twice a year until 1982.
In 1982 he decided to go inside Afghanistan. He brought with him plenty of the construction machinery and put them at the disposal of the mujahedeen He started spending more and more time in Afghanistan occasionally joining actual battles but not in an organized manner. His presence was encouraging to more Saudis to come but the numbers were still small at that period.
In 1984 he had one further step in strengthening his presence in Afghanistan by establishing the guesthouse in Peshawar (Baitul'ansar). That house was supposed to be the first station of Arab mujahedeen when they come to Afghanistan before going to the front or start training. At that period Osama did not have his own command or training camps. He used to send the newcomers to one of the Afghan factions.
The guesthouse establishment was coinciding with the formation of Jihad Service Bureau by Abdullah Azzam in Peshawar. The Bureau was very active in terms of media, publications and charity work. The Bureau publications were important in attracting more Saudis and Arabs to Afghanistan.
In 1986 Osama decided to have his own camps inside Afghanistan and within two years he built more than six camps. Some were mobilized more than once. He decided to have his own front and to run his own battles with his own command. Among the Arab fighters he had, there were senior Arab ex-military men from Syria and Egypt with good military experience. The story of the guesthouse and the camps was very attractive for more Arab mujahedeen to come and there was a significant surge in their numbers at that period.
In addition to many exchanges of fire and small operations, the first major battle he had face to face with the Soviet army with pure Arab personnel was the battle of Jaji in the province of Baktia 200 kilometers away from Khost. From then until 1989 he had more than five major battles with hundreds of small operations and exchanges of fire. During the period 1984-1989 he was staying more in Afghanistan than Saudi Arabia. He would spend a total of eight months a year or more in Afghanistan.
In 1988 he noticed that he was backward in his documentation and was not able to give answers to some families asking about their loved ones gone missing in Afghanistan. He decided to make the matter much more organized and arranged for proper documentation. He made a tracking record of the visitors, be they mujahedeen or charity or simple visitors. Their movement between the guesthouse and the camps had to be recorded as well as their first arrival and final departure. The whole complex was then termed Al-Qa'edah which is an Arabic word meaning "The Base." Al-Qa'edah was very much public knowledge. It was funny to see some people triumphing because they discovered it!
Late 1989 after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, he went to the kingdom in an ordinary trip. There he was banned from travel and was trapped in the kingdom. The Soviet withdrawal might have been a factor but the main reason for the travel ban were his intentions to start a new "front" of jihad in South Yemen. In addition, he embarrassed the regime by lectures and speeches warning of impending invasion by Saddam. At that time the regime was at very good terms with Saddam. He was instructed officially to keep low profile and not to give public talks. Despite the travel ban he was not hostile to regime at this stage. Indeed he presented a written advice in the form of a detailed, personal, private and confidential letter to the king few weeks before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
He reacted swiftly to Iraqi invasion and saw it fulfilling his prophecy. He immediately forwarded another letter to the king suggesting in detail how to protect the country from potentially advancing Iraqi forces. In addition to many military tactics suggested, he volunteered to bring all the Arab mujahedeen to defend the kingdom. That letter was presented in the first few days of the incident, and the regime response was of consideration!
While he was expecting some call to mobilize his men and equipment he heard the news which transferred his life completely. The Americans are coming. He always describes that moment as shocking moment. He felt depressed and thought that maneuvers had to change. Instead of writing to the king or approaching other members of the royal family, he started lobbying through religious scholars and Muslim activists. He succeeded in extracting a fatwah from one of the senior scholars that training and readiness is a religious duty. He immediately circulated that fatwah and convinced people to have their training in Afghanistan. It was estimated that 4000 went to Afghanistan in response to the fatwah. The regime was not happy with his activities so they limited his movement to Jeddah only. He was summoned for questioning twice for some of his speeches and activities and was given warnings. To intimidate him, the regime raided his farm in the suburb of Jeddah by the National Guard. He was not there during the raid and was very angry when told. He wrote a letter of protest to Prince Abdullah. Abdullah apologized and claimed he is not aware and promised to punish who ever were responsible.
Osama was fed up with this almost house arrest situation and did not imagine himself able to stay in the country with the American forces around. One of his brothers was very close to King Fahad and also close to Prince Ahmed, deputy minister of interior. He convinced his brother that he needed to leave the country to sort out some business matters in Pakistan and come back. There was a difficult obstacle, the stubborn Prince Nayef, minister of interior. His brother waited until Nayef went in a trip outside the kingdom and extracted lifting the ban from prince Ahmed. When he arrived in Pakistan around April 1991 he sent a letter to his brother telling him that he is not coming back and apologized for letting him down with the royal family.
After his arrival to Pakistan he went straight to Afghanistan because he knew the Pakistani intelligence would hand him back to the Saudis. There, he attended the collapse of the communist regime and the consequent dispute between the Afghan parties. He spent great effort to arbitrate between them but with no success He ordered his followers to avoid any involvement in the conflict and told them it was a sin to side with any faction. During his stay the Saudis tried more than once to kidnap or kill him in collaboration with the Pakistani intelligence. His friends in the Saudi and Pakistani establishments would always leak the plan and make him ready for it. After his failure in sorting the Afghani dispute, he decided to leave Afghanistan. The only alternative country he had was Sudan. He left Afghanistan disguised in private jet only few months after his arrival. That was late 1991.
His choice of Sudan had nothing to do with jihad or "terrorism." He was attracted to Sudan because of what was at that time an Islamic banner raised by the new regime in Sudan. He wanted to have good refuge as well as help the government in its construction projects. There was no intention from his side or from the Sudanese regime to have any military activity in Sudan. Indeed the Sudanese government refused even sending some of his followers to the front in the south. He was treated in Sudan as a special guest who wanted to help Sudan when everybody was turning away. In Sudan he mobilized a lot of construction equipment and enrolled himself in busy construction projects. He spent good effort in convincing Saudi businessmen to invest in Sudan and had reasonable success. Many of his brothers and Jeddah merchants had and still have investment in real estate, farming and agricultural industry. In Sudan he had again escaped an assassination attempt which turned out later to be the plan of Saudi intelligence.
During his stay in Sudan anti-American incidents happened in Somalia and South Yemen. Neither of the two incidents was performed by his group in the proper sense of chain of command. Both were performed by people who had training in Afghanistan and had enough anti-American drive. He might have given some sanctioning to the operations but one thing was certain, the Sudanese were completely unaware of either.
Between his arrival to Sudan and early 1994 he was not regarded publicly as Saudi opposition and Saudi citizens were visiting him without too much precautions. Only the well-informed people would know that he was classified as enemy to the Saudi regime. His assets were frozen sometime between 1992 and 1994 but that was not published. The Saudis decided to announce their hostility early 1994 when they publicized withdrawing his citizenship.
After long silence and tolerance, bin Laden replied by issuing a communiqué condemning the Saudi decision and saying that he does not need the "Saudi" reference to identify himself and it is not up to Al-Saud to admit or expel people from Arabian Peninsula. He then formed together with activists and scholars from the kingdom a group called "Advice and Reform Committee" (ARC). The ARC was, according to its communiqués and published agenda, a purely political group. The ARC published around 17 communiqués which might have contained harsh criticism of the Saudi regime and plenty of religious rhetoric but never contained reference for violence or incitment of violence.
The car bomb in spring 1995 in Riyadh was the first major anti-American action in the kingdom. Bin Laden never claimed responsibility, but the Saudi government tried to link the incident to bin Laden by showing video confessions of four "Arab Afghans" involved in the bombing.
Sudan was exposed to huge international pressure for hosting bin Laden and his followers, and bin Laden felt that he is becoming an embarrassment to the Sudanese. Early in 1996 he started making contacts with his old friends in Afghanistan to prepare for his reception. He fled Sudan in a very well planned trip with many of his followers to go straight to Jalalabad in Eastern Afghanistan.
When he arrived there, the situation in Afghanistan was very unsettled between the many factions, but he had very good relations with all factions and all would protect him. The area he arrived to was under control of Yunis Khalis, a very influential warlord who later on joined Taliban.
June 1996, after his arrival in Afghanistan was the Khobar bombing. Nobody claimed responsibility, but sources from inside the Saudi ministry of interior confirmed involvement of Arab Afghans, with possible link to bin Laden The Saudi government wanted to frame Shi'a, at the beginning but Americans were very suspicious of the Saudi story. Bin Laden himself never claimed responsibility but gave many hints that he might have been involved. The Saudi government has acknowledged recently that bin Laden's men were behind the bombing.
After few months of his arrival he issued his first anti-American message, a Declaration of War. That declaration was limited to expelling American forces outside the Arabian Peninsula. His sense of security and nobody to embarrass must have been the drive to release that 12 page declaration. Interest in him by the Saudis never stopped and they tried very hard to convince Yunis Khalis to hand him over, and he flatly refused despite the luxurious offers.
Taliban swept Jalalabad late 1996, almost without war, and bin Laden came under their control. He was optimistic that they will give him sanctuary but he was not sure. He was surprised when a delegation of Taliban came to meet him by order of Mullah Omer, the leader of Taliban, with instructions to reassure him that he will have even better protection under Taliban. The delegation expressed Taliban honor of protecting somebody like him who sacrificed a lot for the sake of jihad
The Saudis never gave up. Early 1997 they bought some mercenaries in the Pakistani Afghani border. The operation was arranged with the Pakistani intelligence. The information leaked to bin Laden and he decided to move immediately to Qandahar, the stronghold of Taliban. The operation was then cancelled.
When bin Laden left Jalalabad, he ordered many of his followers to join Taliban in their war against Dostum and to protect Kabul. The unexpected happened. Taliban troops were fooled by a trap in the north and Kabul front was exposed to Shah Masood. Taliban were so disorganized at that stage that it was only those few Arabs who were there to push Shah Masood off Kabul and they did efficiently.
The leader of Taliban Mulla Omer was keen to meet Osama. He met him early 1997 after two TV interviews, Channel 4 and CNN. Mulla Omer expressed respect and admiration but requested him to have low profile. He stressed that that was a request and not an order. Osama replied with appreciation and thanks and reassured Mulla Omer that he was going very low profile.
Sometime in late 1997 a big operation was planned by the Americans. The primary plan was for American special forces to attack bin Laden's residence in Qandahar and kidnap him in a commando style operation. The plan was mocked in Pakistani desert and proved dangerous. While the Americans were reconsidering the decision, the news leaked to bin Laden, again through the Pakistani military, and he made it public. That was published in Al-Quds Al-Arabi in London. The Americans had no choice but to cancel. Americans acknowledged this incident only recently, but did not acknowledge the leak.
Bin Laden noticed that the driving force in Taliban were Ulema (religious scholars). He made very good links with them and lobbied specifically for the subject of American forces in the Arabian Peninsula. He was able to extract a fatwah signed by some 40 scholars in Afghanistan sanctioning the use of all means to expel the American forces from the Peninsula. The issue of that fatwah was an asset to him inside Taliban domain. He felt that Ulema were at his back and he can go high profile after long silence.
His second presence in Afghanistan has attracted many mujahedeen to move there again. Among those were Ayman El-Zawahery of Egyptian Jihad and Rift'ee Taha of Jama'a Islamia. There was also new phenomenon during that period. Bin Laden decided to go pan-Islamic instead of Saudi or Arabic. He attracted Kashmiris, Pakistanis, Indians, and Muslims from the Soviet Republics. He thought at that stage that he could make an international alliance against America. In February 1998 he declared the formation of the International Front. The declaration contained two elements, formation of the front and a fatwah sanctioning killing Americans and Jews. Apart from two Arabic newspapers, the declaration had minimal coverage by the press.
After avoiding the media for almost a year he decided to open the door wide for them. In April 1998 he received the ABC TV team and two weeks later he held press conference in Khost and warned of impending attack in few weeks time. Mulla Omer was not happy with this new media escalation, but felt it difficult to control him while he is protected by the scholars. Indeed bin Laden said that he would abide with what ever the Ulema board decides
The bombings in Kenya and Tanzania July 1998 were not a big surprise. Yes, it was a surprise but in terms of choice of location and targets. Despite his declaration of war against America anywhere, the attack was expected inside Saudi Arabia. Having said that, it is not [to be taken] for granted that he is behind the bombing.
It is not known why the Americans chose a camp in Khost to retaliate. The camp was an almost deserted camp where only few Arabs have stayed, with a neighboring camp of Kashmiris. Bin Laden himself was hundreds of miles away, and the rest of Arab Afghans were in the northern front celebrating their recent victories.
Since the American attack bin Laden was put in heavy protection and advised to stay hiding. His followers made another credit when they protected Kabul front again and pushed Masood forces back.
Bin Laden was brought up with good manners. He matured as extremely humble and very generous person. He insists to join his comrades in every act. Very frequently he cooks for them and serves them. He lives a simple life in a small flat in Jeddah or in a shed in Afghanistan and insists on his family to eat simple and to dress simple.
He is known to be strictly truthful and would never lie, but he is politically conscious and believes there is a room for political maneuver even if you are devoted person. Despite being shy he has dominating personality. He speaks very little and looks serious most of the time. He would appear with a soft smile but he seldom laughs. His followers see a lot of aura on him and show great voluntary respect to him. For some reason that falls short of a proper charisma. He is not known for giving distinguished speeches, and there is almost no audio or video recordings of him.
He is widely educated and spends a good deal of time reading. He is fond of media monitoring and information gathering and research. There was always a data management team with him wherever he went.
Among the outstanding features is his courage. He will not show a flicker even if a bomb exploded near him. He was exposed to more than 40 incidents of heavy bombardment, three of them were full of death and flesh around him. A Scud missile exploded 17 meters distance from him. At one time he was almost the victim of chemical weapons. More than once he needed treatment in hospital for body injuries. Despite this courage he is very cautious person. He would not keep any electronic instrument close to his vicinity. Some times he even avoids any device even if it is a simple watch near him because he believes this might help in targeting him.
He is intelligent and has reasonable strategic thinking, but he downgrades himself in the presence of Islamic scholars. He always admires Shiekh Safar al-Hawali and would have not gone through his current controversial path if al-Hawali was free. Some people saw him as a man with vision, others doubt it. They think that he never had clear long term plan. They see the last fatwah as evidence of that.
Contrary to what is always reiterated bin Laden has never had official relations with the Saudi regime or the royal family. All his contacts would happen through his brothers. The brothers would approach two members of the royal family who were fairly sympathetic to Osama. They were Ahmed bin Abdul Aziz, deputy minister of interior and Abdul Rahman bin Abdul Aziz, deputy minister of defense. He might have met them in few occasions but those meetings would have been purely social or accidental in one of his brother's houses. Specifically he had no relation with Turki al-Faisal head of Saudi intelligence. He used to be very suspicious of his role in Afghanistan and once had open confrontation with him in 1991 and accused him of being the reason of the fight between Afghan factions. He was wary of the Saudi government very early in the eighties, but he thought it was wiser to keep silent and benefit from their de facto support to jihad in that period.
Bin Laden has never had any relation with America or American officials. Claims of relation with CIA or other American departments are all unfounded. Since the late seventies he had strong anti-American feeling. He committed himself and family and advised all friends to avoid buying American goods unless it was necessary. He was saying very early in the eighties that the next battle is going to be with America. ... No aid or training or other support have ever been given to bin Laden from Americans. Bin Laden would bring money from individuals donating straight to him. The weapons he had were either captured from the Soviets or bought from other factions.
Again there were no official relations with officials in Pakistani government. However, he had paramount respect by many Pakistanis including people in the army, intelligence and religious establishment. They were so penetrating that they would always leak any plan against him by the Pakistani-Saudi-American alliance.
His relation with Taliban would best be understood if Taliban themselves are understood properly. First of all Taliban are not simply another Afghan faction supported by Pakistan. Taliban are sincere to their beliefs, a religiously committed group unspoiled by political tactics. They would never bargain with what they see as matters of principle. Bin Laden for them is a saint. He is a symbol of sacrifice for the sake of jihad. They see him as very rich Arab from the Holy Land who gave up his wealth and luxury to fight for the sake of his brother Muslims in Afghanistan. They see themselves performing a double duty here, an Islamic duty of protecting this distinguished person and a tribal duty of protecting a descent refugee. The latter is a big value in Afghanistan. Once, a Taliban leader said to a Saudi envoy that if a goat would seek refuge to my tent I would never hand it over, how on earth do you want us to hand over a holy man like bin Laden?
There was no argument within Taliban about handing over bin Laden. There is however some difference in opinion about how high his media profile should be.
In addition to the factor of principle, bin Laden had twice had the credit of protecting Kabul recently.
Bin Laden became an intimate part of Taliban structure when he taught them how to deal with state affairs in a proper manner. For example, they were to be fooled by some oil and gas companies and sell the pipeline project for cheap. He advised them to learn from the Iraq-Turkey and Iraq-Syria agreements. They wanted to privatize some factories and were about to sell them to Pakistani businessmen for cheap prices. He taught them how to conduct proper bidding procedure and guarantee good prices.
It is needless to say that bin Laden has not had any relation with Iran. Iran knows that bin Laden is a committed Sunni and he regards Iran as Shi'a state. The trust between the two is minimal but both have avoided criticizing each other publicly. Having said that, he sees America as common enemy and according to a Pakistani newspaper he regards an anti-American alliance with Iran and China as something to be considered.
bin Laden has two circles of followers. First are the closed core followers who are related to him by a chain of command and take orders like a secret organization. Most of those are probably in Afghanistan. Many are inside Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Somalia and probably Gulf countries. Like any secret group, those followers would not disclose their relation. Inside Saudi Arabia many of those would appear like any average citizen. The number of those is probably in hundreds.
The second circle is much wider and the number is probably in thousands. They are located in the same countries. They would look at bin Laden as Godfather but they do not have proper chain of command or secret links with him. They would regard themselves obliged to perform some of his general orders. Most of those followers are not organized and get trapped by the Saudi police fairly easily. But some are intelligent and make use of the loose nature of their structure to function without attracting attention.
Before his final departure from Saudi Arabia, his financial activities were almost copies of his brothers. Indeed, he is still part of the big mother company. However he had committed himself at very early stage to a special code which he thought was necessary to guarantee the Islamic nature of this activity. For example he would never invest in non-Islamic country. He would never use banks unless it was absolutely necessary. He does not believe in stock market because he thought the investor cannot escape interest since the money has to be in a bank and produce some interest. He is also preoccupied with the idea that Jews control banks and stock market.
He had three setbacks which would have made him bankrupt otherwise. The first was the freezing of his direct assets by the Saudi government. All his traceable money was frozen including his share in the big mother company of bin Laden. No body knows the exact amount but it was probably in the range of 200-300 million Dollars.
The second setback was the loss he had in Sudan. The Sudanese government was too weak financially to pay him for the construction projects and he ended up hardly with 10% of the payment. He lost in Sudan not less than 150 million dollars.
The third setback happened last year when one of his close aids defected to the Saudi government. The defector Sidi Tayyib Al-Madani had some financial information about him until early 1995. Bin Laden knew about the plans of this man to defect and so had few months to liquidate the few businesses known to this defector. There was very little trace of those businesses but dismantling them was not without loss.
There is, however the other side of the story. Bin Laden is a member of a big family. His father's financial inheritance has not been sorted. The brothers agreed to keep many assets of the father and distribute the profits only. Most of the brothers and sisters are observing Muslims and very keen not to "spoil" their income with money which is not theirs. They believe it is their duty to let the owner of any riyal to have it. The only way they guarantee that is by letting bin Laden's share reach him. Some of the brothers and sisters believed it was their religious duty to support this distinguished brother from their own money. While many are very careful not to irritate the royal family, many more do not care and insist on letting the money reach Osama.
The way bin Laden family money is structured is very complicated because there is the big company and there are many small companies of few brothers together, and there are many individuals with their personal investment. To make the matter even more complex it is very well known that bin Laden family money is intimately mixed with the royal family money in a very complex way. Most of the companies are joint ventures with members of the royal family including King Fahad himself.
There is another big source of income to bin Laden, donations. During the early jihad era when it was blessed by the Saudi regime, he made excellent relations with many wealthy Saudis and Arabs. It is true that most of those would not support him now because of the Saudi government position but some do take the risk.
Lastly, bin Laden activities are not very dependent on money. His followers are not mercenaries. Training does not cost a lot of money. Explosives and weapons are very cheap in some parts of the world. In Somalia TNT for example is cheaper than sugar. In Yemen you can buy an RPG for less than TV set. The role of money here is over exaggerated by many writers.
In the eighties bin Laden was seen as a star of the Afghan Jihad. He was very much admired and respected for his sacrifice but he was not seen as a potential leader. Almost nobody saw leadership ambitions in him at that period. His public image was so good that the regime used this image to have a boost during early days of the Gulf War. The regime published a fabricated interview with him in "Al-Muslimoon" newspaper claiming he supported the regime measures to counteract the Iraqi invasion.
In the period between Iraqi invasion and his reappearance in Afghanistan 1996 he was almost forgotten by the public. The elite and especially the jihadis were still admiring him and following up his news. Some even made their way to Sudan to meet him and offer support. The public were reminded about him by the video confessions of the group attributed to Riyadh bombing.
After his declaration of jihad in 1996 his public image had a surge but this time as a leader rather than a star. There was a lot of controversy about him. In Saudi Arabia nobody would accuse him of being part of conspiracy but people would differ about his new program. There was almost a consensus in the Saudi domain on refusal of American presence in Arabia and many would like the idea of expelling the Americans by force. Many others had reservations and thought violence will bring a lot of trouble to the country. Interestingly those who disagreed with him did not accuse him having personal agenda or looking for personal benefits.
This image went on with occasional boosts by the media until the African bombings. Interestingly the story of the International Front and fatwah did not attract much attention. The Kenya Tanzania bombings reminded people of bin Laden. The media coverage was so overwhelming that the Saudi authorities felt jealous of bin Laden. People's reaction, however, was mixed. While many felt triumph for scaring the Americans, many others felt upset by the picture of hundreds of civilians killed and injured in the attack. They felt that this can never be justified.
The American missiles then played very strong role in sorting the controversy. After the American attack on Sudan and Afghanistan it became almost shameful to criticize bin Laden. People inside Saudi Arabia and in other Arab countries were full of anger towards America, and whoever can antagonize America would provide a fulfillment to their desire of discharging their anger. The American strike with the associated remarks by Clinton and American officials proved that bin Laden is a big challenge to America. In the mind of average Arab and Muslim bin Laden appeared as the man who was able to drive America so crazy that it started shooting haphazardly at unjustified targets. There was another factor which made people forget the scene of civilian victims, the special nature of the Sudanese factory. Those who had reservations of the African bombings thought that this arrogance of the Americans is much worse than the embassy bombings. Their view was that while bin Laden or others can make "executive" mistake because of their difficult circumstances, logistics and communication, America is not supposed to do this mistake unless it is done in purpose.
Interestingly the jealousy of the Saudi regime was seen clearly in the Saudi media when they instructed the Saudi TV and radio not to mention bin Laden name at all. Even when they reported the American missile attack the news item was " attack on terrorist base in Afghanistan, period".
This is the Central Intelligence Agency's unclassified fact sheet on Osama bin Laden, the cave-dwelling lunatic suspected of ordering the August bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. A federal grand jury in New York has reportedly indicted bin Laden for orchestrating previous terror attacks.
Did the U.S. "Create" Osama bin Laden?
Allegations that the U.S. provided funding for bin Laden proved inaccurate
Osama bin Laden
MURDER OF U.S. NATIONALS OUTSIDE THE UNITED STATES; CONSPIRACY TO MURDER U.S. NATIONALS OUTSIDE THE UNITED STATES; ATTACK ON A FEDERAL FACILITY RESULTING IN DEATH
USAMA BIN LADEN
CNN In-Depth: Osama bin Laden
Interview with Osama bin Laden in May 1998.
In the first part of this interview which occurred in May 1998, a little over two months before the U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, Osama bin Laden answers questions posed to him by some of his followers at his mountaintop camp in southern Afghanistan. In the latter part of the interview, ABC reporter John Miller is asking the questions.
OSAMA BIN LADEN A Chronology of His Political Life
1957 Osama bin Muhammad bin Awad bin Laden is born in Riyadh. He is 17th of 52 children sired by Muhammad Bin Laden--Saudi Arabia's wealthiest construction magnate.
1979 Bin Laden graduates from King Abdul Aziz University in Jiddah with a degree in civil engineering.
December 26, 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Bin Laden leaves Saudi Arabia to join the Afghan resistance (mujahedeen).
1980-86 From the Pakistani border, bin Laden raises funds and provides the mujahedeen with logistical and humanitarian aid.
1986-89 According to Islamic sources, bin Laden participates in numerous battles during the Afghan war against the Soviets as a guerilla commander, including the fierce battle of Jalalabad which led the Soviets to finally withdraw from Afghanistan.
1988 Bin Laden establishes "al Qaeda," an organization of ex-mujahedeen and other supporters. Its mission is to channel fighters and funds to the Afghan resistance.
June 30, 1989 The National Islamic Front (NIF) stages a military coup and takes control of the Sudan.
1989 After the Soviets pull out of Afghanistan, bin Laden returns to Saudi Arabia a hero. He becomes involved in opposition movements to the Saudi monarchy while working for his family construction firm, the Bin Laden Group.
August 2, 1990 Iraq invades Kuwait.
April, 1991 Bin Laden flees Saudi Arabia, after being confined to Jiddah for his opposition to the Saudi alliance with the United States. He moves first to Afghanistan and then to Khartoum, Sudan by 1992 (Source: Newsweek 2/1/99). Sudan had begun to allow any Muslim into the country without a visa, in a display of Islamic solidarity. Allegedly, hundreds of suspected terrorists and ex-mujahedeen come to Sudan as a safe haven (Source: New York Times 9/21/98).
1991 US troops fight Persian Gulf War. After victory, the US establishes a large permanent military presence in the region, including Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is the land of "the two most holy places" in Islam--Mecca and Medina.
1992 According to the current indictment against bin Laden, from 1992 on, bin Laden and other Al Qaeda members stated privately within the organization that a) Al Qaeda should put aside its differences with Shiite Muslim terrorist organizations, including Iran and its affiliated terrorist group Hezbollah, to cooperate against the perceived common enemy, the United States and its allies; b) the US forces stationed on the Saudi peninsula, including both Saudi Arabia and Yemen, should be attacked; and c) the US forces stationed in the Horn of Africa, including Somalia, should be attacked.
Bin Laden begins to set up legitimate businesses in the Sudan, including a tannery, two large farms, and a major road construction company. When Saudi Arabia began pressuring Pakistan to get rid of the mujahedeen near the border with Afghanistan, bin Laden reportedly paid for 480 Afghan vets to come work with him. The Sudanese leaders liked this wealthy Saudi who was enthusiastic about investing in their fledgling Islamic state.
December 29, 1992 A bomb explodes in a hotel in Aden, Yemen, where US troops had been staying while en route to a humanitarian mission in Somalia. The bomb killed two Austrian tourists; the U.S. soldiers had already left. Two Yemeni Muslim militants, trained in Afghanistan and injured in the blast, are later arrested. US intelligence agencies allege that this was the first terrorist attack involving bin Laden and his associates (Source: New York Times 8/21/98).
1993 Sudan is placed on State Department's list of countries that sponsor terrorist activities (Source: Washington Post 8/23/98).
According to US government charges, bin Laden's followers try to obtain components of nuclear weapons and begin to work with Sudan's NIF to develop chemical arms (Source: US News and World Report 10/5/98).
February 26, 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
October 3 & 4th, 1993 Eighteen US troops are killed in an urban attack in Mogadishu, Somalia. American law enforcement, intelligence and national security officials are divided as to whether, as a federal indictment charges, bin Laden and his adherents helped train and arm the men who killed the US troops (Source: New York Times 2/8/99).
January 1994 According to US intelligence analysts, by January 1994, bin Laden was financing at least three terrorist training camps in North Sudan, where rebels from a half-dozen nations received training. (Source: New York Times 8/14/96)
April 9, 1994 The Saudi government revokes bin Laden's citizenship and moves to freeze his assets in Saudi Arabia because of his support for Muslim fundamentalist movements. (Source: New York Times 4/10/94)
1995 According to U.S. intelligence sources, bin Laden establishes extensive training and housing operations for foreign guerillas in northern Yemen near Saudi border. (Source: Washington Post 8/23/98)
February/March 1995 Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the World Trade Center bombing, is captured in Pakistan and extradited to the United States. A search of his former residences leads investigators to believe he is financially linked to bin Laden. Also, he had stayed at a bin Laden financed guest house while in Pakistan.
June 1995 Unsuccessful assassination attempt on the life of the President of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, in Addis Ababa. U.S. intelligence sources believe bin Laden was somehow linked.
August, 1995 Bin Laden wrote an open letter to King Fahd of Saudi Arabia calling for a campaign of guerrilla attacks in order to drive U.S forces out of the kingdom.
November 13, 1995 Five Americans and two Indians are killed in the truck bombing of a US-operated Saudi National Guard training center in Riyadh. Bin Laden denies involvement but praises the attack (Source: Washington Post 8/23/98).
May 1996 The Sudan expels bin Laden because of international pressure by the United States and Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden then moves back to Afghanistan. (Source: Jane's Intelligence Review 10/1/98)
May 31, 1996 The four Saudi men accused of bombing the Saudi National Guard training center in Riyadh are beheaded in Riyadh's main square. Before their execution, they are coerced by the Saudi's into a public confession. In the confession, they claim to have read bin Laden communiqués.
Spring 1996 President Clinton signed a top secret order that authorized the CIA to use any and all means to destroy bin Laden's network.
June 25, 1996 A large truck bomb devastates the US military residence in Dhahran called Khobar Towers, killing 19 servicemen. The US military initially linked bin Laden to the attack but now believe a Saudi Shiite group was responsible (Source: Washington Post 8/23/98). U.S. investigators still believe bin Laden was somehow involved.
November, 1996 Gwynne Roberts conducts interview of bin Laden for the British documentary program Dispatches. Bin Laden threatens to wage an Islamic holy war against the United States and its allies if Washington does not remove its troops from the Gulf region (Source: Reuters 2/20/97).
May 1997 CNN airs an interview with bin Laden in which he criticizes US "occupation of the land of the holy places."
July 1997 According to Islamic sources, a US-backed multinational mercenary force is formed with the aim of abducting or killing bin Laden. Witnesses claim to see 11 black Land Cruisers crossing into the Afghan city of Khost along with 2 helicopters. A source said force was composed of 1000 non-US mercenaries. (Source: Mideast Mirror 7/14/97--al-Hayat & al-Arab)
February 1998 Bin Laden issues joint declaration with the Islamic Group, Al Jihad, the Jihad Movement in Bangladesh and the "Jamaat ul Ulema e Pakistan" under the banner of the "World Islamic Front," which stated that Muslims should kill Americans including civilians--anywhere in the world.
May 1998 ABC's John Miller interviews bin Laden in Afghanistan.
June 1998 A raid is conducted in Albania against a cell of an Islamic terrorist movement by security personnel from the U.S. and Albania. Two suspected employees of bin Laden are arrested. The CIA takes custody of a van-load of documents and computer gear. Two weeks later, another raid was conducted and two more suspected bin Laden associates arrested. They were Egyptian nationals and were turned over to anti- terrorist officials in Egypt. All were associated with the Islamic Revival Foundation. (Source: Washington Post 8/12/98)
June 8, 1998 The grand jury investigation of bin Laden, initiated in 1996, issues a sealed indictment, charging Bin Laden with "conspiracy to attack defense utilities of the United States." Prosecutors charge that bin Laden heads a terrorist organization called al Qaeda, the base, and was a major financier of Islamic terrorists around the world.
June 10, 1998 ABC Nightline John Miller interview with bin Laden broadcast.
August 6, 1998 The Egyptian Jihad group sent the United States a warning: they would soon deliver a message to Americans "which we hope they read with care, because we will write it, with God's help, in a language they will understand." (Source: New York Times 8/21/98)
August 7, 1998 This is the eighth year anniversary of United Nations sanctions against Iraq and the ordering of U.S. troops into the Gulf region. Iraq informed the US Security Council that it was not going to tolerate the continuation of the sanctions beyond the eighth year anniversary. (Source: Daily Telegraph 8/12/98)
Two simultaneous explosions at US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The bomb in Nairobi, Kenya kills 213 people, including 12 US nationals, and injure more than 4,500 . The bomb in Dar es Salaam kills 11 and injures 85. No Americans died in the Tanzania bombing.
August 12, 1998 The Small Group of presidential advisors meet with Clinton, reportedly with evidence that bin Laden is looking to obtain weapons of mass destruction and chemical weapons to use against US installations (Source: New York Times 9/23/98). US intelligence also reportedly intercepted a mobile phone conversation between two of bin Laden's lieutenants that implicated them in the embassy bombings. (Source: Newsweek 8/31/98)
August 20, 1998
sudanese factory attacked by u.s. missiles
US retaliation against bin Laden--cruise missiles attack a suspected terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and Al Shifa, a pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum. US intelligence claims that Al Shifa is tied to the production of chemical weapons for bin Laden. The Sudanese government vehemently denied these claims.
US adds bin Laden's name to list of terrorists whose funds are targeted for seizure by US Treasury in order to shut down the financial pipelines that allegedly subsidize bin Laden's terrorist activities. (Source: Washington Post 8/28/98)
September 23, 1998 US senior administrative officials admit that they had no evidence that directly linked bin Laden to the Al Shifa factory at the time of retaliatory strikes on Aug 20. Intelligence officials found financial transactions between bin Laden and the Military Industrial Corporation--a company run by the Sudan's government. (Source: New York Times 9/23/98)
October 1998 The Sunday Times of London reports that bin Laden is sending Islamic mercenaries to Kashmir to support an Islamic secession campaign.
October 7, 1998 Arabic newspaper al-Hayat claims bin Laden has acquired nuclear weapons from Soviet Central Asian countries using a network of "influential friends". Others are skeptical. (Source: UPI 10/7/98)
November 4, 1998 A new superceding indictment is issued against bin Laden, Muhammad Atef and a host of other suspects. They are charged with bombing of two US embassies and conspiring to commit other acts of terrorism against Americans abroad. Two rewards of $5 million each are offered for Atef and bin Laden. Atef is described as bin Laden's chief military commander.
December 22, 1998 Bin Laden summons Rahimullah Yusufzai, a reporter for Pakistan's The News, Time Magazine and John Miller of ABC News, to his tented encampment in Afghanistan's Helmand province for interviews.
December 23, 1998 TIME correspondent conducts interview with Osama bin Laden.
December 24, 1998 ABC's second interview with Osama bin Laden is broadcast on ABC News.
January 11, 1999 TIME and Newsweek publish interviews with Osama bin Laden that were conducted in late December.
January 16, 1999 The US Attorney's office files its most complete indictment to date of Osama bin Laden and 11 other suspected members of his terrorist organization. The grand jury charges the men for conspiring to kill American nationals. The first count of the indictment charges that several of the co-defendants, acted with other members of "al Qaeda," a worldwide terrorist organization led by bin Laden, in a conspiracy to murder American citizens. The objectives of the terrorist group allegedly include: killing members of the American military stationed in Saudi Arabia and Somalia; killing United States embassy employees in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; and concealing the activities of the co-conspirators by, among other things, establishing front companies, providing false identity and travel documents, engaging in coded correspondence, and providing false information to the authorities in various countries.
May 29, 2001 Four followers of Osama bin Laden are found guilty of charges stemming from the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Mohamed Rashed Daoud Al-Owhali, Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, Mohammed Saddiq Odeh, and Wadih El Hage are convicted of charges including murder, conspiracy and perjury after a nine-week federal trial during which prosecutors called over 90 witnesses, including al Qaeda informants and survivors of the bombings. Owhali and Mohamed face the death penalty at their sentencing, while Odeh and El Hage face life in prison.
Who is Osama Bin Laden?
Osama Bin Laden is both one of the CIA's most wanted men 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 Yemen.
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 Soviet Union.
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 there.
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.
Where Is Osama Bin Laden?
Sources Tell CBS News U.S. Intelligence Believes Al Qeada Leader Is In Chitral District Of Northern Pakistan
As Osama bin Laden urges Americans to convert to Islam in a new video released Friday, the al Qaeda leader's location remains a mystery.
But informed sources tell CBS News U.S. intelligence believes Osama bin Laden is hiding out in the Chitral district of northern Pakistan. A number of reports from human sources, including some alleged sightings, have put him there, reports CBS News national security correspondent David Martin.
None of the reports has been independently confirmed, but there are enough of them to persuade intelligence analysts that it's his most likely location.
Chitral is a remote, rugged area governed by tribes that will not allow even the Pakistani army to operate there.
"They have a code of hospitality for guests, and they've probably also gotten a fair amount of money from bin Laden," says Daniel Benjamin of the Brookings Institute, who tracked bin Laden during the Clinton administration. He believes bin Laden is surrounded by body guards armed with surface-to-air missiles and good intelligence.
"I think it's quite likely he has a very good early warning system (and) that there are perimeters set up so people know who's coming and going in the area that he's living," Benjamin said.
Before 9/11, bin Laden's deputy Ayman al Zawahiri always seemed to be at his side. But no longer.
"They're separated for good reasons," says Benjamin. "Most countries don't let their top two people travel together or undertake anything that would be risky together."
Last year, a U.S. missile strike narrowly missed Zawahiri after the CIA tracked him to a meeting of senior al Qaeda operatives south of Chitral. Al Qaeda seems willing to risk Zawahiri in order to protect bin Laden.
"It seems like they've made a decision that bin Laden will have a much higher level of operational security," Benjamin says. "Zawahiri will take more risks and is probably in a more accessible place."
So far, it's working. The only proof U.S. intelligence has that bin Laden is even alive are his own videos.
Lost at Tora Bora
CIA 'knows Bin Laden whereabouts'
The head of the US Central Intelligence Agency has said he has an "excellent idea" where Osama Bin Laden is hiding.
But CIA director Porter Goss did not say when the world's most wanted man would be caught, nor his location.
He told Time magazine there were "weak links" in the US-led war on terror. His remarks follow recent US criticism of Pakistan's role in hunting suspects.
Bin Laden, wanted for the 9/11 attacks, is widely believed to be in Pakistan's tribal region bordering Afghanistan.
He has eluded capture ever since the 11 September, 2001 airliner attacks in the United States for which al-Qaeda is blamed.
Thousands of US-led troops have been deployed to find the Saudi-born billionaire, who has a $25m bounty on his head.
Mr Goss said it was unlikely Bin Laden would be brought to justice until "we strengthen all the links" in the chain in the US-led hunt for terror suspects.
"When you go to the very difficult question of dealing with sanctuaries in sovereign states, you're dealing with a problem of our sense of international obligation, fair play.
"We have to find a way to work in a conventional world in unconventional ways that are acceptable to the international community."
Asked if he had a good idea where Bin Laden is, he said: "I have an excellent idea of where he is. What's the next question?"
The CIA chief did not mention Pakistan by name in his interview with Time.
But his comments come after a row between Islamabad and the departing US ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, who has frequently accused Pakistan of sheltering terror suspects.
The US envoy was angered last week after Pakistani television station Geo interviewed a senior Taleban commander in Afghanistan, who said both Bin Laden and Taleban leader Mullah Omar were alive and well.
"If a TV station can get in touch with them, how can the intelligence service of a country which has nuclear bombs and a lot of security and military forces not find them?" asked Mr Khalilzad in an interview with an Afghan television station.
Pakistan's Foreign Ministry spokesman called Mr Khalilzad's remarks "irresponsible".
Pakistan was the main backer of Afghanistan's hardline former Taleban rulers until President Musharraf joined the war on terror in late 2001.
Hundreds of terror suspects, including a string of men alleged to be senior al-Qaeda figures, have been arrested in Pakistan since then.
Mr Goss, a critic of the CIA's former tactics, said he was giving the agency a thorough shake-up, and it was doing a "pretty good job" staying ahead of al-Qaeda's capability.
On the possibility of more al-Qaeda attacks on US targets, he said: "Certainly the intent is very high."
Hiding in Pakistan? Years Later Bin Laden Elusive
Pakistan Doesn't Allow the U.S. to Search Area
The United States is on the verge of remembering the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, and still Osama bin Laden remains elusive.
A recently released tape from bin Laden has intelligence officials scrambling to assess its significance, but it has a meaning that goes far beyond its words.
For America, the tape may serve as a painful reminder that bin Laden remains at large, maybe hidden in Pakistan in the mountains that divide Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Geography presents a challenge to finding him, but military mistakes have also caused problems as Pakistani troops, with some U.S. assistance, search for bin Laden.
Disputes between Pakistani military and local tribesman and militia have turned Pakistani troops into the enemy in many areas, and the violence appears to be growing. Since 2001, 800 Pakistani soldiers have been killed in these disputes, but 200 have died in just the last two months.
And for all the time and $10 billion in U.S. aid, the only solid proof that bin Laden is even alive has come from the man himself.
In a rare trip into one of the 11 tribal areas in the northwest frontier provinces in the Pakistani mountains, evidence exists of growing violence that included car bomb explosions in the region during the weekend. It was the third attack against a military target in the past week.
Somewhere in the mountain range, al Qaeda is reported to have reformed itself. Once again, the group is holding meetings and communicating attack plans through prepaid cell phones, radio networks and producing videotapes. It is moving its leaders, including bin Laden, while using look-alikes and false movements to fool surveillance planes.
Despite suspicion that bin Laden is holed up in the mountains along the border, nobody is looking in the area because the Pakistani government doesn't allow U.S. military action there.
And the tribes that control the area are not cooperating with the Pakistani government. In fact, the relationship has gotten so bad that the area may now be a safe haven for bin Laden and his associates.
The U.S. government insists Pakistan's military is engaged in a robust search for bin Laden, assisted by U.S. training and assets, which includes helicopters, communications equipment and access to sensitive intelligence networks.
But military sources said there have been few, if any, credible leads in years, and much of America's best assets are dedicated to Iraq.
Pakistani officials are quick to counter and have said they have 80,000 men on the ground in tribal areas, and hope remains.
But most of the troops do not speak the local language. And sources said the Pakistani military's heavy-handed tactics have made enemies of the tribal chiefs, who are the very people who could help find bin Laden.
Search efforts have been relegated to air attacks on supposed safe houses, bombings that have taken innocent lives, outraged civilians and emboldened militants.
Because of the ill will, Western military sources told ABC News the tribal areas now play host to perhaps a dozen different anti-Western groups.
"For the last few years I have not heard of any [military] operation to capture a high value target," Rahimullah Yusufzai, an ABC News consultant and Pakistani journalist. "I haven't seen on the troops going in to a village to arrest someone. All they do is bomb the place."
Osama Bin Laden: Video september 2007
Osama Bin Laden in 2004 speech
December 26, 2001 Osama bin laden
'Embrace Islam' Bin Laden urges
A new video tape purportedly made by al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden has urged the American people to embrace Islam in order to stop the war in Iraq.
Unnamed US officials said they believed the speaker, who makes no overt threats against the US, was indeed Bin Laden. It is his first video in three years.
The release of the tape comes near the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
US President George W Bush said the message was "a reminder of the dangerous world in which we live".
"It's important that we show resolve and determination to protect ourselves, deny al-Qaeda safe havens," said the president, who is on a visit to Australia. Date references suggest it may have been made as recently as this summer, US officials studying the tape said.
A short excerpt from the 30-minute tape was aired by al-Jazeera TV on Friday evening.
It shows Osama Bin Laden sitting at a table, dressed in a white robe and turban and beige cloak. His beard looks shorter and darker than in the video issued in 2004.
Beneath him a banner reads in English: "A message from Sheikh Osama Bin Laden to the American people."
The speaker makes no overt threats to the US and did not directly call for attacks, according to transcripts of the tape obtained by several media organisations in the United States.
Instead, he tells the American people that they have failed to persuade the Bush administration to stop the war in Iraq.
"You made one of your greatest mistakes, in that you neither brought to account nor punished those who waged this war," the speaker in the tape says, according to the transcript obtained by ABC News.
"You permitted Bush to complete his first term, and stranger still, chose him for a second term, which gave him a clear mandate from you... to continue to murder our people in Iraq and Afghanistan".
The speaker tells the American public that there are two ways to end the war in Iraq: "The first is from our side, and it is to continue to escalate the killing and fighting against you."
The second way, he continues, is to reject America's democratic system and convert to Islam.
"It has now become clear to you and the entire world the impotence of the democratic system and how it plays with the interest of the peoples and their blood by sacrificing soldiers and populations to achieve the interests of the major corporations".
"I invite you to embrace Islam," the speaker says.
"The leaders of the West - especially Bush, [Tony] Blair, [Nicolas] Sarkozy and [Gordon] Brown - still talk about freedom and human rights with a flagrant disregard for the intellects of human beings," he adds.
The reference to French President Nicolas Sarkozy would indicate that the tape was recorded after Mr Sarkozy's victory in May.
Correspondents say a new video would serve to dispel persistent rumours that the al-Qaeda leader has died.
The US Department of Homeland Security said it had no credible information of an imminent threat in the wake of the video announcement.
Deputy state department spokesman Tom Casey said: "I don't think that anything he is likely to say or do is going to change our resolve or the resolve of our international partners to confront extremism."
But in a speech to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York on Friday, CIA director Michael Hayden warned that al-Qaeda was plotting new attacks on the US.
"Our analysts assess with high confidence that al-Qaeda's central leadership is planning high impact plots against the American homeland," he said.
"Al-Qaeda is focusing on targets that would produce mass casualties, dramatic destruction and significant economic aftershocks."
In his October 2004 video, Osama Bin Laden threatened new attacks against the US on the eve of the presidential election.
Another tape - audio - was released in January 2006. It referred to identifiable events, including the situation in Somalia.
Bin Laden did appear in footage on a militant website in July this year but the clip was undated and correspondents said it might be old footage, which had been recycled.
Al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri has appeared in a greater number of videos, including one berating the Pakistani army's assault on radical Islamists in Islamabad's Red Mosque in July.
The US Senate voted to double the bounty on Bin Laden to $50m (£24.6m) in July.
OSAMA bin Laden Body Language Analysis of Video Tape 9/8/07
White House says bin Laden has little power
White House Homeland Security Adviser Fran Townsend on Sunday dismissed the influence of al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, saying that making a tape every few years “is about the best he can do.”
“This is a man on the run from a cave who is virtually impotent other than these tapes,” Townsend said on Fox News Sunday. She added that the U.S. is taking the sending of the tapes “seriously” but that they appear to be only “propaganda.”
Townsend’s remarks resemble those of new Republican presidential hopeful Fred Thompson. The former Tennessee senator said that he thinks of bin Laden “as more of a symbolism than he is anything else.” Thompson added that the al Qaeda chief “being in the mountains of Afghanistan or Pakistan is not as important as the fact that there’s probably al Qaeda operatives inside the United States of America.”
Thompson’s comments triggered a stinging rebuke from Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), who is also vying for the Republican presidential nomination.
“I think that Fred should appreciate the fact that when this guy uses cyberspace the way that he’s able to use it, and motivate and to increase the radical Islamic extremism and enthusiasm, he is a great danger,” McCain said on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos. “He continues to communicate, he continues to lead and he continues to be a symbol for them of leadership in this radical hatred and evil radical Islamic extremism.”
Bin Laden, millionaire with a dangerous grudge
Osama bin Laden, the man U.S. intelligence officials say is the prime suspect behind the September 11 hijacking attacks, is the head of a shadowy organization that is believed to have been targeting the United States and its allies since the early 1990s.
Bin Laden, an Islamic fundamentalist and the son of a Saudi billionaire, has been on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list since 1999, and the U.S. State Department has offered a $5 million reward for his arrest.
U.S. prosecutors say bin Laden is the leader of al Qaeda (Arabic for "the Base"), a worldwide network blamed for both successful and failed strikes on U.S. targets. These include the millennium bombing plot, last year's attack on the USS Cole in Yemen and the nearly simultaneous bombings of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998.
Bin Laden's anger with the United States stems from the 1990 decision by Saudi Arabia to allow the U.S. to stage attacks on Iraqi forces in Kuwait and Iraq. After the U.S. victory, the U.S. military presence became permanent.
In a CNN interview with bin Laden in 1997, he said the ongoing U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia is an "occupation of the land of the holy places."
He left Saudi Arabia in 1991 after feuding with the Saudi monarchy, taking assets that had grown to an estimated $250 million with him, U.S. officials say.
In 1996, bin Laden issued a "fatwah," a religious ruling urging Muslims to kill U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia and Somalia. A second fatwah in 1998 called for attacks on American civilians.
Network dates back to Afghan war
Bin Laden began forming his network in 1979, when he went to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets alongside Afghan resistance fighters known as the mujahedeen.
He used his family's connections and wealth to raise money for the Afghan resistance and provide the mujahedeen with logistical and humanitarian aid, and participated in several battles in the Afghan war.
As the war with the Soviets drew to a close, bin Laden formed al Qaeda, an organization of ex-mujahedeen and other supporters channeling fighters and funds to the Afghan resistance.
Once the Soviets pulled out of Afghanistan, bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia to work for the family construction firm, the bin Laden Group. He became involved in Saudi groups opposed to the reigning Saudi monarchy, the Fahd family.
In 1994, the Saudi government stripped him of his citizenship and froze any remaining assets he may have had in the country.
Al Qaeda linked to other radical groups
Bin Laden is believed to be at the center of an international coalition of Islamic radicals. Al Qaeda has forged alliances with like-minded fundamentalist groups such as Egypt's Al Jihad, Iran's Hezbollah, Sudan's National Islamic Front, and jihad groups in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Somalia, according to the U.S. government.
Bin Laden's organization also has ties to the "Islamic Group," led at one time by Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, the Egyptian cleric serving a life sentence since his 1995 conviction for a thwarted plot to blow up various New York landmarks. Two of Sheik Rahman's sons joined forces with bin Laden in the late 1990s.
The United States alleges that from 1992 on, bin Laden and other al Qaeda members targeted U.S. military forces in Saudi Arabia and Yemen and those stationed in the Horn of Africa, including Somalia.
In October 1993, 18 U.S. servicemen involved in the U.S. humanitarian relief effort in Somalia were killed during an operation in Mogadishu. One soldier's body was dragged through the streets.
Bin Laden was indicted in 1996 on charges of training the people involved in the attack and in a 1997 interview with CNN, bin Laden said his followers, together with local Muslims, killed those troops.
U.S. law enforcement also alleges that bin Laden has ties to failed attacks on two hotels in Yemen where U.S. troops stayed en route to Somalia.
On August 7, 1998, eight years after the U.S. deployment in Saudi Arabia, a pair of truck bombs exploded outside the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
Bin Laden has denied responsibility, but prosecutors allege his culpability is evident on faxes sent by his London cell to at least three international media outlets. They also point to incriminating statements by certain alleged embassy bombers who are admitted al Qaeda members.
Nearly two weeks later, on August 20, 1998, President Clinton ordered cruise missile attacks against suspected terrorist training camps in Afghanistan and a pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum, Sudan.
Bin Laden survived the strikes and was indicted by the United States on charges of masterminding the attacks in November 1998.
Four of his alleged supporters were convicted of the bombings May 29, 2001, and sentenced to life in prison. Several suspects are in custody awaiting trial.
The man who pleaded guilty to a failed plot to bomb Los Angeles International Airport during the millennium celebrations leading up to New Year's Day 2000 claimed he was trained at an Afghanistan camp run by bin Laden.
Ahmed Ressam said he learned how to handle handguns, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers and how to assemble bombs made from the explosives TNT and C4.
Bin Laden is suspected to be living in Afghanistan as a guest of its ruling Taliban government.
Taliban officials have condemned the September 11 attacks on the United States and said that he could not have been involved. The regime also has said it does not know where bin Laden is, a claim the United States refutes.
Into Thin Air
He's still out there. The hunt for bin Laden.
The Americans were getting close. It was early in the winter of 2004-05, and Osama bin Laden and his entourage were holed up in a mountain hideaway along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Suddenly, a sentry, posted several kilometers away, spotted a patrol of U.S. soldiers who seemed to be heading straight for bin Laden's redoubt. The sentry radioed an alert, and word quickly passed among the Qaeda leader's 40-odd bodyguards to prepare to remove "the Sheik," as bin Laden is known to his followers, to a fallback position. As Sheik Said, a senior Egyptian Qaeda operative, later told the story, the anxiety level was so high that the bodyguards were close to using the code word to kill bin Laden and commit suicide. According to Said, bin Laden had decreed that he would never be captured. "If there's a 99 percent risk of the Sheik's being captured, he told his men that they should all die and martyr him as well," Said told Omar Farooqi, a Taliban liaison officer to Al Qaeda who spoke to a NEWSWEEK reporter in Afghanistan.
The secret word was never given. As the Qaeda sentry watched the U.S. troops, the patrol started moving in a different direction. Bin Laden's men later concluded that the soldiers had nearly stumbled on their hideout by accident. (One former U.S. intelligence officer told NEWSWEEK that he was aware of official reporting on this incident.)
And so it has gone for six years. American intelligence officials interviewed by NEWSWEEK ruefully agree that the hunt to find bin Laden has been more a game of chance than good or "actionable" intelligence. Since bin Laden slipped away from Tora Bora in December 2001, U.S. intelligence has never had better than a 50-50 certainty about his whereabouts. "There hasn't been a serious lead on Osama bin Laden since early 2002," says Bruce Riedel, who recently retired as a South Asia expert at the CIA. "What we're doing now is shooting in the dark in outer space. The chances of hitting anything are zero."
How can that be? With all its spy satellites and aerial drones, killer commandos and millions in reward money, why can't the world's greatest superpower find a middle-aged, possibly ill, religious fanatic with a medieval mind-set? The short answer, sometimes overlooked, is that good, real-time intelligence about the enemy is hard to come by in any war, and manhunts are almost always difficult, especially if the fugitive can vanish into a remote region with a sympathetic population. (Think how long—five years—it took the FBI to track down Eric Rudolph, the Atlanta Olympic bomber, in the wilds of North Carolina.) That said, the U.S. government has made the job harder than necessary. The Iraq War drained resources from the hunt, and some old bureaucratic bugaboos—turf battles and fear of risk—undermined the effort. The United States can't just barge into Pakistan without upsetting, and possible dooming, President Pervez Musharraf, who seems to lurch between trying to appease his enemies and riling them with heavy-handed repression.
The story of the search for the men known to American spies and soldiers as high-value targets one and two (HVT 1 and HVT 2)—Osama bin Laden and his possibly more dangerous No. 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri—is a frustrating, at times agonizing, tale of missed opportunities, damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't choices, and outright blunders. It has been related to NEWSWEEK by dozens of American, Pakistani and Afghan military and intelligence officials, as well as a few Qaeda sympathizers like Omar Farooqi. Capturing bin Laden "continues to be a huge priority," says Frances Fragos Townsend, President George W. Bush's chief counterterror adviser. It may be true, as Townsend points out, that Qaeda leaders do not have anything like the safe haven they enjoyed in Afghanistan before 9/11. But it is also true that Al Qaeda has been reconstituting itself in the mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and that the terrorist organization is determined to stage more 9/11s, and maybe soon. "We have very strong indicators that Al Qaeda is planning to attack the West and is likely to attack, and we are pretty sure about that," says retired Vice Adm. John Redd, chief of the National Counterterrorism Center, which coordinates all U.S. intelligence in the so-called Global War on Terror (GWOT). Hank Crumpton, who ran the CIA's early hunt for bin Laden in 2001-02 as deputy chief of the agency's counterterrorism center and recently retired as the State Department's coordinator of counterterrorism, says, "It's bad; it's going to come."
Before 9/11, the hunt for bin Laden was marked by a certain tentativeness, an official reluctance to suck America into the dirty business of political assassination or to get U.S. troops killed. Within days after 9/11, President Bush was vowing to capture bin Laden "dead or alive," and Cofer Black, the CIA's counterterror chief at the time, was ordering his troops to bring back bin Laden's head "in a box." (In fact, CIA operatives in Afghanistan requested a box and dry ice, just in case.) With old-fashioned derring-do, CIA case officers, carrying millions of dollars, choppered into Afghanistan to work with tribesmen to drive out Al Qaeda and its Taliban hosts. The CIA's alacrity caused some heartburn at the Pentagon. According to Bob Woodward's "Bush at War," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld steamed impatiently while the military seemed to dither, stymied by weather and fussing with complex backup and rescue arrangements before the brass would commit any troops.
Rumsfeld's foot-stamping was rewarded. By mid-October, CIA case officers and Army, Navy, and Air Force Special Operations units were working together in unusual harmony, using high-tech air support and, at one point, mounting what Rumsfeld gleefully called "the first cavalry charge of the 21st century" to kill, capture or chase away thousands of jihadists. The Taliban fled for the hills. Bin Laden, it seemed, would be cornered. Indeed, on Dec. 15, CIA operatives listening on a captured jihadist radio could hear bin Laden himself say "Forgive me" to his followers, pinned down in their mountain caves near Tora Bora.
As it happened, however, the hunt for bin Laden was unraveling on the very same day. As recalled by Gary Berntsen, the CIA officer in charge of the covert team working with the Northern Alliance, code-named Jawbreaker, the military refused his pleas for 800 Army Rangers to cut off bin Laden's escape. Maj. Gen. Dell Dailey, the Special Ops commander sent out by Central Command, told Berntsen he was doing an "excellent job," but that putting in ground troops might offend America's Afghan allies. "I don't give a damn about offending our allies!" Berntsen yelled, according to his 2005 book, "Jawbreaker." "I only care about eliminating Al Qaeda and delivering bin Laden's head in a box!" (Dailey, now the State Department's counterterror chief, told NEWSWEEK that he did not want to discuss the incident, except to say that Berntsen's story is "unsubstantiated.")
Berntsen went to Crumpton, his boss at the CIA, who described to NEWSWEEK his frantic efforts to appeal to higher authority. Crumpton called CENTCOM's commander, Gen. Tommy Franks. It would take "weeks" to mobilize a force, Franks responded, and the harsh, snowy terrain was too difficult and the odds of getting bin Laden not worth the risk. Frustrated, Crumpton went to the White House and rolled out maps of the Pakistani-Afghan border on a small conference table. President Bush wanted to know if the Pakistanis could sweep up Al Qaeda on the other side. "No, sir," Crumpton responded. (Vice President Dick Cheney did not say a word, Crumpton recalled.) The meeting was inconclusive. Franks, who declined to comment, has written in his memoirs that he decided, along with Rumsfeld, that to send troops into the mountains would risk repeating the mistake of the Soviets, who were trapped and routed by jihadist guerrilla fighters in the 1980s (helped out, it should be recalled, with Stinger missiles provided by the CIA).
To catch bin Laden, the CIA was left to lean on local tribesmen, a slender reed. NEWSWEEK recently interviewed two of the three tribal chiefs involved in the operation, Hajji Zahir and Hajji Zaman. They claimed that the CIA overly relied on the third chieftain, Hazrat Ali—and that Ali was paid off (to the tune of $6 million) by Al Qaeda to let bin Laden slip away. Ali could not be reached for comment. But Crumpton, who admits that he has no hard evidence, told NEWSWEEK he is "confident" that a payoff allowed Al Qaeda to escape. Unsure which side would win, some tribesmen apparently hedged by taking money from both sides.
Bin Laden was not so much seeking refuge as coming home when he disappeared into the jagged peaks along the frontier of northwest Pakistan. He had always liked hunting and horseback riding in the mountains, and had even built himself a crude swimming pool with a spectacular view near Tora Bora. Though a wealthy Saudi, bin Laden had long since learned to live close to the ground, abjuring his followers to learn to survive without modern comforts like plumbing or air conditioning.
Local Pashtun tribesmen were not about to turn bin Laden in for a reward, even a $25 million one. The strictly observed custom of defending guests, part of an ancient honor code called Pashtunwali, insulated Al Qaeda. The Pakistan central government could do little to crack this social system. The wilds of the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) have been virtually ungovernable for centuries. The British Raj failed, and the Pakistan government never tried very hard, leaving administration up to federally appointed tribal agents and law enforcement in the hands of a local constabulary of dubious loyalty. In the 1980s, during the insurrection against Soviet rule in Afghanistan, the tribal agencies were a kind of staging area for jihadists like bin Laden. Saudi money built hundreds of madrassas—fundamentalist schools that radicalized local youth—and Pakistani intelligence (the ISI) formed alliances with the jihadists to subvert the Soviet-backed Afghan regime.
The American effort to chase bin Laden into this forbidding realm was hobbled and clumsy from the start. While the terrain required deep local knowledge and small units, career officers in the U.S. military have long been wary of the Special Operations Forces best suited to the task. In the view of the regular military, such "snake eaters" have tended to be troublesome, resistant to spit-and-polish discipline and rulebooks. Rather than send the snake eaters to poke around mountain caves and mud-walled compounds, the U.S. military wanted to fight on a grander stage, where it could show off its mobility and firepower. To the civilian bosses at the Pentagon and the eager-to-please top brass, Iraq was a much better target. By invading Iraq, the United States would give the Islamists—and the wider world—an unforgettable lesson in American power. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was on Rumsfeld's Defense Policy Board and, at the time, a close confidant of the SecDef. In November 2001, Gingrich told a NEWSWEEK reporter, "There's a feeling we've got to do something that counts—and bombing caves is not something that counts."
When Franks refused to send Army Rangers into the mountains at Tora Bora, he was already in the early stages of planning for the next war. By early 2002, new Predators—aerial drones that might have helped the search for bin Laden—were instead being diverted off the assembly line for possible use in Iraq. The military's most elite commando unit, Delta Force, was transferred from Afghanistan to prep for the invasion of Iraq. The Fifth Special Forces Group, including the best Arabic speakers, was sent home to retool for Iraq, replaced by the Seventh Special Forces Group—Spanish speakers with mostly Latin American experience. The most knowledgeable CIA case officers, the ones with tribal contacts, were rotated out. Replacing a fluent Arabic speaker and intellectual, the new CIA station chief in Kabul was a stickler for starting meetings on time (his own watch was always seven minutes fast) but allowed that he had read only one book on Afghanistan. One slightly bitter spook, speaking anonymously to NEWSWEEK to protect his identity, likened the station chief to Captain Queeg in "The Caine Mutiny." (CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano insists "station chiefs go through a rigorous, multistep selection process, designed to get leaders with the right skills in the right places.")
The frustrations of the snake eaters are well illustrated by the recollections of Adam Rice, the operations sergeant of a Special Forces A-Team working out of a safe house near Kandahar in 2002. With his close-cropped orange hair and beard, wearing a yellow Hawaiian shirt around the safe house, Rice was not the sort to shine at inspections at boot camp. But he had lived in Kabul as a child (his father had been a USAID worker) and he had been a Special Forces operator for more than two decades. In July 2002, a CIA case officer told Rice that a figure believed to be Mullah Omar, the one-eyed chief of the Taliban, had been tracked by aerial drone to a location in the Shahikot Valley, a short flight to the north. The Taliban chief and his entourage would be vulnerable to a helicopter assault, but the Americans had to move quickly.
Rice was not optimistic about getting timely permission. Whenever he and his men moved within five kilometers of the safe house, he says, they had to file a request form known as a 5-W, spelling out the who, what, when, where and why of the mission. Permission from headquarters took hours, and if shooting might be involved, it was often denied. To go beyond five kilometers required a CONOP (for "concept of operations") that was much more elaborate and required approval from two layers in the field, and finally the Joint Special Operations Task Force at Baghram air base near Kabul. To get into a fire fight, the permission of a three-star general was necessary. "That process could take days," Rice recalled to NEWSWEEK. He often typed forms while sitting on a 55-gallon drum his men had cut in half to make a toilet seat. "We'd be typing in 130-degree heat while we're crapping away with bacillary dysentery and sometimes the brass at Kandahar or Baghram would kick back and tell you the spelling was incorrect, that you weren't using the tab to delimit the form correctly."
But Rice made his request anyway. Days passed with no word. The window closed; the target—whether Mullah Omar or not—moved on. Rice blames risk aversion in career officers, whose promotions require spotless ("zero defect") records—no mistakes, no bad luck, no "flaps." The cautious mind-set changed for a time after 9/11, but quickly settled back in. High-tech communication serves to clog, rather than speed the process. With worldwide satellite communications, high-level commanders back at the base or in Washington can second-guess even minor decisions.
In Pakistan, President Musharraf was wary of his American allies in the War on Terror. In 2002, he told a high-ranking British official: "My great concern is that one day the United States is going to desert me. They always desert their friends." According to this official, who declined to be identified sharing a confidence, Musharraf cited the U.S. pullouts from Vietnam in the 1970s, Lebanon in the 1980s and Somalia in the 1990s. Still, he quickly gave the Americans considerable leeway to operate inside Pakistan. He did not demand prior approval of Predator attacks, and he allowed "hot pursuit" for American forces five kilometers or more inside the border. (With a grim laugh, one U.S. officer interviewed by NEWSWEEK recalled watching on Predator video as insurgents fled across the border and stopped on what they thought was safe terrain—until a U.S. Special Ops helo reared up and blasted them.) Musharraf told the Americans he understood that they would do what they had to do to attack high-value targets, although he indicated the Pakistanis might have to issue pro forma denunciations. His one request, said a U.S. official who dealt directly with the Pakistani leader, was that bin Laden not be captured alive and be brought to trial in Pakistan.
The cooperation has resulted in some high-profile successes. Working with the Pakistani police, the CIA and FBI helped to capture "KSM"—Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Al Qaeda's operations chief and mastermind of the 9/11 attacks—at a house in Quetta, a city near the Afghan border, on March 1, 2003. Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan, a Qaeda communications expert, was picked up in Karachi in 2004 (and released, to the immense frustration of American officials, last week by the Pakistan government without ever having been formally charged with a crime). KSM's successor as chief of operations, Abu Faraj al-Libbi, was seized in May 2005. Qaeda officials who came down out of the mountains to make contact with jihadists risked exposure, especially if they were at all careless about using cell phones that could be tracked.
But the mountains themselves have remained virtually impenetrable. After Al Qaeda twice tried to assassinate Musharraf in 2003, the Pakistani leader decided he had no choice but to go after the jihadists in their lair. Generals blustered about trapping bin Laden between a "hammer" (American forces operating out of Afghanistan) and an "anvil" (the Pakistani military). Pakistani tanks and helicopter gunships began to rumble and roar into the northwestern territories. But despite periodic claims of success, the fighting on the ground went badly. The Pakistani forces had been trained to fight on the plains of Punjab against the Indian Army. They were not well suited for guerrilla war and sustained heavy casualties. More broadly, questions remain about the loyalties of the Frontier Constabulary, the militia responsible for security in the tribal areas. A Western military officer with experience on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghanistan border says that FC troops often fail to warn U.S. units of militants crossing over into Afghanistan; in May 2006 one FC soldier even shot and killed an American officer in Pakistan. Musharraf can rightly claim to have purged the ISI of agents with lingering Taliban and Qaeda sympathies, but the Western officer claims that several of those former agents are now unofficially aiding their former charges.
The Iraq War, meanwhile, has proved to be a black hole for the Americans, devouring men and matériel and absorbing the attention of the brass in Washington. In 2005, the CIA gave President Bush a secret slide show on the hunt for bin Laden. The president was taken aback by the small number of CIA case officers posted to Afghanistan and Pakistan. "Is that all there are?" the president asked, according to a former intelligence official, who declined to be identified discussing White House meetings. The CIA had already embarked on a "surge" of sorts, and doubled the number of officers in the field. But many were inexperienced and raw recruits, and they produced little improvement in "actionable" intelligence.
CIA officials at Langley were anxiously watching their flank. At the Pentagon, Rumsfeld, vexed by the CIA's inability to provide actionable intel, had been pushing to get Special Forces into clandestine operations and gathering of human intelligence (HUMINT). Under an "execute order" approved by President Bush in July 2005, the Pentagon identified 350 Qaeda targets globally, including senior leaders, recruiters, financiers and couriers, according to a high-ranking Defense official who, like others quoted anonymously in this story, did not wish to be identified revealing such matters. The CIA naturally resisted this invasion of its turf. Congressmen and ambassadors grumbled that they were being kept in the dark about the military's black ops.
The Defense official claims that "the Horn of Africa has been a fruitful place" for missions. But when it came to going after the top Qaeda leadership along the Pakistan border, the military was still dogged by poor intelligence and risk aversion. These two chronic failings combined to undo what may have been America's best shot at killing or capturing some top Qaeda leaders since the escape at Tora Bora.
In late 2005, the CIA and the Pentagon's Joint Special Operations Command came up with intelligence that gave them "80 percent confidence" that either Zawahiri, bin Laden's longtime sidekick, or another of bin Laden's highest-ranking lieutenants would be attending a meeting in a small compound just inside Pakistan along its northern border with Afghanistan. "This was the best intelligence picture we had ever seen" about a so-called HVT, said a former intelligence official who was involved in the operation. The spooks and Special Operations Forces planned an airborne commando raid that could have been produced by Jerry Bruckheimer. Some 30 U.S. Navy SEALs were to be flown by C-130 transport planes, under cover of darkness, to a spot high above the Afghan side of the Pakistan border, about 30 to 40 miles away from the target. The SEALs would jump from the plane and use parasails—motorized hang gliders—to fly through the night sky, across the mountains, to a secret staging point close to the compound. They would attack the target and capture Zawahiri or whatever other HVTs were on the premises, killing them only if necessary. The SEALs would then spirit their captives away to another staging point, where two CH-53 helicopters awaited to airlift them back to Afghanistan.
The plan was enthusiastically endorsed by the then CIA Director Porter Goss and JSOC Commander Stanley McChrystal, who was a major at the time. But when the Pentagon's civilian leadership, including Rumsfeld and his principal intelligence adviser, Under Secretary Steve Cambone, pored over the plan, they began raising questions. Was the intelligence good enough to justify the risk to U.S. troops and the possible blowback on Musharraf if the mission went bad? "Can't you get the confidence up to 100 percent?" Pentagon officials asked their CIA counterparts, eliciting frustrated eye-rolling in return, according to the former intelligence officer interviewed by NEWSWEEK. According to a former Defense official close to Rumsfeld, a familiar Pentagon planning maxim had already kicked in: the more uncertain the intelligence, the more precautions the military wants to take. The top brass was asking, were two helicopters really sufficient to extract the SEALs? What if one was shot down or had mechanical problems? Images of the failed 1980 Iranian hostage-rescue mission came to mind. Or Rangers fighting their way through Mogadishu to rescue trapped commandos in the 1993 fiasco known as Blackhawk Down. In order to bolster the rescue part of the plan, JSOC proposed sending in teams of Army Rangers to add security. As discussions continued, the size of the Ranger team grew to 150, about five times the size of the initial commando force.
To Rumsfeld, the operations began to seem more and more like an invasion of Pakistan. Musharraf would have to be consulted, or at least informed. But did that mean his unreliable intelligence service, the ISI, would leak the plan to Al Qaeda? The official close to Rumsfeld says that the SecDef became increasingly wary as he weighed potential risk against reward.
But time was of the essence. The C-130s were circling over the border, the SEALs were ready to jump, while Rumsfeld was still deliberating with the top brass. CIA Director Goss went to the Pentagon to implore him to go ahead. At the last minute Rumsfeld called off the raid. "Believe me, if this had been easy and there were certainty, we'd have done this," says the former Rumsfeld adviser. "There just wasn't certainty."
Certainty is painfully hard to achieve in this hunt, despite America's enormous technological edge. American spy satellites, designed for the cold war against the Soviets, don't have antennas sensitive enough to pick up cell-phone or handheld radio transmissions. So Special Ops teams—known as Task Force Orange—have slipped into the tribal areas to plant listening devices on various peaks. The listening posts have been useful, in several cases pinpointing the locations of Qaeda operatives. But the jihadists have adapted, and use codes to disguise the kind of actionable information the hunters need.
The common saying among intelligence and Special Ops officers is that all the thugs have been killed by now—but the smart guys have survived, and become smarter. Predators have scored some hits, including killing Abu Hamza Rabia, another Qaeda operations chief (al-Libbi's successor), in 2005. (To cloak American involvement, the Pakistani government cooked up the story that Rabia had blown himself up experimenting with explosives.) But the jihadists have learned to avoid the drones: it's easier to hear a Predator, which sounds like a loud model airplane, in the Pakistani hill country than in an Iraqi city. And when the Americans shoot and miss, the consequences can be grave. In January 2006, a Predator fired a Hellfire missile at a house in Damadola, Pakistan, where Zawahiri was supposed to be meeting. Once again, the intel was unreliable: Zawahiri was not there, but more than a dozen civilians were killed, and the survivors were enraged.
By 2006, Musharraf was weary. American focus on Afghanistan was fading; the war in the territories was costly in terms of lives and public sentiment; the jihadists were starting to spill into the cities. The president of Pakistan decided to cut his losses, and in September 2006, his local governor signed a peace deal with tribal militants.
Al Qaeda did not hesitate to assert itself. Jihadists paraded brazenly in Waziristan, dragging "criminals" through the streets. American satellite photos soon showed single files of foreign jihadists, their feet sometimes wrapped in plastic bags against the snow, crossing the Pakistani border into Afghanistan. An Algerian man known as "the Bombmaker," a seasoned veteran of Iraq, set up shop to teach jihadists how to build IEDs. Local militants ruled through assassination and intimidation. The experienced Western military official interviewed by NEWSWEEK described how militants killed a petty merchant and his entire family simply for selling watermelons to the local constabulary. "Imagine what they'd do to the guy who sells out Osama," said the officer.
In late 2006 and early 2007, anxious top American policymakers, including Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, traveled to Pakistan to persuade Musharraf to renew his military operations along the frontier. "There is no question the peace agreement failed Pakistan and it failed us," said Townsend, the White House counterterror chief. The Pakistani president was in a difficult position, risking his unpopular and shaky regime if he cracked down on the jihadists and risking it if he didn't. Once more, Sisyphus began to roll the stone up the hill: Musharraf ordered 20,000 soldiers to march into the territories, to reinforce the 80,000 who were already there. But "I don't think the Pakistani military is going to move wholeheartedly against Al Qaeda," a knowledgeable Pakistani military source told NEWSWEEK. "I don't think their hearts are in it." The tough talk by American politicians calling for unilateral action is not helping matters, says retired Pakistani Army Lt. Gen. Talat Masood, a well-regarded moderate. "It's very humiliating for civilians and the military alike," he says. (Mahmud Ali Durrani, Pakistan's ambassador to Washington, insisted that Pakistan is doing more than the United States to attack Al Qaeda. "The threat to us is far greater," he said.)
U.S. Special Operations Forces have had considerable practice by now chasing jihadists in Iraq and Afghanistan. The JSOC headquarters at Baghram is so full of high-tech listening and tracking equipment that it resembles "something out of 'Star Wars'," says a Pentagon official who has seen the place. In recent months, says John Arquilla, a Special Ops expert at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., the U.S. military has achieved a 100-to-1 kill ratio (100 dead guerrillas to every American). But by calling in airstrikes, the Americans also kill a lot of civilians, which breeds more jihadists. And according to Thomas Johnson, also at the Naval Postgraduate School, the military's continued fixation on body counts and kill ratios is irrelevant and even counterproductive. "When you kill a person it's a multiplication factor. It demands that all the male relatives join the fight."
The Americans will not find top Qaeda leaders unless they can win the trust of local tribesmen who may know their whereabouts. Johnson, an Afghan expert, spent last February at Forward Operating Base Salerno near the Pakistan border, briefing commanders on the tribal custom of Pashtunwali. He says only about 5 percent of American troops in Afghanistan ever leave their bases—a statistic, he believes, that explains better than any other why Americans are struggling in the battle for intelligence. He says most soldiers in Afghanistan don't know simple phrases like "stop," "go," or "put your hands up." Americans continually make cultural blunders, like using canine units to search people's homes (dogs are considered unclean in Muslim culture). Meanwhile the Taliban works at winning the trust and confidence of villagers—or intimidating them. "They go into villages and say, 'The Americans have the watches but we have the time. We might not come back in a week or a year, but you bet your britches we'll eventually come back'," says Johnson.
The American military, understandably, puts a high priority on "force protection," but as a practical matter that means staying behind armor and barricades. Rice, the A-Team sergeant stuck in his safe house near Kandahar, recalls that his team's frustration peaked when a memo came down from the brass at Baghram, ordering men not to initiate fire fights and even not to use words like "death" and "destruction" in their CONOPS. Among Rice's men, it became known as the "limp dick memo." (The Defense Department declined to comment specifically on Rice's memories.)
The American military is forever caught in a dilemma. During the early days of the cold war, the old boys who ran the CIA began to reason that when it came to fighting against an underhanded foe in a battle for global survival, the rules of fair play they had learned as schoolboys no longer applied. If the communists fight dirty, we must, too, they rationalized—or freedom would perish. This ends-justifying-the-means rationale led to foolish and ultimately unsuccessful assassination plots and other dirty tricks that disgraced and demoralized the CIA when the agency's so-called Crown Jewels were revealed during Watergate. After 9/11, Bush administration officials, particularly Vice President Cheney, vowed to take the gloves off against Al Qaeda. But in the aftermath of allegations of torture in secret prisons, there has been a strong push back, particularly among administration lawyers disturbed by the abuse of constitutional rights. According to knowledgeable sources, Rumsfeld's deputy for intelligence, Steve Cambone, engaged in an angry debate with the Pentagon's top lawyer, William Haynes, over the activities of U.S. Special Forces—who in the minds of some government lawyers and lawmakers have been given too much, not too little, license to roam.
The frustrations at the top are understandable. There is a certain desperate quality to the hunt for bin Laden. Some experts think he's constantly on the move; others believe he must be holed up somewhere, never using electronics, impossible to detect. After the close call in 2004, says Omar Farooqi, "the Sheik" shrank his security staff and employed only faithful Arabs. A Western military official who has worked both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border told NEWSWEEK that bin Laden may have deployed small groups of bodyguards spread along the frontier with the same "signature": small security detail, secretive, saying little to local villagers, always moving on. That's a perfect disinformation campaign, says the official. The nearby locals start whispering that bin Laden must be nearby. "Word gets around that it must have been him," he says. "We react. It throws us off the trail and makes us waste assets following bad leads. And it's a cheap and easy way to do."
No wonder the intelligence community is reaching out to anyone who can glean even a hint of bin Laden's whereabouts. As early as November 2001, John Shroder, a geographer at the University of Nebraska, found himself addressing an audience of intelligence officials, analyzing the rock formations behind bin Laden in a video released that October. About all he could do was tell the spooks that bin Laden seemed to be in the western part of Afghanistan's Spin Ghar Mountains. "We were grasping at straws," says Michael Scheuer, who was special adviser to the head of the CIA's bin Laden unit at the time. "We called in geologists. We had the Germans bring in ornithologists because they thought they heard a bird chirping on a video and wanted to see if it was particular to certain regions of South Asia." The agency enlisted doctors to look for signs of kidney disease, which bin Laden was rumored to be suffering from at the time. A Dec. 27, 2001, video, nicknamed by analysts "the Gaunt Tape," shows a haggard-looking bin Laden, who seems to be unable to move his left arm. "But the doctors couldn't pinpoint any problems with his health," says Scheuer.
CIA analysts began calling bin Laden "Elvis" because he was here, there, but really nowhere. Some wonder if he's dead. He has not issued a video since the end of 2004, and he has not been heard on an audiotape for more than a year. It is possible he is incapacitated by disease—the rumors of kidney problems persist. There have been reports that bin Laden has sought medication to be used in the terminal stages of kidney disease. But "I don't have any reason to think he's dead," says Townsend, who sees all the intelligence coming to the office of the president. "It's inconceivable to me to think that he would expire and we wouldn't have some information, intelligence, that something had happened to him."
If he is alive, there is no doubt he means to kill as many Americans as possible. "The Sheik's desire is to strike another blow at the palaces of the West," says Sheik Said, the senior Egyptian Qaeda leader. In 2003, Scheuer points out, bin Laden even managed to gain religious sanction from a radical Saudi cleric to kill "no more than 10 million Americans" with a nuclear or biological weapon.
America remains his obsession. NEWSWEEK interviewed Nasser al Bahri, who served as bin Laden's personal bodyguard for six years. Now under very loose house arrest in Yemen, the former bodyguard still reveres "the Sheik." According to al Bahri, bin Laden used to amuse himself by chanting this bit of doggerel, part of a longer poem by a jihadist poet:
I am the enemy of America
Till this life is over and doomsday comes.
It's the root and trunk of destruction,
It's the evil on the branches of trees.
"The only thing that seems to rile him up is mention of America," says al Bahri. "I think from the very beginning of his childhood he hated America. I don't know why. He won't even drink a Pepsi."
Bin Laden's No. 2, Zawahiri, is just as baleful toward the United States. According to various accounts, it was Zawahiri, a well-educated Egyptian doctor, who before 9/11 persuaded bin Laden to turn his terrorist ambitions from the "near enemy" (the corrupt regimes of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt) to the "far enemy" (the United States). Zawahiri may represent more of a threat to the West than bin Laden. By taking himself off the grid, bin Laden may no longer be in operational control; capturing him might be more symbolic than significant. But meanwhile Zawahiri has become more visible. "In the past two years he has put out more than 30 messages," says Rita Katz, director and founder of the SITE Institute, which monitors jihadist Web sites. She notes that within hours of the storming of the Red Mosque by Pakistani forces, Zawahiri's response was uploaded on the Internet. "I believe he's in or near an urban area where he is able to get news and respond to issues quickly," says Katz. "In 2005, you'd still see videos with cheap fabric backdrops that rippled in the wind. Today, they seem to be using better equipment, complete with artificial backgrounds added postproduction." "Al Qaeda may have seventh-century ideas, but they have 21st-century acumen for communications," says Georgetown University terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman. "Al Qaeda has become a world brand and their videos are the juice that fueled that recognition."
The overarching question is whether Al Qaeda has the ability to strike the United States with another "spectacular" along the lines of 9/11, or possibly something worse. When the Qaeda leadership was driven into the hills in 2001, and many of their top operators were killed or captured, the jihadist movement was sustained by local wannabes. They set off bombs and blew up subways and discos from Indonesia to Britain. But they were not very high-tech, and some were klutzes, like the two mokes who last June failed to set off a pair of car bombs in London and then tried, unsuccessfully, to become suicide bombers at the Glasgow airport. (One eventually did die of his burns, but no civilians were injured when their car caught fire but failed to explode.)
When the United States struck Afghanistan in 2001, "there were probably 3,000 core Al Qaeda operatives," says Arquilla of the Naval Postgraduate School. "We killed or captured about 1,000; about 1,000 more ended up in distant parts of the world. And about 1,000 ended up in Waziristan. But the great terror university in Afghanistan is gone; they've relied on the Web since. They haven't had the hands-on instruction and the bonding of the camps. That's resulted in low-skill levels. Their tradecraft is really much poorer."
The danger now, says Arquilla, is that the longer the Iraq War goes on, the more skilled the new generations of jihadists will become. "They're getting re-educated," he says. "The first generation of Al Qaeda came through the [Afghan] camps. The second generation are those who've logged on [to Islamist Web sites]. The next generation will be those who have come through the crucible of Iraq. Eventually, their level of skill is going to be greater than the skill of the original generation."
It is disturbing to recall that when U.S. forces overran Qaeda training grounds, they found scientific documents discussing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. (Zawahiri is reported to have a particular interest in chem-bio.) A true weapon of mass destruction is very hard to come by, and it may be a while before the jihadists can make, steal or buy a nuclear weapon or a germ bomb capable of killing more than a few people. But dirty bombs are less difficult to craft from conventional explosives and radioactive material, the kind that can be found in the waste bins of hospitals. Crumpton recalls that Zawahiri canceled a planned attack to set off a cyanide bomb in the New York City subways in 2003. "We don't know why," says Crumpton, or what became of the team Al Qaeda recruited to stage the attack but apparently never dispatched to the United States. "You think: Why did he call it off? Where are they?"
Intelligence officials in Europe and America have spent a jittery summer seeing signs that Al Qaeda is gearing up to hit the West in some significant way. In his interview with NEWSWEEK, Admiral Redd of the National Counterterrorism Center was guarded about details. But it was clear from his comments that the terror watchers are seeing signs and hearing chatter that have put them on alert. For an attack on Europe? America? "They would like to come west, and they would like to come as far west as they can," is how Redd puts it. The intelligence community lacks specific information about the movements of terrorists, he said. "What we do have, though, is a couple of threads which indicate, you know, some very tactical stuff, and that's what—you know, that's what you're seeing bits and pieces of, and I really can't go much more into it."
Meanwhile, the hunt for bin Laden goes on. Recently, it has gone all the way back to the beginning—to the Tora Bora region. This summer, about 500 jihadists—Taliban and Al Qaeda, increasingly indistinguishable—infiltrated the area. After three American Special Forces soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in early August, the Americans launched a sweep of bin Laden's old hideout, backed by aerial strikes. Last week a NEWSWEEK reporter, led by a guide, hiked up into the mountains to visit the battlefield.
On the way up, they passed small convoys of American Humvees and Afghan National Army Ford Ranger pickups. Along the trail, past a few dozen unmarked Arab graves from the 2001 bombing, they saw bits of shrapnel, corroded bullets and scraps of military detritus, some of it quite old. Leaflets blew around. They warned the locals that American troops would hunt down people who sheltered terrorists. On the leaflets were garish pictures of evil-looking masked men with glaring white eyes; one had the word OSAMA in a red circle with a diagonal slash through it.
The NEWSWEEK reporter and his guide walked past a series of burned-out Soviet tanks, scrawled with triumphalist Arab graffiti, leftovers from the struggle against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. Eventually, they came to bin Laden's old cave complex, just above a gorge known as the Malawa Valley. On a wide ledge was Osama's old swimming pool, dry now, but with its still spectacular view. There had been rumors of sightings of the Sheik and his entourage. But they were just rumors.
CNN's "In the Footsteps of Bin Laden" in english
Bin Laden Footage
Bush-Truly not concerned about bin Laden