Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board
|The Fisk files|
|09/19/01 at 11:47:15|
|Bismillah and salam,|
© 2001 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd
19 September 2001 04:15 GMT+1
Robert Fisk: 'Smoking them out' is not new in the Middle East
19 September 2001
"Smoking them out of their holes"? "Wanted dead or alive"? President Bush
says that he wants justice, but the United States seems close to sanctioning
hit squads and liquidation. A new policy for America, maybe but it's an
old policy in the Middle East where assassination, kidnapping and murder
squads have been a normal part of local "justice" for decades.
Iran, Israel, Libya and Iraq have all employed killer squads to hunt down
their enemies overseas. The Iranians twice sent teams to murder the Shah's
last prime minister, Shahpour Bakhtiar, in Paris on the basis that he was
planning a "terrorist" coup d'ιtβt. The first gang killed a policeman and an
elderly lady, but the second group, who were armed with knives, almost
severed his head from his body.
Colonel Gaddafi openly admitted his determination to hunt down and kill the
"terrorist stray dogs" of the Libyan opposition abroad, his gunmen murdering
the most prominent of his opponents in Rome. Israel arranged the murder of
the Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader, Fathi Shkaki, shot dead by
motorcyclists in Malta, and the assassination of Abu Jihad, Yasser Arafat's
military commander, in Tunis.
But the policy has its devastating failures. In Norway, an Israeli murder
squad hunting a leader of the Black September movement shot down an innocent
Moroccan waiter. Some of the murderers were found hiding in the home of an
Israeli diplomat in Oslo.
When Israeli agents tried to kill a Hamas leader in the streets of Amman by
injecting him with poison, the victim was saved when King Hussein of Jordan
telephoned President Clinton to warn that he would break off diplomatic
relations with Israel unless the Israelis provided the antidote. Sheikh
Yassin, the Hamas leader, was released from an Israeli prison by Benjamin
Netanyahu, then Prime Minister, to express regret to the king.
Today, Israel's policy of murdering its militant opponents in the West Bank
and Gaza "targeted killings" in Israel's own exclusive lexicon is in
full swing. Telephone bombs, booby-trapped cars, helicopter gunships and
murder squads have liquidated at least 60 Palestinian "activists" and
bombers, with the usual crop of innocent children and women. Palestinians
have privately threatened prominent Israeli agents with the same tactics and
one was murdered by his own collaborator contact.
During Lebanon's 16-year civil war, there were many successful attempts to
assassinate heads of state and others. The Druze leader, Kemal Jumblatt, the
Prime Minister, Rashid Karami, the President, Rene Mouawad, and the
Christian Maronite politician Dany Chamoun were all murdered by gunmen; in
Jumblatt's case, many Lebanese blamed Syrian agents for the assassination,
while the others may have been killed by right-wing Christian organisations.
Egypt has sent police death squads into the Nile valley south of Assiout,
where Islamist followers were later shot dead, according to their families,
in front of their homes. Syria faced with an Islamic uprising in the city
of Hama in 1982 did, quite literally, "smoke out" its Muslim enemies. In
medieval tunnels beneath the city, presidential Defence Brig-ades fired
smoke grenades at insurgents, forcing them to emerge through drain covers,
where they were gunned down with civilians hiding in nearby homes. The
Muslim Brotherhood of Syria was referred to by Hafiz al-Assad, then the
President, as "terrorists" the same word used by President Mubarak about
Egyptian militants, and by the Algerian government about the Islamists whom
it has been fighting for a decade.
In Algeria's case, there is growing evidence of government involvement in
death squads and mass slaughter. Throughout the Middle East, the policy of
liquidation seeking enemies "dead or alive" has always been accompanied
by torture, human rights violations and the killing of large numbers of
innocents. In almost every case, state-sponsored murders were justified by
governments on the basis that many civilians had died at the hands of the
insurgents/militants/guerrillas/terrorists, and that shoot-to-kill policy
was "the only language they understand".
Almost all Middle East governments adopting these methods have used the same
language. The former Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin spoke of "rooting
out the evil weed of terrorism" in Lebanon. Mr Mubarak used similar words
after Islamist gunmen murdered western tourists in Egypt (and tried to kill
Mr Mubarak as well). The Syrians, the Egyptians, the Algerians even the
Iranians when confronting their own "mujahedin kalq" opposition have all
spoken of "victory over terrorism". Only the Syrians appear to have been
successful. Their campaign cost the lives of up to 20,000 Syrians.
|Re: The Fisk files|
|09/19/01 at 11:48:26|
|Bismillah and salam,|
Now this article i have a problem with. I think he fails to see that the condemnation of the attacks does not mean lack of support for taliban. there is an underlying assumption here!
© 2001 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd
19 September 2001 04:20 GMT+1
Taliban finds few Muslim friends
By Robert Fisk in Beirut
18 September 2001
They have been lining up in their condemnation. Mullahs, sheikhs and sayeds,
from Beirut to Tehran, are criticising last week's assault on the United
States, sending condolences and sympathy and by their actions distancing
themselves from the atrocity that millions of Arab Muslims watched live on
There is genuine outrage, true, but it would be as well to place it in
context. Because the Taliban, the shield of Osama bin Laden, has almost as
many enemies in the Middle East as it has in America.
For two consecutive days, Sayed Mohamed Hussein Fadlallah, the spiritual
guide to the Hizbollah guerrilla movement the group that reinvented the
art of suicide bombing against the Israeli occupation army in Lebanon and
which Washington still blames for the kidnapping of Americans in Beirut in
the 1980s has been excoriating those responsible.
"No religion justifies such an action," the Shia Muslim cleric announced in
Beirut. "It is not permissible to use innocent and peaceful civilians as a
card to change a specific policy." Muslims and Islamists opposed American
policy in the region "which is totally biased in favour of the Zionist
enemy" but they wanted to be friends with the American people, the cleric
Sheikh Abdul-Amir Qabalan, the vice-president of the Higher Shia Muslim
Council in Lebanon, insisted Islam was "a religion of justice and equality
and it condemns any attack on civilians and the innocent".
Now this makes interesting reading. No such condemnations followed the
Palestinian suicide bombings that killed 15 civilians, including six
children, in a Jerusalem pizzeria in August or the suicide bombing that
slaughtered 21 Israeli teenagers in Tel Aviv. Hizbollah's satellite groups
were held responsible for the 1983 bombing of the US embassy in Beirut in
which more than 50 Lebanese civilians were killed.
In Iran, whose boy soldiers perfected suicide attacks on the Iraqi army in
the 1980-88 war and whose government has always supported Palestinian
suicide bombers, President Mohammad Khatami and his conservative opponents
condemned totally the New York and Washington bombings. This is not
For in Tehran the rulers of Afghanistan have been called the "black Taliban"
for years, long before the US identified them as Mr bin Laden's protectors.
The Iranians, and, by extension, their Hizbollah protιgιs, have long
regarded the Taliban's "Wahabi" Sunni Muslim leaders as obscurantists and
At least two million Afghan refugees are living in great poverty in eastern
Iran, many of whom would have stayed at home were it not for the Taliban's
rule and the mass starvation that the Taliban has done little to alleviate.
Iran has now closed its border with Afghanistan to prevent a further exodus
of refugees and America has said that it would "consider" inviting Iran to
join a coalition against "world terrorism". Iran will most certainly
The Saudis, of course, can scarcely do anything but join in the chorus of
condemnation. They helped to create the Taliban, to legitimise its presence
in Afghanistan and to fund and arm the so-called students who destroyed most
of the rival mujahedin groups who had been pillaging Kabul and other great
Afghan cities in the years that followed the Soviet military withdrawal. Mr
bin Laden is himself a Saudi though one officially deprived of his
citizenship and, as is becoming clearer, some of the hijackers were Saudi
In Egypt, Sunni Muslim clerics added their own condemnation, although
President Mubarak has been one of the few Middle Eastern leaders to warn of
the consequences of indiscriminate American retaliation. He it was who
warned just two short weeks ago that, unless a peace was restored, he feared
there would be "an explosion outside the region".
Back in Lebanon, the Hizbollah itself issued a crafty statement yesterday,
regretting the loss of innocent lives in America but warning Washington not
to take advantage of the atrocities "to practise all sorts of aggression and
terrorism under the pretext of fighting aggression and terrorism".
Also from the Middle East section
Middle East ceasefire boosts US hopes of building wider coalition
Bush to lean on his friends in the Gulf
Sharon feels US anger after Arafat seizes the diplomatic high ground
Robert Fisk: 'Smoking them out' is not new in the Middle East
Arafat announces unilateral ceasefire, Israel halts military actions
|Re: The Fisk files|
|09/25/01 at 23:31:45|
|Robert Fisk: Bush is walking into a trap|
16 September 2001
Retaliation is a trap. In a world that was supposed to have learnt that
the rule of law comes above revenge, President Bush appears to be
heading for the very disaster that Osama bin Laden has laid down for him.
Let us have no doubts about what happened in New York and Washington last
week. It was a crime against humanity. We cannot understand America's
need to retaliate unless we accept this bleak, awesome fact. But this
crime was perpetrated it becomes ever clearer to provoke the United
States into just the blind, arrogant punch that the US military is
Mr bin Laden every day his culpability becomes more apparent has
described to me how he wishes to overthrow the pro-American regime of the
Middle East, starting with Saudi Arabia and moving on to Egypt, Jordan
and the other Gulf states. In an Arab world sunk in corruption and
dictatorships most of them supported by the West the only act that
might bring Muslims to strike at their own leaders would be a brutal,
indiscriminate assault by the United States. Mr bin Laden is unsophisticated
in foreign affairs, but a close student of the art and horror of war.
He knew how to fight the Russians who stayed on in Afghanistan, a
Russian monster that revenged itself upon its ill-educated, courageous
antagonists until, faced with war without end, the entire Soviet Union began
to fall apart.
The Chechens learnt this lesson. And the man responsible for so much of
the bloodbath in Chechnya the career KGB man whose army is raping and
murdering the insurgent Sunni Muslim population of Chechnya is now
being signed up by Mr Bush for his "war against people''. Vladimir Putin
must surely have a sense of humour to appreciate the cruel ironies that
have now come to pass, though I doubt if he will let Mr Bush know what
happens when you start a war of retaliation; your army like the
Russian forces in Chechnya becomes locked into battle with an enemy that
appears ever more ruthless, ever more evil.
But the Americans need look no further than Ariel Sharon's futile war
with the Palestinians to understand the folly of retaliation. In
Lebanon, it was always the same. A Hizbollah guerrilla would kill an Israeli
occupation soldier, and the Israelis would fire back in retaliation at a
village in which a civilian would die. The Hizbollah would retaliate
with a Katyusha missile attack over the Israeli border, and the Israelis
would retaliate again with a bombardment of southern Lebanon. In the
end, the Hizbollah the "centre of world terror'' according to Mr Sharon
drove the Israelis out of Lebanon.
In Israel/Palestine, it is the same story. An Israeli soldier shoots a
Palestinian stone-thrower. The Palestinians retaliate by killing a
settler. The Israelis then retaliate by sending a murder squad to kill a
Palestinian gunman. The Palestinians retaliate by sending a suicide
bomber into a pizzeria. The Israelis then retaliate by sending F-16s to bomb
a Palestinian police station. Retaliation leads to retaliation and more
retaliation. War without end.
And while Mr Bush and perhaps Mr Blair prepare their forces, they
explain so meretriciously that this is a war for "democracy and
liberty'', that it is about men who are "attacking civilisation''. "America was
targeted for attack,'' Mr Bush informed us on Friday, "because we are
the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world.'' But
this is not why America was attacked. If this was an Arab-Muslim
apocalypse, then it is intimately associated with events in the Middle East and
with America's stewardship of the area. Arabs, it might be added, would
rather like some of that democracy and liberty and freedom that Mr Bush
has been telling them about. Instead, they get a president who wins 98
per cent in the elections (Washington's friend, Mr Mubarak) or a
Palestinian police force, trained by the CIA, that tortures and sometimes
kills its people in prison. The Syrians would also like a little of that
democracy. So would the Saudis. But their effete princes are all friends
of America in many cases, educated at US universities.
I will always remember how President Clinton announced that Saddam
Hussein another of our grotesque inventions must be overthrown so that
the people of Iraq could choose their own leaders. But if that
happened, it would be the first time in Middle Eastern history that Arabs have
been permitted to do so. No, it is "our'' democracy and "our'' liberty
and freedom that Mr Bush and Mr Blair are talking about, our Western
sanctuary that is under attack, not the vast place of terror and
injustice that the Middle East has become.
Let me illustrate what I mean. Nineteen years ago today, the greatest
act of terrorism using Israel's own definition of that much misused
word in modern Middle Eastern history began. Does anyone remember the
anniversary in the West? How many readers of this article will remember
it? I will take a tiny risk and say that no other British newspaper
certainly no American newspaper will today recall the fact that on 16
September 1982, Israel's Phalangist militia allies started their
three-day orgy of rape and knifing and murder in the Palestinian refugee
camps of Sabra and Shatila that cost 1,800 lives. It followed an Israeli
invasion of Lebanon designed to drive the PLO out of the country and
given the green light by the then US Secretary of State, Alexander Haig
which cost the lives of 17,500 Lebanese and Palestinians, almost all of
them civilians. That's probably three times the death toll in the World
Trade Centre. Yet I do not remember any vigils or memorial services or
candle-lighting in America or the West for the innocent dead of
Lebanon; I don't recall any stirring speeches about democracy or liberty. In
fact, my memory is that the United States spent most of the bloody
months of July and August 1982 calling for "restraint".
No, Israel is not to blame for what happened last week. The culprits
were Arabs, not Israelis. But America's failure to act with honour in the
Middle East, its promiscuous sale of missiles to those who use them
against civilians, its blithe disregard for the deaths of tens of
thousands of Iraqi children under sanctions of which Washington is the
principal supporter all these are intimately related to the society that
produced the Arabs who plunged America into an apocalypse of fire last
America's name is literally stamped on to the missiles fired by Israel
into Palestinian buildings in Gaza and the West Bank. Only four weeks
ago, I identified one of them as an AGM 114-D air-to-ground rocket made
by Boeing and Lockheed-Martin at their factory in of all places
Florida, the state where some of the suiciders trained to fly.
It was fired from an Apache helicopter (made in America, of course)
during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, when hundreds of cluster
bombs were dropped in civilian areas of Beruit by the Israelis in
contravention of undertakings given to the United States. Most of the bombs had
US Naval markings and America then suspended a shipment of fighter
bombers to Israel for less than two months.
The same type of missile this time an AGM 114-C made inGeorgia was
fired by the Israelis into the back of an ambulance near the Lebanese
village of Mansori, killing two women and four children. I collected the
pieces of the missile, including its computer coding plate, flew to
Georgia and presented them to the manufacturers at the Boeing factory. And
what did the developer of the missile say to me when I showed him
photographs of the children his missile had killed? "Whatever you do," he
told me, "don't quote me as saying anything critical of the policies of
I'm sure the father of those children, who was driving the ambulance,
will have been appalled by last week's events, but I don't suppose,
given the fate of his own wife one of the women killed that he was in a
mood to send condolences to anyone. All these facts, of course, must be
Every effort will be made in the coming days to switch off the "why''
question and concentrate on the who, what and how. CNN and most of the
world's media have already obeyed this essential new war rule. I've
already seen what happens when this rule is broken. When The Independent
published my article on the connection between Middle Eastern injustice
and the New York holocaust, the BBC's 24-hour news channel produced an
American commentator who remarked that "Robert Fisk has won the prize
for bad taste''. When I raised the same point on an Irish radio talk
show, the other guest, a Harvard lawyer, denounced me as a bigot, a liar, a
"dangerous man'' and of course potentially anti-Semitic. The Irish
pulled the plug on him.
No wonder we have to refer to the terrorists as "mindless''. For if we
did not, we would have to explain what went on in those minds. But this
attempt to censor the realities of the war that has already begun must
not be permitted to continue. Look at the logic. Secretary of State
Colin Powell was insisting on Friday that his message to the Taliban is
simple: they have to take responsibility for sheltering Mr bin Laden.
"You cannot separate your activities from the activities of the
perpetrators,'' he warned. But the Americans absolutely refuse to associate their
own response to their predicament with their activities in the Middle
East. We are supposed to hold our tongues, even when Ariel Sharon a
man whose name will always be associated with the massacre at Sabra and
Shatila announces that Israel also wishes to join the battle against
No wonder the Palestinians are fearful. In the past four days, 23
Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank and Gaza, an astonishing
figure that would have been front-page news had America not been blitzed.
If Israel signs up for the new conflict, then the Palestinians by
fighting the Israelis will, by extension, become part of the "world
terror'' against which Mr Bush is supposedly going to war. Not for nothing
did Mr Sharon claim that Yasser Arafat had connections with Osama bin
I repeat: what happened in New York was a crime against humanity. And
that means policemen, arrests, justice, a whole new international court
at The Hague if necessary. Not cruise missiles and "precision'' bombs
and Muslim lives lost in revenge for Western lives. But the trap has
been sprung. Mr Bush perhaps we, too are now walking into it.
|Re: The Fisk files|
|09/25/01 at 23:32:32|
|Osama bin Laden: The godfather of terror? |
by Robert Fisk
15 September 2001
George Bush: The new statesman?
The first time I met Osama bin Laden inside Afghanistan it was a hot,
humid night in the summer of 1996. Huge insects flew through the night
air, settling like burrs on his Saudi robes and on the clothes of his
armed followers. They would land on my notebook until I swatted them,
their blood smearing the pages. Bin Laden was always studiously polite:
each time we met, he would offer the usual Arab courtesy of food for a
stranger: a tray of cheese, olives, bread and jam. I had already met him
in Sudan and would spend a night, almost a year later, in one of his
mountain guerrilla camps, so cold that I awoke in the morning with ice in
I had been given a rough blanket and my shoes were left outside the
tent. Whenever we met, he would interrupt our interviews to say his
prayers, his armed followers from Algeria, Egypt, the Gulf Arab states,
Syria kneeling beside him, hanging on his every word as he spoke to me
as if he was a messiah.
On 20 March, 1997, I would meet him again. Although only 41 at the
time, his ruggedly groomed beard had white hairs, and he had bags under his
eyes; I sensed some infirmity, a stiffness of one leg that gave him the
slightest of limps. I still have my notes, scribbled in the frozen
semi-darkness as an oil lamp sputtered between us. "I am not against the
American people," he said. "Only their government." I had heard this so
often in the Middle East. I told him I thought the American people
regarded their government as their representatives. Bin Laden listened to
this in silence. "We are still at the beginning of our military action
against the American forces," he said.
I remembered those words this week as I watched those airliners
scything into the World Trade Centre towers. And I remembered, too, how in
that last meeting he had seized on the Arabic-language newspapers I was
carrying in my satchel (a schoolbag I use in rough countries) and
scurried to a corner of the tent to read them for 20 minutes, ignoring both
his fighters and myself. Although a Saudi, he did not even know that the
Iranian foreign minister had just visited the Saudi capital of Riyadh.
Didn't he even have a radio, I asked myself? Was this really the
"godfather of world terror?" The US administration and Time magazine had both
blessed him with this sobriquet. I rather thought he would have liked
that. And the $5 million reward that the American administration offered
for him. As a multi-millionaire himself, bin Laden would have been
insulted at such a low price on the "wanted" poster.
The bin Ladens are a construction family, respected in their native
Saudi Arabia although their roots lie on the Yemeni border, a family who
honoured the young man who, after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in
1979, took his followers and his road construction machinery to a
volcanic landscape of tribal leaders to fight "the West". For the Russians
to a Saudi were Westerners and their incursion into Islamic
Afghanistan was a heretical, corrupting act. He paid from his own packet to fly
thousands of young Arab Muslims to fight alongside him.
They came from Algeria, from Egypt and the Arabian Gulf and from
Syria and many of them died as martyrs in the ferocious battles, torn to
pieces by mines, shredded by the machine-gun fire of the Soviet Hind
helicopter gunships that raided the villages of Panchir.
The first time we met, in Sudan, I persuaded bin Laden much against
his will to talk about those days. And he recalled how, during an
attack on a Russian firebase not far from Jalalabad, a mortar shell had
fallen at his feet. He had waited for it to explode. And in those
milliseconds of rationality, he had so he said felt a great sense of
tranquillity, a sense of calm acceptance which he ascribed to God. The shell
and many an American may now wish the opposite had happened failed
Even the Russians came to know of the esteem in which bin Laden was
held among the Afghan resistance. In Moscow in 1993, I met a Soviet
adviser who was supposed to arrange his liquidation. "A dangerous man,'' the
Russian said of bin Laden. At the time, of course, the Americans loved
him, provided him with weapons, never dreaming that within two decades
they, too, would be dreaming of his murder. Bin Laden told me once that
he never met an American agent during the anti-Russian war, never
accepted a single bullet from the West.
But his bulldozers and earth-removers carved highways through the
mountains for the Mujahedin to carry their British-made Blowpipe
anti-aircraft missiles high enough to strike the Soviet Migs; years later, one of
his armed followers would take me up the "bin Laden trail", a
terrifying two-hour odyssey along fearful ravines in rain and sleet, the
windscreen misting as we climbed the cold mountain. "When you believe in jihad
[holy war], it is easy,'' the gunman informed me, fighting with the
steering wheel as stones scuttered from the tyres, bouncing down the
valleys into the clouds below. From time to time this was in 1997 lights
winked at us from far away in the darkness. "Our brothers are letting
us know they see us,'' the gunman said. It was two hours more before we
reached bin Laden's old wartime camp, the jeep skidding backwards
towards sheer cliffs, the headlights illuminating frozen waterfalls above.
"Toyota is good for Jihad,'' bin Laden's man smiled. I could only agree.
I never heard bin Laden make a joke.
If the United States regarded him as the foremost "terrorist'' in the
world as I told him they did then "if liberating my land is called
terrorism, this is a great honour for me.'' There was no difference, he
said, between the American and Israeli governments, between the
American and Israeli armies. But Europe especially France was beginning to
distance itself from the Americans. He did condemn French policy
towards north Africa; although he did not mention Algeria, the name hovered
over us for several minutes like a ghost.
Bin Laden gave me a Pakistani wall poster in Urdu which proclaimed the
support of Pakistani scholars for his "holy war'' against the
Americans; he even handed to me colour photographs of graffiti on the walls of
Karachi that demanded the ousting of US troops from "the place of the
two Holy shrines [Mecca and Medina]''. He had, he claimed, received some
months ago an emissary from the Saudi royal family who said that his
Saudi citizenship -- taken away after pressure from Washington would be
restored along with a new Saudi passport and 2 billion Saudi riyals
(£339 million) for his family if he abandoned his jihad and went back to
Saudi Arabia. He and his family, he said, had rejected the offer.
At the time, bin Laden had three wives, the elder of them the mother of
his bright, 16-year-old Bon Omar, the youngest herself a teenager.
Another son, Saad, was brought to meet me; they spoke some English and were
clearly excited in an innocent way to be surrounded by so many
armed men. All lived with him along with other Mujahedin wives and
children -- and stayed in a compound outside Jalalabad. Bin Laden even
invited me to visit these hot, dank, miserable homes in the company of one of
his Egyptian fighters. Of course, his wives the youngest was later to
return to her family in the Gulf were not there. "These are ladies
who are used to living in comfort,'' the Egyptian said. The encampment
was protected by sheets of canvas and a few strands of barbed wire; a
drainage ditch and three separate latrines had been dug in the earth, in
one of which floated a dead frog. The Egyptian's teenage son, sitting
beside us with a rifle in his lap, insisted that Egyptian Intelligence
men had viewed the camp. "There are people in the towns who work for the
Americans,'' he said. "We see these people and we have to be careful.''
Another of the Arabs in that camp was more forthcoming. There was, he
said, "no other country left for Mr bin Laden'' outside of Afghanistan.
"When he was in Sudan, the Saudis wanted to capture him with the help
of the Yemenis. We know that the French government tried to persuade the
Sudanese to hand him over to them because the Sudanese had given them a
south American. The Americans were pressing the French to get hold of
bin Laden in Sudan. An Arab group paid by the Saudis tried to kill him,
but bin Laden's guards fired back and two were wounded.''
In all, bin Laden lost 500 of his men in the war against the Russians.
Their graves lie near the Pakistani border at Torkum. After the Russian
withdrawal, bin Laden left for Sudan, disgusted by the Afghans'
internecine fighting. His closest followers went with him to build highways
and invest in Sudanese industry.
Bin Laden is a tall, slim man and towers over his companions.
He has narrow, dark eyes which stared hard at me when he spoke of his
hatred of Saudi corruption. Indeed, in my long conversation with bin
Laden in 1996 on that hot night of mosquitoes the Saudi kingdom and
its apparatchiks probably consumed more time than his views of America.
He picked his teeth with a piece of miswak wood, a habit that
accompanied all his conversations with me. History or his version of it was
the basis of almost all his remarks. And the pivotal date was 1990, the
year Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. "When the American troops entered
Saudi Arabia, the land of the two Holy places, there was as strong
protest from the ulema [religious authorities] and from students of the
Sharia law all over the country against the interference of American
"This big mistake by the Saudi regime of inviting the American troops
revealed their deception. They had given their support to nations that
were fighting against Muslims. They helped the Yemen communists against
the southern Yemeni Muslims and are helping [Yasser] Arafat's regime
fight Hamas. After it insulted and jailed the ulema ... the Saudi regime
lost its legitimacy.''
Bin Laden paused to see if I had listened to his careful if
frighteningly exclusive history lesson. "We as Muslims have a strong feeling that
binds us together... We feel for our brothers in Palestine and Lebanon.
The explosion at Khobar did not come as a direct result of American
occupation but as a result of American behaviour against Muslims...
"When 60 Jews are killed inside Palestine [in suicide bombings in
1996], all the world gathers within seven days to criticise this action,
while the deaths of 600,000 Iraqi children [under UN sanctions] did not
receive the same reaction. Killing those Iraqi children is a crusade
against Islam. We, as Muslims, do not like the Iraqi regime but we think
that the Iraqi people and their children are our brothers and we care
about their future."
But it was America that captured bin Laden's final attention. "I
believe that sooner or later the Americans will leave Saudi Arabia, and that
the war declared by America against the Saudi people means war against
Muslims everywhere. Resistance against America will spread in many,
many places in Muslim countries. Our trusted leaders, the ulema, have
given us a fatwa that we must drive out the Americans. The solution to this
crisis is the withdrawal of American troops... their military presence
is an insult to the Saudi people.''
I've been thinking a lot about that last statement this week. American
forces are still in Saudi Arabia. And about his earlier remark in July,
1996 after a truck bomb had killed 19 Americans that this incident
marked "the beginning of the war between Muslims and the United
States". Of the later bombing and the killing of 24 US servicemen, he was to
tell me that it was "a great act in which I missed the honour of
participating". He spoke then in a chilling, lower voice of his hatred of the
Intelligent and eloquent in Arabic bin Laden undoubtedly is. But
his understanding of foreign affairs is decidedly eccentric. At one
point, he even suggested to me that individual US states might secede from
the Union because of Washington's support for Israel. But the historical
perspective was deeply disturbing. "We believe that God used our holy
war in Afghanistan to destroy the Russian army and the Soviet Union,''
he said. "We did this from the top of this very mountain on which you
are sitting and now we ask God to use us one more time to do the same
to America, to make it a shadow of itself. We also believe that our
battle against America is much simpler than the war against the Soviet
Union because some of our Mujahedin who fought here in Afghanistan also
participated in operations against the Americans in Somalia [during the
doomed UN mission] and they were surprised at the collapse of American
morale. This convinced us that the Americans are a paper tiger.
He was also to tell me that "swift and light forces working in complete
secrecy" would be needed to oust America from Saudi Arabia. In the
following two years, bin Laden was to form his al-Qaeda movement and
declare war on the American people not just the government and army of the
United States. There would follow the near-sinking of the USS Cole in
Aden harbour by suicide bombers and the Cruise missile attacks on
the old CIA base that bin Laden uses in southern Afghanistan. He walks
now with a stick a development of the foot problem I noticed four years
ago and speaks more slowly.
But could he really command an army of suicide bombers from the
desolation of the Afghan mountains? He did admit to me once that he knew two
of the three men executed beheaded in Saudi Arabia for bombing the
second American military base. He wanted a "real" Islamic sharia law
government in Arabia there would, I suspected, be even more
head-chopping in a bin Laden regime and he wanted an end to those dictators
installed by the Americans, those men who supported US policies while
repressing their own people.
And it occurred to me that this was, for many millions of Arabs in the
Middle East, a very powerful message. You didn't need instructions from
bin Laden to form your own small group of followers, to decide on your
own individual actions. Bin Laden wouldn't have to plan bombings or the
overthrow of regimes. You had only to listen to the thousands of
cassette tapes of his voice circulated clandestinely around the Middle East.
Which is why I wonder always supposing bin Laden is connected to the
crime against humanity committed in the United States this week if it
would even be necessary to command a para-military organisation for
such acts to happen. Arabs are angry enough with the injustices that they
blame on America without needing orders from Afghanistan. Inspiration
might be just enough.
And I wondered, after those images from New York last week, whether bin
Laden was not as astonished as myself to see them. Always supposing he
watched television. Or listened to the radio. Or read a newspaper.
Born: Osama bin Muhammad bin Awad bin Laden in 1955.
Family: seventh son of a Saudi businessman who made a fortune out of
Saudi Arabia's oil-fuelled construction boom (died in a helicopter crash
when Osama was 13); mother was a Syrian beauty and his father's
official wife; 51 siblings.
Married: first to his Syrian cousin in 1972 (believed to have three
wives); two sons.
Education: degree in civil-engineering at Abdul-Aziz University in
Military career: from 1979 fought and raised funds for Mujahedin in the
Afghan conflict against the Russians with his Al Qaeda group (backed
with American dollars and had the blessing of the governments of Saudi
Arabia and Pakistan); from 1984 channelled Arab volunteers to the Afghan
guerrillas in Pakistani border town.
Fortune: estimated to have about $300m in personal financial assets.
Charges: 1993 bombing of World Trade Centre which killed six people and
injured more than 1,000; 1995 and 1996 bombings of Saudi cities of
Riyadh and Khobar which killed 24; 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya
and Tanzania which killed 224 people and wounded 4,000; 2000 suicide
bombing of USS Cole in Yemen which killed 17; 2001 destruction of the
World Trade Centre and attack on Pentagon.
Aliases: The Prince, The Emir, Abu Abdallah, Mujahid Shaykh, Hajj, the
He says: "It does not worry us what the Americans think. What worries
They say: "If you were to kill Osama tomorrow, the Osama organisation
would disappear, but all the networks would still be there." David Long,
former official in the State Department
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