Worthwhile reading on the conflict and bin Laden

September 18, 2001 at 2:01 am
Contributed by:

I thought the Lisa Beyer (Time Magazine Jerusalem Bureau Chief
http://www.time.com/time/bios/lisabeyer.html) article at the bottom here was
especially useful in understanding the background of bin Laden et. al. Here
are links to some other thought-provoking articles as well. I think and hope
that this conflict will be a lot different from those of the past, in that
average Americans may educate themselves a lot more on the details and the
background material, and perhaps be able to see through the spin control of
the major media a little, and perceive the real culprits (and the innocents)
a little better.

Petition to avoid war as a response to the terrorist attacks against the
World Trade Center

And some choice links to clear headed thinking:
They Can’t See Why They Are Hated

How to defeat bin Laden

When will we learn? by Harry Browne, the 2000 Libertarian presidential
candidate. http://www.wnd.com/news/article.asp?ARTICLE_ID=24444

An Eye for An Eye? http://commondreams.org/views01/0914-03.htm

The Weak at War with the Strong
The Most Wanted Man in the World
He lives a life fired by fury and faith. Why terror1s $250 million man
loathes the U.S.

Things might have turned out differently for Osama bin Laden-and for the
denizens of southern Manhattan-if the tall, thin, soft-spoken 44-year-old
hadn’t been born rich, or if he’d been born rich but not a second-rank
Saudi. It might have been another story if, while studying engineering in
college, the young man had drawn a different teacher for Islamic Studies
rather than a charismatic Palestinian lecturer who fired his religious
fervor. Things might have been different if the Soviet Union hadn’t invaded
Afghanistan, if Saddam Hussein hadn’t stolen Kuwait, or if U.S. forces
hadn’t retreated so hastily after a beating in Somalia, giving bin Laden the
idea that Americans are cowards who can be defeated easily.

Of course, Osama bin Laden wouldn’t buy any of that. For him, life is
preordained, written in advance by God, who in bin Laden’s view must have
delighted in the deaths of all those infidels in Manhattan last week. Still,
those are among the seminal details that shaped the man U.S. officials
believe to be not only capable but also guilty of one of the worst single
massacres of civilians since Hitler’s camps were shut down. How does any one
man, and an intelligent man, come to be so angry? And so callous? Bin Laden
has considered himself at war with the U.S. for years, even if the U.S. is
getting there only now. Still, how does one man come to be so comfortably
certain in the face of responsibility for so many devoured lives?

Last week’s deadly operation took planning, patience, money, cool, stealth
and extraordinarily committed operatives. It was a measure of the
sophistication of the complex network of devout, high-spirited Islamic
militants whom bin Laden has been assemblin g for almost 20 years. The big
challenge here was will. Whence did the will grow to do something so

In many ways, bin Laden’s story is like that of many other Muslim
extremists. There’s the fanatical religiosity and the intemperate
interpretation of Islam; the outrage over the dominance, particularly in the
Arab world, of a secular, decadent U.S.; the indignation over U.S. support
for Israel; the sense of grievance over the perceived humiliations of the
Arab people at the hands of the West.

But bin Laden brings some particular, and collectively potent, elements to
this equation. As a volunteer in the war that the Islamic rebels of
Afghanistan fought against the Soviets in the 1980s, bin Laden had a
front-row seat at an astonishing and empowe ring development: the defeat of
a superpower by a gaggle of makeshift militias. Though the U.S., with
billions of dollars in aid, helped the militias in their triumph, bin Laden
soon turned on their benefactor. When U.S. troops in 1990 arrived in his
sacred Saudi homeland to fight Saddam Hussein, bin Laden considered their
infidel presence a desecration of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthplace. He was
inspired to take on a second superpower, and he was funded to do so: by a
fortune inherited from his contractor father, by an empire of business
enterprises, by the hubris that comes from being a rich kid whose commands
had always been obeyed by nannies, butlers and maids.

Though bin Laden grew up wealthy, he wasn’t entirely within the charmed
circle in Saudi Arabia. As the son of immigrants, he didn’t have quite the
right credentials. His mother came from Syria by some reports, Palestine by
others. His father moved to Saudi Arabia from neighboring Yemen, a
desperately poor country looked down on by Saudis. If bin Laden felt any
alienation or resentment about his status, it was good preparation for the
break he would ultimately make with the privileged and bourgeois life that
was laid out for him a t birth.

The family’s wealth came from the Saudi bin Laden Group, built by Osama’s
father Mohamed, who had four wives and 52 children. Mohamed had had the good
luck of befriending the country’s founder, Abdel Aziz al Saud. That
relationship led to important govern ment contracts such as refurbishing the
shrines at Mecca and Medina, Islam’s holiest places, projects that moved
young Osama deeply. Today the company, with 35,000 employees worldwide, is
worth $5 billion. Osama got his share at 13 when his father died, leaving
him $80 million, a fortune the son subsequently expanded to an estimated
$250 million. At the King Abdel Aziz University in Jidda, bin Laden,
according to associates, was greatly influenced by one of his teachers,
Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian who was a major figure in the Muslim
Brotherhood, a group that has played a large role in the resurgence of
Islamic religiosity. Bin Laden, who like most Saudis is a member of the
puritanical Wahhabi sect of Sunni Islam, had been pious from childhood, but
his encounter with Azzam seemed to deepen his faith. What’s more, through
Azzam he became steeped not in the then popular ideology of pan-Arabism,
which stresses the unity of all Arabs, but in a more ambitious
pan-Islamicism, which reaches out to all the world’s 1 billion Muslims. And
so bin Laden at age 22 was quick to sign up to help fellow Muslims in
Afghanistan fight the godless invading Soviets in 1979. For hard-liners like
bin Laden, a non-Muslim infringement on Islamic territory goes beyond the
political sin of oppression; it is an offense to God that must be corrected
at all costs.

At first, bin Laden mainly raised money, especially among rich Gulf Arabs,
for the Afghan rebels, the mujahedin. He also brought in some of the family
bulldozers and was once famously using one to dig a trench when a Soviet
helicopter strafed him but missed. In the early 1980s, Abdullah Azzam
founded the Maktab al Khidmat, which later morphed into an organization
called al-Qaeda (the base). It provided logistical help and channeled
foreign assistance to the mujahedin. Bin Laden joined his old teacher and
became the group’s chief financier and a major recruiter of the so-called
Arab Afghans, the legions of young Arabs who left their homes in places like
Egypt, Algeria and Saudi Arabia to join the mujahedin. He was instrumental
in building the training camps that prepared them to fight. Bin Laden saw
combat too; how much is in dispute.

During the same years, the CIA, intent on seeing a Soviet defeat in
Afghanistan, was also funneling money and arms to the mujahedin. Milton
Bearden, who ran the covert program during its peak years-1986 to 1989-says
the CIA had no direct dealings with bin Laden. But U.S. officials
acknowledge that some of the aid probably ended up with bin Laden’s group

In 1989, the exhausted Soviets finally quit Afghanistan. With his mentor
Azzam dead at the hands of an assassin and his job seemingly done, bin Laden
went home to Jidda. The war had stiffened him. He became increasingly
indignant over the corruption of th e Saudi regime and what he considered
its insufficient piety. His outrage boiled over in 1990. When Saddam Hussein
invaded Kuwait and threatened Saudi Arabia, bin Laden informed the royal
family that he and his Arab Afghans were prepared to defend the kingdom.
The offer was spurned. Instead, the Saudis invited in U.S. troops for the
first time ever. Like many other Muslims, bin Laden was offended by the
Army’s presence, with its Christian and Jewish soldiers, its rock music, its
women who drove and wore pants. Saudi Arabia has a singular place among
Islamic countries as the cradle of Islam and as home to Mecca and Medina,
which are barred to non-Muslims.

When bin Laden began to write treatises against the Saudi regime, King Fahd
had him confined to Jidda. So bin Laden fled the country, winding up in
Sudan. That country was by then under the control of radical Muslims headed
by Hassan al-Turabi, a cleric bin Laden had met in Afghanistan who had
impressed him with the need to overthrow the secular regimes in the Arab
world and install purely Islamic governments. Bin Laden would go on to marry
al-Turabi’s niece. Eventually the Saudis, troubled by bin Laden’s growing
extremism, revoked his citizenship. His family renounced him as well. After
relatives visited him in Sudan to exhort him to stop agitating against
Fahd’s regime, he told a reporter, he apologized to them because he knew
they’d been forced to do it. In Sudan, bin Laden established a variety of
businesses, building a major road, producing sunflower seeds, exporting
goatskins. But he was seething. He was also gathering around him many of the
old Arab Afghans who, like him, returning home after the war, faced
suspicion from, if not detention by, their governments.

In 1993, 18 U.S. soldiers, part of a contingent sent on a humanitarian
mission to famine-struck Somalia, were murdered by street fighters in
Mogadishu. Bin Laden later claimed that some of the Arab Afghans were
involved. The main thing to bin Laden, howev er, was the horrified American
reaction to the deaths. Within six months, the U.S. had withdrawn from
Somalia. In interviews, bin Laden has said that his forces expected the
Americans to be tough like the Soviets but instead found that they were
"paper tigers" who "after a few blows ran in defeat."

Bin Laden began to think big. U.S. officials suspect he may have had a
financial role in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center by a group of
Egyptian radicals. This may have been bin Laden’s first strike back at the
entity he believed to be the sourc e of so much of his own and his people’s
trouble. That same year, U.S. officials now believe, bin Laden began
shopping for a nuclear weapon, hoping to buy one on the Russian black
market. When that failed, they say, he started experimenting with chemical
warfare, perhaps even testing a device. Then, in 1995, a truck bombing of a
military base in Riyadh killed five Americans and two Indians. Linking bin
Laden to the attack, the U.S.-along with the Saudis-pressured the Sudanese
to expel him. To his dismay, they did.

With his supporters, his three wives (he is rumored to have since added a
fourth) and some 10 children, bin Laden moved again to Afghanistan. There he
returned full time to jihad. This time, instead of importing holy warriors,
he began to export them. He turned al-Qaeda into what some have called "a
Ford Foundation" for Islamic terror organizations, building ties of varying
strength to groups in at least a few dozen places. He brought their
adherents to his camps in Afghanistan for training, then sent the m back to
Egypt, Algeria, the Palestinian territories, Kashmir, the Philippines,
Eritrea, Libya and Jordan. U.S. intelligence officials believe that bin
Laden’s camps have trained tens of thousands of fighters. Sometimes bin
Laden sent his trainers out to , for instance, Tajikistan, Bosnia, Chechnya,
Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, according to the State Department. As a result,
U.S. officials believe bin Laden’s group controls or influences about 3,000
to 5,000 guerrilla fighters or terrorists in a very loose organization
around the world.

Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian who was arrested entering the U.S. from Canada in
December 1999 with a carful of explosives, has told interrogators that his
al-Qaeda curriculum included lessons in sabotage, urban warfare and
explosives. He was trained to attack power grids, airports, railroads,
hotels and military installations. Visitors to al-Qaeda camps say that
students receive instruction not only in using intricate maps of U.S. cities
and targeted venues but also in employing scale models of potential site s
for strikes. A 180-page al-Qaeda manual offers advice to "sleepers" (agents
sent overseas to await missions) on how to be inconspicuous: shave your
beard, wear cologne, move to newly developed neighborhoods where residents
don’t know one another.

Bin Laden’s far-flung business dealings have been a tremendous asset to his
network. U.S. officials believe he has interests in agricultural companies,
banking and investment firms, construction companies and import-export firms
around the globe. Says a U.S. official: "This empire is useful for moving
people, money, materials, providing cover." Though American authorities did
break up two al-Qaeda fund-raising operations in the past year, they have
been mostly unsuccessful in finding and freezing bin Laden’s assets.

As he built his syndicate, bin Laden also became more open about what he was
up to. In 1996 he issued a "Declaration of Jihad." His stated goals were to
overthrow the Saudi regime and drive out U.S. forces. He expanded the target
with another declaration in early 1998 stating that Muslims should kill
Americans, civilians included, wherever they could find them. Later that
year, his operatives used car bombs against the U.S. embassies in Kenya and
Tanzania, killing 224, mostly Africans. Those blasts provoked a U.S.
cruise-missile attack on an al-Qaeda base in Afghanistan that missed bin
Laden and only burnished his image as an authentic hero to many Muslims.

Bin Laden has spoken out against Israel, which he, like many Muslims,
regards as an alien and aggressive presence on land belonging to Islam.
Lately, he has lauded the current Palestinian uprising against Israel’s
continued occupation of Palestinian territories. But his main fixation
remains the U.S. Officially, he is committed to preparing for a worldwide
Islamic state, but for now he focuses on eradicating infidels from Islamic

Bin Laden’s precise place in the terror franchise he’s associated with is
somewhat nebulous. Certainly, he is its public face. But Ressam has told
interrogators that bin Laden is only one of two or three chieftains in
al-Qaeda. Many bin Laden watchers and even ex-associates have observed that
bin Laden appears to be a simple fighter without a brilliant head for
tactics. His lieutenant, Ayman al Zawahiri, an Egyptian physician who heads
the Egyptian al Jihad, which took credit for the assassination of Egyptian
President Anwar Sadat in 1981, is often mentioned as the brains behind the
operations. U.S. federal prosecutors have asserted in court filings that al
Jihad "effectively merged" with al-Qaeda in 1998. Mohamed Atef, al-Qaeda’s
military commander, is a lso a powerful figure. He is said to be a former
Egyptian policeman who joined the Arab Afghans in 1983. His daughter
recently married bin Laden’s eldest son Mohamed. Speculation that bin Laden
is in poor health-he sometimes walks with a cane and is rumored to have
kidney problems-has focused succession discussions on these two men.

It’s not clear that any of the three key figures actually issues specific
attack orders to adherents. Ressam told investigators the al-Qaeda
operatives are rarely given detailed instructions. Rather, they are trained
and then sent out to almost autonomous cells to act on their own, to plan
attacks and raise their own funds, often using credit-card scams to load up
on money, despite the Islamic prohibition against theft. Bin Laden, whose
general practice is to praise terror attacks but disclaim any direct
connection to them, has said, "Our job is to instigate."

If his current hosts, the radical Islamic Taliban regime in Afghanistan, are
to be believed, that’s about the maximum bin Laden can personally do now.
Under heavy international pressure to give their guest up, the Taliban
claims to have denied him phone a nd fax capabilities. (He had already quit
using his satellite phone because its signal can be traced.) Bin Laden has
been forced to rely on human messengers. He leads a spartan life; he no
longer has a comfortable camp. U.S. officials believe he lives on the move,
in a sturdy Japanese pickup truck, changing sleeping locations nightly to
avoid attempts on his life.

He’s still able to get out his message, though, through interviews and
videotapes produced for his supporters. A tape of his son’s wedding last
January features bin Laden reading an ode he’d written to the bombing by his
supporters of the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen, an attack that killed 17 service
members. "The pieces of the bodies of the infidels were flying like dust
particles," he sang. "If you had seen it with your own eyes, your heart
would have been filled with joy." What would he say about the civilian men
and women, the moms and dads, the children who died in New YorK City on
Sept. 11? He might say, as he said to ABC News in 1998, "In today’s wars,
there are no morals. We believe the worst thieves in the world today and the
worst terrorists are the Americans. We do not have to differentiate between
military or civilian. As far as we are concerned, they are all targets."

With reporting by Hannah Bloch/Kabul, Massimo Calabresi/ Washington, Bruce
Crumley/Paris, Meenakshi Ganguly/New Delhi, Scott MacLeod/Cairo, Simon
Robinson/Nairobi, Douglas Waller/ Washington, Rebecca Winters/New York and
Rahimullah Yusufzai/Peshawar

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