Osama bin Laden and "al Qaeda"
By Rick Ross
September 11, 2001
Attack on the
World Trade Center
19 members of a militant extremist group
called "al-Qaeda," ("the base") led by Osama bin Laden,
hijacked four American passenger jets. This included two flights from Boston,
Massachusetts and another from Dulles Airport bound for Los Angelse and a flight
from Newark, New Jersey headed for San Francisco.
Bin Laden's followers believed their criminal acts were part
of a "holy war" or "jihad," which would ultimately
transform them into religious "martyrs." The aircraft became flying bombs in
suicide missions to destroy the "infidels."
The first passenger jet struck the north tower of the World
Trade Center at 8:45 AM and a second hit the south tower 18 minutes later. At
9:43 AM a third airliner was flown into the Pentagon. About 28 minutes later
the fourth aircraft, believed targeted somewhere in Washington, crashed instead
in the countryside of Pennsylvania. It was subsequently discovered that
passengers aboard this flight had heroically struggled to regain control of the
aircraft forcing it down.
Within two hours of the first strike both World Trade Center
towers collapsed and a portion of the Pentagon lay in ruin. The loss of life
was estimated at more than 3,000 in New York City alone, including 343 fireman and 85
police officers. 273 passengers died aboard the four flights, including the 19
hijackers. The Department of Defense reported 125 dead in the Pentagon
In one-day Osama bin Laden murdered more than 4,000 people
in his "jihad" against the "infidels." He would later
declare, "The Twin Towers were legitimate targets, they were supporting US
economic power." And then boast,
"These events were great by all measurement. What was destroyed
were not only the towers, but the towers of morale in that country."
But bin Laden's group was not just another terrorist
organization. Nor did it fit the mold of typical Moslem extremists. Instead, as
more information became widely known about the group's dynamics and its leader,
"al Qaeda" fit the familiar pattern of a destructive cult. Jack Straw,
Britain's foreign secretary compared the cult of personality built around Osama
bin Laden to Adolf Hitler and stated that it was "similar to the Nazi
phenomenon." And in a chilling admission recorded after September 11th on video tape bin Laden admitted, "We calculated in advance the number of casualties who would be killed based on the position of the tower.''
Osama bin Laden
Osama bin Laden
Osama bin Laden was the son of a Yemen born billionaire, who
built a business empire based in Saudi Arabia. Osama's mother, a Syrian, was
his father's fourth wife. One family friend said of bin Laden, "In a
country that is obsessed with parentage, with who your great-grandfather was,
Osama was almost a double outsider."
According to his half brother Yeslam bin Laden, now a Swiss
citizen, there are 54 siblings within the family, which ultimately included 20
different mothers. Each wife was given a separate house. And because Osama was
the only child of his mother, he had very little contact with his extended
Interestingly, bin Laden's mother was certainly not an
Islamic fundamentalist. She was instead a sophisticated and well traveled woman
who refused to wear a burka and favored Chanel suits. Like many Arab children of
his class, bin Laden's early life was isolated and filled with nannies, tutors
In 1968 bin Laden's father died leaving his 13-year-old son
$80 million dollars. Eleven years later Osama graduated from King Abdul-Aziz
University, in Jidda, with a degree in civil engineering. His early years as a
young adult included nightclubs in Beirut, free spending and fun. According to
one acquaintance he was "a heavy drinker who often ended up embroiled in
shouting matches and fistfights with other young men over an attractive
night-club dancer or barmaid." Ironically, bin Laden would eventually
embrace Wahhabism, a very strict Islamic sect prevalent in Saudi Arabia. This
sect punishes those who enjoy any music other than the drum and may put a man
to death for drinking or sexual misconduct.
Terror Training Camp
Bin Laden increasingly saw himself on a religious mission
and Afghanistan eventually became his focus. He traveled there to fight the
Russian "infidels." A heroic
mythology developed around the wealthy young Arab. Former CIA station chief in
Pakistan Milt Bearden said that Arab sympathizers like bin Laden "were
bringing in up to twenty to twenty-five million dollars a month...to underwrite
the war...an extra two hundred to three hundred million dollars a year. And this
is what bin Laden did. He spent most of the war as a fund-raiser, in Peshawar.
He was not a valiant warrior on the battlefield." According to another
observer bin Laden "fought in only one important battle." He did effectively manage his investments,
which increased both his wealth and influence. Along the way bin Laden also
accumulated four wives and ten children.
At the end of the Afghanistan war in 1991 the Saudi royal
family expelled and denounced bin Laden. In 1994 he was stripped of his Saudi
citizenship. From '91 to '96 he lived in Sudan, until that country also asked
him to leave.
Bin Laden's last refuge ultimately became Afghanistan. The
Taliban, a fanatical faction struggling to win a civil war needed money. Bin
Laden gave the group's leader Mullah Omar three million dollars at a crucial
point and the war turned decisively. In 1996 the Taliban took Jalalabad and ten
days later Kabul the capital. Bin Laden sealed his hold on the Taliban when
Omar married one of his daughters.
From his safe haven in Afghanistan bin Laden planned and
executed further terror attacks. Four Al Qaeda members were found guilty of
staging the August 1998 suicide bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania
that killed 224 people. Bin Laden was charged in the 308-count indictment as
the leader of the conspiracy. A $5-million reward was offered for information
leading to his arrest.
"Cult of evil"
President George W. Bush called the al-Qaeda network "a
cult of evil."
Robert Jay Lifton, noted psychiatrist and author of
"Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism," the definitive book
about "brainwashing," has outlined three primary characteristics,
which define destructive cults.
charismatic leader [is clearly evident] who increasingly becomes an object
of worship as the general principles that may have originally sustained
the group lose their power.
Osama bin Laden occupies a singular position at the top of
al Qaeda's hierarchical structure. He is the focus of the group, its locus of
power and defining element. Bin Laden has assumed a messianic and heroic role
of virtual mythological proportions.
Simultaneously the Islamic principles, which supposedly were the basis for
al-Qaeda, have faded in relative importance. David Long, former State Department
official and terrorism expert once observed, "If you were to kill Osama
tomorrow, the Osama organization would disappear." Al Qaeda became a
[called] coercive persuasion or thought reform.
According to the Cult Information Center of Great Britain,
al-Qaeda indoctrinated its members and formed a closed, totalitarian society.
This was accomplished through months spent within isolated training camps
controlled by bin Laden. Such camps are not unlike other cult compounds of the
past, which have produced brainwashed followers after prolonged periods of
isolation and indoctrination. Lifton based his own research upon Prisoner of
War (POW) camps maintained by the Communists during the Korean conflict.
sexual, and other exploitation of group members by the leader and the
Al Qaeda appears to echo a similar cult from a millennium
ago led by Hassan i Sabbah, a mystic, alchemist and terrorist. Hassan's Order of Assassins, like al-Qaeda,
deployed suicide killers. They likewise believed that through their sacrifice
they could enter the gates of Heaven. Hassan, similar to bin Laden, also
allowed his followers to experience pleasures on Earth before their deadly
missions. The assassins drank wine, used hashish and enjoyed sex with
courtesans. A thousand years later, al-Qaeda's hijackers drank heavily and
sought prostitutes before their suicide attacks. Both bin Laden and Hassan
exploited their followers very lives for their own agenda.
Margaret Singer, Professor
Emeritus of Psychology, University of California, Berkley is a noted
researcher, has counseled thousands of former cult members and is the author of
"Cults in Our Midst." Within her book Singer outlines six conditions,
which can create and mold a destructive cult mindset.
Keep the person
unaware of what is going on and the changes taking place.
Operating through a façade of supposed "Islamic
beliefs" and the claimed cause of "liberation," bin Laden
frequently recruited young idealistic people. It appears though, that the
actual expectations of al-Qaeda are revealed in stages, only after months of
intense indoctrination. It is unlikely that a new member initially fully
understood the totality of what his commitment might ultimately be. One captured
al-Qaeda member Al-Owhali testified that he was first trained within an
al-Qaeda camp in Afghanistan for a month and then graduated to the "jihad
camp." Only after the conclusion of his training was the possibility of a
"mission," discussed, which might lead to his "martyrdom."
Osama bin Laden later admitted to his supporters in a discussion recorded on video tape, "The brothers who conducted the operation, all they knew was that they have a martyrdom operation and we asked each of them to go to America, but they didn't know anything about the operation, not even one letter. But they were trained and we did not reveal the operation to them until they are there and just before they boarded the plane."
person's time and, if possible, physical environment.
Within al Qaeda training camps each recruit's time is
monopolized and the environment is carefully controlled.
John Walker, an American who fought for the Taliban and was captured within Afghanistan, moved through a step-by-step process of persuasion and intense indoctrination. That process began some years after his initial seemingly benign conversion to Islam. The crucial juncture appears to have been his involvement with a missionary from an extremist group called the Tablighi Jamaat, who became a profound influence. That missionary dominated Walker's time and ultimately convinced the young American to come with him to Pakistan and enroll within a Islamic fundamentalist school called a madrassa. Within this controlled environment he began a process of transformation. Later he entered an al-Qaeda training camp within Afghanistan where he became totally cut off from the outside world. His parents did not hear a word from him. When Walker's mother wrote in May 2001, "I really need to hear your voice," she received no response.
Create a sense of
powerlessness, covert fear, and dependency.
Al-Fadl, once an active bin Laden devotee, told a jury about
the culminating event, which effectively marked the conclusion of his
indoctrination. He was instructed to "follow the rule." The rule was
clarified through a secret rite, an oath of allegiance to Osama bin Laden and
al-Qaeda called the bayat. This oath signified not only each recruit's
submission to al-Qaeda, but also dependency upon bin Laden himself for
guidance. Recruits were told that Muslims were under attack and Islam itself was
in endangered. "The snake is America" bin Laden told Al-Fadl and
other al-Qaeda members, "and we have to stop them. We have to cut the head
of the snake."
Suppress much of
the person's old behavior and attitudes.
Zacarias Moussaoui, a French Moroccan educated in both
Britain and France, apparently was to have been the 20th hijacker on
September 11th. It seems he
underwent a radical personality change. His brother claimed that the young man
once loved America, blue jeans, basketball and Bruce Springsteen, but was
The mother of John Walker likewise felt her son was a "victim" of coercive persuasion. Once a "good boy" who was "sweet" and "shy" his personality became so changed she surmised that her son must have been "brainwashed."
The suspected leader of the September 11th
hijackers, Mohamed Atta, worked himself into a trance before stepping onto the
plane through a repetition of prayers. Jim Siegelman, co-author of the book
"Snapping" with Flo Conway, points out that "Saying a prayer a
thousand times--that's just a way of jamming anything human from coming into
his brain.'' Flo Conway explains that thought-stopping techniques, such as
extended repetition of prayers and chants, literally destroy a person's ability
to think. Al Qaeda devotees often videotaped their own suicides. On such tapes the
suicide bombers can be seen listening
to audiocassettes of chanted praises given for those willing to die, before boarding
their trucks loaded with TNT.
behavior and attitudes.
Zacarias Moussaoui was later arrested after he raised
suspicions at a Minnesota flight school by telling instructors he wanted to
learn to fly a jetliner, but did not want to learn to land. He also asked about
opening cabin doors while planes were in flight. His computer was found with
data related to jetliners and crop-dusters. The college student who once loved
America learned to hate it. Aicha Moussaoui his mother reaffirmed, "They had
put him through a real brainwashing."
John Walker converted to Islam as a California teenager. He initially saw his new faith as a "gentle, peace-loving religion." But through an indoctrinational process, which began in Yemen, included fundamentalist Islamic schools in Pakistan and then ended within the training camps of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, Walker ultimately became "Abdul Hamid," a self-described "jihadist," a holy warrior, carrying an AK-47 who told reporters he "supported" the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Put forth a closed
system of logic; allow no real input or criticism.
Steve Dubrow-Eichel, a psychologist who has professionally
counseled many cult members explains that cult fanatics "sound strikingly
like hygienists, who seek to 'clean' or 'sanitize' an environment." The not
so cryptic implication of this analogy is chilling. He concludes, "The
actions necessary for 'hygiene' and 'health' then become logical as well as
obvious: Destroy that which causes or encourages disease. To the hygienist,
that means destroying germs and their breeding grounds." Ultimately this
mindset may lead to "destroying 'diseased' people," because as
Dubrow-Eichel explains, "they are all capable of infecting those who would
otherwise become or remain 'pure.'"
Osama bin Laden has labeled President George W. Bush "The
biggest Crusader...under the banner of the cross," and he sees the United
States as simply "American crusaders." Bin Laden described one of his
terrorists attacks this way, "The destroyer [USS Cole] represented the
West, and the small boat [with suicide bombers] represented Muhammad." As
Dubrow-Eichel observes, cult fanatics employ an "'us vs. them' language to
divide the world in a polarized manner between that-which-promotes-health vs.
that-which-causes-illness. The fanatic does not distinguish between military
personnel and civilians." Bin Laden made this clear in a statement
circulated to his supporters on videotape, "Those who talk about civilians
should change their stand and reconsider their position. We are treating them
like they treated us." In another video taped discussion bin Laden claims, "I was ordered to fight the people until they say there is no god but Allah, and his prophet Muhammad.'' And concludes, "This event made people think (about true Islam) which benefited Islam greatly.''
Osama bin Laden declared that his acts of terrorism are
actually "the battle of Islam in this age" And casting himself in a
messianic role explained, "We are
firm on the road of jihad for the sake of God"
Bin Laden made two declarations of holy war, or as he claimed
"jihad," against America. The first in 1996 was directed at
"Americans occupying the land of the two holy places." This is a
reference to Saudi Arabia, where 5,000 U.S. troops remained stationed since the
1991 Persian Gulf War. The two holy places are the Muslim shrines at Mecca and
Medina. In 1998, he expanded his edict to include killing "Americans and
their allies, civilians and military...in any country in which it is possible
to do it."
But like other cult leaders of the past, such as David
Koresh or Jim Jones who claimed the bible was their basis for action, bin Laden's proclamations contradict the faith
he claims they are based upon. "It violates the very foundations of
Islamic law," says Imam Yahya Hendi, Muslim chaplain at Georgetown
University. The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheik Abdulaziz bin Abdallah
al-Sheik advised, "Jihad for God's
sake is one of the best acts in Islam, but killing oneself in the midst of the
enemy, or suicidal acts, I don't know whether this is endorsed by Sharia
[Islamic law] or whether it is considered jihad for God. I'm afraid it could be
suicide." Islamic scholar Bernard Lewis of Princeton wrote in a 1998
article for Foreign Affairs, at no
point do basic Islamic texts even consider "the random slaughter of
Sheik Muhammad Rafaat Othman teaches Islamic law at the most
prestigious Islamic school in the Middle East, Cairo's Al-Azhar University. He
states emphatically, "You can expose yourself to a situation where you
might get killed. But you can't knowingly take your life. Attacking innocent,
unarmed people is forbidden. Prophet Muhammad demanded that we not kill women,
children or the elderly. Attacks should be against soldiers and armed
civilians. I don't see any evidence of exceptions to this rule." But bin
Laden stated in a video distributed amongst his supporters, ""Yes, we
kill their innocents and this is legal religiously and logically." And then
referred to the NYC twin towers as a "legitimate target" and his
hijackers as "blessed by Allah."
Understanding cult leaders like bin Laden perhaps requires psychiatric
analysis, and such personalities have often been categorized as psychopaths.
Osama bin Laden, not unlike his corresponding predecessors from the past, such
as David Koresh or Marshall Applewhite (a former mental patient), was described
as both "paranoid" and "psychotic" by the British Foreign
Secretary. Secretary Jack Straw said, "A key characteristic of people who
are psychotic and paranoid is the sense of complete detachment from the
suffering of others." In a video distributed to his followers bin Laden
seemed to confirm such descriptions saying, "There are two types of
terror, good and bad. What we are practicing is good terror. We will not stop
killing [Americans] and whoever supports them. The towers were filled with
supporters of the economical powers of the United States."
Some cults implode, such as the 913 followers of Jim Jones
who died at Jonestown or the many devotees of David Koresh who chose to die by
fire rather than surrender. But other cults have exploded like Aum, led by
Shoko Asahara, found guilty of gassing Tokyo's subways. John R. Hall, co-author
of "Apocalypse Observed: Religious Movements and Violence in North America,
Europe and Japan" explains that
there are "apocalyptic" "warring" groups, which seek
to "bring on the final battle of Armageddon by launching a holy war
against the existing social order." He concluded, "Osama bin Laden's
al-Qaeda is definitely [this] type; indeed, it is a classic case."
Bin Laden like Marshall Applewhite of "Heaven's
Gate" promises his followers supernatural rewards if they are willing to
commit suicide. Applewhite promised a "level above human" and bin
Laden says his followers will experience "a martyr's privileges...guaranteed
by Allah." In his 1996 decree bin Laden said fighting the United States
will "double" those supernatural rewards and boasted to Americans
that his followers will "enter paradise by killing you."
Stephen Kent, a professor of the psychology of religion at
the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada concludes, "The common
refrain of former cult members is that they would've died for their leader,
suicide for a holy cause is not as mysterious as it first seems.'' Flo Conway offered this final analysis,
"The hardest thing to understand is that the mind itself can be captured
and made into a machine.''
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