Sacred mission for war with US

The Scotsman/September 12, 2001
By Rory McCarthy in Islamabad and Allan Hall

Osama bin Laden, who has declared war against the United States, has been described by friends as "a very calm man who respects Islamic law and doesn't want to harm anyone."

America's chief suspect for yesterday's attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon is Osama bin Laden, one of America's ten most wanted men. He carries a $5 million bounty on his head.

Bin Laden warned three weeks ago that he and his followers would carry out an unprecedented attack on US interests for its support of Israel, an Arab journalist with access to him said yesterday.

Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor of the London-based al-Quds al-Arabi, an Arabic-language weekly news magazine, said Islamic fundamentalists led by Bin Laden were "almost certainly" behind yesterday's attack on the United States.

"It is most likely the work of Islamic fundamentalists. Osama bin Laden warned three weeks ago that he would attack American interests in an unprecedented attack, a very big one. Personally, we received information that he planned very, very big attacks against American interests. We received several warnings like this."

The US government, which appears to have suffered a catastrophic intelligence lapse, said last night it believed bin Laden was responsible. Soon afterwards, there were reports of air raids in Afghanistan, his headquarters, though the US was initially denying responsibility.

One of bin Laden's associates was to be sentenced today over the 1998 bombing of a US embassy in Tanzania that killed 213 people. The sentencing had been set for a federal court near the World Trade Centre.

From his several mountain hide-outs in southern Afghanistan, Bin Laden, a Saudi millionaire, runs Al Qaeda, one of the world's most feared terrorist organisations. He is perhaps the only one sophisticated enough to arrange yesterday's stunning timetabled destruction.

Bin Laden is wanted by a US court for masterminding the bombing in 1998 of two US embassies in East Africa in which 224 people died. According to the indictment, his organisation is "dedicated to opposing non-Islamic governments with force and violence."

In August 1996, after he moved to Afghanistan, he issued a "declaration of war" against the United States, because of its position as a secular superpower and because of the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia.

Earlier this year, George Tenet, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, described him as the most immediate and serious threat to US security.

Born in Jeddah in 1955, Bin Laden is the son of a construction magnate. He used his inherited wealth in the 1980s to run the "Services Office" which funnelled fighters and money into Afghanistan for the war against the Soviet occupation.

Now, long after the Soviets left, he remains in Afghanistan and sends money and fighters to support the Taleban, the hardline Islamic regime which is trying to create a pure but brutal Islamic state.

He is believed to be responsible for an attempted assassination attack on Sunday against Ahmad Shah Masood, Afghanistan's most senior opposition commander and the only force still resisting the Taleban.

Taleban leaders have refused to hand Bin Laden over for trial, but they insist he cannot command an international terrorist organisation from his hide-outs. He was photographed in January, posing at the wedding of his son, Mohammed, in Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan, in an apparent gesture of defiance to the United States.

"Osama bin Laden came as a mujahid (a holy warrior)," Maulvi Qudratullah Jamal, the Taleban information minister, said last month.

Like all senior Taleban ministers, Mr Jamal has met the Saudi. "He is a very calm man and he respects Islamic law. He is good man and he doesn't want to harm anyone."

Few Western analysts believe that. Al Qaeda is an advanced, international organisation run on a system of cells. Last year, US intelligence agencies found CD-ROM copies of a six-volume training manual apparently used by Bin Laden to train recruits. The manual contained information on recruiting followers and assembling bombs.

Bin Laden's reach is extensive. According to the indictment for the US embassy bombings, he is suspected of involvement in the killing of 18 US soldiers in Mogadishu, in Somalia, in October 1993. He provided a safe house for Ramzi Yousef, who bombed the World Trade Centre in 1993, killing six people and injuring 1,000.

He is also believed to have tried to obtain components of nuclear and chemical weapons. But it is not clear how extensive his weaponry is now. The Pentagon said a year ago that with the nerve gases tabun and sarin at his disposal, he might attempt to leave the realm of brutal terrorist to become a potential world power broker.

With the Middle East in flames and teetering on the edge of war, there are three factors making now the right time for any attack by Bin Laden.

The peace process is in ruins and the Arab world is convinced that it cannot come back. For the first time in years, despite the brutal lynching of Israeli soldiers, the shooting of settlers and the suicide bomb attacks, the Palestinians have garnered a large measure of world sympathy. With their enemies shooting children dead in the streets for throwing stones, Israel has been losing the public relations battle with its foes and Bin Laden is offering his fanatics a glory in death that has evaded them in life.

The CIA sent an urgent report to the Clinton administration 18 months ago that suicide bombers inside Israel with chemical weapon bombs could wreak death and destruction on a massive scale. The Japanese cult that released a small portion of sarin into the Tokyo subway system a few years ago showed its awesome power.

The United States targeted what it said was a chemical weapons plant in Sudan in retaliation for the bombings of US embassies in Africa that Bin Laden carried out with lethal effect.

"But the chemicals had already gone," said Kenneth Katzman of the US Congressional Research Service and an expert on Middle East terrorism. He said they had been shipped back to the terrorist training academy Bin Laden runs in Afghanistan where they were believed to have been "weaponised."

Weaponising consists of turning inert chemical agents into lethal toxins and fitting them into devices to spread the poison over a wide scale. A teacup full of sarin in the water supply of Jerusalem would be enough to kill every inhabitant ten times over.

The normal method of dispersing chemical agents is through an artillery shell, but because Palestinian stone-throwers don't possess artillery pieces, the accepted future scenario is of an infiltration into Israel of suicide bombers.

"Aside from the fact that he has access to millions of dollars," said a former CIA counter-terrorism chief, Vincent Cannistrano, "Bin Laden and his people are masters of improvisation. With his connections in Saudi Arabia, where his father became one of the country's richest men as a builder, and to other areas of the Arab world, he has access to some of the most sophisticated explosives and weapons. Semtex, nitro-glycerine, detonators.

"By the best estimates, he probably has no more than two pounds of tabun and sarin," said Günther Griese, a German anti-terrorist expert. "No matter - that is enough to wipe out Israel, Egypt, Jordan and probably several other countries besides."

It is ironic that Bin Laden was once backed by the United States, a warlord who disciplined and organised Muslim youth in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan. Now he is Washington's most wanted man.

Mr Cannistrano said: "He is the only one out of any of the Middle East terrorist groups who has declared a fatwa against America. He is the one with the vision and the means to see this thing through."

Around 2,000 Muslims have "graduated" from his terror academy over the past five years. Bin Laden also has links with other international terrorist organisations. He has developed close relations with Ayman al-Zawahiri, the head of a leading faction of the Egyptian extremist group al-Jihad, who has also sought sanctuary in Afghanistan.

Washington has tried to strike back but with limited success. Listening stations operated by the US National Security Agency in countries around Afghanistan are able to trace e-mail, fax and satellite calls.

The US launched 60 cruise missiles at his training camps in Khost, in southern Afghanistan, shortly after the bombings of the US embassies in Africa, homing in on the transmissions from one of his Inmarsat cellular phones. Minutes before, Bin Laden escaped, suspecting a raid was planned.


Hijackers: The Suspects

U.S. Intelligence agencies will be concentrating their efforts on four lines of inquiry until hard evidence turns up:


Osama Bin Laden

The Saudi Arabian former businessman with a pathological hatred of all things American must be the prime suspect for yesterday's terrorist attack.

He has a track record of striking US targets in the Middle East, Africa and New York. His Afghanistan-based Islamic fundamentalist group undoubtedly has the motivation to mount this type of attack, but its sheer scale and audacity is far beyond anything he has tried before.


Palestinian Groups

The suicide element of the hijackings would seem to have the fingerprints of fanatical Palestinian groups with Islamic fundamentalist links such as Islamic Jihad, the Hezbollah or others.

The year-old conflict in the occupied territories has radicalised a new generation of Palestinian youth who are determined to strike back at Israel's chief paymaster and arms supplier.


Middle Eastern Government/Intelligence Agency

The complex nature of the simultaneous multiple hi-jackings of the aircraft perhaps points to the involvement of Middle Eastern intelligence agencies.

They could have provided the logistics and cloak of secrecy necessary to get the hijack teams into the US and on to the aircraft without detection.

Elements in the Iranian, Iraqi and Libyan regimes have strong anti-US track records and might want to provoke an overwhelming response from the Bush administration in the hope of radicalising their populations to continue the struggle against the "great Satan."


U.S. Right-Wing Groups

Although groups with Middle Eastern links must be top of the US government's suspects list, the possibility of involvement by so-called militia groups cannot be discounted. They have the motivation and resources to continue their struggle against the federal government by very violent means, as the Oklahoma bombing proved.

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