Osama Bin Laden:21st. Century Saladin
It was the worst act of terrorism on American soil. On September 11, 2001 three hijacked airliners crashed into New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon in Washington. The eventual death toll could surpass 6,000! Intensive investigations began immediately. In the search for guilty parties, one name kept reappearing. Secretary of State Colin Power has called him a "prime suspect." That man is Osama Bin Laden, currently operating out of Afghanistan.
Until now, his name was not familiar to most of us. Since that awful day, however, he is nationally known and reviled as a mass murderer.
Bin Laden has been called at various times: the "world's most dangerous man," "most immediate serious threat to America's national security," and "one of the most significant sponsors of Islamic extremist activities," having recruited and trained scores of terrorists. He has been in an unofficial war with the United States since his "Declaration of Jihad" (holy war) against us. (1996) Two years later he endorsed a religious ruling called a "fatwah," ordering Muslims to kill Americans wherever they are found in the world.
Bin Laden's first terrorist act against us predates those documents. In 1992 he is believed to have been behind an explosion aimed at U. S. troops in a Yemen hotel. Fortunately, the men had left for Somalia earlier. (Later he was reportedly responsible for the deaths of 20 U. S. soldiers in Somalia.)
Since then he has been connected to: the first attack on the World Trade Center (1993); the killing of 19 U.S. soldiers in Saudi-Arabia in two locations--bombing a military training facility (1995) and the following year an attack on a serviceman's apartment complex; U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania (1998) in which over 200 people were killed and 5,000 injured (1998); and an attack on the U. S. S. Cole in Yemen (2000) where 17 of our people were killed. Bin Laden is currently under indictment for the embassy bombings.
However, bringing him to justice has proved to be very difficult. Rewards for his capture before the recent attack on our country amounted to $5 million. Since then, they have increased dramatically to over $25 million! President Bush compared him to a fugitive on the Old West frontier whose picture appears on a poster: "WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE."
Bin Laden was last seen in public at his son's wedding in Kandahar, Afghanistan (February, 2001). Sources say that he rarely stays in one place for more than two days. It is believed that immediately after the airliners crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Bin Laden "left town," refusing to tell anyone where he was going or where he had been.
U. S. efforts to find Bin Laden have been futile so far. They put pressure on countries where he was allowed to run his terrorist-training camps.. One example is Sudan who expelled him in 1996. A missile attack on a supposed training site in eastern Afghanistan (after the embassy bombings in 1998) proved to be a failure. More recently, our government has told countries sympathetic to Bin Laden that they will be treated no differently than the terrorists. President Bush has also threatened the financial resources of Bin Laden and anyone who helps him. He put it this way: "If you do business with terrorists, you won't do business with us!"
His current base of operations is in northern Afghanistan. That country has been under control of the Taliban government since 1996. They occupy 90 percent of the country but have diplomatic relations with only two nations.
The word "taliban" means "religious students." A few dozen of them were appointed by Pakistani officials in 1994 to recruit forces as protection for caravans with trade goods traveling through Afghanistan to Central Asia. They were such an effective military unit that they decided to capture the city of Kandahar and go on to the capital of Kabul. By 1996, they had defeated other rebel groups and took over the country's government.
The Taliban administration is based strictly on a harsh, ferocious, and restrictive brand of Islam. Their oppression of women is unrivaled anywhere in the world. An Afghani-American journalist, Tamin Ansary, wrote the following about them: "When you think Taliban, think 'Nazi.' When you think Bin Laden, think 'Hitler.' When you think of the people of Afghanistan, think 'Jews in concentration camps.' "
The Talibans continue to battle stiff opposition from anti-government forces hoping to retake control. President Bush has said the U. S. will help any groups who oppose them.
Prior to the September attack, the U. S. had been trying to convince them to turn over Bin Laden. They placed economic sanctions on the country, but the government refused to interfere with his activities. The Taliban leader recently accused the U. S. of focusing on Bin Laden " ... without any proof ..." and said our request to give up Bin Laden has " .. no moral grounds..."
Now that President Bush has said we are "at war" with the terrorists who attacked us, he has brought to bear the threat of U. S. military action. His message is: "If you protect, harbor, or support terrorists, you will suffer along with them." Neighboring Pakistan is bracing for the estimated million Afghanis and Arab nationals who are leaving their homes to avoid U.S. retaliation.
Bin Laden considers the U. S. to be "warmongers," "enemies of Islam," and "Satan." He believes Islamic holy sites are desecrated by the presence of U. S. troops, particularly in Saudi- Arabia where the most important mosques are located. He wants all U. S. troops stationed anywhere in Middle Eastern countries to be removed, saying: "Expel the infidels." Bin Laden also believes those Americans bring with them an "evil influence," the Western way of life that corrupts Moslems.
He fancies himself a modern-day Saladin, the Moslem leader of the 13th century who drove out the invading Crusader armies. (As it happens, Saladin was later defeated by the Third Crusade under Richard I of England and Philip I of France.)
Bin Laden's family came from Yemen to Saudi-Arabia where he was born in the mid-1950s. (His age now is thought to be around 44 or 45.) The name "Osama" is an honorable one; translated to English it means "big cat."
His father started a construction business which became a very successful operation. They worked on some of the most sacred shrines, highways, palaces, and are responsible for putting up the highest building in Saudi- Arabia. His company became synonomous with oil field development, and his wealth soared into the billions before he died in 1961.
Bin Laden took part in the family business after spending time at universities in Saudi Arabia and Beirut, Lebanon studying management and economics. It was in Beirut that he gained the reputation of a popular "party-giver." He apparently underwent a conversion in the 1970s when he became possessed with "a fervent belief in militant Islam."
When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, Bin Laden and thousands of Moslems came to form an army to help drive them out. He spent ten years there "showing courage, energy, and commitment" to the cause. He recruited fighters from around the world and imported sorely needed equipment. By the time the Soviet Union finally pulled out their soldiers, Bin Laden had established himself as an "effective manager and organizer" and was on his way to setting up a "loosely linked chain of terrorists" throughout the world.
Ironically, the U. S. provided assistance to the Afghan rebels during this period since we opposed what the Soviet Union was trying to do. Bin Laden and other leaders received funding, Soviet spy data, explosives, rifles, and Stinger anti-aircraft missiles. The C. I. A. has recently denied that they had " ... any relationship with Osama Bin Laden ..." although they did assist in the training of Afghani freedom fighters ("mujaheddin").
When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, the U. S. came to their assistance, sending 1/2 million troops who were based in Saudi-Arabia. Bin Laden's frequent protests about what he saw as sacrilege enraged the Saudi government, and in 1994 they revoked his citizenship. After two years in the Sudan, Bin Laden returned to Afghanistan where he has remained ever since--under the protection of the Taliban government.
In the mid-1990s he was behind terrorist organizations that grew up in places like Bangladesh, Chechnya, Kashmir, Tajikstan, and Bosnia in addition to Middle Eastern nations.
Bin Laden expanded his organization "Al-Qaeda" ('the Base' in Arabic); it had been founded in 1989 during the campaign against the Soviet Union. He deveoped it into the main vehicle for his operations, an actual data base of support and an "instrument for launching a global war of terrorism." Its aim is to "support oppressed Moslems around the world, both militarily and financially ..." Current estimates place their numbers at 4,000-5,000 dedicated warriors.
Physically, Osama Bin Laden is a tall man, standing about 6 feet 3 inches. He has a long, graying beard falling to his chest. Seen in rare photographs, his narrow eyes stare into the camera; his face is long and thin.. He wears a white turban and seems to be a very modest man, almost shy. Bin Laden has at least three wives and several children.
Bin Laden's brother has set up scholarships at Harvard University Law School. Another relative owns six condominiums in Boston. A few days after the attack, several of his relatives (mostly cousins) living in this country were quietly escorted to planes leaving for overseas. One cousin, living in Cambridge, Mass. chose to remain. However, he is fearful that American hatred toward Bin Laden might be transferred to him so he spends most of his days in his home.
Bin Laden's share of the family fortune is estimated to be $250-$300 million. He has used a portion of it to finance his attacks on the people he considers to be enemies of Allah.
An unconfirmed news story reported that U. S. Special Forces troops had been on the ground in Afghanistan looking for Bin Laden since September 13. On October 7 combined U.S.-British forces began an air attack on terrorist targets in Afghanistan.
Since the terrible events of September, the Bin Laden family has publicly denounced him. His uncle issued a statement during which he offered condolences to the victims in New York City and Washington.
If (or when) Bin Laden is killed or captured, it is unlikely that his followers will be discouraged from continuing their mission. "The threat will not disappear when Bin Laden is in handcuffs." Radicals saw the Soviet Union driven out of Afghanistan by Islamic forces into eventual disintegration. Since they take credit for doing that, they undoubtedly believe that it is within their power to defeat the U. S.
Bin Laden's assault on this country has united us in a way not seen for over half a century. Many have compared it to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. In the future, the terrorists may have occasion to repeat the regrets voiced by a Japanese admiral soon after their planes had returned to the carriers. History tells us that he was a prophet when he said: "We have awakened a sleeping giant."