, mentioned in bin Laden's speech before the 2004 U.S. election
, was published in the U.K. paper the Independent on December 6th, 1996. I believe there are some formatting errors, as it becomes confusing whether it is the author or Osama speaking in some parts. Use your best judgement and do peruse the node on Robert Fisk
to get an idea of the bias in these articles.
Osama Bin Laden sat in his gold-fringed robe, guarded by the loyal Arab mujahedin who fought alongside him in Afghanistan. Bearded, taciturn figures - unarmed, but never more than a few yards from the man who recruited them, trained them and then dispatched them to destroy the Soviet army - they watched unsmiling as the Sudanese villagers of Almatig lined up to thank the Saudi businessman who is about to complete the highway linking their homes to Khartoum for the first time in history. With his high cheekbones, narrow eyes and long brown robe, Mr Bin Laden looks every inch the mountain warrior of mujahedin legend. Chadored children danced in front of him, preachers acknowledged his wisdom.
"We have been waiting for this road through all the revolutions in Sudan," a sheikh said. "We waited until we had given up on everybody - and then Osama Bin Laden came along." Outside Sudan, Mr Bin Laden is not regarded with such high esteem. The Egyptian press claims he brought hundreds of former Arab fighters back to Sudan from Afghanistan, while the Western embassy circuit in Khartoum has suggested that some of the "Afghans" whom this Saudi enterpreneur flew to Sudan are now busy training for further jihad wars in Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt. Mr Bin Laden is well aware of this. "The rubbish of the media and the embassies," he calls it. "I am a construction engineer and an agriculturist.
If I had training camps here in Sudan, I couldn't possibly do this job." And "this job" is certainly an ambitious one: a brand-new highway stretching from Khartoum to Port Sudan, a distance of 1,200km (745 miles) on the old road, now shortened to 800km by the new Bin Laden route that will turn the coastal run from the capital into a mere day's journey. Into a country that is despised by Saudi Arabia for its support of Saddam Hussein in the Gulf war almost as much as it is condemned by the United States, Mr Bin Laden has brought the very construction equipment that he used only five years ago to build the guerilla trails of Afghanistan. He is a shy man. Maintaining a home in Khartoum and only a small apartment in his home city of Jeddah, he is married - with four wives - but wary of the press.
His interview with the Independent was the first he has ever given to a Western journalist, and he initially refused to talk about Afghanistan, sitting silently on a chair at the back of makeshift tent, brushing his teeth in the Arab fashion with a stick of miswak wood. But talk he eventually did about a war which he helped to win for the Afghan mujahideen: "What I lived in two years there, I could not have lived in a hundred years elsewhere." he said.
When the history of the Afghan resistance movement is written, Mr Bin Laden's own contribution to the mujahedin - and the indirect result of his training and assistance - may turn out to be a turning point in the recent history of militant fundamentalism; even if today, he tries to minimise his role. "When the invasion of Afghanistan started, I was enraged and went there at once - I arrived within days, before the end of 1979," he said. "Yes, I fought there , but my fellow Muslims did much more than I. Many of them died and I am still alive."
Within months, however, Mr Bin Laden was sending Arab fighters - Egyptians, Algerians, Lebanese, Kuwaitis, Turks and Tunisians - into Afghanistan; "not hundreds but thousands," he said. He supported them with weapons and his own construction equipment. Along with his Iraqi engineer Mohamed Saad - who is now building the Port Sudan road - Mr Bin Laden blasted massive tunnels into the Zazi mountains of Bakhtiar province for guerilla hospitals and arms dumps and cut a mujahedin trail across the country to within 15 miles of Kabul. No I was never afraid of death.
As Muslims we believe that when we die, we go to heaven. Before a batttle, God sends us "seqina", tranquility. Once I was only 30 metres from the Russians and they were trying to capture me. I was under bombardment but I was so peaceful in my heart that I fell asleep. This experience has been written about in our earliest books. I saw a 120mm mortar shell land in front of me, but it did not blow up. Four more bombs were dropped from a Russian plane on our headquuarters but they did not explode. We beat the Soviet union. The Russians fled." But what of the Arab mujahedin he took to Afghanistan - members of a guerilla army who were also encouraged and armed by the United States - and who were forgotten when that war was over?
"Personally neither I nor my brothers saw evidence of American help. When my mujahedin were victorious and the Russsians were driven out, differences started (between the guerilla movements) so I returned to road construction in Taif and Abha. I brrought back the equipment I had used to build tunnels and roads for the mujahedin in Afghanistan. Yes, I helped some of my comrades to come here to Sudan after the war." How many? "I don't want to say. But they are here with me right here, building this road to Port Sudan." I told him that Bosnian Muslim fighters in the Bosnian town of Travnik had mentioned his name to me. "I feel the same about Bosnia," he said. "But the situation there does not provide me with the same opportunities as Afghanistan.
A small number of mujahedin have gone to fight in Bosnia-Hercegovina but the Croats wont allow the mujahedin in through Croatia as the Pakistanis did with Afghanistan." Thus did Mr Bin Laden reflect upon jihad while his former fellow combatants looked on. Was it not a bit anti-climatic for them, I asked to fight the Russians and end up road-building in Sudan? "They like this work and so do I. This is a great plan which we are achieving for the people here, it helps the Muslims and improves their lives." His Bin Laden company - not to be confused with the larger construction business run by his cousins - is paid in Sudanese currency which is then used to purchase sesame and other products for export; profits are clearly not Mr Bin Laden's top priority. How did he feel about Algeria, I asked? But a man in a green suit calling himself Mohamed Moussa - he claimed to be a Nigerian although he was a Sudanese security officer - tapped me on the arm. "You have asked more than enough questions," he a said. At which Mr Bin Laden went off to inspect his new road.
The second interview2
, exact date unspecified - though the year is said to be 1996
Osama bin Laden is a tall, slim man, and when he walks towards me surrounded by his Arab mujahideen guerillas in the mountains of Afghanistan, he towers over his companions. Huge insects fly through the night air, settling like burrs on his Saudi robes and on the clothes of his men.
Bin Laden's narrow eyes and long beard were familiar amid the battlefields of Afghanistan where he and his guerillas fought the Soviet invasion army of the '80s. His appearance is little changed, the beard a trifle greyer, perhaps, but the fierceness unquenched. Then he fought the Russians. Now, determined to overthrow the monarchy in Saudi Arabia and oust the Americans from that kingdom, he is describing the bombings that slaughtered 24 Americans in Riyadh (in 1995) and Khobar-Dhahran (in 1996) as a symbol of Saudi anger, the presence of US forces as an "insult" to the Saudi people.
For bin Laden, the betrayal of the Saudi people began 24 years before his birth, when Abdul Aziz al-Saud proclaimed his kingdom in 1932.
"The regime started under the flag of applying Islamic law, and under this banner all the people of Saudi Arabia came to help the Saudi family take power," he says as the night wind moves through the darkened trees, ruffling the robes of the Arab Afghan fighters around us. "Abdul Aziz did not apply Islamic law; the country was set up for his family. Then, after the discovery of petroleum, the Saudi regime found another support - the money to make people rich and give them the services and life they wanted and to make them satisfied." He is picking his teeth with a piece of miswak wood, a habit that accompanies many of his conversations.
History - or his version of it - is the basis of almost all his remarks. And the pivotal date is 1990, the year Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.
"When the American troops entered Saudi Arabia, the land of the two holy places (Mecca and Medina), there was a strong protest from the ulema (religious authorities) and from students of the sharia law all over the country against the interference of American troops. 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 Yemeni communists against the southern Yemeni Muslims and helping Yasser Arafat's regime fight Hamas (who opposed the peace process in the Middle East). After it insulted and jailed the ulema 18 months ago, the Saudi regime lost its legitimacy...
"The Saudi people have remembered now what the ulema told them and they realise America is the main reason for their problems. The ordinary man knows that his country is the largest oil producer in the world, yet at the same time he is suffering from taxes and bad services. Now the people understand the speeches of the ulemas in the mosques - that our country has become an American colony. They act decisively with every action to kick the Americans out of Saudi Arabia. What happened in Riyadh and Khobar (when 24 Americans were killed in two bombings) is clear evidence of the huge anger of Saudi people against America. The Saudis now know their real enemy is America."
IT was a construction company that made bin Laden's family into millionaires, but it was its convoys of earth-moving trucks, bulldozers and quarrying equipment that took him to war. The Afghan conflict against the Russians moulded bin Laden, taught him the meaning of his religion, made him think.
Anyone who wants to understand the man whom Bill Clinton dubbed "America's Public Enemy No. 1" should study this moment in his life. The West regarded him as a hero. In those days the young Arabs whom he brought to Afghanistan to fight the Soviet occupation army were treated as heroes; in Britain, The Times used to call them "freedom fighters". Few noticed, or bothered to study, the theological implications of the West's support for the mujahideen.
One of the reasons Leonid Brezhnev was persuaded to send his troops into Afghanistan was the reports that large areas of the country had fallen under the sway of Muslim fundamentalists. School teachers, installed by the communist regime in Kabul, were being assassinated. Even when the mujahideen were shooting at civil airliners with British-made Blowpipe missiles, they were not called "terrorists".
Bin Laden saw his comrades die in their hundreds, while he survived Russian kidnap attempts. Eventually, he was sickened by the factional fighting among the Afghans that followed the departure of the Russians and he moved to Sudan, using his wealth to finance road construction projects north of Khartoum. It was while he was here, in the years after the Afghan war, that reports came from Egypt and Algeria of Arabs returning home in Afghan clothes, many of them deeply religious, contemptuous of the corruption of secular governments, doctrinal to the point of self-righteousness.
When I first met bin Laden, in 1993, he was building a highway to connect the village of Almatig to Khartoum for the first time, shaking hands with the grateful villagers, worshipped by the local sheikh. Bin Laden shook hands with each man, watched by the young Arab fighters and clearly enjoying the adoration.
There is something of the evangelist about bin Laden; not the friendly apostle but the fire-breathing preacher, a hermit of such conviction that argument is out of the question. For the Americans, his epic certainties constitute his greatest danger. Bin Laden is not a man who does deals.
He embarked on another construction; a new motorway between Khartoum and Port Sudan. By now, Egyptian newspapers were claiming that bin Laden was helping to organise an Islamist resistance to President Hosni Mubarak's rule from "training camps" in Sudan. "The rubbish of the media and the embassies," bin Laden retorted. He kept a home in Khartoum, only a small apartment in his native Jeddah. His four wives lived with him in Sudan. Three of them were later to follow him back to Afghanistan, along with his two sons.
He had watched his beloved Afghanistan torn apart by greedy men who had forgotten their religion. Now he saw corruption in Egypt, in all the Arab nations that had adopted a facade of Western life; above all, in Saudi Arabia. Under pressure from the Americans, the Sudanese told bin Laden to leave and so he returned to the land where he had been a hero. Some say he travelled back to Afghanistan via Saudi Arabia; certainly, he has many sympathisers there, including some members of the royal family. In those initial months back in Afghanistan, he must have decided that if he could defeat the Russians he could also defeat America.
Saudi Arabia, he concluded, had become "an American colony". Ordinary Saudis realised the imprisoned ulemas were right: US troops had stayed on in the kingdom, despite their promise to leave. "The Saudis now know their real enemy is America." Did not the Europeans resist German occupation in World War II? bin Laden suddenly asked. I told him this parallel was morally wrong, that no European would accept the argument because the Nazis killed millions of Europeans; the Americans had never murdered a single Saudi.
"We as Muslims have a strong feeling that binds us together," he replied. "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 earlier this year) all the world gathers within seven days to criticise this action, while the deaths of 600,000 Iraqi children (after UN sanctions were placed on Iraq) 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."
Ultimately, all Muslims will unite in the fight against America, says bin Laden. "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 all 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 for the Saudi people."
Yet did not the Americans support the mujahideens' war against the Soviets? "We were never at any time friends of the Americans. We knew that the Americans support the Jews in Palestine and that they are our enemies. Most of the weapons that came to Afghanistan were paid for by the Saudis on the orders of the Americans because Turki al-Faisal (the head of Saudi external intelligence) and the CIA were working together."
So what kind of Arabian Islamic state does he wish to see? Would thieves and murderers still have their heads cut off, for example, in a sharia-governed state? Bin Laden's answer is unsatisfactory. All Muslims would love to live under true sharia, he said. A guilty man would only be happy if he was justly punished.
Dissident bin Laden may be. But moderate, never.
Note: regarding copyright... I am seeking it, though the site I sourced these articles from display no notice and seem to promote spreading the content. The author cannot be reached via the internet... but I'll see what I can do in the near future.