hunting bin laden
Dr. Saad Al-Fagih

A Saudi Arabian dissident living in exile in London, he heads the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia. As a physician, he took part in the Afghan rebels' war against the Soviet invasion and explains the significance of that war for Muslims throughout the world. As a fellow Saudi dissident, he knows about bin Laden and his views. Interview conducted by Martin Smith.
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When they think of Saudi Arabia in the United States, we think of oil, rich sheiks driving Mercedes ... . But it's a country that's actually in crisis. Is that right?

dr. saad al-fagihThat's right. During the last 20 years there has been enough oil, enough money to build high buildings and to buy nice cars. And to inject a lot of money into the pockets of those royal family members. [But] there has been no power structure or political structure to maintain a healthy country. And because of the repeated challenges, we are now facing real crisis. ...

This is context for us to understand someone like bin Laden and where he comes from--who he is?

There is a lot ... to explain why did bin Laden emerge. One of the main [two] factors for the emergence of the phenomena of bin Laden is the circumstances in Saudi Arabia. With the pathological rule of the royal family in a country like Saudi Arabia. But there's the other factor which is very important. ... [you're] creating the picture of America in the eyes of Muslims as [an] arrogant, hostile country to Muslim causes. Because of those two factors together, you would not be surprised to see a phenomena like bin Laden. I would see bin Laden as ... a product of the circumstances.

So bin Laden is not just a terrorist or just an operative out there. He's part of a social movement.

That's right. He's a product of a new social structure. A new social feeling in the Muslim world. Where you have strong hostility not only against America, but also against many Arab and Muslim regimes who are allying to America. ... And that's why if bin Laden was not there, you would have another bin Laden. You would have another name, with the same character, with the same role, of bin Laden now. That's why we call it phenomena not a person.

The phenomenon is based on the fact of a revival of religious feeling and religious values amongst the people?

That's one side of it. All philosophers agree that there has been a revival... [of] the roles of Islam ... in the Muslim world in the last 20 years. ...

If bin Laden was not there, you would have another bin Laden. You would have another name, with the same character, with the same role, of bin Laden now. Thats why we call it phenomenom, not a person. Nobody argues with that fact. But there's also a new phenomenon that is increased hostility of Muslims against America. Not only Arab Muslims. Also non-Arab Muslims who believe America is the reason for many problems in the Muslim world. ... [Americans] are consistent on absolute, severe embargo on Iraqi people. Not directed against the regime. But directed against the people themselves. Because the regime's not suffering from the embargo. Support of Israel--unlimited, unconditional support of Israel. Insistence on keeping actual military power inside the holy land--inside Arabia, which is something which has not happened in the last 1,400 years of Islamic history. Those things are [an] irritant to Muslims.

It's an irritant to you.

It's irritant to everybody. Not only Islamists in Arabia. ... Even in liberals in the Saudi Arabia are against American military presence in Arabia. So even if you are a non-observing Muslim, you feel angry. ...

So while we in the United States would see the presence of our military in the Middle East or in Saudi Arabia in particular as an act of generosity on our part--to help defend you and defend you country--you see it as an occupation.

Exactly. That is the controversy. That's the contradiction between the two views. ... The Americans [have] to understand the mentality of people there. They have to correct this view. There's no way to convince people that this is generosity to defend the country. ... So this view has to be corrected in the minds of Americans.

You say this view has to be corrected in the minds of Americans. You've been to the United States. Many Americans would say, "Why should I care about this? What difference does it make to me?"

Well, if you have this feeling converted into a violent feeling, he has to care about this. If that feeling produces somebody like bin Laden or others who believe that they have to fight the Americans--or have to fight the regimes which allow the Americans to stay--then you have to care for it. There is going to be death. ... And this is a reason for every American to care about it because it is producing bad incidents. It's better to deal with it peacefully, [in] a nice sensible way. You say, "Okay, this is your country. You don't want our military to stay there. We'll leave." ... The other option is to keep the forces until ... the resentment and irritation goes to the degree that everybody is fighting the Americans. ...

To be mercenary about it, many people in America might say, "You know what we're really there for? We're defending our oil."

That's what we believe. The military people there are defending the oil, which is believed by Americans to be American oil. Not Arab oil. And that's the most sincere and credible expression by [an average] American. That they see this as American oil. And they are going there to buy the land and control the oil. And that's what irritates us. That they believe that this is their territory. This is their resources. And this is their domain. ... What about us? This is our country. This is our land. ... Not another country has the [right to come] here and say, "Stay aside, we'll control the oil."

So bin Laden is seen as someone fighting for the dignity, the natural resources, the nation of Saudi Arabia?

Very much so. He is going even beyond that. Because of the American challenge to Arabians and Muslims, to the degree that they are controlling their own resources, he's going beyond that. ... He wants Muslims to have domination in the whole area. ... So Muslim [economy] has to replace an American [economy]. That's the principles of bin Laden and people like bin Laden. ...

Now, you're from a prominent family in Saudi Arabia. So is bin Laden. ... He's part of a large prominent family. Who are the bin Ladens?

The bin Laden family is very interesting. His father came from a family from Hadramout, South Yemen, who are famous to be successful merchants and business men. ... His father came to Jeddah and worked [as] a laborer ... and in three years he become one of the biggest constructors in the country. A millionaire. His [most] successful move [was when he convinced] King Saud in the late 50s or early 60s to take over the bid to build one or two of his palaces. ... And since then, he was the constructor [of the royal family]. He was the constructor of the whole country, indeed. He had another [good] move when he succeeded in having alliances between King Faisal and King Saud ... he was among the few people who succeeded in convincing King Saud to leave and let the country end up with King Faisal in charge. And King Faisal issued a decree that every contractor has to end up with bin Laden, the father. ... And when King Faisal died, he left a will to his brothers to look after bin Laden's sons. Because by that time bin Laden has died also. ...

And amongst these sons is Osama bin Laden?

And among those sons was Osama bin Laden.

And he's a contemporary of yours?

He's a contemporary of our generation. Yes.

Tell me about him. He was raised primarily by his brothers?

Well, in his first 13 years of life, his father was there. ... And is father had a very strong personality, and he kept [tough discipline] with his brothers. They had to meet every day in their father's house. They have to have at least one or two meals together. And their father forced them to keep absolutely good relations with each other. [Absolute] respect in the family. And was brought up with good manners as observing Muslim. And then when his father died, he was...

A fundamentalist Muslim?

No. He was just an average Muslim. An average observing Muslim. ... The problem with "fundamentalist" is a problem of definition. Most of the western audience associates fundamentalists with violence, with being extremist, with being off the main trend [of] society. If that is the definition of fundamentalist, no. He was not like that. If we are talking about an observing Muslim, we are talking about a Muslim who observes the basic [tenets] of Islam. That the goes to the mosque. He looks after his parents. He runs his family properly ... similar to the ten commandments in other religions. ...

As a person, we're told that bin Laden is a large person. Physically large person.

[Slightly] taller than average. But not large. He's tall and [very thin].

Humble?

Well in his desert life, he's very humble. Very simple. And people who work with him or live with him like him a lot. Because he's having the two characters for people to be liked. The charisma, the aura on one side. And also the humbleness and being simple and being generous and soft on the other side. So if you, if you have the aura and charisma, in [addition] to being very simple and very humble, you force people to respect you and like you. ... I did not have the chance to see him or talk to him directly, [but] the people who lived with him very closely, they told me that you are taken by his personality. And you are forced to have strong affection towards him. And respect.

Some people told us in the 1970s, he was lost. He wasn't really focused. He didn't really have a career or direction until he went to Afghanistan. Until he got attracted by the jihad.

Exactly. He was not known. [He] was just one brother among 50 brothers of the bin Laden family. He was just a student in the university. And then he was taken by the news of Afghanistan and he moved there. Even the first three or four years in Afghanistan, nobody noticed that he was there. Only when he encouraged people to go and join him there. Then he became a hero and a symbol or sacrifice. ...

What did he [do there]?

He went there by his own first. And then he ... went back to [Saudi Arabia] and brought his construction equipment into Afghanistan. And he built roads and trenches and other things. He even [built] some training camps inside Afghanistan. And made them a base for the Arabs who wanted to join [the] jihad [in] Afghanistan. That was in the middle 80s.

We're told by some former CIA people who were in Afghanistan that he really wasn't involved in any of the fighting. That he wasn't really a fighter in Afghanistan.

That's not true. He was involved ... in fighting in Afghanistan. In the beginning, he ... join[ed] ... under the banner of the Afghan factions. And then he thought he can have his own camp and his own establishment inside Afghanistan. And he built one or two guest houses in Peshawar, with three or four camps inside Afghanistan. That was a complex. This complex was known to be ... used only by Arabs who are coming from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait ... Algeria, Egypt, Yemen. [Seventy or 80 percent are from] Saudi Arabia. And only 20 percent are from all other countries. So the best estimates are that you had between 30 to 40 thousand people who have been through this complex, either having training or joining battle themselves. Now he ran at least five or six battles. Heavy battles with the Soviet Union. Direct battles. Apart from the battles which he attended [with] the Afghan factions. And more than once he was almost killed by artillery or by rocket attacks from the Soviet side. ...

What was the attraction to the jihad in Afghanistan? You went to Afghanistan, right?

Well, I went there as a doctor, as a surgeon. ... For somebody like bin Laden, the strongest attraction, the strongest reason for his movement is religious. He's feeling a religious duty to join his brother Muslims there. And to contribute in the defense of their land against the oppressor. ... But also for him and many of other Saudis it was a golden opportunity to live the life of jihad. Because you could not practice jihad in Saudi Arabia. You cannot practice jihad in the Gulf. You cannot practice jihad in ... any other country. So the one way to practice actual jihad in its full scale sense--you carry a weapon and fight the enemy--was Afghanistan.

What do you mean, practice jihad?

Well, I mean, jihad has many scales. The simplest scale is to fight yourself and prevent it from committing sin. And the [full scale] jihad is to be in an army or a group fighting the enemy of Islam. Actual battle. Actual military conflict. You fight and have the chance of being killed or being injured. And that's what people were eager to live. ... And one of the first people to respond this message, to this call, was bin Laden. Not only by his own body--by fighting. But by his money. By his reputation. By his influence. And by his relations. So he was there--moving from Saudi Arabia with all those advantages--to Afghanistan and donating himself. Donating his money. Donating his reputation. Donating his history and family relations to the jihad.

Jihad, a word that we hear many times in the media of the United States--jihad means integrating your ethical, moral and actual political and physical life all together in the pursuit of the perfect life? The perfect end?

Well, that's the wider definition of it. But you have to have the narrower definition of jihad. Which is the military definition of jihad. And that is to carry weapons and to stay in the battle field and fight the enemy of Islam. And that's the thing which was missing. You can practice all sorts of moral, intellectual jihad ... . But you cannot practice military jihad. And it is a religious obligation to find some sort of opportunity to prepare yourself and to contribute some sort of military jihad that's in Islam. ...

So the Afghan war was something like a popular revolution that people from all over Islam could come to. Then wind up taking the story or the energy of it back to their homeland?

Exactly. That's a good description. It was a chance for people who have been brought up as Muslims ... to meet their Islamic obligations, including jihad in its military form. ... It was a window created by the Soviet Union and by America for Muslims to live this sort of life.

In a way it was the cold war opening up a new world of struggle?

In a way it was the cold war opening, a camp for Muslims to train and prepare for the new life. For [the] new world order, as they call it.

A new world order we may not be too happy about in the west.

Well, we call it a new world disorder. ...

You, yourself, went to the front.

Well, I went to Peshawar to work in a hospital as a surgeon, but I don't call myself as going to the front. But I was shown. I was taken by a team ... to see what is going on [with] the structure of some of some camps. ...

The structure you saw--the guest houses, camps--what was constructed by bin Laden and his organization, right?

Yes. Well I mean, the guest house was probably just a house in Peshawar ... an average house ... .

But there's some confusion here apparently. Today in the United States, we hear from law enforcement about Al Qaeda.

Yes.

But to you that's something different.

Well, I [really] laugh when I hear the FBI talking about Al Qaeda as an organization of bin Laden. ... [It's really a] very simple story. If bin Laden is to receive Arabs from Saudi Arabia and from Kuwait--from other regions--he is [to] receive them in the guest house in Peshawar. They used to go to the battle field and come back, without documentation.

What do you mean without documentation?

There [was] no documentation of who has arrived. Who has left. How long he stayed. There's only [a nice general reception]. And you go there. And you join in the battle field. ... Very simple organization. Now, he was embarrassed by many families when they called him and ask what happened to our son. He don't know. `Cause there's no record. There's no documentation. Now he asked some of his colleagues to start documenting the movement of every Arab coming under his umbrella. ... It is recorded that [they] arrived in this date and stayed in this house. ... And then there was a record of thousands and thousands of people. Many of them had come only for two weeks, three weeks and then disappeared. That record, that documentation was called the record of Al Qaeda. So that was Al Qaeda. There's nothing sinister about Al Qaeda. It's not like an organization--like any other terrorist organization or any other underground group. I don't think he used any name for his underground group. If you want to name it, you can name it "bin Laden group." But if they are using the term Al Qaeda ... Al Qaeda is just a record for the people who came to Peshawar and moved from there back and forth to the guest house. And moved back to their country. And if they want to follow the number, they must be talking about 20, 30 thousand people. Which is impossible to trace. And I think most of those records are in the hands of the Saudi government anyway, because people used the Saudi airlines, [at] a very much reduced fare. Twenty-five percent of the total fare of a trip to Islamabad. ...

So Al Qaeda ... [is] not a secret organization at all, is it?

It's not a secret organization at all. It was common knowledge to many people who went there. ... Al Qaeda was public knowledge. It was a record of people who ended up in Peshawar and joined, and move from Peshawar to Afghanistan. It was very [benign] information. A simple record of people who were there just to make record available to bin Laden if he's asked by any family or any friend what happened to Mr. so-and-so.

And most have now returned to their homes?

Yes. Most of them is, are back. Now if they want to talk about the bulk or the core of bin Laden followers, I don't think there is any name of that group. You can very correctly and very accurately describe it as "bin Laden group." Full stop. As a small core, probably a few hundred of people who are around bin Laden. And the bulk of those are in four countries. Afghanistan. Saudi Arabia. Yemen. And Somalia. Very, very few or probably none in other countries. ...

I take it that the description that's given by US law enforcement of a well organized cell organization in the bin Laden organization, is not really the case--from what you're saying. That it's really very diffused and disorganized in some ways.

Well, there's a mixture. Bin Laden does have a small core of followers who are unlikely to be anywhere but in Afghanistan and Yemen. Probably a good number in Saudi Arabia and a good number in Somalia. And then you have the [wider group]. In thousands, maybe tens of thousands, who are sympathetic to bin Laden and who look at him as their father, and arrange themselves in small groups here and there. A very loose network with that hierarchy. You can never eradicate them. ... Each small group has its own chain of command, its own logistics. Now they wait for somebody like bin Laden to give them moral support and give them directions. They might try to contact him to get advice from him. But they don't belong to him like a special organization with a pyramidal structure or anything like that. He does have a small core of followers probably in the hundreds. But some ... have estimated the number to be 600 or 700. But the danger for the west or for Saudi Arabians--for the regime in Saudi Arabia--is not only this 600 people. The danger lies with all those small groups. Which probably, the people who did [the] Khobar and Riyadh [bombings] were among them. They just planned the purchase themselves. They went to bin Laden. They took his encouragement and his sanctioning. And they did it. But they don't belong to his close core of followers.

So what you're saying is that even if the FBI and CIA were extremely efficient and rounded up the individuals who did the bombing in Nairobi, there will be no end to this problem until the underlying issues are dealt with?

Exactly. No end at all. The only solution to the bin Laden problem for the Americans is to understand it as phenomena. Not as a single terrorist who is staying there, sending one or two of his followers to have an explosion here or to have a bomb there. They have to understand the problem as phenomena. And they have to deal with its grass roots. They cannot deal with the problem of Muslims versus America. But they can at least reduce the huge resentment in Saudi Arabia by reducing the tension against him by moving the military presence from Arabia. And also by pressing the regime to be more open, have more [power] sharing, more freedom of expression and more freedom of assembly in Saudi Arabia. And they have to prove to the people [that it is their effort] which forced the Saudi regime to be more friendly to [its nation]. Otherwise they will lose the battle I believe. ...

The only answer then is to back real reform in Saudi Arabia?

That is the biggest hope. But people probably would accept much less. Would accept at least to remove their forces and just stop backing the regime in Saudi Arabia. ...

There's a story that [after his return from Afghanistan] bin Laden begins to turn his attention from the Soviet Union towards the government of Saudi Arabia and the United States. Because he goes to the government of Saudi Arabia in 1989 and says, "Watch out. You're going to be invaded by Saddam. And I'm prepared to organize your defense." Tell me about that.

That's a very credible story. When he came back to Saudi Arabia in 1989 after the withdrawal of Soviet troops, he was prohibited from leaving Saudi Arabia. And he thought he might spend some time in his country thinking or considering what to do to his country. ... And he had a prophecy that Saddam's going to invade Saudi Arabia. And he made this public. Not only through secret confidential letters to the king, but he was talking about it in the mosques. He was giving speeches in the mosques and talking about the danger of Ba'ath--which is a party of Saddam--having ambitions to invade Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. ... And then his prophecy was correct. And he was never respected or rewarded for that. Instead he was advised to stay in Jeddah; he was put in sort of house arrest.

At this point, the government is becoming suspicious of him or nervous about him?

The government started to become very suspicious about him. Because they don't want anybody to think. ... He was thinking, he was thinking loud and high. ... And he made his thoughts public as well as in a document to the regime. ... So they were weary about him. They were suspicious. This man is becoming too ambitious ... . So [they] try to corner him. Try to contain him.

Now he went further. After the Iraqi invasion, he was still sort of in their [good graces] when he suggested to bring all his supporters and defend the country under his command. And he made all the [guarantees] that his supporters would not give you a hard time. They would just defend the country against the invading Iraqi army. And he said, "You don't need Americans. You don't need any other non-Muslim troops. We will be enough. And I can convince even Afghanis to come and join us instead of Americans." And then the Saudis become even more furious. ... We have to contain him more. And instead of asking him to limit his movements ... he was asked to stay [under] real house arrest.

In his mind, he also sees the United States as supporting this regime that doesn't allow you to think.

Well, because he was wary about America from the start and because he was looking at America as in alliance with [the House of Saud] family to loot the country's resources and to suppress Islam in that part of the world, he was already full of hatred to Americans. But he needed another act to completely change his thinking. And that was the actual presence of American military ... in Saudi Arabia. He was still controlling his thoughts and words at that stage. Now when Americans landed with their forces in Arabia, his mind changed completely. He lost hope altogether with the regime. And he regarded the country from that moment as occupied. ...

He moves to go back to Pakistan and then Afghanistan, using his brothers' influence to get free.

Yes. He was able to, let's say, to fool the regime by claiming that he wants to finish his little bit of business in Pakistan and [come back to] the country. So he left the country forever. So he went to Pakistan and tried to sort the differences in the [Afghani] factions.

He got involved as a mediator.

He was working as a mediator, yes. And he was actually working against ... [the] Saudi intelligence, who [were] actually [trying to] increasing the gap between the Afghani factions to keep them fighting. And he was doing the opposite. Unfortunately, the work of [the Saudi intelligence] succeeded. And the work of bin Laden failed. So he was forced to leave Afghanistan. He was about to be assassinated in that stage. And he left to Sudan.

People wanted to assassinate bin Laden?

By Saudi intelligence ... . I think when the Saudis discovered that he fooled them, that he has no intention to go back to the country, they were aware that this man is dangerous for the future. Not dangerous to America. But dangerous to them. Because the Saudis do not accept anybody who has [followers] to be free ... . If you are a man with influence and you are "Saudi," you have to stay in the country and you have to be under control. ... So when they discovered that he fooled them and he is going to do something which is unprotectable against them, they said the best way to save ourselves in the future is to kill him now... He went to Sudan. ...

Why did he go to Sudan?

At that time, the Sudan government was raising an Islamic banner and was making it easy for any Muslim or any Arab to come without visa. ... It was easy for him to go there. ... That was the only option. He can't go to Egypt. He cannot go to Yemen. He cannot go to Saudi Arabia or to the Gulf. ... He [doesn't] believe in seeking asylum in a non-Muslim country. ...

At some point the Saudis withdraw his citizenship?

Yes. ...

So he's truly a stateless person.

... By law, this is was his condition after canceling his citizenship there.

In a way, his only state is Islam.

He produced a communiqué saying that ... whether the Saudis withdraw [his citizenship] or not, that does not change anything. I belong to the holy land. I've been born there. And my family is there. And I deserve to be called Muslim and Arab and part of the holy land. ...

In 1995, a car bomb blows up in Riyadh killing Americans. The Saudis say he's involved.

Well, the Saudis did not say he's involved. ... I think the Saudis don't like to say he's involved because they don't want to give him credit ... .

How significant was it that there was a bombing in Saudi Arabia and Americans were killed?

Well, very significant in the eye of American and in the eyes of the Saudis. ... It was a proof that a man can do what he claim[s] he can do. He did it. It was [an] actual incident. There was a bomb. There was Americans killed. And then it happened again in Khobar. ... It happened twice. So it was very significant. So this man has the role and has the eagerness but also has the capacity to do the job. Now, he has not said that he is behind [the bombings] a 100 percent. But all the circumstances lead to the belief that he is indirectly or directly responsible for those two incidences.

But if it was in the interest of the Saudi regime to stop this from happening, why was there such lack of cooperation with the FBI when they arrived on the scene to try and find out who did the Khobar towers bombing?

Well, that is very interesting. ... Despite ... the interest of the Saudis to control bin Laden and to prevent any future incidents, they don't want the Americans to know anything about the real situation of opposition inside Saudi Arabia. Whether it is peaceful opposition or militant opposition. [House of Saud] wants the Americans to have full faith in them as people in charge of that country. They want the Americans to see them as the leaders who can guarantee the American interests [and their future]. ... They will never allow Americans to know the actual resentment, actual opposition inside the country. Once the Americans [receive] this information, they will lose faith in the [Saudis and the House of Saud].

You say that there would be sympathy because you want to expel foreign troops from your land. But ... was a mistake for bin Laden to declare that Americans or Jews should be killed anywhere in the world?

Many Muslims see this as not acceptable on two folds. Not acceptable Islamically. Because you cannot sanction the blood of any American or any Jew. You have to have strict conditions to sanction any human blood in Islam. And this is not acceptable. [Really any] average Muslim would argue against that. But there is the other reason for not accepting, the strategic [reason]. If you want to fight America, you have to present an acceptable argument. ... You have an occupied country. And when you say, "I want to expel Americans," your argument will be accepted. When you say, ..."I want to fight any American in the world," any ... average American would have negative feelings against you. Even if he is Muslim American sometimes. So that's why people say it is Islamically questionable as well as strategically questionable. ...

Hasn't the response by the Clinton administration, the attack on the pharmaceutical factory and the attack in Afghanistan, strengthened bin Laden's hand?

Very much so. ... Americans cannot imagine how much ... strength have Americans injected into bin Laden's position by attacking Afghanistan and attacking this medical factory in Sudan. And then Clinton standing in a press conference and talking about bin Laden ... . After this attack, people were talking about bin Laden as a super power against America. ... That's the best gift can be given from the Americans to bin Laden. Or from Bill Clinton to bin Laden.

... So, in many ways, Bill Clinton played into bin Laden's hand by retaliating in the way he did. And actually played into your hands too.

Well, very much so. Before the American strike--that's after the Kenya and Tanzania bombing--there was some controversy whether bin Laden was right or wrong. Or whether he did it or he did not. Now after the American strike on Afghanistan and Sudan, that controversy was [sorted out]. People forgot Kenya and Tanzania, whether he did it or not. I think people know now that bin Laden's at the [keel]. And he's the man who can meet the expectations of many Muslims for a man who can irritate and drive America crazy. That is--the only man who did it was bin Laden. And he forced Clinton to stand up and mention his name three times. ...

To people in the United States--is it really appropriate to blow up buildings and kill innocent people because of your frustrations with policy in Saudi Arabia?

There are many people who don't like that, of course. They don't see this as [properly at all justified] ... Neither justified in religion nor justified in common sense. But ... [the] bombing of Afghanistan and Sudan has made people forget this controversy and consider why America would hate Afghanistan and Sudan. ... You can very easily question this justification of American's hitting the medical factory.

But what if it's just stupidity on the Americans part?

Well, people don't look at it is as stupidity. People look at it as arrogance ... . "If it is Muslim casualties, we don't care. Let hundreds, tens of people die. We don't care. If it is [non-Muslims], then we will think twice before doing that." That's what people [appreciate]. They don't see it as stupidity by Americans. ...

In bin Laden's story, how important is the money from his family?

There's a very interesting thing in [Islamic] structure of the family. You are obliged to support your family members. Even if they are distant members. If it's a cousin or a niece or a nephew, you have to support them if you are a capable person. ... And the [people] feel sinful if they don't let this money ... go to its real owner which is Osama bin Laden. ...

Even though we've been told that the bin Laden family has cut him off?

Well, they have to say that publicly. They have to try to pretend to be cutting off bin Laden. But in actuality they admire him, they respect him. ... I don't claim that all ... the brothers do that. But quite a significant number of them work hard to get [rid of what they see as] sinful money--has to reach its real owner.

It's not only the bin Laden family who's supporting him. Bin Laden has never relied on his own money or his family's money to survive or to support his cause. Many rich Muslims believe that the best way to serve jihad through money is through bin Laden himself. ... It's fairly difficult now [for] an average Muslim businessman or a [very] rich Muslim to let the money reach bin Laden. But that's happening. ... You can never destroy bin Laden's assets by just confiscating what is in his name. Or trying to trace his money movement in the banks here and there. You cannot control him by those means. ...

[But] part of the story of bin Laden in the United States is that he has 250 million dollars, and he's kind of like the John D. Rockefeller of terrorism.

I read a few reports on the American press about bin Laden's financial assets and the way Americans are trying to ... trace them ... using satellites and Internet. It made me laugh a lot. Because I know there is none of that. Bin Laden does not use banks I was told. But bin Laden, in his personal capacity, is supposed to be bankrupt now. He had three massive setbacks in his financial story. ... First there was the freezing of all his assets ... around 250, 300 million dollars. It's inside Saudi Arabia and it is part of his share in the company. It is under the microscope of the Saudi regime. It can't go here or there. ... And then he had a big loss in Sudan. Because he volunteered to do one of two projects [for] the Sudanese. The big road--they call it the challenge road. And he spent something like 250 or 300 million dollars on that project. Assuming that the Sudanese would pay him at one time, but they ... paid him hardly 10 or 20 million. So in practicality, he lost all this money. And then came the last, the set back. When this man [Sidi Tayyib] defected to the Saudi regime. And he knew quite a bit about his remaining small companies here and there. And he told the Saudis about them. Now he knew that his man would defect. So he prepared himself by selling those companies with, with significant loss before the defection of [Sidi Tayyib] ... .

Why does he survive now?

Well, he survives for two reasons. Number one, there is some other source, other than his own money, ... his indirect family support and rich Muslims supporting him to support jihad. And the other reason that he survives is that neither he nor his followers need money. They are living a very, very simple life. And for their operations, they don't need a lot of money. You can buy a [rocket propelled grenade] in Yemen for cheaper than foreign audio tape recorders. You can you can buy TNT in Somalia cheaper than sugar. So explosives are not that expensive and the [people] have already been trained. And the logistics needed are very little. And people are volunteers. They are not paid. They are not mercenaries. So the cost of a big operation like bombing Riyadh or bombing Khobar could come to a few thousand dollars. Very easily. ...

I have one final question. Does the average American tourist have reason to fear? ... Secondly, does the average American worker in an office in New York or Washington have reason to fear?

Well, you still have to fear from the 600 militia in America who have more power and more influence in America. ... The chance of having a terrorist attack by thousands of militia in America is probably one thousand times the chance of bin Laden in America. ... Of course there is a small risk of bin Laden doing something. He still has followers. He still has the motivation. He can do it in America or outside America. His group of followers, whether it is a small group or the big group, can never be eradicated. So there's still the potential of some sort of danger. But it's not logical to say, "Oh, the danger only comes from those." There's a danger coming from everywhere.

Regarding the Muslim world, there is a problem in [each] country, which has nothing to do with bin Laden. Like [in] Egypt. There are many militant groups who want to fight the regime, who want to embarrass the regime by fighting tourists. They have no relation to bin Laden. ... They are not motivated by bin Laden. ... The risk is there. But it is not fair to say the problem is coming from bin Laden. ...

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