hunting bin laden
continued
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Jihad Against America
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After few months of his arrival he issued his first anti-American message, a Declaration of War. That declaration was limited to expelling American forces outside the Arabian Peninsula. His sense of security and nobody to embarrass must have been the drive to release that 12 page declaration. Interest in him by the Saudis never stopped and they tried very hard to convince Yunis Khalis to hand him over, and he flatly refused despite the luxurious offers.

Under Taliban
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Taliban swept Jalalabad late 1996, almost without war, and bin Laden came under their control. He was optimistic that they will give him sanctuary but he was not sure. He was surprised when a delegation of Taliban came to meet him by order of Mullah Omer, the leader of Taliban, with instructions to reassure him that he will have even better protection under Taliban. The delegation expressed Taliban honor of protecting somebody like him who sacrificed a lot for the sake of jihad.

Another Kidnap Foiled
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The Saudis never gave up. Early 1997 they bought some mercenaries in the Pakistani Afghani border. The operation was arranged with the Pakistani intelligence. The information leaked to bin Laden and he decided to move immediately to Qandahar, the stronghold of Taliban. The operation was then cancelled.

Credit with Taliban
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When bin Laden left Jalalabad, he ordered many of his followers to join Taliban in their war against Dostum and to protect Kabul. The unexpected happened. Taliban troops were fooled by a trap in the north and Kabul front was exposed to Shah Masood. Taliban were so disorganized at that stage that it was only those few Arabs who were there to push Shah Masood off Kabul and they did efficiently.

Face to Face With MulIa Omer
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The leader of Taliban Mulla Omer was keen to meet Osama. He met him early 1997 after two TV interviews, Channel 4 and CNN. Mulla Omer expressed respect and admiration but requested him to have low profile. He stressed that that was a request and not an order. Osama replied with appreciation and thanks and reassured Mulla Omer that he was going very low profile.

Another Kidnap Foiled
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Sometime in late 1997 a big operation was planned by the Americans. The primary plan was for American special forces to attack bin Laden's residence in Qandahar and kidnap him in a commando style operation. The plan was mocked in Pakistani desert and proved dangerous. While the Americans were reconsidering the decision, the news leaked to bin Laden, again through the Pakistani military, and he made it public. That was published in Al-Quds Al-Arabi in London. The Americans had no choice but to cancel. Americans acknowledged this incident only recently, but did not acknowledge the leak.

Lobbying with Ulema
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Bin Laden noticed that the driving force in Taliban were Ulema (religious scholars). He made very good links with them and lobbied specifically for the subject of American forces in the Arabian Peninsula. He was able to extract a fatwah signed by some 40 scholars in Afghanistan sanctioning the use of all means to expel the American forces from the Peninsula. The issue of that fatwah was an asset to him inside Taliban domain. He felt that Ulema were at his back and he can go high profile after long silence.

The International front
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His second presence in Afghanistan has attracted many mujahedeen to move there again. Among those were Ayman El-Zawahery of Egyptian Jihad and Rift'ee Taha of Jama'a Islamia. There was also new phenomenon during that period. Bin Laden decided to go pan-Islamic instead of Saudi or Arabic. He attracted Kashmiris, Pakistanis, Indians, and Muslims from the Soviet Republics. He thought at that stage that he could make an international alliance against America. In February 1998 he declared the formation of the International Front. The declaration contained two elements, formation of the front and a fatwah sanctioning killing Americans and Jews. Apart from two Arabic newspapers, the declaration had minimal coverage by the press.

Media Escalation
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After avoiding the media for almost a year he decided to open the door wide for them. In April 1998 he received the ABC TV team and two weeks later he held press conference in Khost and warned of impending attack in few weeks time. Mulla Omer was not happy with this new media escalation, but felt it difficult to control him while he is protected by the scholars. Indeed bin Laden said that he would abide with what ever the Ulema board decides

African Bombings
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The bombings in Kenya and Tanzania July 1998 were not a big surprise. Yes, it was a surprise but in terms of choice of location and targets. Despite his declaration of war against America anywhere, the attack was expected inside Saudi Arabia. Having said that, it is not [to be taken] for granted that he is behind the bombing.

The American Missile
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It is not known why the Americans chose a camp in Khost to retaliate. The camp was an almost deserted camp where only few Arabs have stayed, with a neighboring camp of Kashmiris. Bin Laden himself was hundreds of miles away, and the rest of Arab Afghans were in the northern front celebrating their recent victories.

Currently
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Since the American attack bin Laden was put in heavy protection and advised to stay hiding. His followers made another credit when they protected Kabul front again and pushed Masood forces back.

Bin Laden the Person
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Bin Laden was brought up with good manners. He matured as extremely humble and very generous person. He insists to join his comrades in every act. Very frequently he cooks for them and serves them. He lives a simple life in a small flat in Jeddah or in a shed in Afghanistan and insists on his family to eat simple and to dress simple.

He is known to be strictly truthful and would never lie, but he is politically conscious and believes there is a room for political maneuver even if you are devoted person. Despite being shy he has dominating personality. He speaks very little and looks serious most of the time. He would appear with a soft smile but he seldom laughs. His followers see a lot of aura on him and show great voluntary respect to him. For some reason that falls short of a proper charisma. He is not known for giving distinguished speeches, and there is almost no audio or video recordings of him.

He is widely educated and spends a good deal of time reading. He is fond of media monitoring and information gathering and research. There was always a data management team with him wherever he went.

Among the outstanding features is his courage. He will not show a flicker even if a bomb exploded near him. He was exposed to more than 40 incidents of heavy bombardment, three of them were full of death and flesh around him. A Scud missile exploded 17 meters distance from him. At one time he was almost the victim of chemical weapons. More than once he needed treatment in hospital for body injuries. Despite this courage he is very cautious person. He would not keep any electronic instrument close to his vicinity. Some times he even avoids any device even if it is a simple watch near him because he believes this might help in targeting him.

He is intelligent and has reasonable strategic thinking, but he downgrades himself in the presence of Islamic scholars. He always admires Shiekh Safar al-Hawali and would have not gone through his current controversial path if al-Hawali was free. Some people saw him as a man with vision, others doubt it. They think that he never had clear long term plan. They see the last fatwah as evidence of that.

Relation with Al-Saud
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Contrary to what is always reiterated bin Laden has never had official relations with the Saudi regime or the royal family. All his contacts would happen through his brothers. The brothers would approach two members of the royal family who were fairly sympathetic to Osama. They were Ahmed bin Abdul Aziz, deputy minister of interior and Abdul Rahman bin Abdul Aziz, deputy minister of defense. He might have met them in few occasions but those meetings would have been purely social or accidental in one of his brother's houses. Specifically he had no relation with Turki al-Faisal head of Saudi intelligence. He used to be very suspicious of his role in Afghanistan and once had open confrontation with him in 1991 and accused him of being the reason of the fight between Afghan factions. He was wary of the Saudi government very early in the eighties, but he thought it was wiser to keep silent and benefit from their de facto support to jihad in that period.

Relation with America
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Bin Laden has never had any relation with America or American officials. Claims of relation with CIA or other American departments are all unfounded. Since the late seventies he had strong anti-American feeling. He committed himself and family and advised all friends to avoid buying American goods unless it was necessary. He was saying very early in the eighties that the next battle is going to be with America. ... No aid or training or other support have ever been given to bin Laden from Americans. Bin Laden would bring money from individuals donating straight to him. The weapons he had were either captured from the Soviets or bought from other factions.

Relations with Pakistan
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Again there were no official relations with officials in Pakistani government. However, he had paramount respect by many Pakistanis including people in the army, intelligence and religious establishment. They were so penetrating that they would always leak any plan against him by the Pakistani-Saudi-American alliance.

Relation with Taliban
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His relation with Taliban would best be understood if Taliban themselves are understood properly. First of all Taliban are not simply another Afghan faction supported by Pakistan. Taliban are sincere to their beliefs, a religiously committed group unspoiled by political tactics. They would never bargain with what they see as matters of principle. Bin Laden for them is a saint. He is a symbol of sacrifice for the sake of jihad. They see him as very rich Arab from the Holy Land who gave up his wealth and luxury to fight for the sake of his brother Muslims in Afghanistan. They see themselves performing a double duty here, an Islamic duty of protecting this distinguished person and a tribal duty of protecting a descent refugee. The latter is a big value in Afghanistan. Once, a Taliban leader said to a Saudi envoy that if a goat would seek refuge to my tent I would never hand it over, how on earth do you want us to hand over a holy man like bin Laden?

There was no argument within Taliban about handing over bin Laden. There is however some difference in opinion about how high his media profile should be.

In addition to the factor of principle, bin Laden had twice had the credit of protecting Kabul recently.

Bin Laden became an intimate part of Taliban structure when he taught them how to deal with state affairs in a proper manner. For example, they were to be fooled by some oil and gas companies and sell the pipeline project for cheap. He advised them to learn from the Iraq-Turkey and Iraq-Syria agreements. They wanted to privatize some factories and were about to sell them to Pakistani businessmen for cheap prices. He taught them how to conduct proper bidding procedure and guarantee good prices.

Relation with Iran
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It is needless to say that bin Laden has not had any relation with Iran. Iran knows that bin Laden is a committed Sunni and he regards Iran as Shi'a state. The trust between the two is minimal but both have avoided criticizing each other publicly. Having said that, he sees America as common enemy and according to a Pakistani newspaper he regards an anti-American alliance with Iran and China as something to be considered.

Bin Laden Followers
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bin Laden has two circles of followers. First are the closed core followers who are related to him by a chain of command and take orders like a secret organization. Most of those are probably in Afghanistan. Many are inside Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Somalia and probably Gulf countries. Like any secret group, those followers would not disclose their relation. Inside Saudi Arabia many of those would appear like any average citizen. The number of those is probably in hundreds.

The second circle is much wider and the number is probably in thousands. They are located in the same countries. They would look at bin Laden as Godfather but they do not have proper chain of command or secret links with him. They would regard themselves obliged to perform some of his general orders. Most of those followers are not organized and get trapped by the Saudi police fairly easily. But some are intelligent and make use of the loose nature of their structure to function without attracting attention.

Finance
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Before his final departure from Saudi Arabia, his financial activities were almost copies of his brothers. Indeed, he is still part of the big mother company. However he had committed himself at very early stage to a special code which he thought was necessary to guarantee the Islamic nature of this activity. For example he would never invest in non-Islamic country. He would never use banks unless it was absolutely necessary. He does not believe in stock market because he thought the investor cannot escape interest since the money has to be in a bank and produce some interest. He is also preoccupied with the idea that Jews control banks and stock market.

He had three setbacks which would have made him bankrupt otherwise. The first was the freezing of his direct assets by the Saudi government. All his traceable money was frozen including his share in the big mother company of bin Laden. No body knows the exact amount but it was probably in the range of 200-300 million Dollars.

The second setback was the loss he had in Sudan. The Sudanese government was too weak financially to pay him for the construction projects and he ended up hardly with 10% of the payment. He lost in Sudan not less than 150 million dollars.

The third setback happened last year when one of his close aids defected to the Saudi government. The defector Sidi Tayyib Al-Madani had some financial information about him until early 1995. Bin Laden knew about the plans of this man to defect and so had few months to liquidate the few businesses known to this defector. There was very little trace of those businesses but dismantling them was not without loss.

There is, however the other side of the story. Bin Laden is a member of a big family. His father's financial inheritance has not been sorted. The brothers agreed to keep many assets of the father and distribute the profits only. Most of the brothers and sisters are observing Muslims and very keen not to "spoil" their income with money which is not theirs. They believe it is their duty to let the owner of any riyal to have it. The only way they guarantee that is by letting bin Laden's share reach him. Some of the brothers and sisters believed it was their religious duty to support this distinguished brother from their own money. While many are very careful not to irritate the royal family, many more do not care and insist on letting the money reach Osama.

The way bin Laden family money is structured is very complicated because there is the big company and there are many small companies of few brothers together, and there are many individuals with their personal investment. To make the matter even more complex it is very well known that bin Laden family money is intimately mixed with the royal family money in a very complex way. Most of the companies are joint ventures with members of the royal family including King Fahad himself.

There is another big source of income to bin Laden, donations. During the early jihad era when it was blessed by the Saudi regime, he made excellent relations with many wealthy Saudis and Arabs. It is true that most of those would not support him now because of the Saudi government position but some do take the risk.

Lastly, bin Laden activities are not very dependent on money. His followers are not mercenaries. Training does not cost a lot of money. Explosives and weapons are very cheap in some parts of the world. In Somalia TNT for example is cheaper than sugar. In Yemen you can buy an RPG for less than TV set. The role of money here is over exaggerated by many writers.

Public Image
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In the eighties bin Laden was seen as a star of the Afghan Jihad. He was very much admired and respected for his sacrifice but he was not seen as a potential leader. Almost nobody saw leadership ambitions in him at that period. His public image was so good that the regime used this image to have a boost during early days of the Gulf War. The regime published a fabricated interview with him in "Al-Muslimoon" newspaper claiming he supported the regime measures to counteract the Iraqi invasion.

In the period between Iraqi invasion and his reappearance in Afghanistan 1996 he was almost forgotten by the public. The elite and especially the jihadis were still admiring him and following up his news. Some even made their way to Sudan to meet him and offer support. The public were reminded about him by the video confessions of the group attributed to Riyadh bombing.

After his declaration of jihad in 1996 his public image had a surge but this time as a leader rather than a star. There was a lot of controversy about him. In Saudi Arabia nobody would accuse him of being part of conspiracy but people would differ about his new program. There was almost a consensus in the Saudi domain on refusal of American presence in Arabia and many would like the idea of expelling the Americans by force. Many others had reservations and thought violence will bring a lot of trouble to the country. Interestingly those who disagreed with him did not accuse him having personal agenda or looking for personal benefits.

This image went on with occasional boosts by the media until the African bombings. Interestingly the story of the International Front and fatwah did not attract much attention. The Kenya Tanzania bombings reminded people of bin Laden. The media coverage was so overwhelming that the Saudi authorities felt jealous of bin Laden. People's reaction, however, was mixed. While many felt triumph for scaring the Americans, many others felt upset by the picture of hundreds of civilians killed and injured in the attack. They felt that this can never be justified.

The American missiles then played very strong role in sorting the controversy. After the American attack on Sudan and Afghanistan it became almost shameful to criticize bin Laden. People inside Saudi Arabia and in other Arab countries were full of anger towards America, and whoever can antagonize America would provide a fulfillment to their desire of discharging their anger. The American strike with the associated remarks by Clinton and American officials proved that bin Laden is a big challenge to America. In the mind of average Arab and Muslim bin Laden appeared as the man who was able to drive America so crazy that it started shooting haphazardly at unjustified targets. There was another factor which made people forget the scene of civilian victims, the special nature of the Sudanese factory. Those who had reservations of the African bombings thought that this arrogance of the Americans is much worse than the embassy bombings. Their view was that while bin Laden or others can make "executive" mistake because of their difficult circumstances, logistics and communication, America is not supposed to do this mistake unless it is done in purpose.

Interestingly the jealousy of the Saudi regime was seen clearly in the Saudi media when they instructed the Saudi TV and radio not to mention bin Laden name at all. Even when they reported the American missile attack the news item was " attack on terrorist base in Afghanistan, period".

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