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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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 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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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".