On Oct. 7, 2001, as U.S. bombs and cruise missiles hit targets in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden released a videotape calling for Muslims around the world to join his cause. Sitting next to him was Ayman al-Zawahiri, the man some call the real mastermind behind bin Laden's terrorist network. Head of the radical Egyptian group Islamic Jihad, al-Zawahiri joined forces with bin Laden's Al Qaeda in 1998 to form the World Islamic Front for Fighting Crusaders and Jews. FRONTLINE's documentary "Looking for Answers," produced in partnership with The New York Times, investigates the roots of the Islamic terrorist network, and the anti-American hatred that feeds it, and traces how the trajectories of bin Laden and al-Zawahiri met in the mountains of Afghanistan.
As FRONTLINE and The New York Times discover, the roots of the hatred are not found in Afghanistan but in the lands of two crucial U.S. allies in the Islamic world: Egypt and Saudi Arabia. "When we first reported on bin Laden in 1999, we discovered that the Egyptians played a crucial role in the U.S. Embassy bombings in Africa," says FRONTLINE producer Martin Smith. "We thought it was time to go back to the roots of terror and take a closer look at why so many of bin Laden's recruits come from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other countries where critical battles against terrorism must be fought."
The Islamic movement in Egypt was born in the 1920s. Its goal: to build a society based on simple Islamic values. But this clashed with the Egyptian constitution, which provides for a secular democracy. For decades, violent conflict followed. In 1981 Islamic militants succeeded in assassinating Egyptian president Anwar el-Sadat before many of the most violent among them were driven from the country. Osama bin Laden would later recruit exiled Egyptian militants to help wage war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. Many have stayed on to help him wage a war of terror on the United States and its allies.
Many of Osama bin Laden's associates also come from Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is home to one of the strictest forms of Islam and promotes the adoption of Islamic law throughout the world. Though he was stripped of his Saudi citizenship and disowned by his powerful family in 1994, bin Laden secretly continues to raise much of the funding for his fight against Western ideas and influence from wealthy Saudi sympathizers.
But the Saudi government remains a friend of the United States and officially opposes bin Laden and his aims. Ironically, as Saudi ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan points out, bin Laden was once the beneficiary of Saudi-U.S. ties. "Bin Laden used to come to us when America was helping our brother mujahedeens in Afghanistan to get rid of the communists," he tells FRONTLINE. "We never gave him the weight that now everybody is giving him. We just thought he was a nuisance."
Prince Bandar admits he may have underestimated bin Laden. It seems U.S. intelligence may have underestimated him as well. Michael Sheehan, head of counterterrorism at the State Department during the Clinton administration, says, "This is a surprise, the extent of this operation. ... We knew there was some terrorist activity in the U.S., we knew that this organization was continuing its threats against the United States. ... But the audacity, the cruelty of this attack, surprised me."
Here on the Web, we expand our reporting with extended interviews with U.S. intelligence experts as well as ambassadors and dissidents from Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and links to related New York Times articles that are part of our joint reporting project.
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