The Bin Laden Files

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1988, Afghanistan --- Saudi-born billionaire Osama Bin Laden smilies as he sits in a cave in the Jalalabad region of Afghanistan.

1988, Afghanistan --- Saudi-born billionaire Osama Bin Laden smilies as he sits in a cave in the Jalalabad region of Afghanistan.

May 2, 2011

Who is Osama bin Laden and what does he want? FRONTLINE first asked these questions back in the spring of 1999, after he masterminded the U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, and we’ve continued to report on the man and the movement he inspired in the ensuing years:

  • · Bin Laden and his network: Our 1999 report Hunting bin Laden includes a biographical account from a source close to bin Laden; an account from former ABC News reporter John Miller, one of the only Western journalists to interview bin Laden; a look at the trail of evidence of Al Qaeda attacks in the 1990s; and profiles of two terrorists involved in the embassy attacks. In the fall of 2001, we examined Al Qaeda’s roots in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. And as part of our 2006 report on Vice President Cheney’s war against the intelligence community, we looked at bin Laden’s 2001 escape from the mountains of Tora Bora. [Watch chapter three of the film here.]
  • · Al Qaeda attacks: We’ve investigated deep inside a number of failed — and successful — plots, including the 1998 East African embassy bombings; the 2000 attack on the USS Cole ; 9/11; the millennial bombing plot against Los Angeles International Airport; and the 2004 Madrid bombings and their aftermath in Europe.
  • · Safe haven in Pakistan: We’ve revisited this issue a number of times, starting in 2002 when correspondent Martin Smith got a rare glimpse inside Pakistan’s tribal areas; again in 2006’s Return of the Taliban, which looked at the “nightmare scenario” of the Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters controlling large portions of the Afghanistan/Pakistan border region; and again in 2009, as President Obama’s new counterinsurgency strategy was forced to confront the hardest problem of all.
  • · The Bush administration’s response: Bush’s War, our landmark history of the post-9/11 era, includes a database of more than 400 extended interviews, and an innovative video timeline charting the key events, political drama and turning points.
  • · The Man Who Knew: Our acclaimed 2002 film tells the story of John O’Neill. For six years he was the FBI’s leading expert on Al Qaeda, but his maverick nature rubbed some officials the wrong way and he was pushed out of the FBI — only to take a job in the summer of 2001 as head of security at the World Trade Center.

In the coming weeks, FRONTLINE will bring you more, including an exclusive report tomorrow night with a segment on a group of militants fighting for Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, as well as a look at a CIA “private army” of militiamen launching kill raids against Al Qaeda and Taliban targets inside Pakistan.

And look next week for an in-depth examination of the unprecedented U.S. campaign of targeted killing of militants in Afghanistan.


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