hunting bin laden
who is bin laden
trail of evidence
two terrorists

Airdate: March 21, 2000

Produced and Directed by Martin Smith

Written by Lowell Bergman and Martin Smith

Correspondent, Lowell Bergman

NARRATOR: On New Year's eve, as America celebrated the new millennium, US authorities were breathing a sigh of relief--the event had passed without a terrorist attack.
Just two weeks earlier, an Algerian, Ahmed Ressam, had been arrested in Washington state, crossing the border from Canada in a car containing explosives and timing devices.
The following day in the middle east, Jordanian police arrested 14 men, accused of planning bomb and machine gun attacks against American tourists. American intelligence agencies believe there is increasing evidence that both plots may be connected to one man: Osama bin Laden.

LARRY C. JOHNSON: And there's that "A-ha" moment, that "Oh, we do have a problem. We've actually got someone who doesn't like us and is wanting to kill us."

NARRATOR: For years this one man has taunted, threatened and frustrated the United States. But who is he? The U.S. government has tried to link him to nearly every act of Islamic terrorism against Americans in the 90s, from the World Trade Center to the bombings of U.S. military installations in Saudi Arabia to the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.

Pres. BILL CLINTON: The United States launched an attack this morning on one of the most active terrorist bases in the world.

REPORTER: Did you kill bin Laden? Is bin Laden dead, do you know?

SAMUEL R. BERGER, National Security Adviser: We have no idea where bin Laden's whereabouts-

LOWELL BERGMAN: How carefully were the consequences....

NARRATOR: Tonight FRONTLINE correspondent Lowell Bergman investigates the hunt for Usama bin Laden.

ANNOUNCER: This special edition of FRONTLINE is a co-production with The New York Times.

NARRATOR: The bombers set off in the morning for downtown Nairobi. Their target, the United States embassy, was located at one of the busiest intersections in the city. Their truck was carrying 2,000 pounds of TNT. Two hundred and thirteen people died, five thousand were wounded.

Four minutes later, 600 miles away in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania, another bomb. Another 11 people died, another 85 wounded. The question was why, and to what end?

U.S. ambassador to Kenya, Prudence Bushnell:

PRUDENCE BUSHNELL, U.S. Ambassador to Kenya: For two nights after the bombing, I was plagued with the question: What's the point? Really, what is the point? And since then I have heard what the point is, because Mr. Bin Laden explained the point. The point, he says, is, "I hate Americans, and I'm going to kill you."

If that's the point, it certainly is the wrong point, but it's the point of one man, one renegade, somebody who certainly doesn't have his feet in the kind of reality I deal with every day.

NARRATOR: Usama bin Laden, the man the U.S. government calls a renegade, is today the most wanted man on earth, with a $5 million bounty on his head. But who is this man? Is he just one lone renegade?

AHMED SATTAR: The American government don't get it.

LOWELL BERGMAN: They don't get it?

AHMED SATTAR: They don't get it. No.

10400NARRATOR: Ahmed Sattar is a close associate of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman. Five years ago the sheik was arrested, tried and convicted for conspiring to blow up the Statue of Liberty, the United Nations headquarters and the Holland Tunnel.

AHMED SATTAR: You can kill Usama bin Laden today or tomorrow. You can arrest him and put him on trial in New York or in Washington or whatever. If this will end the problem? No. Tomorrow he will get somebody else.

It's not a secret, but the American government, you know, has one enemy, is the Islamic movement all over the world, whether it's armed struggle or peaceful- or by peaceful means. I mean, you can see it. You can see it from Algeria to Afghanistan.

LOWELL BERGMAN: The United States is at war?

AHMED SATTAR: Yes, to a certain extent. Yes.



NARRATOR: For the vast majority of Muslims, Islam is a religion of peace. But in mosques around the world, many clerics talk about Islam being under attack and about how they must unite and fight back. It is what Muslims call jihad, the obligation to defend Islam from any and all enemies.

Facing the house of Allah in Mecca, devout Muslims around the world submit to their god five times a day. Mecca is at heart of Islam, in Saudi Arabia, the land of the two holy mosques of Mecca and Medina. It is also the homeland of Usama bin Laden.

The country is ruled by a monarchy that bin Laden says is a corrupt and repressive puppet of the United States. FRONTLINE wanted to come here to inquire about bin Laden, but reporters with cameras are not welcome, and anyone who speaks out here risks their freedom. So we went to London to talk to exiled Saudi dissidents.

London is home to half a million Muslims and sanctuary for Islamic dissidents from all over the world. A prominent Saudi physician, Saad al-Fagih, heads the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia. He says he opposes the use of violence, but he knows a lot about bin Laden and his views.

SAAD AL-FAGIH, Saudi Dissident: He's a product of a new social structure, new social feelings 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.

LOWELL BERGMAN: Who are the bin Ladens?

SAAD AL-FAGIH: The bin Laden family is very interesting. His father came from a family from Hetremout, South Yemen, who are famous to be successful merchants and businessmen by talent- probably by their genes as successful businessmen.

NARRATOR: So successful were the bin Ladens that they amassed a multi-billion dollar fortune in the construction business. It helped that the father had close ties to the king, who, says al-Fagih, issued a decree that all government contracts had to go to the bin Laden construction company.

Usama bin Laden is the 17th son of 52 children, presumed to be heir to a $300 million fortune. But Usama bin Laden wasn't all that interested in money or the family business.

LOWELL BERGMAN: Some people have 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.

SAAD AL-FAGIH: Exactly. He was 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.

NARRATOR: For Muslims, the war in Afghanistan against godless communist Soviet invaders was a religious duty, a holy war or jihad. Thousands of Muslims flocked to Afghanistan from all over the world. Saad al-Fagih came as a surgeon.

LOWELL BERGMAN: What was the attraction to go to Afghanistan?

SAAD AL-FAGIH: Well, 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 Arab, any other country. So the only way to practice actual jihad in its full-scale sense is you carry a weapon and fight the enemy, the enemy of Islam.

NARRATOR: For Americans, the Afghan war was a chance to weaken the Kremlin. The U.S., along with its chief ally in the region, Saudi Arabia, pumped in $6 billion of not-so-covert guns and ammunition in order to defeat the Russians.

Milt Bearden was the CIA field officer charged with overseeing the agency's operations.

LOWELL BERGMAN: How important was the Afghan war as an event for the Arabs and for the United States?

MILT BEARDEN, CIA, 1964-1994: It's a very big deal. A small Islamic nation of 15 million people stood up to the Soviet Union with assistance from others and forced that entity called the Soviet Red Army to withdraw. And that's a great victory, a jihad. It's the first of a great moment in resurgent Islam.

NARRATOR: This is bin Laden in Afghanistan. At age 22 he came here and used his family name and influence to help raise money for the cause.

MILT BEARDEN: Bin Laden actually did some very good things. He put a lot of money in a lot of right places in Afghanistan. He never came on the screen of any Americans as either a terrific asset or someone who was anti-American.

NARRATOR: Bearden was familiar with the Arabs that came to Afghanistan. He says the idea that Usama bin Laden led a force of freedom fighters through bloody and heroic battles with the Soviets is pure myth, as is the idea that bin Laden was a creation of the CIA.

LOWELL BERGMAN: What you knew of Usama Bin Laden at the time was as a fund-raiser, not as a fighter?

MILT BEARDEN: Oh, not as a fighter. There were no Arabs who had what I would call major role in fighting the war. I think there was one battle, one battle in the spring of '87 that bin Laden was engaged in, and that's it.

SAAD AL-FAGIH: That's not true. He was involved to the bone in fighting in Afghanistan.

NARRATOR: Al-Fagih and members of the Saudi opposition tell of a different bin Laden. They recount a leader among soldiers.

SAAD AL-FAGIH: 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. 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. [ Take a closer look at bin Laden's life]

NARRATOR: When the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, victory over the Red Army left bin Laden and his followers extremely confident.

AHMED SATTAR: Well, we can do things. We can achieve things.

NARRATOR: Ahmed Sattar says the war was an inspiration to Muslims everywhere.

LOWELL BERGMAN: You mean if you can defeat what Ronald Reagan called the "evil empire"-

AHMED SATTAR: Yes. If I can defeat the evil empire, I can defeat anybody else.

NARRATOR: Said Aburish is a Palestinian-born author living in London. He says the war in Afghanistan did much more than just boost confidence.

SAID K. ABURISH, Journalist/Author: What happened was that the people who went to Afghanistan became radicalized. You know, they assumed a political role above and beyond the original purpose of facing the Russians. They wanted to go back home and have a say about how things were being done in their own countries. And that is really what happened to Usama bin Laden.

NARRATOR: Bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia and, the story goes, he had a dream.

SAAD AL-FAGIH: When he came back to Saudi Arabia in 1989, he had a prophecy that Saddam's going to invade Kuwait and 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. And then his prophecy was correct.

NARRATOR: In 1990, after Iraq invaded Kuwait and threatened Saudi Arabia, the king turned to the United States for help. Bin Laden protested.

SAAD AL-FAGIH: 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."

LOWELL BERGMAN: Well, you agree with that, right?

SAAD AL-FAGIH: Well, I'm not only- not only I. A very broad spectrum in Arabia agree with that, that we don't want American forces. We don't want a single American soldier to step foot in our country.

NARRATOR: The arrival of American troops was bad enough, but when the troops did not leave the holy lands of Islam after the Gulf war ended, Muslims all over the world took notice. Continued U.S. presence was a religious affront, not unlike the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.

AHMED SATTAR: The people especially in the Arab and Islamic world look at you same way they looked at the British and the French occupation forces.

LOWELL BERGMAN: How can you say that? We sent our troops to defend you.

AHMED SATTAR: Well, you know, yes, we really appreciate it very much you send your troops to defend us. Nobody asked for the American troops to go there. You went there to protect your own interest. You went there to protect some corrupted regimes that are working against their own people. So do not give me that you were there to protect the people. Your policy in this area has nothing, and I mean nothing, to do with the people.

NARRATOR: Muslim fundamentalists say that America's alliance with King Fahd is akin to America's disastrous alliance with the Shah of Iran. When King Fahd, like the Shah, is forced from power, they say, Americans will be on the wrong side of history.

OPPOSITION DEMONSTRATOR: We are here to ensure that the decadent, corrupt, vile, violent, syphilitic family in the house al Saud be taken out forever!

NARRATOR: In London we spoke to another prominent leader of the Saudi opposition, Mohammed Masari. Masari, who has had close ties to some of bin Laden's top people, agrees the Saudi leadership lacks credibility.

MOHAMMED AL-MASARI, Saudi Dissident: There's no planning for the future which will guarantee a reasonable survival after the end of the oil age. The oil age is coming to an end sooner or later. In 40, 50 years, there will enough energy resources that oil will become less significant than it is today. Nothing is prepared because we have a ruling group, a ruling class or clique, call it whatever you want, which does not have any vision of the reality of the future. It's absolutely incapable and inept leadership.

NARRATOR: Already, critics of the Saudi government point out the king has managed to turn the world's largest oil producer into a debtor nation.

SAID ABURISH: They have not used their income wisely, and they have squandered all of their reserves. And as a result, at this moment in time, the country is not only broke, they are heavily in debt. There have been very many attempts to overthrow that government and to rebel.

SAUDI OPPOSITION LEADER: [subtitles] The state is plunging into a grave crisis. Some reports talk about $160 billion in debt, but even if it's one tenth of that there'll be consequences.

NARRATOR: This tape of Saudi opposition leader speaking to a crowd of supporters was smuggled out of Saudi Arabia by Saudi activists. In the early '90s, bin Laden was known to have made similar protests.

SAID ABURISH: Usama bin Laden is the product of these movements. And Usama bin Laden is much more interesting than most of them because Usama bin Laden belongs to a family which is part of the establishment, the ruling establishment in Saudi Arabia. And therefore it is an indication of how bad things have got, when a member of the establishment becomes a radical Islamist against the regime. Usama bin Laden's first demand is that the American troops in Saudi Arabia should leave the holy soil of Islam.

NARRATOR: For his open opposition to the government, bin Laden had his passport taken away. But dissent inside the royal family over the direction of the kingdom was creating a base of influential support for Saudi dissidents. Bin Laden was able to arrange an escape.

In Washington practically no one had heard of Usama bin Laden. The CIA knew only that he was a vocal opponent of the Saudi regime and of U.S. troop presence, troops U.S. officials felt were a necessary defense against possible future attacks from Iraq.

FRANK ANDERSON, CIA, 1968-1995: American forces are in Saudi Arabia helping to protect Saudi interests, as well as American interests.

NARRATOR: Frank Anderson was with the CIA from 1968 to 1995 and was considered one of the agency's leading authorities on the Arab Middle East.

LOWELL BERGMAN: What they're saying is "It's despoiling our holy hand to have American troops, infidel troops, in the land of Mohammed." This becomes a religious violation.

FRANK ANDERSON: And as a Christian, it's difficult for me to get into a Muslim theological argument, but it's bad Islam. I reject bin Laden's criticism, as do most Muslims I know reject his criticisms.

LOWELL BERGMAN: Is the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia truly an affront to Muslims?


NARRATOR: We came to Arlington, Texas, home to a large American Muslim community, to find out if bin Laden's ideas had any resonance here. [ More of this discussion]

ABDUL RAHMAN AMJAD, Student: I grew up in Saudi Arabia, and we- you did a good favor. You know, you defend Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Thank you very much. We appreciate that. We'll give you how much billions you'll ask for. However, the average Arabs or the average Saudi citizen- it's like, you know, you have a Thanksgiving party. All your relatives came to visit you, visit you from out of town. Thanksgiving is over. You know, please leave. You have 30 people in your house, and they don't want to get out.

INAYAT I. LALANI, M.D., American Muslim Caucus: They welcomed the U.S. troops in the Gulf. The Arabs did not vote for the strangulation of the Iraqi people or dismemberment of Iraqi. They only agreed to pushing Iraq out of Kuwait. And when that was accomplished, that was the time for the United States to come home gracefully.

LOWELL BERGMAN: But is it a religious- in some way a religious insult for U.S. troops to be in Saudi Arabia?

KHALID Y. HAMIDEH, Attorney: A huge religious insult. And that's the underpinnings of all- again, the anti-American fervor. We see the second holiest place in Islam - in Jerusalem - has been under occupation for almost 50 years now. Now most Muslims view that the holiest sights in Islam are also becoming under occupation. It's unfortunate that we don't view our foreign policy with at least one inclination or a small bit of inclination towards the Islamic religion or culture. It is an insult for most Muslims for the American troops to be there.

NARRATOR: In 1991 Usama bin Laden came here, where the White and Blue Nile meet, to the ancient city of Khartoum in the Sudan. Across the Red Sea from Saudi Arabia, the Sudan is one of the poorest countries in the world. But in 1989, radical Muslims backed by the Sudanese army formed a government dedicated to transforming the country into an Islamic utopia.

In the early '90s, the Sudan was attracting Muslims from all over, including many of the newly radicalized veterans of the Afghan war. President Bashir remembers bin Laden.

GEN. OMAR HASSAN AHMED AL-BASHIR, President, Sudan: [through interpreter] Yes, I met him in Khartoum after he came here.

LOWELL BERGMAN: What kind of person is he?

Pres. OMAR HASSAN AHMED AL-BASHIR: [through interpreter] He's a very normal person who is very religious. He believes in Islam and, where possible, the establishment of an Islamic state. The time that he spent in Afghanistan led him to believe that this might be achieved through military means.

NARRATOR: In the Sudan, bin Laden set up a host of businesses, among them a tannery, two large farms and a major road construction company, and he reportedly paid for 480 Afghan vets to come work with him. The Sudan liked this wealthy Saudi who was enthusiastic about investing in their fledgling Islamic state. When bin Laden finished a major road construction project, President al-Bashir treated him like a national hero.

But the FBI and the CIA were wary. They had pegged the Sudan as a haven for Islamic terrorists, and the CIA was picking up some evidence, although inconclusive, that bin Laden was now sending money to Islamic militants around the world.

LARRY C. JOHNSON, U.S. State Dept. 1989-1993: The intelligence that was being created pointed increasingly to him as someone that had to be dealt with.

NARRATOR: Larry Johnson, a former CIA officer, was deputy director of the State Department's Office of Counterterrorism from 1989 to 1993.

LOWELL BERGMAN: So we shouldn't take as credible their claim that when they had Usama in Khartoum, he was basically building roads and-

LARRY C. JOHNSON: No, absolutely not. I think that's- you know, that's ridiculous because the fact of the matter is that if he was absolutely up to charitable works and constructive public projects, he wouldn't have been an issue.

NARRATOR: Then came a seismic event, the World Trade Center bombing. This was the first act of Islamic terrorism on U.S. soil. The FBI investigation of the bombing conspiracy led in many directions. One led to Egyptian veterans of the Afghan war, including Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman. Another eventually led to this man, Ramsi Yousef, who investigators believed at the time had a financial link to Usama bin Laden.

LARRY C. JOHNSON: And when Ramsi Yousef was captured in Pakistan in 1995, in the end of January, first of February, then more information started to come out about Usama.

NARRATOR: But the information was tenuous and incomplete, but it was enough to lead investigators to wonder if bin Laden might be an answer to their questions.

LARRY C. JOHNSON: And it turned out that- because there had been confusion before. Why was the World Trade Center taking place? Who was doing it? There were lots of theories, not very good intelligence. And so the intelligence community actually started generating the picture that Usama bin Laden was this, if you will, sort of the new face of terrorism. And there's that "A-ha" moment, that "Oh, we do have a problem. We've actually got someone who doesn't like us and is wanting to kill us."

NARRATOR: Over the next year, it would appear that bin Laden was, at the very least, inspiring acts of terrorism. First, in August, 1995, bin Laden wrote an open letter to King Fahd of Saudi Arabia calling for a campaign of guerrilla attacks in order to drive U.S. forces out of the kingdom.

Three months later, a bomb exploded at a U.S. military installation in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, killing five American servicemen. There was no hard evidence that bin Laden was involved. The four men arrested for the act confessed on Saudi T.V. that they had read communiqués from Usama bin Laden and Mohammed Masari. U.S. investigators wanted to interrogate the men, but the Saudis ordered their heads cut off.

Twenty-five days after the beheadings, another bomb tore through a U.S. military post in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, killing 19 more American soldiers. But again, the FBI has never been able to determine if bin Laden was involved.

Washington, though, had seen enough. Even before the second bomb attack, President Clinton had signed a top-secret order that authorized the CIA to use any and all means to destroy bin Laden's network. The U.S. and Saudi governments also began to pressure the Sudanese to expel bin Laden in order to deny him a base of operations. Sudanese minister of information is Gazi Salah al-Din.

Dr. GHAZI SALAH AL-DIN ATABANI, Minister of Information, Sudan: We could feel that there was a big case in the making against him. We both became convinced that it was in the interests of both of us, Sudan and bin Laden, that he should leave.

MOHAMMED AL-MASARI, Saudi Dissident: They started putting pressure on him that he should keep a low profile, stated frankly "You should shut up." And I remember discussing with several of his people that- I told him "Believe me, Sudan is not a good place to stay. One day they will sell you to the Saudis." I said it in very frank way. "I suggest you look for another place. Sooner or later they will either sell you or kick you out."

Pres. OMAR HASSAN AHMED AL-BASHIR: [through interpreter] Actually, when we were asked to send bin Laden out of the country by the Saudis and others, we told them that it would be better to keep Usama bin Laden in Khartoum because here he wouldn't conduct any activity. He was busy with his own business, and we could keep an eye on him. The Saudis in their contacts with us never mentioned that they accused Usama bin Laden of anything. The only thing they asked us was to just send him away.

MILT BEARDEN, CIA, 1964-1994: So off he goes to Afghanistan, which I commented is probably the best move since the Germans put Ilyich Lenin in a boxcar and sent him to St. Petersburg in 1917.

LOWELL BERGMAN: You mean by letting him leave or forcing him to leave, you incited-

MILT BEARDEN: By forcing him to leave, we left an area where perhaps we could have controlled or monitored him more closely and to see what he was doing.

MOHAMMED AL-MASARI: He was forced out of the area into Afghanistan in the high mountains, as we say, the Hindu Kush, the high mountains. Not a place for much of intellectual political activity. So being disillusioned by the Sudanese, who pretended to be at least a model of a modern Islamic government, he decided, "No. Now it's time to go to war."

NARRATOR: Bin Laden moved back to Afghanistan along with 200 of his followers in the spring of 1996. That summer he issued a fatwah, or religious decree, calling for war on Americans. [ Read bin Laden's calls to war]

USAMA BIN LADEN: [through interpreter] The call to wage war against America was made because America has spearheaded a crusade against Islam, sending thousands of its troops to the land of the two holy mosques, meddling in Saudi affairs and politics and supporting its oppressive, corrupt and tyrannical regime. These are the reasons behind singling out America as a target.

NARRATOR: In Washington, the CIA and FBI had joined forces and established a special bin Laden room at CIA headquarters, where agents were working full-time tracking bin Laden's money and whereabouts. Estimates of his wealth range from $300 million - which assumes he has received his full inheritance - to much lower figures. Mohammed Masari knew bin Laden's accountant.

MOHAMMED AL-MASARI: With his limited resources, this again- face facts. We are speaking about a man who has maybe a couple of millions, or $10 million, $20 million, but not the $200 million. This is nonsense. This is just imagination, fantasy running away.

NARRATOR: The CIA was also tracking bin Laden associates, who they believed had set up cells or operating units around the world. One man they were interested in was a Lebanese-born American citizen named Wadih el Hage. El Hage had worked as bin Laden's personal secretary in the Sudan. El Hage also had connections to several of the men convicted in the World Trade Center bombing case.

When investigators caught up with el Hage, he had moved from the Sudan to this neighborhood on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya. In August of 1997, the FBI and the CIA decided to come here and search his house.

MOTHER-IN-LAW: There was a knock on the outer gates and-

NARRATOR: El Hage's mother-in-law was in Nairobi visiting her daughter.

MOTHER-IN-LAW: -opened the gates, and they came into the house.

NARRATOR: She agreed to talk to us only if we obscured her identity.

MOTHER-IN-LAW: We were just frightened to death.

LOWELL BERGMAN: And Wadih wasn't there?

MOTHER-IN-LAW: He was not there.

NARRATOR: At the time of the raid, Wadih was in Afghanistan.

LOWELL BERGMAN: When the FBI and the police came in, what did they say?

MOTHER-IN-LAW: They were very pleasant, but the police said they were looking for stolen property, and they searched the whole house. Of course, Wadih, being how he is, he had all these little papers all over the desk- his notebooks and other personal papers, his little ledgers, his address books. They scooped them all up and took them, every single one. And they came out of the bedrooms with Wadih's P.C.

NARRATOR: And from el Hage's personal computer, the FBI downloaded and translated a letter written by one of el Hage's associates. It showed that the author was afraid the cell was under surveillance. "There are many reasons that lead me to believe that the cell members in East Africa are in great danger. My recommendation to my brothers in East Africa was not to be complacent regarding security matters and that they should know that now they have become America's primary target." [ Read el Hage's letter]

NARRATOR: The FBI and the CIA believed that they had uncovered a significant terrorist threat, and they reported their findings to the embassy and to the State Department. But without more evidence, they couldn't arrest el Hage. Instead they encouraged him and his family to leave.

LOWELL BERGMAN: But before they leave, they say it would be a good idea if you left the country?

MOTHER-IN-LAW: Yes. And they offered to put her on the next flight-

LOWELL BERGMAN: This was the FBI or this was the-

MOTHER-IN-LAW: The FBI. They said, "It might not be safe for you here."

LOWELL BERGMAN: Did they mention anybody's name, like Usama bin Laden or any- any-

MOTHER-IN-LAW: No. I don't remember that. If they had, it went over my head. I didn't hear it.

NARRATOR: The raid was intended to disrupt the cell, but other associates of bin Laden disappeared into the Muslim communities of East Africa where, according to U.S. government sources, U.S. intelligence is virtually non-existent. East Africa is home to a majority Muslim population. Most live in poor and volatile communities with little political representation.

We spoke to a leader of the Muslim community in Dar Es Salaam, Maoulid Hadji.

MAOULID HADJI, Local Muslim Leader: The journalists here, they are Christians. The judges here, all of them, they are Christians. Policemen, commissioners of policemen, all of them are Christians. The principal secretaries wherever you go, all over the ministries, they are Christians. District commissioners, all of them, the majority, they are Christians.

LOWELL BERGMAN: So there is anger growing in the community.


NARRATOR: Hadji's complaints are not isolated. In early 1998, rioting between Muslims and Tanzanian police caused the U.S. embassy there to go on high alert. This footage was censored by Tanzanian T.V. for fear that unrest would spread. To the north, in Nairobi, Kenya, U.S. Ambassador Prudence Bushnell was complaining to the State Department about local unrest there and that her embassy was vulnerable because of its location in a crowded downtown area.

Amb. PRUDENCE BUSHNELL: For many reasons, I was uncomfortable with the location of the building. Ninety-seven was a year of great political unrest in Kenya, and we had tear gas seeping through the embassy walls. The security issues included the possibility of terrorist attack.

NARRATOR: The possibility of terrorist attack was very real in Nairobi. In the fall of 1997, in addition to the discovery of the bin Laden cell, this man, Mustapha Ahmed, said he knew of a plot to detonate a truck bomb in the basement of the embassy building. In the midst of all this, Ambassador Bushnell asked the State Department to move her embassy, but she was turned down.

By the spring of 1998, the CIA had developed a secret plan to send commandos to snatch bin Laden from his mountain retreat in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, bin Laden was escalating his war on America. In May of 1998, he staged a media event for ABC News and the world.

JOHN MILLER, ABC News: Quiet please......

NARRATOR: Bin Laden had invited ABC's John Miller to interview him. Bin Laden - adept at using the world's media - made his own videotape of the meeting, which was provided to FRONTLINE by a bin Laden associate.

JOHN MILLER, ABC News: Mr. bin Laden, to Americans you're an interesting figure, a man who comes from a background of wealth and comfort who ended up fighting on the front lines. Many Americans would think that's unusual.

NARRATOR: Bin Laden had just issued a new fatwah calling for the killing of Americans anywhere at any time. He told Miller that America is oppressing Muslims and plundering their oil. "We believe," he said, "that the worst thieves in the world today and the worst terrorists are the Americans. Nothing will stop you except perhaps retaliation."

Around the time of that interview, the director of the CIA, fearing too many U.S. casualties, called off the commando raid on bin Laden's camp. At the same time as that fatwah, a man, believed by the FBI to be a bin Laden associate, moved into this upscale section of Nairobi. The US government charges that he began planning a bomb attack on the US embassy. They believe that the bomb was constructed in the garage. A month later in Dar es Salaam, several other men rented this house and started planning for a bomb attack there.

The bombs went off exactly eight years to the day after U.S. troops were ordered into Saudi Arabia. Of the 213 deaths in Nairobi, 12 were Americans. In Dar Es Salaam, 11 Tanzanians were killed. Ten of them were Muslims. Within days, the FBI had mobilized the largest deployment of personnel in the agency's history.

In Washington the question was how to respond. Because of some early breaks in the case, two men were arrested for the bombing almost immediately. Wadih el Hage was arrested a month later for lying to the FBI. But while CIA and FBI agents pored through intelligence reports, at least eight key suspects, including bin Laden remained at large. And this secret FBI- Justice Department document obtained by FRONTLINE reveals that there are two other men sought by the U.S. who have not yet been publicly identified. One man is cited as a possible tactical mastermind.

With almost all of the suspects still at large, top administration officials were formulating another plan. Over a period of one week after the bombings, a small group of U.S. officials met at the Old Executive Office Building. The president's National Security Adviser, Sandy Berger, and his aide, Dick Clark, argued that relying on law enforcement to track down the bombers and bring them to trial would not be enough. They pushed for a military response.

The Justice Department asked them to delay their decision until they had more information, but the president's men prevailed.

Pres. BILL CLINTON: Today we have struck back. I ordered our armed forces to strike at terrorist-related facilities-

NARRATOR: In Afghanistan, approximately 70 cruise missiles hit three alleged bin Laden training camps. An estimated 24 people were killed. But if they wanted to kill bin Laden, they failed. In the Sudan, approximately 13 cruise missiles hit a pharmaceutical plant. The night watchman was killed.

In the streets of Khartoum, President al-Bashir led an anti-U.S. march. Suddenly, it appeared that America was transformed from a victim of terror to an aggressor nation.

HELEN THOMAS, UPI: [Sandy Berger briefing] Are we absolutely sure that this pharmaceutical plant in Sudan was producing nerve gas and-

NARRATOR: In the days following the bombing, the president's national security adviser, Samuel Berger, faced questions about the missile strikes, especially the attack in the Sudan.

LOWELL BERGMAN: The response that we hear in the Muslim world is that the United States is going to bomb, for instance, the Sudan, a Muslim country, without warning, without really solid knowledge that there was something going on at this point.

SAMUEL R. BERGER, National Security Adviser: Well, I believe we had solid knowledge that this facility was associated with chemical weapons. Bin Laden was working with the Sudanese in developing chemical weapons. The military industrial corporation of Sudan was involved in its chemical weapons facility- its chemical weapons enterprise. And I think- I think we took the appropriate action.

LOWELL BERGMAN: At the time, we said that the plant was producing chemical weapons, and it had a financial link to bin Laden. That's no longer our position, right?

SAMUEL R. BERGER: I think that there may have been some individuals who said the camp was producing-

LOWELL BERGMAN: I think you did, actually, at the time.

SAMUEL R. BERGER: I don't think- I think-

NARRATOR: Last September, Mr. Berger stated clearly that the plant was producing a chemical used to make lethal VX nerve gas.

SAMUEL R. BERGER: [at press conference] -which we know with great certainty produces essentially the penultimate chemical to manufacture VX nerve gas.

NARRATOR: Now Berger says the plant was merely somehow associated with chemical weapons.

SAMUEL R. BERGER: I don't think that- I think that is not necessarily the case. I think it is certainly true that the plant was associated with chemical weapons.

NARRATOR: To help us sort out what had happened, we brought Milt Bearden to the Sudan. In addition to coordinating the Afghan war, Bearden was the CIA station chief here in the mid-'80s. Bearden has been critical of the missile strike.

MILT BEARDEN: Last August 20, we struck with missiles two Islamic states: one totally failed state, Afghanistan, and a nearly failed state, the Sudan. My reaction is, "Good God, what do they know? What is this about?"

NARRATOR: What we now know is that the factory did make pharmaceuticals. If it was ever producing any nerve gas-related chemicals, the evidence has been less than convincing. U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs is Thomas Pickering.

LOWELL BERGMAN: Were you involved in the deliberations as to how to retaliate to the bombings or how to respond to the bombings?

THOMAS PICKERING, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs: Well, I'm not going to talk about my role inside the government, but I was certainly knowledgeable of the considerations that were brought to play.

LOWELL BERGMAN: How carefully were the consequences of sending missiles into two of the poorest Muslim Islamic states in the world-

THOMAS PICKERING: Very carefully evaluated, because they happen to have harbored, after very considerable examination of the facts, people who literally declared themselves at war with the United States and wanted to carry that war further to the United States after they had destroyed our embassies, killed a dozen Americans and 250 Kenyans.

LOWELL BERGMAN: And you were comfortable with the idea of U.S. missiles going into another country?

THOMAS PICKERING: I'm never comfortable with the idea of using military force, but I felt it was extremely important on that occasion, when we could take steps to defeat efforts we knew that were being planned to be taken against us, that we do so.

LOWELL BERGMAN: And the evidence and the questions about the evidence, particularly in Sudan and the pharmaceutical factory, you still were comfortable with that position?

THOMAS PICKERING: I looked very carefully in detail at that evidence. I felt that it was a established with great scientific accuracy, and I felt it was persuasive.

NARRATOR: There are two problems with the government's case. First, a test on a soil sample that the administration says proves that the plant was involved in chemical weapons production is, according to many experts, inconclusive. Despite repeated tests by others, there have been no independent confirmations of the government's soil test. Second, the administration has failed to demonstrate a solid financial link between the plant and bin Laden.

LOWELL BERGMAN: Mr. Berger and others have said, "Rest assured we have the intelligence. It's there. We're comfortable with it."

MILT BEARDEN: "Trust us." Look, if you've got intelligence sources and methods to protect, don't worry about it. Bite the bullet, lay the intelligence on the table. If you've got to move somebody out for safety, do that, but lay it on the table now. Let us see it. This is not going to go away. The doubts are not just lingering, they're growing.

LOWELL BERGMAN: Doubts about?

MILT BEARDEN: Why did we strike? Why did we commit an act of war against a sovereign state with whom we have diplomatic relations, commit such an act without a single warning ahead of time?

NARRATOR: Just as the missile strike has made Washington uneasy, the Sudanese have wasted no time in capitalizing on it. Sudanese officials were happy to give us tours of various military facilities like this one, as if to prove conclusively there are no chemical weapons made in the Sudan.

But it is troubling that Sudan has refused to sign the United Nations chemical weapons treaty. On the other hand, President Bashir insists that the U.S. government is welcome to send a professional chemical weapons inspection team to Sudan at any time.

Pres. OMAR HASSAN AHMED AL-BASHIR: [through interpreter] We're willing to receive anybody and to offer positive cooperation. We're ready to show any site they ask to see, if there is a positive attitude. There's nothing to hide.

NARRATOR: Bashir says he even wrote a letter to the U.S. in 1996 after bin Laden was expelled.

LOWELL BERGMAN: President Bashir told us that in 1996 he sent a letter to the State Department saying that he would cooperate with the United States government, with the FBI, with the CIA. "You want to look at what's going on in the country, you want to check out terrorists, chemical weapons plants, Scud missiles, whatever the allegation is, you're welcome to come." He says he's still waiting for an answer from the letter, and he extended the invitation again on camera.

THOMAS PICKERING: I know he's said that, and I know he's claimed to have cooperated. We had information to the contrary, information that led us to believe that his word was not reliable with these particular circumstances, and we felt it was persuasive evidence.

FRANK ANDERSON, CIA, 1968-1995: I think that the Sudanese, frankly, have been trying to surrender to us for at least three or four years now, and we're not ready to accept that surrender.

LOWELL BERGMAN: What do you mean "surrender"?

FRANK ANDERSON: They're trying to find- well, they're trying to find some way out of the box that they're in. They bet on Libya. They bet on Iran. They bet on terrorist organizations like Usama bin Laden's. That bet didn't pay off.

NARRATOR: After the missile strikes, anger spread from the Sudan to countries across the Muslim world. Anyone who can make Americans react with cruise missiles, the people seemed to be saying, must really be somebody. In Mombassa, the heart of Kenya's Muslim community, we spoke to the chairman of the council of imams in Kenya, Sheik Ali Shee.

LOWELL BERGMAN: What is Usama bin Laden's image in the Islamic community here?

SHEIK ALI SHEE, Chairman of the Council of Imams: He's a hero.

LOWELL BERGMAN: A hero? His friends have blown up two embassies. He's linked to blowing up the World Trade Center. He's declared war on America. And people in East Africa think he's hero?

SHEIK ALI SHEE: Not in East Africa, everywhere. We take him as a hero for Islam because he has declared his loyalty to Islam. But he's not a terrorist at all. He's defending Islam. When the issue of aggression come to Islam, then he stand to defend Islam. When he stands to defend Islam, then he's called a terrorist.

NARRATOR: Today Usama bin Laden is in hiding somewhere in the mountains of Afghanistan. According to the latest intelligence reports, he is increasingly isolated and possibly gravely ill. The Saudi government has attempted to negotiate his surrender, as has the U.S., but it not likely that the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan will give him up. Such a move would be perceived as a betrayal.

And his capture may only create more trouble. In recent months, with bin Laden isolated and out of touch, U.S. government officials report a large increase in the number of serious terrorist threats against U.S. installations worldwide.

INAYAT I. LALANI, M.D., American Muslim Caucus: It would be the gravest error on the part of the United States to somehow capture bin Laden, bring him here, convict him and either send him to jail or hang him.

H. IBRAHIM SALIH, Ph.D., Political Science Professor: He's not Pancho Villa. But if you continue with your intent on capturing him, then you'll make a folk hero out of him, and then the radicals will further rally behind an individual like him.

YASMIN KHAN, M.D.: As a physician, I would say you have to understand the problem before you can either treat it or cure it. And the reality is one third of this world's population, or close to it, is Muslims. So unless the West makes an effort to educate itself, understand the good, bad, all the problems that are associated with that way of life and that belief system, none of these problems are going to go away, and we are not going to be able to deal with it sensibly or in a humanitarian fashion.

LOWELL BERGMAN: We did hear that you were the real thing. This is the government of the U.S. They said that you would speak to us with two faces-

AHMED SATTAR: To who, to the media?



LOWELL BERGMAN: Articulate, intelligent, peaceful, but that beneath that is another face-


LOWELL BERGMAN: -that is willing to commit acts of violence or promote them-


LOWELL BERGMAN: But that you would never show that to us.

AHMED SATTAR: The American government, or the intelligence community, can think whatever they want. Do I believe in self-defense? Yes, I do. Do I promote self-defense? Yes, I do. It's part of my belief. It's part of my religion. I'm not going to stand up- or sit down, okay, and you smack my right cheek, and I give you the left one. No, you smack my right cheek, I will punch you right in the face. This is it. Keep away from me, and I will keep away from you.

The defendants in the East Africa bombings are expected to go on trial in September. Some could face the death penalty.
They remain in custody, locked down for 23 hours a day, held virtually incommunicado.
Meanwhile, investigators in the US and Great Britain are following the trail of drug money from the sale of opium and heroin from Afghanistan.
They have told FRONTLINE they now believe the drug profits are being used to finance Usama bin Laden's international organization.

ANNOUNCER: Explore more of this story at our Web site. You'll find a portrait of one of the accused conspirators in the Africa bombings who's a U.S. citizen, a section on Islam, the Islamic resurgence in the world and more of the reactions of one Muslim American community to the bin Laden story and more on Usama bin Laden, with exclusive documents, video and pictures. FRONTLINE on line at



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EDITORIAL NOTE On April 13, 1999, FRONTLINE broadcast an earlier version of this program entitled "The Terrorist and the Superpower." During that broadcast, FRONTLINE reported that the CIA had conducted an investigation of employees of a Saudi-financed charity, for their possible involvement in a bomb plot against the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, Frontline did not intend to suggest that the Al-Haramain Foundation, a non-profit Islamic foundation,
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