hunting bin laden
who is bin laden
trail of evidence
two terrorists
Program #1713K3
Airdate: September 13, 2001

Produced and Directed by
Martin Smith

Written by
Lowell Bergman and Martin Smith

Lowell Bergman

NARRATOR: Late Tuesday afternoon, just hours after the destruction of the World Trade Center, and the attack on the Pentagon, the CIA and FBI briefed political leaders in Washington that their search for the terrorists was focusing on one name above all others.

And as the rapidly unfolding investigation has identitied the hijackers, federal officials now say the suicide bombings were carried out by followers of that man…Islamic militant, Osama Bin Laden.

LARRY JOHNSON: In the history of terrorists no one has come up with the vision of destruction and the willingness to carry it out like him.

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 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, to the bombings of U.S. military installations in Saudi Arabia, to the 1998 bombings of two US 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.

NARRATOR: He has survived retaliation.

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

NARRATOR: and eluded the US counterintelligence net.

SANDY BERGER: We have no idea where bin Laden's whereabouts-

NARRATOR: To re-emerge this week, his followers named as the chief suspects, in the worst terrorist attack in history.

JUDITH MILLER: I think the enormity of the strike, designed to amaze the world, a strike to astonish the world. I think that’s always one of his goals.

NARRATOR: Tonight… America’s long frustrating hunt for Osama bin Laden.

This special edition of FRONTLINE, a co-production with the New York Times, is anchored by Bill Moyers.

BILL MOYERS: Good evening.

The search for the victims continues tonight. The grieving has hardly begun. It’s not possible now even to imagine the consequences still to come from the vicious, coldblooded, and devastatingly successful terrorism that virtually brought America to a standstill this week.

Who did it? Who could inspire, direct, and link such a complex operation Who had the resources, the network, the money, and the motive to pull it off?

So far the most conspicuous suspects are followers of Osama Bin Laden. This is a familiar name because bin Laden had already become the symbol of hatred toward America.

Two years ago FRONTLINE investigated the world of Osama Bin Laden. Two bombs had struck another pair of American targets. We’re updating that FRONTLINE report, because once again Americans want to know, who is this man, bin Laden?

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: Osama 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.

NARRATOR: 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 Osama bin Laden today or tomorrow. You can arrest him and put him on trial in New York or in Washington or whatever. Is 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 the heart of Islam, in Saudi Arabia, the land of the two holy mosques of Mecca and Medina. It is also the homeland of Osama 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.

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

LOWELL BERGMAN: Some people have told us that in the 1970s he was lost. 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. 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 Osama 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 Osama 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.

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 is 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 Osama 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: Osama bin Laden is the product of these movements. And Osama bin Laden is much more interesting than most of them because Osama bin Laden belongs to a family which is part of the establishment, the ruling establishment of 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. Osama 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 Osama 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.

NARRATOR: In 1991 Osama bin Laden came here, where the White and Blue Niles 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 Osama 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 Osama 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 Osama.

NARRATOR: 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 Osama 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 Osama 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: President, Sudan[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 Osama 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 Osama 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]

OSAMA 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 millions, 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 one 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 Osama 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.

PRUDENCE BUSHNELL, US AMBASSADOR TO KENYA: 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 o a 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.

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 U.S. government charges that he began planning a bomb attack on the U.S. 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, Sandy 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 willing 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: 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: After the missile strikes, anger spread from the Sudan to countries across the Muslim world.

[Anti American protesters]

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 Osama 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 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: In October 1998, the US Attorney's office in New York filed an indictment against Osama bin Laden and members of his organization, charging them with concealing the activities of co-conspirators through establishing front companies, providing false travel documents and engaging in coded correspondence. The government also charged bin Laden with killing members of the American military stationed in Saudi Arabia, and with killing United States embassy officials in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. But it would be two years before anyone stood trial. All the while bin Laden remained free in Afghanistan.

[millennium celebrations]

NARRATOR: During this period ,US intelligence officials now suspect bin Laden was plotting a series of attacks to coincide with worldwide celebrations of the millennium. New York Times reporter Judith Miller has covered bin Laden since 1993.

JUDITH MILLER, The New York Times: The Islamists were going ring in the century in their own inimitable fashion by setting off explosions in several capitals, on the border of Israel, Jordan, Seattle.

NARRATOR: The new year came without incident, but the thwarting of the millennium plots may have lured America into complacency.

JUDITH MILLER: The millennium bombing attacks failed and we completely forgot about them, so people didn't really study the lessons of them. And my efforts and the efforts of my newspaper to pursue it ran into a lot of indifference,

NARRATOR: What had happened was that on December 14, 1999 an Algerian man coming across the US Canadian border near Seattle was caught with 100 pounds of explosives and timing devices…. The next day, in Amman, Jordan, 13 men were arrested and charged with plotting to blow up the Radisson hotel in Amman and biblical tourist sites in the area. For the time being it seemed America's defenses were working. A few officials, however, were extremely nervous.

JUDITH MILLER: a small group of FBI and White House officials in the Clinton white house were absolutely convinced that what they were seeing in the millennium attempts would be a prescription for the future.

NARRATOR: In October of 2000, terrorists bombed USS Cole in Yemen, 17 US sailors were killed.

JUDITH MILLER: The lesson of the Cole is that he is relentless, that he learns from his mistakes, that he is patient, that he doesn't give up.

[world trade center as seen from the court room…..]

NARRATOR: In January of 2001, the trial opened in the East African embassy bombing case. Through key witnesses from high up within bin Laden's organization, investigators got their best glimpse yet of how his network functions.

LARRY C. JOHNSON, US State Department, 1989-93: When you put together the entire picture, starting with the World trade Center running through the attacks in Dharan Saudi Arabia up to and including the bombings of the US embassies in East Africa and finally with the USS Cole…Once you see that the same person is at least popping up with a relationship in each of those acts though...He may not have been the one to place the explosive. Where he may not be the one to come up with the original idea. He's not a suspect because he looks the villain. He's is a suspect because he is the "where's Waldo" of terrorism. Every picture he pops up where there is a terrorist incident of some significance against the United States.

NARRATOR: Investigators also began to understand that bin Laden was working with other major terrorist organizations… Most notably with Ayman Al Zawahiri of the Egyptian Jihad, who is charged with killing American tourists in Luxor, Egypt in 1995.

In 2001, Bin Laden surfaced again, in a videotape that circulated widely in the Islamic world. On the tape, he read a victory poem about the USS Cole bombing. Then he issued a new call to arms against America. "With limited capabilities and with our faith," Bin Laden said., "we can defeat the greatest military power of modern times. America is much weaker than it appears."

JUDITH MILLER: Actually these warnings from Bin Laden himself are very rare. The people I know in law enforcement and intelligence that I know were rattled by this warning but they didn’t know what to do about it. I know people at the white house, last July 4th who didn’t; sleep for days. They were so worried about what might be coming our way. And at the end of the holiday, people were talking about dodging bullets, about how lucky we were this time.

NARRATOR: Among all the questions whirling in the chaos of September 11, there is one that may endure the longest ….Why did the intelligence agencies of the world’s last superpower fail so tragically to uncover this enormous operation in time

JUDITH MILLER: We’re spending over 10 billion dollars a year on counter terrorism. Every eye and ear of the US government was trained on this part of the world-- Afghanistan, on these networks in Europe, in the middle east. This is really hard work. And I don’t think it serves anybody’s interest at this at this point to try and blame, start playing the blame game. It’s only going to be a waste of time and energy that we desperately need focused on what is going to be a long term effort to root out these networks, which are even in our country, and to really fight terrorism.

BILL MOYERS: It has to be said, and said again: Osama Bin Laden is only a suspect in the terrorist attacks this week.

But The existence of men like bin Laden – their hostility to America – their grievances, real or imagined – confront us with a great challenge.

It’s going to be difficult to prove who is waging this terrorist war across political boundaries and apparently beyond any state’s control. So how do we bring the guilty to justice without making martyrs of them? And can we distinguish between those who commit the crimes and the innocent who share their culture but not their cause. Not only our security as a nation is at stake, but our value as a people a long one

For FRONTLINE, I’m Bill Moyers.
Good night

NARRATOR: 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 Osama bin Laden, with exclusive documents, video and pictures. FRONTLINE on line at


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