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the November 2001 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 48,
Toy Gone Awry
Ranjit Bhushan, Outlook (independent weekly), New Delhi,
India, Sept. 17, 2001.
as it may sound, Osama bin Laden, the most-wanted man in the
world and the perceived symbol of evil, received his first
lessons in the art of clandestine operations and subterfuge
from the CIA.
Rewind to the late 70s. It was at the Jawora base near
Host, Afghanistan, that U.S. intelligence set up a training
ground to equip young men to fight a guerrilla battle against
the erstwhile U.S.S.R. Belonging to the royal Saudi family,
Bin Laden was a VIP student of the CIA. Fired by a strong
anti-left stand, Bin Laden launched his operations against
the Soviet troops in Afghanistan with religious fervor. Indeed,
when the then-Soviet Politburo decided to send an army of
infidels into Afghanistan, Bin Laden knew his
call had come. He audaciously shifted his business from Saudi
Arabia to Afghanistan with hundreds of loyal workers, along
with state-of-the-art construction equipment, and began to
erect military lines of communication and bases of resistance
there. He also teamed up with Abdullah Azam, who was in charge
of a Palestinian organization called the Muslim Brotherhood.
It was through the Brotherhood that they set up recruitment
offices all over the Islamic world.
Recalls Russian journalist Yerlan Dzhurabayev, Thousands
of volunteers, for the most part from Saudi Arabia, Algeria,
Pakistan, and Egypt, flocked to the newly established training
camps. When the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in
1989, it left Bin Ladens now 10,000-strong force without
any immediate work. Part of his men went home, with authorities
in their respective countries labeling them undesirable elements.
Bin Laden knew that unless he engaged another big power, his
elite and expensive force would lose interest. Thus was born
the Al-Qaeda organization, a pool of Afghan veterans that
has grown over the years and now has a presence in about 50
The once-favored pupil of the CIA is the one man the agency
now badly wants. But he has proved supremely elusive. And
as the hunt takes on a new dimension following Black Tuesday,
the CIA can dip into its own records of this millenniums
The worlds most wanted man now lists his enemies in
order of preference: No. 1, the United States; No. 2, Israel;
and No. 3, India. In a career spanning over two decades, Bin
Laden has truly emerged the global religious mercenary, operating
from West Asia, Africa, and Asia, all with equal ease and
precision. The motivation against the United States is its
alliance with Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War and its anti-Palestine
position. Israel is on his hit list for Zionism, and India,
for Kashmir. No one terrorist is known to have such a wide-ranging
Bin Ladens battle with the United States took a new
turn with the arrest of 17 of his supporters for staging powerful
explosions at two U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998. The
incident led to the U.S. administrations temporarily
closing down its missions in six African countries. Last year,
he was behind the bombing of the USS Cole off Yemen. A year
later, Bin Laden has managed to get the White House and Pentagon
evacuated as well. Says Yosouf Bodansky, who wrote a book
on Bin Laden: He is the most popular man in the Muslim
world today, as he is the one man who has taken up issues
seen by fundamentalists as being pro-Islam. Adds Larry
Johnson, a U.S. anti-terrorism expert: He has killed
and maimed more Americans than anyone else in
As Allah willed it, one of Islams dreaded future warriors
was born into a large family. His father, Mohammed Awad bin
Laden, a Saudi building industry king, was married 10 times
and fathered 53 children. His now infamous son was born to
a Palestinian wife. Osama has not done too badly himself:
three wives and 18 children. According to a profile being
drawn up by intelligence agencies, since childhood Bin Laden
has tried hard to compromise with his numerous and no less
ambitious relatives, subsequently making it to the top and
becoming his wealthy clans undisputed leader. The family
boasts of a US$5-billion fortune, of which Osama himself controls
After graduating from Riyadh Universitys management
school, Bin Laden began to display his business acumen. His
young days were not spent as a revolutionary but at Beiruts
fashionable night clubs. But that was not his karma. Apart
from the construction industry, he took an active interest
in Islamic politics. It would, however, be some time before
he switched from being a businessman to a champion of Islamic
In the years after the Gulf War, Bin Laden was a changed man.
In June 1998, about 100 delegates from Arab nations, Somalia,
Afghanistan, and Chechnya gathered for an emergency session
of the Worldwide Islamic League in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
According to eyewitnesses, Bin Laden, who presided over the
session, brandished the Quran and said with barely restrained
rage: You cannot defeat the heretics with this book
alone; you must show them your fist. Those present applauded
the founder of this organization, subsequently raising the
holy book in their hands as a sign of approval.
This radical grouping finalized an action plan at that session.
It included action against U.S. embassies as well as the kidnapping
and murder of diplomats. The Kenya and Tanzania explosions
came two months after this conference. In 1998, he told Time:
Hostility toward America is a religious duty, and we
hope it will be rewarded by God.
Bin Laden is now cut off from the Saudi kingdom. He considers
its decision to agree to U.S. military deployment on its territory
as an unforgivable sin. In Bin Ladens words, King Fahd
had sided with the Jews and Christians, also desecrating holy
Muslim places. He told Time: If the instigation for
jihad against the Jews and Americans in order to liberate
the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Holy Kaaba is considered a crime,
then let history be a witness that I am a criminal. Our job
is to instigate, and by the grace of God, we did that.
At that time, Bin Ladens accusation resounded from Sudan,
where he had settled after Muslim extremists had gained power.
There he liberally invested a portion of his wealth into Sudanese
construction companies, farms, and a leather-processing factory
that used to export its products to Italy. He invested the
income from these enterprises into the construction of a training
center for religious revolutionaries and Afghan war veterans.
In 1994, Saudi Arabia deprived him of his Saudi citizenship;
the Sudanese authorities asked him to leave their country
two years later. This request can be explained by the fact
that the Sudanese government feared punitive actions by the
United States, Saudi Arabia, or Egypt. Consequently, Bin Laden
again settled down in Afghanistan where he had spent his younger
days in the Afghan war.
Security agencies say Bin Ladens coalition today spans
continents. The so-called main organization lacks any clear-cut
and concise structure. It constitutes a veritable order of
Islamic knights, a rapid deployment force capable of perpetrating
terrorist acts anywhere. It is believed that his secret army
is well-equipped and boasts surface-to-air missiles, howitzers,
and armored vehicles. If found to be involved in the horrific
U.S. bombings, the secret army, apparently, now has the service
of aviation experts as well.
The big question is, how will the United States track Bin
Laden? In mid-January 1999, U.S. reconnaissance airplanes
repeatedly invaded Pakistani airspace, particularly inside
a 50-kilometer approach zone around Karachi. Pakistani media
reports say the Americans were trying to identify Bin Ladens
Afghan bases. Afghan contacts and Pakistani officials say
that Bin Ladens men regularly move through Peshawar
and use it as a hub for phone, fax, and modem communications.
According to Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former CIA operative familiar
with West Asia and Peshawar, U.S. intelligence cannot expect
much help from Pakistans ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence].
Says Gerecht: No case officer stationed in Pakistan
can penetrate either the Afghan communities in Peshawar or
the Northwest Frontiers numerous religious schools,
which feed manpower and ideas to Bin Laden and the Taliban,
and seriously expect to gather useful information about radical
What makes the U.S. task that much more difficult is that,
during the Afghan war, the CIA did not develop a team of Afghan
experts. The first case officer in Afghanistan did not
arrive until 1987, just a year-and-a-half before the wars
end, says Gerecht. Robert Baer, one of the most talented
case officers, suggested to headquarters in the early 90s
that the CIA might want to collect intelligence on Afghanistan.
CIA headquarters replied: Too dangerous, and why bother? The
Soviets have left! The Soviets indeed did leave, but they
have clearly left behind a legacy that might make the Americans
feel that they should have just stayed on.