Skip to main content

Full text of "The 9/11 Commission report [electronic resource] : final report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States"

See other formats

Finall-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 47 



In February 1998, the 40-year-old Saudi exile Usama Bin Ladin and a fugitive 
Egyptian physician, Aynian al Zawahiri, arranged from their Afghan headquar- 
ters for an Arabic newspaper in London to publish what they termed a fatwa 
issued in the name of a "World Islamic Front." A fatwa is normally an inter- 
pretation of Islamic law by a respected Islamic authority, but neither Bin Ladin, 
Zawahiri, nor the three others who signed this statement were scholars of 
Islamic law. Claiming that America had declared war against God and his mes- 
senger, they called for the murder of any American, anywhere on earth, as the 
"individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it 
is possible to do it." 1 

Three months later, when interviewed in Afghanistan by ABC-TV, Bin 
Ladin enlarged on these themes. 2 He claimed it was more important for Mus- 
lims to kill Americans than to kill other infidels. "It is far better for anyone to 
kill a single American soldier than to squander his efforts on other activities," 
he said. Asked whether he approved of terrorism and of attacks on civilians, he 
replied: "We believe that the worst thieves in the world today and the worst 
terrorists are the Americans. Nothing could stop you except perhaps retalia- 
tion in kind. We do not have to differentiate between military or civilian. As 
far as we are concerned, they are all targets." 

Note: Islamic names often <io not follon' the Western practice of the consistent use of surnames. Given the variety of names we 
mention, we chose to refer to individuals by the last word in the names by which they are known: Nawafa! Hazmi as Hazmi, 
for instance, omitting the article "al" that would be part oj their name in their own societies. We generally make an exception for 
the more familiar hnglish usage of "Bin" as part of a last name, as in Bin Ladin. Further, there is no universally accepted way 
to transliterate Arabic words and names into English. We have relied on a mix of common sense, the sound of the name in Ara- 
bic, and common usage in source materials, the press, or government documents. When we quote from a source document, we use 
its transliteration, e.g., "al Qida" instead of al Qaeda. 


Finall-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 4£ 


Though novel for its open endorsement of indiscriminate killing, Bin 
Ladin's 1998 declaration was only the latest in the long series of his public and 
private calls since 1992 that singled out the United States for attack. 

In August 1996, Bin Ladin had issued his own self-styled fatwa calling on 
Muslims to drive American soldiers out of Saudi Arabia. The long, disjointed 
document condemned the Saudi monarchy for allowing the presence of an 
army of infidels in a land with the sites most sacred to Islam, and celebrated 
recent suicide bombings of American military facilities in the Kingdom. It 
praised the 1983 suicide bombing in Beirut that killed 241 U.S. Marines, the 
1992 bombing in Aden, and especially the 1993 firelight in Somalia after which 
the United States "left the area carrying disappointment, humiliation, defeat 
and your dead with you." 3 

Bin Ladin said in his ABC interview that he and his followers had been 
preparing in Somalia for another long struggle, like that against the Soviets in 
Afghanistan, but "the United States rushed out of Somalia in shame and dis- 
grace." Citing the Soviet army's withdrawal from Afghanistan as proof that a 
ragged army of dedicated Muslims could overcome a superpower, he told the 
interviewer: "We are certain that we shall — with the grace of Allah — prevail 
over the Americans." He went on to warn that "If the present injustice contin- 
ues . . . , it will inevitably move the battle to American soil." 4 

Plans to attack the United States were developed with unwavering single- 
mindedness throughout the 1990s. Bin Ladin saw himself as called "to follow 
in the footsteps of the Messenger and to communicate his message to all 
nations," 5 and to serve as the rallying point and organizer of a new kind of war 
to destroy America and bring the world to Islam. 


It is the story of eccentric and violent ideas sprouting in the fertile ground 
of political and social turmoil. It is the story of an organization poised to seize 
its historical moment. How did Bin Ladin — with his call for the indiscrimi- 
nate killing of Americans — win thousands of followers and some degree of 
approval from millions more? 

The history, culture, and body of beliefs from which Bin Ladin has shaped 
and spread his message are largely unknown to many Americans. Seizing on 
symbols of Islam's past greatness, he promises to restore pride to people who 
consider themselves the victims of successive foreign masters. He uses cultural 
and religious allusions to the holy Qur'an and some of its interpreters. He 
appeals to people disoriented by cyclonic change as they confront modernity 
and globalization. His rhetoric selectively draws from multiple sources — Islam, 
history, and the region's political and economic malaise. He also stresses griev- 
ances against the United States widely shared in the Muslim world. He 

Finall-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 49 



Usama Bin Ladin at a news conference in Afghanistan in 1 

inveighed against the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, the home of 
Islam's holiest sites. He spoke of the suffering of the Iraqi people as a result of 
sanctions imposed after the Gulf War, and he protested U.S. support of Israel. 


Islam (a word that literally means "surrender to the will of God") arose in Ara- 
bia with what Muslims believe are a series of revelations to the Prophet 
Mohammed from the one and only God, the God of Abraham and of Jesus. 
These revelations, conveyed by the angel Gabriel, are recorded in the Qur'an. 
Muslims believe that these revelations, given to the greatest and last of a chain 
of prophets stretching from Abraham through Jesus, complete God's message 
to humanity. The Hadith, which recount Mohammed's sayings and deeds as 
recorded by his contemporaries, are another fundamental source. A third key 
element is the Sharia, the code of law derived from the Qur'an and the Hadith. 
Islam is divided into two main branches, Sunni and Shia. Soon after the 

Finall-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 50 


Prophet's death, the question of choosing a new leader, or caliph, for the Mus- 
lim community, or Ummah, arose. Initially, his successors could be drawn from 
the Prophet's contemporaries, but with time, this was no longer possible.Those 
who became the Shia held that any leader of the Ummah must be a direct 
descendant of the Prophet; those who became the Sunni argued that lineal 
descent was not required if the candidate met other standards of faith and 
knowledge. After bloody struggles, the Sunni became (and remain) the major- 
ity sect. (The Shia are dominant in Iran.) The Caliphate — the institutionalized 
leadership of the Ummah — thus was a Sunni institution that continued until 
1924, first under Arab and eventually under Ottoman Turkish control. 

Many Muslims look back at the century after the revelations to the Prophet 
Mohammed as a golden age. Its memory is strongest among the Arabs. What 
happened then — the spread of Islam from the Arabian Peninsula throughout 
the Middle East, North Africa, and even into Europe within less than a cen- 
tury — seemed, and seems, miraculous. 6 Nostalgia for Islam's past glory remains 
a powerful force. 

Islam is both a faith and a code of conduct for all aspects of life. For many 
Muslims, a good government would be one guided by the moral principles of 
their faith. This does not necessarily translate into a desire for clerical rule and 
the abolition of a secular state. It does mean that some Muslims tend to be 
uncomfortable with distinctions between religion and state, though Muslim 
rulers throughout history have readily separated the two. 

To extremists, however, such divisions, as well as the existence of parliaments 
and legislation, only prove these rulers to be false Muslims usurping God's 
authority over all aspects of life. Periodically, the Islamic world has seen surges 
of what, for want of a better term, is often labeled "fundamentalism." 7 
Denouncing waywardness among the faithful, some clerics have appealed for 
a return to observance of the literal teachings of the Qur'an and Hadith. One 
scholar from the fourteenth century from whom Bin Ladin selectively quotes, 
Ibn Taimiyyah, condemned both corrupt rulers and the clerics who failed to 
criticize them. He urged Muslims to read the Qur'an and the Hadith for them- 
selves, not to depend solely on learned interpreters like himself but to hold one 
another to account for the quality of their observance. 8 

The extreme Islamist version of history blames the decline from Islam's 
golden age on the rulers and people who turned away from the true path of 
their religion, thereby leaving Islam vulnerable to encroaching foreign powers 
eager to steal their land, wealth, and even their souls. 

Bin Ladin 's Worldview 

Despite his claims to universal leadership, Bin Ladin offers an extreme view of 
Islamic history designed to appeal mainly to Arabs and Sunnis. He draws on 
fundamentalists who blame the eventual destruction of the Caliphate on lead- 
ers who abandoned the pure path of religious devotion. 9 He repeatedly calls 
on his followers to embrace martyrdom since "the walls of oppression and 

Finall-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 51 


humiliation cannot be demolished except in a rain of bullets." 10 For those 
yearning for a lost sense of order in an older, more tranquil world, he offers his 
"Caliphate" as an imagined alternative to today's uncertainty. For others, he 
offers simplistic conspiracies to explain their world. 

Bin Ladin also relies heavily on the Egyptian writer Sayyid Qutb. A mem- 
ber of the Muslim Brotherhood 11 executed in 1966 on charges of attempting 
to overthrow the government, Qutb mixed Islamic scholarship with a very 
superficial acquaintance with Western history and thought. Sent by the Egypt- 
ian government to study in the United States in the late 1940s, Qutb returned 
with an enormous loathing of Western society and history. He dismissed West- 
ern achievements as entirely material, arguing that Western society possesses 
"nothing that will satisfy its own conscience and justify its existence." 12 

Three basic themes emerge from Qutb's writings. First, he claimed that the 
world was beset with barbarism, licentiousness, and unbelief (a condition he 
called jahiliyya, the religious term for the period of ignorance prior to the rev- 
elations given to the Prophet Mohammed). Qutb argued that humans can 
choose only between Islam and jahiliyya. Second, he warned that more peo- 
ple, including Muslims, were attracted to jahiliyya and its material comforts 
than to his view of Islam; jahiliyya could therefore triumph over Islam. Third, 
no middle ground exists in what Qutb conceived as a struggle between God 
and Satan. All Muslims — as he defined them — therefore must take up arms in 
this fight. Any Muslim who rejects his ideas is just one more nonbeliever wor- 
thy of destruction. 13 

Bin Ladin shares Qutb's stark view, permitting him and his followers to 
rationalize even unprovoked mass murder as righteous defense of an embattled 
faith. Many Americans have wondered,"Why do 'they' hate us?" Some also ask, 
"What can we do to stop these attacks?" 

Bin Ladin and al Qaeda have given answers to both these questions. To the 
first, they say that America had attacked Islam; America is responsible for all 
conflicts involving Muslims. Thus Americans are blamed when Israelis fight 
with Palestinians, when Russians fight with Chechens, when Indians fight with 
Kashmiri Muslims, and when the Philippine government fights ethnic Mus- 
lims in its southern islands. America is also held responsible for the governments 
of Muslim countries, derided by al Qaeda as "your agents." Bin Ladin has stated 
flatly,"Our fight against these governments is not separate from our fight against 
you." 14 These charges found a ready audience among millions of Arabs and 
Muslims angry at the United States because of issues ranging from Iraq to Pales- 
tine to America's support for their countries' repressive rulers. 

Bin Ladin's grievance with the United States may have started in reaction 
to specific U.S. policies but it quickly became far deeper. To the second ques- 
tion, what America could do, al Qaeda s answer was that America should aban- 
don the Middle East, convert to Islam, and end the immorality and godlessness 
of its society and culture:"It is saddening to tell you that you are the worst civ- 
ilization witnessed by the history of mankind." If the United States did not 

Finall-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 52 


comply, it would be at war with the Islamic nation, a nation that al Qaeda's 
leaders said "desires death more than you desire life." 15 

History and Political Context 

Few fundamentalist movements in the Islamic world gained lasting political 
power. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, fundamentalists helped artic- 
ulate anticolonial grievances but played little role in the overwhelmingly sec- 
ular struggles for independence after World War I. Western-educated lawyers, 
soldiers, and officials led most independence movements, and clerical influence 
and traditional culture were seen as obstacles to national progress. 

After gaining independence from Western powers following World War II, 
the Arab Middle East followed an arc from initial pride and optimism to today's 
mix of indifference, cynicism, and despair. In several countries, a dynastic state 
already existed or was quickly established under a paramount tribal family. 
Monarchies in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Jordan still sur- 
vive today. Those in Egypt, Libya, Iraq, and Yemen were eventually overthrown 
by secular nationalist revolutionaries. 

The secular regimes promised a glowing future, often tied to sweeping ide- 
ologies (such as those promoted by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser's 
Arab Socialism or the Ba'ath Party of Syria and Iraq) that called for a single, 
secular Arab state. However, what emerged were almost invariably autocratic 
regimes that were usually unwilling to tolerate any opposition — even in coun- 
tries, such as Egypt, that had a parliamentary tradition. Over time, their poli- 
cies — repression, rewards, emigration, and the displacement of popular anger 
onto scapegoats (generally foreign) — were shaped by the desire to cling to 

The bankruptcy of secular, autocratic nationalism was evident across the 
Muslim world by the late 1970s. At the same time, these regimes had closed off 
nearly all paths for peaceful opposition, forcing their critics to choose silence, 
exile, or violent opposition. Iran's 1979 revolution swept a Shia theocracy into 
power. Its success encouraged Sunni fundamentalists elsewhere. 

In the 1980s, awash in sudden oil wealth, Saudi Arabia competed with Shia 
Iran to promote its Sunni fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, Wahhab ism. 
The Saudi government, always conscious of its duties as the custodian of Islam's 
holiest places, joined with wealthy Arabs from the Kingdom and other states 
bordering the Persian Gulf in donating money to build mosques and religious 
schools that could preach and teach their interpretation of Islamic doctrine. 

In this competition for legitimacy, secular regimes had no alternative to 
offer. Instead, in a number of cases their rulers sought to buy off local Islamist 
movements by ceding control of many social and educational issues. Embold- 
ened rather than satisfied, the Islamists continued to push for power — a trend 
especially clear in Egypt. Confronted with a violent Islamist movement that 
killed President Anwar Sadat in 1981, the Egyptian government combined 

Finall-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 53 


harsh repression of Islamic militants with harassment of moderate Islamic schol- 
ars and authors, driving many into exile. In Pakistan, a military regime sought 
to justify its seizure of power by a pious public stance and an embrace of 
unprecedented Islamist influence on education and society. 

These experiments in political Islam faltered during the 1990s: the Iranian 
revolution lost momentum, prestige, and public support, and Pakistan's rulers 
found that most of its population had little enthusiasm for fundamentalist Islam. 
Islamist revival movements gained followers across the Muslim world, but failed 
to secure political power except in Iran and Sudan. In Algeria, where in 1991 
Islamists seemed almost certain to win power through the ballot box, the mili- 
tary preempted their victory, triggering a brutal civil war that continues today. 
Opponents of today's rulers have few, if any, ways to participate in the existing 
political system. They are thus a ready audience for calls to Muslims to purify 
their society, reject unwelcome modernization, and adhere strictly to the Sharia. 

Social and Economic Malaise 

In the 1970s and early 1980s, an unprecedented flood of wealth led the then 
largely unmodernized oil states to attempt to shortcut decades of development. 
They funded huge infrastructure projects, vastly expanded education, and cre- 
ated subsidized social welfare programs. These programs established a wide- 
spread feeling of entitlement without a corresponding sense of social 
obligations. By the late 1980s, diminishing oil revenues, the economic drain 
from many unprofitable development projects, and population growth made 
these entitlement programs unsustainable.The resulting cutbacks created enor- 
mous resentment among recipients who had come to see government largesse 
as their right. This resentment was further stoked by public understanding of 
how much oil income had gone straight into the pockets of the rulers, their 
friends, and their helpers. 

Unlike the oil states (or Afghanistan, where real economic development has 
barely begun), the other Arab nations and Pakistan once had seemed headed 
toward balanced modernization. The established commercial, financial, and 
industrial sectors in these states, supported by an entrepreneurial spirit and 
widespread understanding of free enterprise, augured well. But unprofitable 
heavy industry, state monopolies, and opaque bureaucracies slowly stifled 
growth. More importantly, these state-centered regimes placed their highest 
priority on preserving the elite's grip on national wealth. Unwilling to foster 
dynamic economies that could create jobs attractive to educated young men, 
the countries became economically stagnant and reliant on the safety valve of 
worker emigration either to the Arab oil states or to the West. Furthermore, 
the repression and isolation of women in many Muslim countries have not only 
seriously limited individual opportunity but also crippled overall economic 
productivity. 16 

By the 1990s, high birthrates and declining rates of infant mortality had 

Finall-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 54, 


produced a common problem throughout the Muslim world: a large, steadily 
increasing population of young men without any reasonable expectation of 
suitable or steady employment — a sure prescription for social turbulence. Many 
of these young men, such as the enormous number trained only in religious 
schools, lacked the skills needed by their societies. Far more acquired valuable 
skills but lived in stagnant economies that could not generate satisfying jobs. 

Millions, pursuing secular as well as religious studies, were products of edu- 
cational systems that generally devoted little if any attention to the rest of the 
world's thought, history, and culture. The secular education reflected a strong 
cultural preference for technical fields over the humanities and social sciences. 
Many of these young men, even if able to study abroad, lacked the perspective 
and skills needed to understand a different culture. 

Frustrated in their search for a decent living, unable to benefit from an edu- 
cation often obtained at the cost of great family sacrifice, and blocked from 
starting families of their own, some of these young men were easy targets for 

Bin Ladin's Historical Opportunity 

Most Muslims prefer a peaceful and inclusive vision of their faith, not the 
violent sectarianism of Bin Ladin. Among Arabs, Bin Ladin's followers are com- 
monly nicknamed takjiri, or "those who define other Muslims as unbelievers," 
because of their readiness to demonize and murder those with whom they dis- 
agree. Beyond the theology lies the simple human fact that most Muslims, like 
most other human beings, are repelled by mass murder and barbarism what- 
ever their justification. 

"All Americans must recognize that the face of terror is not the true face of 
Islam," President Bush observed. "Islam is a faith that brings comfort to a bil- 
lion people around the world. It's a faith that has made brothers and sisters of 
every race. It's a faith based upon love, not hate." 17 Yet as political, social, and 
economic problems created flammable societies, Bin Ladin used Islam's most 
extreme, fundamentalist traditions as his match. All these elements — including 
religion — combined in an explosive compound. 

Other extremists had, and have, followings of their own. But in appealing 
to societies full of discontent, Bin Ladin remained credible as other leaders and 
symbols faded. He could stand as a symbol of resistance — above all, resistance 
to the West and to America. He could present himself and his allies as victori- 
ous warriors in the one great successful experience for Islamic militancy in the 
1980s: the Afghan jihad against the Soviet occupation. 

By 1998, Bin Ladin had a distinctive appeal, as he focused on attacking 
America. He argued that other extremists, who aimed at local rulers or Israel, 
did not go far enough. They had not taken on what he called "the head of the 
snake." 18 

Finall-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 55 


Finally, Bin Ladin had another advantage: a substantial, worldwide organi- 
zation. By the time he issued his February 1998 declaration of war, Bin Ladin 
had nurtured that organization for nearly ten years. He could attract, train, and 
use recruits for ever more ambitious attacks, rallying new adherents with each 
demonstration that his was the movement of the future. 


A decade of conflict in Afghanistan, from 1979 to 1989, gave Islamist extrem- 
ists a rallying point and training field. A Communist government in Afghanistan 
gained power in 1978 but was unable to establish enduring control. At the end 
of 1979, the Soviet government sent in military units to ensure that the coun- 
try would remain securely under Moscow's influence. The response was an 
Afghan national resistance movement that defeated Soviet forces. 19 

Young Muslims from around the world flocked to Afghanistan to join as vol- 
unteers in what was seen as a "holy war" — -jihad — against an invader.The largest 
numbers came from the Middle East. Some were Saudis, and among them was 
Usama Bin Ladin. 

Twenty-three when he arrived in Afghanistan in 1980, Bin Ladin was the 
seventeenth of 57 children of a Saudi construction magnate. Six feet five and 
thin, Bin Ladin appeared to be ungainly but was in fact quite athletic, skilled 
as a horseman, runner, climber, and soccer player. He had attended Abdul Aziz 
University in Saudi Arabia. By some accounts, he had been interested there in 
religious studies, inspired by tape recordings of fiery sermons by Abdullah 
Azzam, a Palestinian and a disciple of Qutb. Bin Ladin was conspicuous among 
the volunteers not because he showed evidence of religious learning but 
because he had access to some of his family's huge fortune. Though he took 
part in at least one actual battle, he became known chiefly as a person who gen- 
erously helped fund the anti-Soviet jihad. 20 

Bin Ladin understood better than most of the volunteers the extent to 
which the continuation and eventual success of the jihad in Afghanistan 
depended on an increasingly complex, almost worldwide organization. This 
organization included a financial support network that came to be known as 
the "Golden Chain," put together mainly by financiers in Saudi Arabia and the 
Persian Gulf states. Donations flowed through charities or other nongovern- 
mental organizations (NGOs). Bin Ladin and the "Afghan Arabs" drew largely 
on funds raised by this network, whose agents roamed world markets to buy 
arms and supplies for the mujahideen, or "holy warriors." 21 

Mosques, schools, and boardinghouses served as recruiting stations in many 
parts of the world, including the United States. Some were set up by Islamic 
extremists or their financial backers. Bin Ladin had an important part in this 

Finall-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 56 


activity. He and the cleric Azzani had joined in creating a "Bureau of Services" 
(Mektab al Khidmat, or MAK), which channeled recruits into Afghanistan. 22 

The international environment for Bin Ladin's efforts was ideal. Saudi Ara- 
bia and the United States supplied billions of dollars worth of secret assistance 
to rebel groups in Afghanistan fighting the Soviet occupation. This assistance 
was funneled through Pakistan: the Pakistani military intelligence service (Inter- 
Services Intelligence Directorate, or ISID), helped train the rebels and dis- 
tribute the arms. But Bin Ladin and his comrades had their own sources of 
support and training, and they received little or no assistance from the 
United States. 23 

April 1988 brought victory for the Afghan jihad. Moscow declared it would 
pull its military forces out of Afghanistan within the next nine months. As the 
Soviets began their withdrawal, the jihad's leaders debated what to do next. 

Bin Ladin and Azzani agreed that the organization successfully created for 
Afghanistan should not be allowed to dissolve.They established what they called 
a base or foundation (al Qaeda) as a potential general headquarters for future 
jihad. 24 Though Azzam had been considered number one in the MAK, by 
August 1988 Bin Ladin was clearly the leader (emir) of al Qaeda. This organi- 
zation's structure included as its operating arms an intelligence component, a 
military committee, a financial committee, a political committee, and a com- 
mittee in charge of media affairs and propaganda. It also had an Advisory Coun- 
cil (Shura) made up of Bin Ladin's inner circle. 25 

Bin Ladin's assumption of the helm of al Qaeda was evidence of his grow- 
ing self-confidence and ambition. He soon made clear his desire for unchal- 
lenged control and for preparing the mujahideen to fight anywhere in the 
world. Azzam, by contrast, favored continuing to fight in Afghanistan until it 
had a true Islamist government. And, as a Palestinian, he saw Israel as the top 
priority for the next stage. 26 

Whether the dispute was about power, personal differences, or strategy, it 
ended on November 24, 1989, when a remotely controlled car bomb killed 
Azzam and both of his sons. The killers were assumed to be rival Egyptians. 
The outcome left Bin Ladin indisputably in charge of what remained of the 
MAK and al Qaeda. 27 

Through writers like Qutb, and the presence of Egyptian Islamist teachers 
in the Saudi educational system, Islamists already had a strong intellectual influ- 
ence on Bin Ladin and his al Qaeda colleagues. By the late 1980s, the Egypt- 
ian Islamist movement — badly battered in the government crackdown 
following President Sadat's assassination — was centered in two major organiza- 
tions: the Islamic Group and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. A spiritual guide for 
both, but especially the Islamic Group, was the so-called Blind Sheikh, Omar 
Abdel Rahman. His preaching had inspired the assassination of Sadat. After 
being in and out of Egyptian prisons during the 1980s, Abdel Rahman found 

Finall-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 57 


refuge in the United States. From his headquarters in Jersey City, he distrib- 
uted messages calling for the murder of unbelievers. 28 

The most important Egyptian in Bin Ladin's circle was a surgeon, Ayman al 
Zawahiri, who led a strong faction of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Many of his fol- 
lowers became important members in the new organization, and his own close 
ties -with Bin Ladin led many to think of him as the deputy head of al Qaeda. He 
would in fact become Bin Ladin's deputy some years later, when they merged their 
organizations. 29 

Bin Ladin Moves to Sudan 

By the fall of 1989, Bin Ladin had sufficient stature among Islamic extremists 
that a Sudanese political leader, Hassan al Turabi, urged him to transplant his 
whole organization to Sudan. Turabi headed the National Islamic Front in a 
coalition that had recently seized power in Khartoum. 30 Bin Ladin agreed to 
help Turabi in an ongoing war against African Christian separatists in southern 
Sudan and also to do some road building. Turabi in return would let Bin Ladin 
use Sudan as a base for worldwide business operations and for preparations for 
jihad. 31 While agents of Bin Ladin began to buy property in Sudan in 1990, 32 
Bin Ladin himself moved from Afghanistan back to Saudi Arabia. 

In August 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. Bin Ladin, whose efforts in 
Afghanistan had earned him celebrity and respect, proposed to the Saudi 
monarchy that he summon mujahideen for a jihad to retake Kuwait. He was 
rebuffed, and the Saudis joined the U.S. -led coalition. After the Saudis agreed 
to allow U.S. armed forces to be based in the Kingdom, Bin Ladin and a num- 
ber of Islamic clerics began to publicly denounce the arrangement. The Saudi 
government exiled the clerics and undertook to silence Bin Ladin by, among 
other things, taking away his passport. With help from a dissident member of 
the royal family, he managed to get out of the country under the pretext of 
attending an Islamic gathering in Pakistan in April 1991. 33 By 1994, the Saudi 
government would freeze his financial assets and revoke his citizenship. 34 He no 
longer had a country he could call his own. 

Bin Ladin moved to Sudan in 1991 and set up a large and complex set of 
intertwined business and terrorist enterprises. In time, the former would 
encompass numerous companies and a global network of bank accounts and 
nongovernmental institutions. Fulfilling his bargain with Turabi, Bin Ladin used 
his construction company to build a new highway from Khartoum to Port 
Sudan on the Red Sea coast. Meanwhile, al Qaeda finance officers and top oper- 
atives used their positions in Bin Ladin's businesses to acquire weapons, explo- 
sives, and technical equipment for terrorist purposes. One founding member, 
Abu Hajer al Iraqi, used his position as head of a Bin Ladin investment com- 
pany to carry out procurement trips from western Europe to the Far East. Two 
others, Wadi al Hage and Mubarak Douri, who had become acquainted inTuc- 

Finall-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 58 


son, Arizona, in the late 1980s, went as far afield as China, Malaysia, the Philip- 
pines, and the former Soviet states of Ukraine and Belarus. 35 

Bin Ladin's impressive array of offices covertly provided financial and other 
support for terrorist activities. The network included a major business enter- 
prise in Cyprus; a "services" branch in Zagreb; an office of the Benevolence 
International Foundation in Sarajevo, which supported the Bosnian Muslims 
in their conflict with Serbia and Croatia; and an NGO in Baku, Azerbaijan, 
that was employed as well by Egyptian Islamic Jihad both as a source and con- 
duit for finances and as a support center for the Muslim rebels in Chechnya. 
He also made use of the already-established Third World Relief Agency 
(TWRA) headquartered in Vienna, whose branch office locations included 
Zagreb and Budapest. (Bin Ladin later set up an NGO in Nairobi as a cover 
for operatives there.) 36 

Bin Ladin now had a vision of himself as head of an international jihad con- 
federation. In Sudan, he established an "Islamic Army Shura" that was to serve 
as the coordinating body for the consortium of terrorist groups with which he 
was forging alliances. It was composed of his own al Qaeda Shura together with 
leaders or representatives of terrorist organizations that were still independent. 
In building this Islamic army, he enlisted groups from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jor- 
dan, Lebanon, Iraq, Oman, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Somalia, and 
Eritrea. Al Qaeda also established cooperative but less formal relationships with 
other extremist groups from these same countries; from the African states of 
Chad, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Uganda; and from the Southeast Asian states 
of Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Bin Ladin maintained connec- 
tions in the Bosnian conflict as well. 37 The groundwork for a true global ter- 
rorist network was being laid. 

Bin Ladin also provided equipment and training assistance to the Moro 
Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines and also to a newly forming Philip- 
pine group that called itself the Abu Sayyaf Brigade, after one of the major 
Afghan jihadist commanders. 38 Al Qaeda helped Jemaah Islamiya (JI), a nas- 
cent organization headed by Indonesian Islamists with cells scattered across 
Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and the Philippines. It also aided a Pakistani 
group engaged in insurrectionist attacks in Kashmir. In mid-1991, Bin Ladin 
dispatched a band of supporters to the northern Afghanistan border to assist 
the Tajikistan Islamists in the ethnic conflicts that had been boiling there even 
before the Central Asian departments of the Soviet Union became indepen- 
dent states. 39 

This pattern of expansion through building alliances extended to the 
United States. A Muslim organization called al Khifa had numerous branch 
offices, the largest of which was in the Farouq mosque in Brooklyn. In the mid- 
1980s, it had been set up as one of the first outposts of Azzam and Bin Ladin's 
MAK. 40 Other cities with branches of al Khifa included Atlanta, Boston, 
Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Tucson. 41 Al Khifa recruited American Muslims to 

Finall-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 59 


fight in Afghanistan; some of them would participate in terrorist actions in the 
United States in the early 1990s and in al Qaeda operations elsewhere, includ- 
ing the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in East Africa. 


Bin Ladin began delivering diatribes against the United States before he left 
Saudi Arabia. He continued to do so after he arrived in Sudan. In early 1992, 
the al Qaeda leadership issued a fatwa calling for jihad against the Western 
"occupation" of Islamic lands. Specifically singling out U.S. forces for attack, 
the language resembled that which would appear in Bin Ladin's public fatwa 
in August 1996. In ensuing weeks, Bin Ladin delivered an often-repeated lec- 
ture on the need to cut off "the head of the snake." 42 

By this time, Bin Ladin was well-known and a senior figure among Islamist 
extremists, especially those in Egypt, the Arabian Peninsula, and the 
Afghanistan-Pakistan border region. Still, he was just one among many diverse 
terrorist barons. Some of Bin Ladin's close comrades were more peers than sub- 
ordinates. For example, Usama Asmurai, also known as Wali Khan, worked with 
Bin Ladin in the early 1980s and helped him in the Philippines and in Tajik- 
istan. The Egyptian spiritual guide based in New Jersey, the Blind Sheikh, 
whom Bin Ladin admired, was also in the network. Among sympathetic peers 
in Afghanistan were a few of the warlords still fighting for power and Abu 
Zubaydah, who helped operate a popular terrorist training camp near the bor- 
der with Pakistan. There were also rootless but experienced operatives, such as 
RamziYousef and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who — though not necessarily 
formal members of someone else's organization — were traveling around the 
world and joining in projects that were supported by or linked to Bin Ladin, 
the Blind Sheikh, or their associates. 43 

In now analyzing the terrorist programs carried out by members of this net- 
work, it would be misleading to apply the label "al Qaeda operations" too often 
in these early years. Yet it would also be misleading to ignore the significance 
of these connections. And in this network, Bin Ladin's agenda stood out. While 
his allied Islamist groups were focused on local battles, such as those in Egypt, 
Algeria, Bosnia, or Chechnya, Bin Ladin concentrated on attacking the "far 
enemy" — the United States. 

Attacks Known and Suspected 

After U.S. troops deployed to Somalia in late 1992, al Qaeda leaders formu- 
lated a fatwa demanding their eviction. In December, bombs exploded at two 
hotels in Aden where U.S. troops routinely stopped en route to Somalia, killing 
two, but no Americans. The perpetrators are reported to have belonged to a 

Finall-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 60 


group from southernYemen headed by aYemeni member of Bin Ladin's Islamic 
Army Shura; some in the group had trained at an al Qaeda camp in Sudan. 44 

Al Qaeda leaders set up a Nairobi cell and used it to send weapons and train- 
ers to the Somali warlords battling U.S. forces, an operation directly supervised 
by al Qaeda s military leader. 45 Scores of trainers flowed to Somalia over the 
ensuing months, including most of the senior members and weapons training 
experts of al Qaeda's military committee.These trainers were later heard boast- 
ing that their assistance led to the October 1993 shootdown of two U.S. Black 
Hawk helicopters by members of a Somali militia group and to the subsequent 
withdrawal of U.S. forces in early 1994. 46 

In November 1995, a car bomb exploded outside a Saudi-US. joint facil- 
ity in Riyadh for training the Saudi National Guard. Five Americans and two 
officials from India were killed. The Saudi government arrested four perpetra- 
tors, who admitted being inspired by Bin Ladin.They were promptly executed. 
Though nothing proves that Bin Ladin ordered this attack, U.S. intelligence sub- 
sequently learned that al Qaeda leaders had decided a year earlier to attack a 
U.S. target in Saudi Arabia, and had shipped explosives to the peninsula for this 
purpose. Some of Bin Ladin's associates later took credit. 47 

In June 1996, an enormous truck bomb detonated in the Khobar Towers 
residential complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, that housed U.S. Air Force per- 
sonnel. Nineteen Americans were killed, and 372 were wounded. The opera- 
tion was carried out principally, perhaps exclusively, by Saudi Hezbollah, an 
organization that had received support from the government of Iran. While the 
evidence of Iranian involvement is strong, there are also signs that al Qaeda 
played some role, as yet unknown. 48 

In this period, other prominent attacks in which Bin Ladin's involvement is 
at best cloudy are the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, a plot that 
same year to destroy landmarks in New York, and the 1995 Manila air plot to 
blow up a dozen U.S. airliners over the Pacific. Details on these plots appear in 
chapter 3. 

Another scheme revealed that Bin Ladin sought the capability to kill on a 
mass scale. His business aides received word that a Sudanese military officer who 
had been a member of the previous government cabinet was offering to sell 
weapons-grade uranium. After a number of contacts were made through inter- 
mediaries, the officer set the price at $1.5 million, which did not deter Bin 
Ladin. Al Qaeda representatives asked to inspect the uranium and were shown 
a cylinder about 3 feet long, and one thought he could pronounce it genuine. 
Al Qaeda apparently purchased the cylinder, then discovered it to be bogus. 49 
But while the effort failed, it shows what Bin Ladin and his associates hoped 
to do. One of the al Qaeda representatives explained his mission: "it's easy to 
kill more people with uranium." 50 

Bin Ladin seemed willing to include in the confederation terrorists from 

Finall-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 61 


almost every corner of the Muslim world. His vision mirrored that of Sudan's 
Islamist leader, Turabi, who convened a series of meetings under the label Pop- 
ular Arab and Islamic Conference around the time of Bin Ladin's arrival in that 
country. Delegations of violent Islamist extremists came from all the groups 
represented in Bin Ladin's Islamic Army Shura. Representatives also came from 
organizations such as the Palestine Liberation Organization, Hamas, and 
Hezbollah. 51 

Turabi sought to persuade Shiites and Sunnis to put aside their divisions and 
join against the common enemy. In late 1991 or 1992, discussions in Sudan 
between al Qaeda and Iranian operatives led to an informal agreement to coop- 
erate in providing support — even if only training — for actions carried out pri- 
marily against Israel and the United States. Not long afterward, senior al Qaeda 
operatives and trainers traveled to Iran to receive training in explosives. In the 
fall of 1993, another such delegation went to the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon for 
further training in explosives as well as in intelligence and security. Bin Ladin 
reportedly showed particular interest in learning how to use truck bombs such 
as the one that had killed 241 U.S. Marines in Lebanon in 1983. The relation- 
ship between al Qaeda and Iran demonstrated that Sunni-Shia divisions did not 
necessarily pose an insurmountable barrier to cooperation in terrorist opera- 
tions. As will be described in chapter 7, al Qaeda contacts with Iran continued 
in ensuing years. 52 

Bin Ladin was also willing to explore possibilities for cooperation with Iraq, 
even though Iraq's dictator, Saddam Hussein, had never had an Islamist 
agenda — save for his opportunistic pose as a defender of the faithful against 
"Crusaders" during the Gulf War of 1991. Moreover, Bin Ladin had in fact 
been sponsoring anti-Saddam Islamists in Iraqi Kurdistan, and sought to attract 
them into his Islamic army. 53 

To protect his own ties with Iraq,Turabi reportedly brokered an agreement 
that Bin Ladin would stop supporting activities against Saddam. Bin Ladin 
apparently honored this pledge, at least for a time, although he continued to 
aid a group of Islamist extremists operating in part of Iraq (Kurdistan) outside 
of Baghdad's control. In the late 1990s, these extremist groups suffered major 
defeats by Kurdish forces. In 2001, with Bin Ladin's help they re-formed into 
an organization called Ansar al Islam. There are indications that by then the Iraqi 
regime tolerated and may even have helped Ansar al Islam against the common 
Kurdish enemy. 54 

With the Sudanese regime acting as intermediary, Bin Ladin himself met 
with a senior Iraqi intelligence officer in Khartoum in late 1994 or early 1995. 
Bin Ladin is said to have asked for space to establish training camps, as well as 
assistance in procuring weapons, but there is no evidence that Iraq responded 
to this request. 55 As described below, the ensuing years saw additional efforts to 
establish connections. 

Finall-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 62 


Sudan Becomes a Doubtful Haven 

Not until 1998 did al Qaeda undertake a major terrorist operation of its own, 
in large part because Bin Ladin lost his base in Sudan. Ever since the Islamist 
regime came to power in Khartoum, the United States and other Western gov- 
ernments had pressed it to stop providing a haven for terrorist organizations. 
Other governments in the region, such as those of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and 
even Libya, which were targets of some of these groups, added their own pres- 
sure. At the same time, the Sudanese regime began to change. Though Turabi 
had been its inspirational leader, General Omar al Bashir, president since 1989, 
had never been entirely under his thumb. Thus as outside pressures mounted, 
Bashir's supporters began to displace those ofTurabi. 

The attempted assassination in Ethiopia of Egyptian President Hosni 
Mubarak in June 1995 appears to have been a tipping point. The would-be 
killers, who came from the Egyptian Islamic Group, had been sheltered in 
Sudan and helped by Bin Ladin. 56 When the Sudanese refused to hand over 
three individuals identified as involved in the assassination plot, the UN Secu- 
rity Council passed a resolution criticizing their inaction and eventually sanc- 
tioned Khartoum in April 1996. 57 

A clear signal to Bin Ladin that his days in Sudan were numbered came when 
the government advised him that it intended to yield to Libya's demands to stop 
giving sanctuary to its enemies. Bin Ladin had to tell the Libyans who had been 
part of his Islamic army that he could no longer protect them and that they had 
to leave the country. Outraged, several Libyan members of al Qaeda and the 
Islamic Army Shura renounced all connections with him. 58 

Bin Ladin also began to have serious money problems. International pres- 
sure on Sudan, together with strains in the world economy, hurt Sudan's cur- 
rency. Some of Bin Ladin's companies ran short of funds. As Sudanese 
authorities became less obliging, normal costs of doing business increased. Saudi 
pressures on the Bin Ladin family also probably took some toll. In any case, Bin 
Ladin found it necessary both to cut back his spending and to control his out- 
lays more closely. He appointed a new financial manager, whom his followers saw 
as miserly 59 

Money problems proved costly to Bin Ladin in other ways. Jamal Ahmed al 
Fadl, a Sudanese-born Arab, had spent time in the United States and had been 
recruited for the Afghan war through the Farouq mosque in Brooklyn. He had 
joined al Qaeda and taken the oath of fealty to Bin Ladin, serving as one of his 
business agents. Then Bin Ladin discovered that Fadl had skimmed about 
$1 10,000, and he asked for restitution. Fadl resented receiving a salary of only 
$500 a month while some of the Egyptians in al Qaeda were given $1,200 a 
month. He defected and became a star informant for the United States. Also 
testifying about al Qaeda in a U.S. court was L'Houssaine Kherchtou, who told 
of breaking with Bin Ladin because of Bin Ladin's professed inability to pro- 
vide him with money when his wife needed a caesarian section. 60 

In February 1996, Sudanese officials began approaching officials from the 

Finall-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 63 


United States and other governments, asking what actions of theirs might ease 
foreign pressure. In secret meetings with Saudi officials, Sudan offered to expel 
Bin Ladin to Saudi Arabia and asked the Saudis to pardon him. U.S. officials 
became aware of these secret discussions, certainly by March. Saudi officials 
apparently wanted Bin Ladin expelled from Sudan. They had already revoked 
his citizenship, however, and would not tolerate his presence in their country. 
And Bin Ladin may have no longer felt safe in Sudan, where he had already 
escaped at least one assassination attempt that he believed to have been the 
work of the Egyptian or Saudi regimes, or both. In any case, on May 19, 1996, 
Bin Ladin left Sudan — significantly weakened, despite his ambitions and orga- 
nizational skills. He returned to Afghanistan. 61 



Bin Ladin flew on a leased aircraft from Khartoum to Jalalabad, with a refuel- 
ing stopover in the United Arab Emirates. 62 He was accompanied by family 
members and bodyguards, as well as by al Qaeda members who had been close 
associates since his organization's 1988 founding in Afghanistan. Dozens of 
additional militants arrived on later flights. 63 

Though Bin Ladin's destination was Afghanistan, Pakistan was the nation 
that held the key to his ability to use Afghanistan as a base from which to revive 
his ambitious enterprise for war against the United States. 

For the first quarter century of its existence as a nation, Pakistan's identity 
had derived from Islam, but its politics had been decidedly secular. The army 
was — and remains — the country's strongest and most respected institution, and 
the army had been and continues to be preoccupied with its rivalry with India, 
especially over the disputed territory of Kashmir. 

From the 1970s onward, religion had become an increasingly powerful force 
in Pakistani politics. After a coup in 1977, military leaders turned to Islamist 
groups for support, and fundamentalists became more prominent. South Asia 
had an indigenous form of Islamic fundamentalism, which had developed in 
the nineteenth century at a school in the Indian village of Deoband. 64 The 
influence of the Wahhabi school of Islam had also grown, nurtured by Saudi- 
funded institutions. Moreover, the fighting in Afghanistan made Pakistan home 
to an enormous — and generally unwelcome — population of Afghan refugees; 
and since the badly strained Pakistani education system could not accommo- 
date the refugees, the government increasingly let privately funded religious 
schools serve as a cost-free alternative. Over time, these schools produced large 
numbers of half-educated young men with no marketable skills but with deeply 
held Islamic views. 65 

Pakistan's rulers found these multitudes of ardent young Afghans a source 

Finall-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 64 



Ba:;s K0?9«7AI (C00362) 6-( 

of potential trouble at home but potentially useful abroad. Those who joined 
the Taliban movement, espousing a ruthless version of Islamic law, perhaps 
could bring order in chaotic Afghanistan and make it a cooperative ally. They 
thus might give Pakistan greater security on one of the several borders where 
Pakistani military officers hoped for what they called "strategic depth." 66 

It is unlikely that Bin Ladin could have returned to Afghanistan had Pak- 
istan disapproved. The Pakistani military intelligence service probably had 
advance knowledge of his coming, and its officers may have facilitated his travel. 
During his entire time in Sudan, he had maintained guesthouses and training 
camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan. These were part of a larger network used 
by diverse organizations for recruiting and training fighters for Islamic insur- 
gencies in such places as Tajikistan, Kashmir, and Chechnya. Pakistani intelli- 
gence officers reportedly introduced Bin Ladin to Taliban leaders in Kandahar, 
their main base of power, to aid his reassertion of control over camps near 

Finall-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 65 


Khowst, out of an apparent hope that he would now expand the camps and 
make them available for training Kashmiri militants. 67 

Yet Bin Ladin was in his weakest position since his early days in the war 
against the Soviet Union. The Sudanese government had canceled the registra- 
tion of the main business enterprises he had set up there and then put some of 
them up for public sale. According to a senior al Qaeda detainee, the govern- 
ment of Sudan seized everything Bin Ladin had possessed there. 68 

He also lost the head of his military committee, Abu Ubaidah al Banshiri, one 
of the most capable and popular leaders of al Qaeda. While most of the group's 
key figures had accompanied Bin Ladin to Afghanistan, Banshiri had remained 
in Kenya to oversee the training and weapons shipments of the cell set up some 
four years earlier. He died in a ferryboat accident on Lake Victoria just a few 
days after Bin Ladin arrived in Jalalabad, leaving Bin Ladin with a need to 
replace him not only in the Shura but also as supervisor of the cells and 
prospective operations in East Africa. 69 He had to make other adjustments as 
well, for some al Qaeda members viewed Bin Ladin s return to Afghanistan as 
occasion to go off in their own directions. Some maintained collaborative rela- 
tionships with al Qaeda, but many disengaged entirely. 70 

For a time, it may not have been clear to Bin Ladin that the Taliban would 
be his best bet as an ally. When he arrived in Afghanistan, they controlled much 
of the country, but key centers, including Kabul, were still held by rival war- 
lords. Bin Ladin went initially to Jalalabad, probably because it was in an area 
controlled by a provincial council of Islamic leaders who were not major con- 
tenders for national power. He found lodgings withYounis Khalis, the head of 
one of the main mujahideen factions. Bin Ladin apparently kept his options 
open, maintaining contacts with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who, though an 
Islamic extremist, was also one of the Taliban's most militant opponents. But 
after September 1996, when first Jalalabad and then Kabul fell to the Taliban, 
Bin Ladin cemented his ties with them. 71 

That process did not always go smoothly. Bin Ladin, no longer constrained 
by the Sudanese, clearly thought that he had new freedom to publish his appeals 
for jihad. At about the time when the Taliban were making their final drive 
toward Jalalabad and Kabul,Bin Ladin issued hisAugust 1996 fatwa, saying that 
"We . . . have been prevented from addressing the Muslims," but expressing 
relief that "by the grace of Allah, a safe base here is now available in the high 
Hindu Kush mountains in Khurasan." But theTaliban, like the Sudanese, would 
eventually hear warnings, including from the Saudi monarchy. 72 

Though Bin Ladin had promised Taliban leaders that he would be circum- 
spect, he broke this promise almost immediately, giving an inflammatory inter- 
view to CNN in March 1997. The Taliban leader Mullah Omar promptly 
"invited" Bin Ladin to move to Kandahar, ostensibly in the interests of Bin 
Ladin's own security but more likely to situate him where he might be easier 
to control. 73 

Finall-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 66 


There is also evidence that around this time Bin Ladin sent out a number 
of feelers to the Iraqi regime, offering some cooperation. None are reported 
to have received a significant response. According to one report, Saddam Hus- 
sein's efforts at this time to rebuild relations with the Saudis and other Middle 
Eastern regimes led him to stay clear of Bin Ladin. 74 

In mid-1998, the situation reversed; it was Iraq that reportedly took the ini- 
tiative. In March 1998, after Bin Ladin s public fatwa against the United States, 
two al Qaeda members reportedly went to Iraq to meet with Iraqi intelli- 
gence. In July, an Iraqi delegation traveled to Afghanistan to meet first with 
the Taliban and then with Bin Ladin. Sources reported that one, or perhaps 
both, of these meetings was apparently arranged through Bin Ladin 's Egypt- 
ian deputy, Zawahiri, who had ties of his own to the Iraqis. In 1998, Iraq was 
under intensifying U.S. pressure, which culminated in a series of large air 
attacks in December. 75 

Similar meetings between Iraqi officials and Bin Ladin or his aides may have 
occurred in 1999 during a period of some reported strains with the Taliban. 
According to the reporting, Iraqi officials offered Bin Ladin a safe haven in Iraq. 
Bin Ladin declined, apparently judging that his circumstances in Afghanistan 
remained more favorable than the Iraqi alternative. The reports describe 
friendly contacts and indicate some common themes in both sides' hatred of 
the United States. But to date we have seen no evidence that these or the ear- 
lier contacts ever developed into a collaborative operational relationship. Nor 
have we seen evidence indicating that Iraq cooperated with al Qaeda in devel- 
oping or carrying out any attacks against the United States. 76 

Bin Ladin eventually enjoyed a strong financial position in Afghanistan, 
thanks to Saudi and other financiers associated with the Golden Chain. 
Through his relationship with Mullah Omar — and the monetary and other 
benefits that it brought the Taliban — Bin Ladin was able to circumvent restric- 
tions; Mullah Omar would stand by him even when otherTaliban leaders raised 
objections. Bin Ladin appeared to have in Afghanistan a freedom of move- 
ment that he had lacked in Sudan. Al Qaeda members could travel freely within 
the country, enter and exit it without visas or any immigration procedures, pur- 
chase and import vehicles and weapons, and enjoy the use of official Afghan 
Ministry of Defense license plates. Al Qaeda also used the Afghan state-owned 
Ariana Airlines to courier money into the country. 77 

The Taliban seemed to open the doors to all who wanted to come to 
Afghanistan to train in the camps.The alliance with theTaliban provided al Qaeda 
a sanctuary in which to train and indoctrinate fighters and terrorists, import 
weapons, forge ties with other jihad groups and leaders, and plot and staff ter- 
rorist schemes. While Bin Ladin maintained his own al Qaeda guesthouses and 
camps for vetting and training recruits, he also provided support to and bene- 

Finall-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 67 


fited from the broad infrastructure of such facilities in Afghanistan made avail- 
able to the global network of Islamist movements. U.S. intelligence estimates 
put the total number of fighters who underwent instruction in Bin Ladin— sup- 
ported camps in Afghanistan from 1996 through 9/11 at 10,000 to 20,000. 78 

In addition to training fighters and special operators, this larger network of 
guesthouses and camps provided a mechanism by which al Qaeda could screen 
and vet candidates for induction into its own organization. Thousands flowed 
through the camps, but no more than a few hundred seem to have become 
al Qaeda members. From the time of its founding, al Qaeda had employed 
training and indoctrination to identify "worthy" candidates. 79 

Al Qaeda continued meanwhile to collaborate closely with the many Mid- 
dle Eastern groups — in Egypt, Algeria, Yemen, Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia, 
Somalia, and elsewhere — with which it had been linked when Bin Ladin was 
in Sudan. It also reinforced its London base and its other offices around Europe, 
the Balkans, and the Caucasus. Bin Ladin bolstered his links to extremists in 
South and Southeast Asia, including the Malaysian-Indonesian JI and several 
Pakistani groups engaged in the Kashmir conflict. 80 

The February 1998 fatwa thus seems to have been a kind of public launch 
of a renewed and stronger al Qaeda, after a year and a half of work. Having 
rebuilt his fund-raising network, Bin Ladin had again become the rich man of 
the jihad movement. He had maintained or restored many of his links with ter- 
rorists elsewhere in the world. And he had strengthened the internal ties in his 
own organization. 

The inner core of al Qaeda continued to be a hierarchical top-down group 
with defined positions, tasks, and salaries. Most but not all in this core swore 
fealty (or bayat) to Bin Ladin. Other operatives were committed to Bin Ladin 
or to his goals and would take assignments for him, but they did not swear 
bayat and maintained, or tried to maintain, some autonomy. A looser circle of 
adherents might give money to al Qaeda or train in its camps but remained 
essentially independent. Nevertheless, they constituted a potential resource for 
al Qaeda. 81 

Now effectively merged with Zawahiri s Egyptian Islamic Jihad, 82 al Qaeda 
promised to become the general headquarters for international terrorism, with- 
out the need for the Islamic Army Shura. Bin Ladin was prepared to pick up 
where he had left off in Sudan. He was ready to strike at "the head of the snake." 

Al Qaeda's role in organizing terrorist operations had also changed. Before 
the move to Afghanistan, it had concentrated on providing funds, training, and 
weapons for actions carried out by members of allied groups. The attacks on 
the U.S. embassies in East Africa in the summer of 1998 would take a differ- 
ent form — planned, directed, and executed by al Qaeda, under the direct super- 
vision of Bin Ladin and his chief aides. 

Finall-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 68 


The Embassy Bombings 

As early as December 1993, a team of al Qaeda operatives had begun casing 
targets in Nairobi for future attacks. It was led by Ali Mohamed, a former 
Egyptian army officer who had moved to the United States in the mid-1980s, 
enlisted in the U.S. Army, and became an instructor at Fort Bragg. He had pro- 
vided guidance and training to extremists at the Farouq mosque in Brooklyn, 
including some who were subsequently convicted in the February 1993 attack 
on the World Trade Center. The casing team also included a computer expert 
whose write-ups were reviewed by al Qaeda leaders. 83 

The team set up a makeshift laboratory for developing their surveillance 
photographs in an apartment in Nairobi where the various al Qaeda opera- 
tives and leaders based in or traveling to the Kenya cell sometimes met. Ban- 
shiri, al Qaeda's military committee chief, continued to be the operational 
commander of the cell; but because he was constantly on the move, Bin Ladin 
had dispatched another operative, Khaled al Fawwaz, to serve as the on-site 
manager. The technical surveillance and communications equipment 
employed for these casing missions included state-of-the-art video cameras 
obtained from China and from dealers in Germany. The casing team also 
reconnoitered targets in Djibouti. 84 

As early as January 1994, Bin Ladin received the surveillance reports, com- 
plete with diagrams prepared by the team's computer specialist. He, his top mil- 
itary committee members — Banshiri and his deputy, Abu Hafs al Masri (also 
known as Mohammed Atef) — and a number of other al Qaeda leaders 
reviewed the reports. Agreeing that the U.S. embassy in Nairobi was an easy 
target because a car bomb could be parked close by, they began to form a plan. 
Al Qaeda had begun developing the tactical expertise for such attacks months 
earlier, when some of its operatives — top military committee members and sev- 
eral operatives who were involved with the Kenya cell among them — were sent 
to Hezbollah training camps in Lebanon. 85 

The cell in Kenya experienced a series of disruptions that may in part 
account for the relatively long delay before the attack was actually carried out. 
The difficulties Bin Ladin began to encounter in Sudan in 1995, his move to 
Afghanistan in 1996, and the months spent establishing ties with the Taliban 
may also have played a role, as did Banshiri's accidental drowning. 

In August 1997, the Kenya cell panicked. The London Daily Telegraph 
reported that Madani alTayyib, formerly head of al Qaeda's finance committee, 
had turned himself over to the Saudi government. The article said (incorrectly) 
that the Saudis were sharing Tayyib's information with the U.S. and British 
authorities. 86 At almost the same time, cell members learned that U.S. and 
Kenyan agents had searched the Kenya residence of Wadi al Hage, who had 
become the new on-site manager in Nairobi, and that Hage's telephone was 
being tapped. Hage was a U.S. citizen who had worked with Bin Ladin in Afgha- 

Finall-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 69 


nistan in the 1980s, and in 1992 he went to Sudan to become one of al Qaeda's 
major financial operatives. When Hage returned to the United States to appear 
before a grand jury investigating Bin Ladin, the job of cell manager was taken 
over by Harun Fazul, a Kenyan citizen who had been in Bin Ladin's advance 
team to Sudan back in 1990. Harun faxed a report on the "security situation" 
to several sites, warning that "the crew members in East Africa is [sic] in grave 
danger" in part because "America knows . . . that the followers of [Bin Ladin] 
. . . carried out the operations to hit Americans in Somalia." The report pro- 
vided instructions for avoiding further exposure. 87 

On February 23, 1998, Bin Ladin issued his public fatwa.The language had 
been in negotiation for some time, as part of the merger under way between 
Bin Ladin's organization and Zawahiri's Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Less than a 
month after the publication of the fatwa, the teams that were to carry out the 
embassy attacks were being pulled together in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam. The 
timing and content of their instructions indicate that the decision to launch 
the attacks had been made by the time the fatwa was issued. 88 

The next four months were spent setting up the teams in Nairobi and Dar 
es Salaam. Members of the cells rented residences, and purchased bomb-mak- 
ing materials and transport vehicles. At least one additional explosives expert 
was brought in to assist in putting the weapons together. In Nairobi, a hotel 
room was rented to put up some of the operatives. The suicide trucks were 
purchased shortly before the attack date. 89 

While this was taking place, Bin Ladin continued to push his public mes- 
sage. On May 7, the deputy head of al Qaeda's military committee, 
Mohammed Atef, faxed to Bin Ladin's London office a new fatwa issued by a 
group of sheikhs located in Afghanistan. A week later, it appeared in Al Quds 
alArabi, the same Arabic-language newspaper in London that had first published 
Bin Ladin's February fatwa, and it conveyed the same message — the duty of 
Muslims to carry out holy war against the enemies of Islam and to expel the 
Americans from the Gulf region.Two weeks after that, Bin Ladin gave a video- 
taped interview to ABC News with the same slogans, adding that "we do not 
differentiate between those dressed in military uniforms and civilians; they are 
all targets in this fatwa." 90 

By August 1, members of the cells not directly involved in the attacks had 
mostly departed from East Africa. The remaining operatives prepared and 
assembled the bombs, and acquired the delivery vehicles. On August 4, they 
made one last casing run at the embassy in Nairobi. By the evening of August 6, 
all but the delivery teams and one or two persons assigned to remove the evi- 
dence trail had left East Africa. Back in Afghanistan, Bin Ladin and the al Qaeda 
leadership had left Kandahar for the countryside, expecting U.S. retaliation. 
Declarations taking credit for the attacks had already been faxed to the joint 
al Qaeda— Egyptian Islamic Jihad office in Baku, with instructions to stand by 

Finall-4.4pp 7/17/04 9:12 AM Page 70 


for orders to "instantly" transmit them to Al Quds alArabi. One proclaimed "the 
formation of the Islamic Army for the Liberation of the Holy Places," and two 
others — one for each embassy — announced that the attack had been carried 
out by a "company" of a "battalion" of this "Islamic Army." 91 

On the morning of August 7, the bomb-laden trucks drove into the 
embassies roughly five minutes apart — about 10:35 A.M. in Nairobi and 10:39 
A.M. in Dar es Salaam. Shortly afterward, a phone call was placed from Baku 
to London. The previously prepared messages were then faxed to London. 92 

The attack on the U.S. embassy in Nairobi destroyed the embassy and killed 
12 Americans and 201 others, almost all Kenyans. About 5,000 people were 
injured. The attack on the U.S. embassy in Dar es Salaam killed 1 1 more peo- 
ple, none of them Americans. Interviewed later about the deaths of the Africans, 
Bin Ladin answered that "when it becomes apparent that it would be impos- 
sible to repel these Americans without assaulting them, even if this involved 
the killing of Muslims, this is permissible under Islam." Asked if he had indeed 
masterminded these bombings, Bin Ladin said that the World Islamic Front for 
jihad against "Jews and Crusaders" had issued a "crystal clear" fatwa. If the insti- 
gation for jihad against the Jews and the Americans to liberate the holy places 
"is considered a crime," he said,"let history be a witness that I am a criminal." 93