ATbar Bin Ladin vs. the West: Round Two

Bin Ladin vs. the West: Round Two

10/01/1999 | by Schweitzer, Yoram  
In the final days of December 1998 yet another aggressive interview with the Saudi millionaire Osama bin Ladin was published in the paper al-Shara al-Aswat, to no ones great surprise. Bin Ladin once more called on his Muslim brothers to renew their attacks upon the enemies of Islam—first and foremost the United States and Israel. These two represent, in his view, the Crusader-Jewish pact at the root of an anti-Islamic campaign aimed at humbling and conquering Islam. Bin Ladin’s caustic verbal attack was expected in the light of the American strikes in Iraq of December 18-20, ’98. This was not the first time that he used hostilities between the U.S. and Iraq as an excuse to condemn the Americans for a “massacre of the Iraqi Muslims.”

The initial conflict between bin Ladin and the United States began at his own behest at the beginning of the ‘90s, when he “discovered” that the U.S. “replaced” the Soviet Union in the role of the enemy trying to conquer Muslim lands. Bin Ladin, who for a decade (1979-89) fought with the Afghan Mujehadin to oust the Soviet army from Afghanistan now turned his attention to ousting the Americans from the Gulf region, where they had stationed themselves in the wake of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. He clothed this conflict in the guise of a “jihad” for the liberation of the holiest places of Islam—Mecca and Medina—from the subjugation of the Crusader conquest.

Throughout the ‘90s bin Ladin worked to spin around himself a web of terrorist organizations, predominantly the centers of the various “Afghan veterans.” He also established a terrorist organization of his own called “el-Qa’idah,” comprised of several hundred of his devotees. He also initiated an umbrella organization, which unites the heads of terrorist organizations in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Egypt. In addition, bin Ladin established links to a whole list of fundamentalist organizations. The common factor in all these groups is the use of terrorism for the attainment of their political goals, and an agenda whose main priority is the overthrow of the “heretic governments” in their respective countries and the establishment of Islamic governments based on the rule of “Shariah.”

Last year, the clash between bin Ladin and the United States passed from verbal sparring to armed conflict. Hostilities reached an all-time peak with the bombings—carried out by bin Ladin’s organization el-Qa’idah—of the American embassies in Nairobi and in Dar es-Sala’am in August, 1998. In total, 224 people were killed and around 5,000 wounded.

These attacks were the catalyst for the launching of an offensive lead by the United States against bin Ladin and his cohorts, in the course of which, the U.S. attacked five camps belonging to el-Qa’idah in Afghanistan, and a factory for the manufacture of chemical weapons in Sudan (August 20). At the same time, the U.S. joined forces with the security forces of other countries around the world—a cooperative effort that brought about the arrest of bin Ladin’s operatives in Uganda, Italy, Azerbeijan, England, and Germany. In these last two countries, those arrested were from the upper echelons of el-Qa’idah. September ’98 saw the arrest of Khaled Fuaz, bin Ladin’s official representative in England, as well as the arrest in Germany of Mamduh Salim, a senior procurer for al-Qa’idah. Mamduh Salim was extradited to the United States on December 24, and Khaled Fuaz is awaiting the completion of extradition formalities. Another senior operative, Wahdi al-Hage was arrested in Texas. Al-Hage served as the head of the cell that laid the groundwork for the bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, upon completion of which he moved to the U.S. where he lived since 1997.

The American punitive measures have served to intensify its conflict with bin Ladin and his colleagues. It can be assumed that bin Ladin’s motivation to carry out revenge attacks against the United States is high. What’s more, his capacity to react to the preventive measures taken by the U.S. and it coalition partners has not been significantly impaired, despite the strikes he has absorbed in the past few months.

The direct conflict between bin Ladin and his Western rivals has escalated in the wake of the duel that commenced in August 98. This conflict will more than likely result in yet more massive terrorist attacks by al-Qa’idah, or even by the terrorist organizations affiliated with bin Ladin, such as the Egyptian Jihad group and al-Jama’ah al-Islamiyyah, the Indian Harakat al-Ansar, the Philippine Abu Sayyaf, and others.

In an interview with TIME magazine at the beginning of 1999, bin Ladin proclaimed his intention to intensify efforts to obtain non-conventional weapons. He justified these efforts with the argument that “Acquiring weapons for the defense of Muslims is a religious duty. And if I seek to acquire these weapons, I am carrying out a duty,” adding, “It would be a sin for Muslims not to try to possess the weapons that would prevent the infidels from inflicting harm on Muslims.”

Bin Ladin’s efforts to obtain non-conventional weapons, in particular, biological and chemical weapons, were amply documented in the past. The U.S. justified its attack on the al-Shifra pharmaceuticals plant in Khartoum last August on the grounds that the factory was manufacturing a component in chemical weapons for bin Ladin.

The combination of a radical worldview, that sees the conflict as a zero-sum game, supported by scriptural decree, together with proven conventional capabilities, plus the potential non-conventional capabilities—all this is what makes bin Ladin’s vendetta against the Western world all the more dangerous. Added to this is bin Ladin’s total lack of reticence to use such means at the cost of massive casualties among his rivals and even his own people.

The frequency of his verbal outbursts and threats in the past few weeks is reminiscent of a similar build-up prior to the embassy bombings in East Africa. The recent public statements could hint that bin Ladin already has a revenge attack up his sleeve.

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