Osama Bin Laden
An Elusive Warlord's Deadly 'Sleepers': Osama Bin Laden
Monday, September 17, 2001
By Peter Bergen
I met Osama Bin Laden on a frigid night in March 1997, deep in
the barren mountains of eastern Afghanistan, a year after he first declared war
on America. The mysterious Saudi multi-millionaire, a tall figure with an
aristocratic demeanor, walked with the help of a cane. His calls for attacks on
U.S. targets were delivered in a mild manner, belying the rage of his
A key to his holy war against America may be found in his
childhood. His father, Mohamed Bin Laden, emigrated in 1930 from Yemen to Saudi
Arabia, where he founded a construction company and became one of the richest
men in Arabia. Mohamed combined business acumen with a deep religious faith,
traits that he passed on to some of his 50 or so children. The family had the
singular honour of renovating and maintaining Islam's holiest sites, Mecca and
Medina -- contracts that are, coincidentally, some of the most lucrative in the
Middle East. Bin Laden was 10 when his father died in a plane crash. He has said
that his life today is a continuation of the religious devotion of his father.
For many Muslims around the world, the Soviet invasion of
Afghanistan was a life-transforming event -- the godless communists had invaded
a sovereign Muslim nation. Within weeks of the invasion, 22-year-old Bin Laden
was travelling to Afghanistan's neighbour, Pakistan, to support the holy war
against the Russians.
Bin Laden was already an expert in demolition from the family
construction business. When he made his first trips into Afghanistan, he took
hundreds of tons of construction machinery, bulldozers, loaders, dump trucks and
equipment for building trenches that he put at the disposal of the Afghan
guerrillas. The machinery was used to build roads, dig tunnels into the
mountains for shelter and construct rudimentary hospitals.
In 1984 Bin Laden set up a guesthouse in Peshawar, Pakistan,
for Muslims drawn to the jihad. It was called Bait ul Ansar, or "House of the
Helpers", and was a way-station for volunteers heading for training with one of
the Afghan factions. Later Bin Laden formed his own military unit and set about
recruiting Muslims worldwide.
The recruits came to be known as the "Afghan Arabs", though
they came from all over the Muslim world. Some were high school students whose
visits were not much more than the equivalent of a summer camp. Others spent
years fighting the communists. Nobody knows their exact number, but most
estimates suggest the low tens of thousands. They received some sort of military
training and were indoctrinated in the most extreme interpretation of jihad.
In 1986 Bin Laden founded his first camp inside Afghanistan.
It was near the village of Jaji, a few miles from the border. With a force of
about 50 Arabs, Bin Laden fought off a lengthy siege by Soviet forces, his
baptism of fire. Arab journalists based in Peshawar wrote daily dispatches
extolling his exploits, which were published in the Middle East and brought him
a flood of new recruits.
"What we benefited from most was that the glory and myth of
the superpower was destroyed not only in my mind, but also in all Muslims," he
told me in 1997.
With the withdrawal of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan in
1989, Bin Laden turned his attention to other jihads, founding Al-Qaeda, or "the
Base". Al-Qaeda's main target is the United States.
Since the mid-1980s Bin Laden had advised friends to boycott
American goods because of US support for Israel and Middle Eastern regimes, such
as Egypt, which he regards as "un-Islamic". His distaste for America mutated
into hatred by 1990, when Iraq invaded Kuwait and American troops were
dispatched to Saudi Arabia. Armed "infidels" of both sexes were trespassing on
sacred Arabian soil. For Bin Laden, this defied the dying words of Mohammed:
"Let there be no two religions in Arabia."
Bin Laden's war against the United States started with small
operations. Bombs went off outside two hotels in Yemen housing US servicemen in
1992, killing an Australian tourist. He is implicated in the deaths of 18 US
servicemen in Somalia in 1993 and the bombing of the World Trade Center in New
York that same year. In 1995 men influenced by Bin Laden's writings bombed a
military facility in Saudi Arabia, killing five American soldiers.
On August 7, 1998, exactly eight years after American troops
landed in Saudi Arabia, the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were blown
up and more than 200 people died. Two years later, the bombing in Yemen of the
USS Cole killed 17 American sailors.
Bin Laden's foot soldiers are put through rigorous training
for this war. L'Hossaine Kherchtou, a Moroccan who had been a student of
catering in France in the late 1980s, traveled to Afghanistan to attend an
Al-Qaeda training camp in 1991. On his first night he was awakened at 1 am by
gunfire and was told: "Don't think you are going to sleep in this
He was trained on the American M-16 rifle, the Russian AK-47
rifle and PK sub-machinegun, the Israeli Uzi sub-machinegun and anti-aircraft
guns. He also took classes on grenades and was taught about the use of
explosives such as C3, C4 and dynamite, anti-personnel mines, anti-truck mines
and butterfly mines, which children sometimes mistake as a kind of toy. After
graduating from his camp, Kherchtou moved to Peshawar, where he was inducted
Bin Laden is not involved in day-to-day dealings with his
followers. He sets the general policies of Al-Qaeda, which are then relayed down
a loose chain of command to lower members of the group, many of whom have had
little or no contact with Bin Laden himself.
Osama Bin Laden's Motives
By Dean Brown
Compared to the professional analysts, we Christadelphians are
completely unqualified as journalistic fact-gatherers on the world news scene.
We don't directly interview world leaders or investigate material
But when it comes to analyzing the facts that these people
gather, Christadelphians have the distinct advantage of approaching matters from
a point of view that is radically different from everyone else in several
important ways. This advantage allows us to analyze a situation in ways that
others cannot possibly do, and if this advantage is used properly (and that can
be a very big "if" !!) then it can help us to better understand the reasons why
we are to act the way that God calls us to act.
The following is my own analysis of the situation,
particularly relating to the motives of Osama Bin Laden and other militant
I start by asking you to think about five dates in history:
586 BC, and 70, 1948, 1967, and 1973 AD.
You already know what I am referring to with regard to each
date. The destructions of the Temple in 586 BC and again in 70 AD. The emotional
response that we have to these dates is one of sadness and lamentation. Then
comes 1948. The establishment of the modern state of Israel, and the miraculous
victory of little infant Israel against the combined Arab armies. The hand of
God working in the nations. The fig tree budding. What a wonderful prophetic
sign. Then comes 1967. The miraculous Six Day War. Again the hand of God
working, with Israel regaining control of full Jerusalem including the Temple
Mount. And finally 1973. Israel's miraculous recovery after nearly being
annihilated in the surprise Yom Kippur War. Again we see the hand of God
But how do Muslims feel about these last three
In the early years, and by that I mean roughly from the 1920s
to the 1970s, most Muslims were adamantly opposed to the idea of the existence
of a modern nation of Israel. They wanted to drive Israel into the sea, and to
deny it any recognition of statehood.
But over time the attitude of many average Muslims softened,
and they began to accept the notion of a modern nation of Israel in its present
location. Militant Muslims therefore had a battle on two fronts. First was the
Israelis, and they were certainly willing to attack them and anyone who
supported the Israeli "right to exist". Second were these "soft" Muslims. That
is, Muslims who were willing to recognize Israel, in deed if not in word. Many
of these "soft" Muslims also have had and continue to have a gradual adoption of
and toleration for many Western societal mores.
Most Westerners have no appreciation for the amount of
"domestic" terrorism that goes on within many Middle Eastern countries, where
militant Muslims are adamantly opposed to the current "moderate Muslim" regimes.
Egypt and Saudi Arabia in particular are beset with this problem, and it has
been an important feature on the political scene of many other countries. For
example Iran, which was "moderate" under the Shah, "fundamentalist" under the
Ayatollah Khomeini, and is wrestling its way back to being "moderate" despite
enormous internal pressure from the fundamentalists.
My point is that all of the politicians and journalists are
talking about Bin Laden trying to scare or terrify the Western public, and how
that's not going to work because we are a better people than that, and that Bin
Laden and his kind of people underestimate our courage, love, and
In doing so these Western leaders either don't understand or
are misrepresenting Bin Laden's motives.
Bin Laden and other militant Muslims have one ultimate goal
with two parts, and use the violence of terrorism as a two-sided tool.
The two sides of the tool are (1) to encourage and embolden
their fellow Muslims, and (2) to get the United States and others to make a
semi-rational determination that the cost of supporting Israel outweighs the
benefits. The ultimate goal is to achieve a worldwide Islamic society, but as
this is so far off it is far more important to concentrate on the two immediate
steps or parts of this goal. They are (1) to replace the "moderate" Muslim
leadership currently in place in many Middle Eastern countries, and (2) to
eradicate Israel. This second part can be further broken down into two steps.
First, get nations such as the United States to stop supporting Israel, because
with American backing the eradication of Israel is considerably more difficult,
and then the second step of the actual eradication of Israel.
I would like to deal with this issue of Bin Laden's motives by
asking: whose thinking is he trying to change and how?
His primary audience is NOT the people that he is attacking,
but rather his fellow Muslims, most of whom are spectators. His hope is that
these people will be emboldened and encouraged by his actions, and that every
Muslim will become more fundamentalist. He knows that he can't start with a big
victory against Israel and the United States and others. What he wants right now
is a small victory so that others will join his cause, thus making his
organization and its allies strong enough to achieve a big victory in the
His SECONDARY audience is the "western" nations, and even here
he knows that he is not going to scare us to the point that we are afraid to
come out of our homes. He knows that we will never become this afraid. BUT he
knows that we will demand more security, which costs much in the way of time,
money, and sacrifice of the individual liberties that we cherish and have become
so accustomed to. He is implicitly using a carrot-and-stick approach against
Western society. "Support Israel, and I will attack your civilian population as
much as possible. Abandon Israel, and I will leave you alone, which means that
you can open up your society again and live a better life for yourselves." I am
setting aside the fact here that if we did as a society stop supporting Israel
he would in fact not let up on his terrorism. He would simply continue to use
terrorism to achieve the next step along towards his ultimate goal. I can set
aside this fact because I am dealing here with his implicit approach at this
time, and not with what he would actually do if his approach were to become
"successful" (that is, help him to achieve his goals).
President Bush and Vice President Cheney and others have been
all over television the last few days talking about Bin Laden's hatred for the
American way of life. Yes he does find the American way of life objectionable
because in many ways it acts contrary to the Muslim ethic, but that has almost
no relevance to the question of what fuels Bin Laden's internal fire. He is far
more upset about Muslims adopting Western ways than he is about Westerners
having Western ways.
This also brings up an important point about what this war
against terrorism might hope to accomplish. Bear in mind that just as he will
not make "us" afraid but will impede our movements, any war against Bin Laden
and other militant Muslims will at best accomplish the same thing. No amount of
force will scare these people into rethinking their basic position. But it is
possible to constrain their movements, to make it far more difficult for them to
My own speculation that stems from this realization is that
this will only delay the inevitable, as the relentless march of technology makes
massively deadly weapons easier and easier to obtain. How long until a small
group, operating underneath the "radar screens" of the nations, acquires
nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons? Such a group need not even be Muslim.
Certainly the Japanese sect that released nerve gas in the Tokyo subway system a
few years ago was not Muslim. So at best we can eradicate and prevent the
formation of large terrorist organizations who have at least some level of state
support. But we can never stop the "lone madman" or the very small
There are terrorist groups out there that are not Muslim. But
the Muslim ones are the ones that perpetrated this attack and that are the
greatest near-term threat. And so while in theory we should be thinking about
all of the terrorists that are out there, in practice we should concentrate upon
understanding the thinking of these militant Muslims.
My note at the beginning regarding our unique perspective
needs explaining here. Our world view is neither Ameri-centric or
freedom-centric. Therefore, we can consider this situation not as the world
does, but from the perspective that considers Bin Laden's motives to be very
much like the motives of Cain and his "seed" (that is, those who have persecuted
and murdered the prophets of God, and God's Son).
The Apostle Paul wrote that "as to zeal, [I was] a persecutor
of the church" (Phi 3:6) and that he was also "a persecutor and violent
aggressor" (1Ti 1:13). He was thinking that he was rendering service to God. He
didn't hate Christians because he envied their freedom and wealth. He thought
that he was doing God a favor by eradicating these blasphemous followers of the
blasphemous Nazarene. The motives of militant Muslims are similar.
My point is that when we hear President Bush or ANY
commentator talk about this attack on the American way of life, they are
avoiding the real issue. The real issue is nothing less than the veracity of
Islam, and the question must therefore be asked of us: when we take a stand and
say that Islam is false, what do we suggest is true? The American ideals of
freedom and democracy? Christianity, as in Christendom? Or True Christianity?
This is why we must realize that when we speak against what has recently
happened we must be careful to point out that in doing so we are also standing
against the false teaching of the world in all its forms. We speak against Islam
because it is patently false, and while militant Muslims are certainly worse,
this does not change the fact that all Islam is false. And so are the eastern
religions, many of which by their fundamental nature do not breed militarism.
And so is Christendom, which in the past has bred much militarism and today does
so only occasionally. All of these are false regardless of whether they compound
their error by adopting violence to promote their viewpoint.
We stand against all systems of thought that are false,
including those who are militant as well.
At the same time we must be careful to note that we are not
militant. We appeal to people's intelligent reasoning and deliberation, and we
never threaten force against anyone as a means of coercing them into adopting
our way of thinking. We don't even threaten people with eternal hell-fire
torment. This of course is a byproduct of our theology, but nonetheless the fact
remains that we do not threaten people at all in any way.
And so IF people start to become suspicious of us as a group
because we are relatively small and quite fundamentalist, point this out to
them. Being fundamentalist and being militant are two entirely different
matters. All or virtually all militants are fundamentalist, but not all
fundamentalists are militant.