“The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it … .”
— Osama bin Laden, February 1998
Bin Laden, the al Qaeda terrorist leader, issued his “fatwa” only seven months before the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed on Aug. 7, 1998. The United States could have increased our security measures everywhere, yet Washington remained unprepared to avoid the disastrous destruction of the World Trade Center in New York on Sept. 11, 2001.
When Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, bin Laden offered to organize his Arab-Afghan fighters to defend the Saudi kingdom. The royal family instead invited U.S. troops, which bin Laden considered “infidels” occupying Muslim soil, and declared a “jihad” against the United States. He did not want any foreign troops in the “land of the two mosques,” a reference to the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina. His protest led to house arrest, and he was asked to leave Saudi Arabia in 1991.
Sudan was the only country to offer refuge to bin Laden and more than 100 of his al Qaeda fighters. They included: Ayman al-Zawahri, the chief planner of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks; Wadih El-Hage, his personal secretary; and Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, the leader of the U.S. embassy bombings. While in Sudan, bin Laden trained al Qaeda insurgents, who were involved in the 1993 attacks on U.S. and U.N. troops in Somalia, the 1993 World Trade Center garage bombing in New York and the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia.
In October 2000, suicide bombers attacked the destroyer the USS Cole in Yemen. The Sudanese government reportedly helped al Qaeda move the explosives in diplomatic pouches to Yemen, which had become a safe haven for al Qaeda insurgents returning from Afghanistan. Today, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), based in Yemen, is responsible for numerous attacks in Iraq, and is involved in the civil war in Syria.
Killing bin Laden on May 1, 2011, has not seen a decline in al Qaeda’s influence in the region. CNN reported on Oct. 12 that al-Zawahri, a Muslim Brotherhood hard-liner who succeeded bin Laden as al Qaeda’s leader, stated that “Libyans should move quickly to establish Shariah, the Islamic law.” He called on Algerians “to follow in the footsteps of your brothers in Libya and Tunisia and revolt against your tyrant,” and he also reaffirmed the jihad against the United States.
When the Arab Spring began, Moammar Gadhafi warned “that al Qaeda would take over Libya if he is overthrown.” Since Gadhafi’s assassination by Islamist militias, large caches of weapons have fallen into the hands of al Qaeda-linked Islamists embedded in Libya. They include al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM); Ansar al-Sharia; Libyan Islamic Fighting Group; Ansar Dine; Boko Haram; and Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa. These Islamists are dangerous and well-armed, and many were involved in the attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi that killed Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
Osama bin Laden’s fatwa is still in place, and jihadists will continue to attack U.S. embassies, consulates and our economic interests. We were warned that the Islamists wanted to take control and rule under Shariah law. The U.S. decision makers had a myopic view of the vast Muslim-populated desert region, thinking that democratic institutions would follow regime change.
Protecting U.S. interests and American citizens will be difficult, as witnessed in Benghazi and Algeria recently.
The United States aided the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power in Egypt; al Qaeda-linked Islamists have a strong presence in Libya; Salafi Islamists are gaining political influence in the Maghreb states. Mali is fighting for its freedom against AQIM Islamists, and affiliated Islamists are spreading across the Sahel region. These emboldened Islamists will continue to be a threat to U.S. security in Africa and elsewhere in the world.
John Price served as U.S. ambassador to Mauritius, the Seychelles and the Comoro Islands from Feb. 8, 2002, to June 17, 2005. He currently serves as a resident scholar at the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics. He is the author of the book “When the White House Calls,” and regularly writes commentaries on Africa and the Arabian Peninsula.