- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 13, 2001

The few Western journalists who have interviewed Osama bin Laden describe him as the most unlikely murderer: quiet, emaciated and even shy.
But as soon as one mentions America, his disposition changes and his strong dislike for the West becomes obvious, those reporters say.
Because of bin Laden's high profile in international terrorism and his outspoken hatred of the United States and the West, he has been the prime suspect in high-profile attacks on U.S. targets in recent years.
Despite hesitation to publicly blame bin Laden for Tuesday's attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, intelligence officials said there are "indications" pointing at bin Laden and his terrorism network al-Qaeda.
Bin Laden has been on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list, with a reward of up to $5 million, since 1999 for "murder of U.S. nationals" in the August 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 224.
He is also a prime suspect in the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in October, which killed 17 U.S. sailors.
No matter how determined bin Laden is to destroy the United States, there is little he can do without the support of the thousands of Arab and Muslim followers he has recruited. They are ready to die for his cause, people familiar with his activities have said.
"The word bin Laden is a shorthand or metaphor for his movement," Peter Bergen, a journalist who has interviewed bin Laden, said yesterday.
"There are thousands in that group willing to do business with him. We say bin Laden because it makes our lives easier, but we should really talk about al-Qaeda, which is a real phenomenon of like-minded individuals from various countries."
Yossef Bodansky, former director of the House Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare and author of "Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America," said the suspected terrorist's huge following is his main legacy.
"The hero worshiping of bin Laden already has had dire ramifications for the security of the United States and its allies — namely, the radicalization and motivation of Muslim youth for generations of jihad," Mr. Bodansky wrote in his 1999 book.
Bin Laden has said his "war" is not with the American people, but against the "corrupting influence of the West" on the Muslim world.
"What has the West given the world?" he asked in a recent interview with an Arab journalist. "A lust for power and a license to loot and plunder the poorer countries."
Mr. Bergen, a Washington-based journalist, said bin Laden and his organization have made no distinction between civilians and military targets for years.
If you are an American citizen, you pay taxes and thus support the military and have equal guilt, he said in explaining bin Laden's logic.
"Suicide is something money can't buy," Mr. Bergen said in an interview, referring to al-Qaeda members' readiness for sacrifice.
"The focus is on his finances, but that's a red herring. You don't need a lot of money to carry out these operations, but you can't buy someone's willingness to commit a suicide. That's priceless."
Mr. Bergen, who is writing a book about bin Laden called "Holy War Inc.," met with him four years ago in Afghanistan, where he has been sheltered by the ruling Taliban regime since 1996.
"When I met him, he was a mild-mannered guy who was enraged with the United States but still soft-spoken," Mr. Bergen said. "He's a murderer, but it's not like he woke up one morning with a bad mood on America. He has a laundry list of complaints against the United States, which are fairly common in the Middle East."
According to the FBI's description, bin Laden is between 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-6, weighs about 160 lbs., has brown hair and eyes and olive complexion.
He was born in 1957 in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the son of Mohammed bin Laden, a small-time builder and contractor who, following the 1970s oil boom, expanded his business into one of the biggest construction companies in the Middle East.
Although his interest in Islam dates back to the 1970s, "Osama bin Laden's world, like that of most Muslims worldwide, was jolted in the last days of 1979, when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan," Mr. Bodansky wrote.
Within a few days of the invasion, bin Laden went to neighboring Pakistan to assist the Afghan mujahideen.
According to the CIA, which helped arm the mujahideen, bin Laden had between 12,000 and 20,000 supporters trained in arms, explosives and the use of U.S. Stinger anti-aircraft missiles.
When the Russians pulled out of Afghanistan in 1989, he went quiet for a while but he and his supporters were not allowed to return to Saudi Arabia, whose rulers feared having trained and battle-tested men in the kingdom.
When Iraq invaded Kuwait a year later, Saudi Arabia and the United States forged an alliance, with U.S. and other troops pouring into the kingdom.
Bin Laden saw this as U.S. occupation, and shifting his base to Sudan, declared a jihad ("holy war") to evict the new invaders from Islam's holy lands.
The Saudis then stripped bin Laden of his Saudi citizenship and forced Sudan to evict him. He moved to Afghanistan five years ago and is now believed to be living in a cave in the country's eastern part with his four wives and some 15 children.


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