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Amanpour: Bin Laden still deadly relevant

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Editor's note: CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour has reported on crises from many of the world's hotspots. Here, Amanpour shares her analysis with CNN.com on the hunt for Osama bin Laden.

LONDON, England (CNN) -- Nearly five years have passed since the September 11 terrorist attacks, yet Osama bin Laden -- the world's most-wanted terrorist -- remains a dangerous fugitive, his words and actions inspiring jihadists across the globe.

It's hard to fathom that bin Laden would remain so relevant today, when in the days after the attacks, the Bush administration and much of the world was determined to get him.

"I want justice," President Bush said, referring to bin Laden after September 11, 2001. "And there's an old poster out West. ... I recall, that said, 'Wanted, Dead or Alive.'"

The United States unleashed an onslaught on Afghanistan that toppled the Taliban, but bin Laden slipped away. By most accounts, it's because the United States did not have enough boots on the ground, not enough U.S. soldiers to pin him down and block off escape routes in December 2001.

"In the first two or three days of December, I would write a message back to Washington recommending the insertion of U.S. forces on the ground," Gary Berntsen, the leader of a secret CIA unit pursuing bin Laden at the time, told CNN. "I was looking for 600 to 800 Rangers, roughly a battalion. They never came." (Watch more about bin Laden's escape from Tora Bora -- 2:04)

Bin Laden is believed to be hiding across the border in the rugged regions of Pakistan, but his global campaign of terror continues.

From Morocco to Madrid, Bali to London, suicide bombings and attacks have struck so-called soft targets, killing dozens of innocent civilians. Post-war Iraq appears to have also provided fertile ground for bin Laden recruits.

The latest alleged plot to blow up trans-Atlantic airliners en route from London to the United States is said to bear all the hallmarks of al Qaeda. Those who track these events point out the plot was similar to one that was disrupted back in the 1990s. The bottom line: al Qaeda will keep trying an array of lethal plots.

That is why the movement and the man who inspires it remain so deadly relevant. Many will claim that hidden, bin Laden is not such a commanding figure, his power and aura vastly diminished. Yet that's not what his followers and admirers say. They believe that he leads a war between Islam and the West.

Michael Scheuer, who once headed the CIA's bin Laden unit, says bin Laden has been given permission by a young cleric in Saudi Arabia authorizing al Qaeda to "use nuclear weapons against the United States ... capping the casualties at 10 million."

"He's had an approval, a religious approval for 10 million deaths?" I asked him.

"Yes," Scheuer responded.

Working on the "CNN Presents" documentary, "In the Footsteps of bin Laden," we traced bin Laden's metamorphosis from a shy, well-educated, wealthy young Saudi Arabian boy to the hate-filled man he became. We were struck by his steady and relentless pursuit of his goals.

We were especially struck that by taking all his fatwas, press interviews, video tapes and statements together, they painted the whole picture: A clear and present danger that many of us had missed in real time.

Putting them all together, you can easily see bin Laden was planning and telegraphing all that has happened since.

Today he is hiding, but that does not stop him from still making video and audio tapes after suicide bombings and spectacular terrorist attacks. Today, his method seems to have morphed into a violent political ideology for his supporters. (Listen to more about bin Laden's allure)

More and more Muslims apparently believe the West is at war with them, and that they can fight back by blowing themselves up, along with the innocents. Bin Laden may be a fugitive, but "Bin Ladenism" has put down strong roots.


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Even in hiding, Osama bin Laden inspires his followers.

SPECIAL REPORT

• Slide show: Know your enemy
• Slide show: Bin Laden up close
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