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America Under Attack: Who is Osama bin Laden

Aired September 14, 2001 - 00:04   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
GARRICK UTLEY, CNN ANCHOR: Of course, what's caused it is believed, by an organization led by an individual: Osama bin Laden, by name. Today, Secretary of State Powell put him at the top of the list. In fact, Osama bin Laden is now the most wanted person -- the most wanted man -- in the world, with a more multimillion dollar prize on his head, if you will.

But, who is Osama bin Laden? Where is he right now, and what does he really want?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): The who is the easiest answer. Osama bin Laden is 44, a millionaire, born in Saudi Arabia, whose used his wealth to finance terror, to fulfill his crusade against the United States. The where of bin Laden is mainly Afghanistan, where he builds his terrorists camps. The Taliban regime there, which has sheltered bin Laden, has imposed its version and vision of Islam on Afghanistan. Women can work only in health and education fields, and have few rights. There is a ban on using the Internet, and importing movies, musical instruments and even playing cards.

Western aid workers have been on trial, charged with the crime of preaching Christianity. In March the Taliban blew up a pair of 2,000- year-old statutes of Buddha, despite internal appeals to save the treasures that have no place in the purist Islamic society the Taliban are trying to build.

If bin Laden and Taliban have much in common, bin Laden is more engaged in backing fellow Arabs in their conflict with Israel, which is backed by the United States, and in attacking the leaders of his homeland, Saudi Arabia, who he sees as the materialistic pawns of a militaristic United States, which have stationed its troops there. And so, it is the United States that has become, in Osama bin Laden's eyes, the evil enemy that needs to be cut down in size and power -- literally, brutally cut down.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(on camera): Let's get some more expert insight about Osama bin Laden, and what may be in his future and in our future, from Barney Rubin, who is one of the leading specialists on not only bin Laden, but also Afghanistan and the Taliban movement there. Good morning, thank you for being with us. I think a question, in many people's mind, about Osama bin Laden -- as we're told, we don't know where he is -- we can't get our hands on him. But, is he vulnerable, or is he invulnerable now, after these attacks?

BARNEY RUBIN, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: Well, every human being is vulnerable. But, I think, it's a very difficult problem to deal with, because were not dealing with a centralized organization, with a name and a headquarters. We're dealing with a network of people, of which he facilitates, he empowers, he helps it, but he doesn't control the whole thing. And, he doesn't -- as I say, there's no headquarters. It's like something that doesn't have a center that you can attack very easily.

UTLEY: But, we do know that he's been based in Afghanistan. He's had training camps there. We do know he's being sheltered -- has been protected, in a way, by the Taliban movement, which runs most of Afghanistan right now.

President Bush has said we're not going to distinguish between a government that shelters a terrorist, from the terrorist himself. So, what's this relationship between bin Laden and the Taliban leaders of Afghanistan?

RUBIN: Well, bin Laden's history in Afghanistan goes back a long way, and we have to remember that we, the United States, had a role in it. He came to Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion, and played a role as part of the operation that we ran and directed, in fighting against the Soviet Union.

He returned there after he was expelled from Sudan in 1996, and only after being there for some time linked up again with the Taliban. In the past year -- couple of years, as the Taliban became more and more isolated, they came to depend more and more on him and his many Arab followers in the country.

UTLEY: But, the Taliban, their leaders and bin Laden, do they have common interests, or is there some kind of tension, or could some kind of tension or space between them develop or be exploited by the United States?

RUBIN: Well, there is tension between them right now, because the Taliban did not originate to carry out bin Laden's goal of a worldwide right against the United States. They originated to impose their agenda on Afghanistan, to rebuild it in their very puritanical repressive way. And, the question for them is, are they now going to continue their alliance with this individual, who has made it more difficult for them to get the kind of international assistance they might seek, or are they going to pursue their national goals.

UTLEY: What do you think?

RUBIN: Well, I think they haven't decided. And, the problem for the United States, and the rest of the world, that is horrified by these events, is to try to force them to make that choice and enable them to make that choice, to reject him. UTLEY: But, you study the Taliban -- you're an expert on the Taliban.

RUBIN: Yes.

UTLEY: Can that be done?

RUBIN: I very much doubt it. The top leadership of the Taliban is now very close to Osama, however within the broad framework of the Taliban movement there are many people who wish he would disappear.

UTLEY: Now, terrorism over the years, we know, been used in which to use some goal: Get land, power, political recognition. But, that's not the case here. He's not asking the United States for anything. There's no negotiating position -- there's no issue like that.

This is unusual, isn't it, and doesn't it really strengthen his position?

RUBIN: Well, most of these movements are real political movements, based on a particular society, instead of political goals. In his case it's much more of an etiological, even apocalyptic movement for a cause, and his followers are drawn from all nations, as well. That's really the difference between him and the Taliban. The Taliban are extremist movements, but they're an Afghan movement, with of kind of national extremist agenda.

UTLEY: So, we know it's hard to get at them. If somebody were able one day to remove him, would that solve the problem, or would this movement continue without bin Laden? Is his indispensable?

RUBIN: He might be important but, of course, he's not indispensable. We focus too much on him as an individual. Even in Afghanistan there are other leaders of Arab extremist groups, who are there with him, who may be almost as important as he is, though they are not as well known. It's a network. A network is something that operates through linkages, not through dictation from above.

UTLEY: This evening, or early this Friday morning, here in New York City, if you were to put your money, and even your reputation, on the line, how do you see this playing out? Will someone get to Osama bin Laden and remove him?

RUBIN: Well, eventually, of course, that will happen. I don't see him dying peacefully in his bed. But, I don't think that's going to happen very easily in the near future, unless there is a real struggle within the Taliban movement, and within the Pakistani Military that has been supporting the Taliban, and someone makes a decision to do that.

UTLEY: Barney Rubin, thanks very much for lending us your expertise this morning, here in New York.

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