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America Under Attack: The Man Behind The Attack

Aired September 14, 2001 - 06:45   ET


JONATHAN MANN, CNN ANCHOR: The search for suspects in connection with the attack against New York and Washington is worldwide but the list of suspects is now pointing sharply at just one man, Osama bin Laden.

CNN National Correspondent Mike Boettcher looks now at the man behind the headlines, and the reasons behind the suspicions.


MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Swirling amid the clouds of smoke billowing from these symbols of power, the terrible question. Who could be behind such a devastating act of terrorism?

Though the evidence is still being examined one name tops the list of suspects. It's a name that's been on the FBI's 10 most wanted list since 1999, Osama bin Laden. The 44-year-old bin Laden through a spokesman denies any involvement. But U.S. intelligence agencies say his fingerprints are unmistakable.

In Western Intelligence circles bin Laden has been well-know for years for this document, call for Jihad, or holy war. bin Laden discussed that call to arms in his first ever television interview with CNN in 1997.

OSAMA bin Laden, TERRORIST (through translator): We declared a Jihad, a holy war against the United States Government because it is unjust, criminal and tyrannical.

ABDEL BARI ATWAN, AL-QUDS AL-ARABI NEWSPAPER: Either the man is ruthless. And you know he believes that he should declare war against the United States. And this kind of appeal, this kind of call actually appeal to many young Muslims all over the world.

BOETTCHER: But Osama bin Laden doesn't come from the a family of extremists. He was born the son a billionaire Saudi business man, the 17th of 52 children some of whom live in the United States. He father built the largest construction business in Saudi Arabia.

Osama joined the family operation at a young age developing an expertise in demolition. But in 1979 the religious 23-year-old left his comfortable life and took a radical turn. That year, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. And bin Laden joined the Afghan opposition offering money, equipment and no how. By 1986 bin Laden was running training camps and leading his own troops into battle.

When the war ended, bin Laden founded Al Quaeda, a multi national terrorist network. It's members use the most up-to-date technology, satellite phone, e-mail, fax to coordinate their activities from all over the world. It drew thousands of volunteers.

DR. SAAD AL-FAGIH, SAUDI DISSIDENT: They are either direct followers taking command, direct command and order from bin Laden. Or they are some cells and groups who believe bin Laden is a godfather. His message is almost like a religious order.

BOETTCHER: When the Gulf War broke out in 1990, an outraged bin Laden began to target a new enemy, America. He declared a holy war against his new enemy and a set of demands that holds to this day.

bin Laden wants US troops out of Saudi Arabia. He opposes U.S. bombing campaigns in Iraq. He is against U.S. support of Israel. And he objects to U.S. backing of Arab nations he deems un-Islamic, such as Egypt.

BIN LADEN (through translator): The U.S. government has committed acts that are extremely unjust, hideous, and criminal through its support of the Israeli occupation of Palestine. And we believe the U.S. is directly responsible for those killed in Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq.

BOETTCHER: In the next decade Osama bin Laden and his Al Quaeda organization would be implicated in a series of attacks on Americans at home and abroad. In 1992 the first American victims, 18 service men killed in Somalia, a Muslim nation embroiled in famine and civil war. bin Laden admitted his involvement to CNN.

BIN LADEN (through translator): With Allah's grace Muslims in Somalia cooperated with some Arab holy warriors who were in Afghanistan. Together they killed large numbers of American occupation troops.

1993, a bomb at the world trade center. Six people killed and thousands injured. bin Laden denies any involvement. But he was named one of many unindicted co-conspirators. 1995, 1996 bin Laden possibly linked to two bombings in Saudi Arabia. Twenty-four U.S. troops dead.

1998, bombs at two U.S. embassies in Africa kill 224 people. bin Laden has been indicted as the master mind behind the attack. 2000, the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole kills 17 U.S. sailors. Osama bin Laden is the principal focus of the investigation

2001,bin Laden is now suspect number one in the worst terrorism act in modern history. A series of attacks that came without warning.

But there may have been a hint from this video tape which was circulating throughout the middle east and on the Internet this summer. It shows bin Laden training young militants, some how seem as young as 11 for his holy war. bin Laden makes an impassioned plead for recruits in the two hour tape. It also indicates that bin Laden is planning additional anti American operations.

For the last several years, bin Laden is believed to be in hiding in the remote mountains in Afghanistan where he is beyond the reach of U.S. law enforcement. The country is dominated by the Taliban, a movement of religious students turned warriors who have imposed their harsh interpretation of Islam. The Taliban have declared that bin Laden is their guest providing he does not attack other nations. In 1997, bin Laden tried to explain the logic behind his tactics.

BIN LADEN (through translator): The U.S. today has set a double standard, calling whoever goes against its injustice a terrorist. It wants to occupy our countries, steel our resources, impose agents on us to rule us and then wants us to agree to all of this. If we refuse to do so it says we are terrorists.

BOETCHER: And he made clear, he had no idea of changing his ways or his future plans.

BIN LADEN (through translator): You'll see them and hear about them in the media, God willing.


MANN: If the west acts against Osama bin Laden, one way or another Arab nations, Muslim nations will have to respond.

For perspective on that we're joined now by the editor of the Arabic language newspaper "Al Quds," Abdel Bari Atwan. He joins us now from our London studios.

Let me ask you first of all since you and your newspaper heard rumors of these attacks some weeks before they were carried out what if anything you're hearing now?

ABDEL BARI ATWAN, AL QUDS: What we are hearing actually the Arab people start to question, you know, the wisdom of the American foreign policies. And they believe the American actually are paying a heavy price for their unjust foreign policies. And they would like -- if -- they would like a new page of cooperation between Arabs and the United States based on justice, based on more understanding, based on implementation of U.N. security counsel resolutions. And you know stop the sanctions against Arab and treat everybody in the world and fairly basis as equal. And they want also...

MANN: Let me jump in ask you, this -- the things that you've mentioned are demands, they are requests, they are complaints that have been made of U.S. international policy before Tuesday. But Tuesday everything changed.

What does the Arab world expect? What does the Arab world want to see the U.S. response to what happened Tuesday?

ATWAN: Now the United States is working very hard to establish a coalition, exactly the same one like what it has established during the Gulf War. Now they are asking Arab and Muslim countries to join this collation. That spans Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, maybe other Arabs. It seems that there is a military preparation or a preparation for a military action against Afghanistan.

So -- but the problem is you know how these Arab governments will convince its people that they are going to fight fellow other Muslims, a Muslim country. So -- and what price. Are they -- you know the American will listen this time to the Arab demand to solve the Arab- Israeli conflict, to treat them in better way, to stop humiliating of the Arab people and the Arab governments. To listen to their friends in the Middle East. To seek their advice. This is what we are hearing in the Arab world.

They say OK military preparation, they want the Arab and Muslims to participate this time, it is different from Kuwait. We were promised by the Americans -- by President Bush the senior at that time, that he will have a peace conference and there wouldn't be any war in the Middle East.

Now we are witnessing a way in the Middle East. Now we are back to square one. No peace, no peace process, and no American involvement, and...

MANN: Let me point out another way, that it is different from Kuwait. You rightly point out that this is not Kuwait. Kuwait was one nation. We heard the U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell say that the military action would not be limited to one place. That the United States and its allies would go against terrorists wherever they are, wherever they threaten Western citizens.

What's going to happen is the U.S. and its allies really do that?

ATWAN: Well actually I don't know. I heard some American military expert or ex military personnel, the high ranking personnel, actually were talking about attacking Iraq, attacking Afghanistan, attacking Iran. So I don't know what's the wise -- what's the wisdom behind this.

Is the American going to launch a war against the whole over a great chunk of middle east? And who will support them there? And what purposes? You know until now we don't have a complete evidence that Osama bin Laden or a certain Islamic group behind this attack, not even so. You can't go and destroy other Arab countries.

You have to understand the resentment in the Arab world against the American foreign policies because of these kind of you know irrational attacks. You know the sanctions against Iraq, the bombarding of Iraq encourage those radicals, encourage those extremists to target the United States as a number one enemy as a target of terrorism. So I believe you know any further attacks it will make the situation worse. I think the Americans should be more rational and more patient.

MANN: On that note, Abdel Bari Atwan of "Al Quds." We thank you so much for talking to us.



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