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CNN PEOPLE IN THE NEWS

Profiles of John Walker Lindh, Osama bin Laden

Aired July 20, 2002 - 11:00   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.
ANNOUNCER: Next on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS: Captured on the side of the Taliban, an enemy of his own country.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: We may never know why he turned his back on our country and our values.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: A far cry from the studious kid, who seemed like most others in this suburban neighborhood.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDREW CLEVERDON, CHILDHOOD FRIEND: He lived in that white house right. We used to play catch out in the front yard.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: His liberal parents encouraged their son to find his own path. He found his path, one that led him to a place few could have predicted.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRANK LINDH, FATHER: I don't like where he ended up. I don't like the fact that he was with the Taliban.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Now, after a surprise guilty plea, a look at the controversial journey of John Walker Lindh.

Then: He is the world's most notorious terrorist.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We declared a jihad, a holy war, against the United States government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: The son of a Saudi multimillionaire, who turned his money and power into a holy war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He studied public administration, economics, participated a little bit in the family business from a young age.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: What transformed this wealthy businessman into a mastermind of terror?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He is justifying these actions in very explicit Koranic, Islamic terms.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Now with reports of his survival, a look at what's behind Osama bin Laden's campaign of terrorism.

Their stories now, on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

PAULA ZAHN, HOST: Welcome to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. I'm Paula Zahn.

It was about the last thing anybody expected in the case of John Walker Lindh, a plea agreement. But on Monday, Lindh stood before the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, and said he was guilty of aiding the Taliban. It has been a bizarre journey for Lindh, from the California suburbs to the deserts of Afghanistan, from a fan of hip- hop to Muslim extremist.

The story of John Walker Lindh on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. Here is Kyra Phillips.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NAOMI WALKER, SISTER: All I can say is that I love my brother very much. I just want him to come home, but I know it's not going to happen.

CONNELL WALKER, BROTHER: It pains me that he is going to be away for so long, but I'm grateful still for this decision.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): It's a decision in a case that has stirred emotions and controversy. In a surprise agreement, John Walker Lindh, the American captured in Afghanistan, pled guilty to two charges of helping the Taliban. The deal sends walker Lindh to prison, but spares him a life sentence.

PAUL MCNULTY, U.S. ATTORNEY: This plea agreement represents an opportunity for the government to get a very tough sentence, to get cooperation, and to conserve precious resources for the future challenges we face in the war against terrorism. PHILLIPS: John Walker Lindh first caught the world's attention after a bloody showdown outside Mazar-e-Sharif on November 25. There, inside a 19th century fortress, hundreds of Taliban soldiers taken captive by Northern Alliance fighters staged a violent uprising. Six days later, bodies littered the ground around the prison compound. Only 86 Taliban prisoners survived.

One of the captives who emerged from the fortress ruins gave his name as Abdul Hamid, but his real name was John Walker Lindh.

ROBERT PELTON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You're an American citizen, right?

JOHN WALKER: Yes.

PELTON: Well, right now you are a prisoner.

JOHN WALKER: All right.

PHILLIPS: When held captive in Afghanistan, Walker Lindh spoke with accented English, yet he was born and raised in the United States.

WALKER LINDH: I haven't spoken English with native speakers in seven months. I have been speaking Arabic, so I have been living -- I've been living overseas for about two years or so.

PHILLIPS: The grimy image flashed around the world filled many Americans with revulsion, even hate. Twenty-year-old John Walker Lindh, a U.S. citizen, told reporters he supported the September 11 attacks and the Taliban.

WALKER LINDH: I started to read some of the literature of the scholars and the history of the movement, and I just thought -- my heart became attached to them. And I wanted to help them one way or another.

PHILLIPS: Just hours before the uprising began, John Walker Lindh had come face to face with another U.S. citizen.

Johnny Mike Spann was a CIA agent, who interrogated him after his capture inside the prison compound, but Walker Lindh refused to cooperate.

Shortly after the interrogation, Taliban prisoners with hidden grenades rushed the Northern Alliance guards.

WALKER LINDH: They started fighting with -- starting with grenades, then one of them grabbed a Kalashnikov from one of the Dostum army forces, and so the fighting began.

PHILLIPS: Spann was killed in the revolt. Walker Lindh was wounded, but he managed to weather six days of ferocious fighting before being flooded out of an underground bunker and surrendering.

WALKER LINDH: When they poured the water in the basement, I think the vast majority of us were drowned. So that morning -- and we were standing in the water, freezing water, in the basement for maybe 20 hours.

PHILLIPS: The image of a Taliban-American in custody not only roused emotions in the U.S., it was also emotional for John Walker Lindh's parents. They hadn't heard from their son in nearly seven months.

LINDH: We saw actual footage of John speaking into the camera and talking from this hospital situation in Afghanistan, and it was very, very upsetting for us to see.

PHILLIPS: For John Walker Lindh, the journey to Afghanistan, and the Taliban's rigid and austere life, was a long way from his permissive and privileged upbringing.

He was born in 1981, named after John Lennon. The Beatle had died just a few months before. John Walker Lindh grew up the middle of three children in a comfortable suburb of Silver Springs, Maryland. His Irish Catholic father, Frank Lindh, worked as a lawyer for the Department of Justice. His mother, Marilyn Walker, was a home health care aide.

The family went to mass at nearby St. Bernadette's Catholic Church. Neighbors say John was no different from kids his age.

CLEVERDON: I remember playing, you know, some indoor games. I do remember being outside with him, whether we were playing football or probably played basketball a little bit, soccer, you know, just playing catch, stuff like that.

PHILLIPS: When he was 10, John's family moved to Marin County, California, an open-minded community north of San Francisco, always out front of the latest trends.

He went to an alternative high school, where students can shape their own studies. They check in with each teacher only one hour a week.

MARCIE MILLER, PRINCIPAL, TAMISCAL HIGH SCHOOL: It's generally for students who are highly motivated to learn, and can do much of the school work on their own.

PHILLIPS: As a teenager, John Walker Lindh immersed himself in rap music, listening to artists like L.L. Cool J. He would often visit hip-hop Web sites, once even posing in an e-mail as an African- American.

Identifying with other ethnic groups and cultures would become an important characteristic of John Walker Lindh.

SHELBY STEELE, HOOVER INSTITUTION: The way to be hip, the way to be cool, is to take on a little theme of anti-Americanism, to identify with things from other cultures, to identify with black alienation.

PHILLIPS: When the story of John Walker Lindh continues, how a young hip-hop fan ended up with the Taliban.

BILL JONES, FAMILY FRIEND: He didn't seem fanatical. I mean, he was -- he was on a spiritual quest. You know, it wasn't like he was a wild-eyed thing. He was a student, he was a scholar.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: And later, on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS: Osama bin Laden, as yet another report surfaces claiming that he's alive. A look at the man behind the terror.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is somebody who came -- comes from one of the most well-connected families in Saudi Arabia, one of the richest.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: From wealthy businessman to the world's most wanted, the radical evolution of Osama bin Laden when PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: We now return to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WALKER LINDH: And I came into contact with many people who were connected with the Taliban.

PHILLIPS (voice-over): Three years before John Walker Lindh was found with Taliban troops in Afghanistan, he lived here, Fairfax, California, known as an affluent and ultraliberal community north of San Francisco, a city laced with coffeehouses and theaters, a city filled with people who believe in free expression and independent thinking. John Walker Lindh's family seemed to fit right in.

JONES: Marilyn, the mother, although she was raised a Catholic, she opened up his world to Buddhism and the American Indian religions.

PHILLIPS: John Walker Lindh was exposed to a variety of religions. When he was 16, he chose his own spiritual path. Walker Lindh's father says the turning point may have come when his son read "The autobiography of Malcolm X."

LINDH: And he was very, very impressed with Malcolm X's character and with his -- Malcolm X's own conversion to Islam near the end of his life.

PHILLIPS: Walker Lindh transformed his passion from hip-hop music to the religion of Islam. He sold his rap collection, dropped out of high school, began to wear traditional Islamic clothes, even changed his name.

LINDH: He adopted the Muslim name Suleiman, which we would call Solomon, but Suleiman the Magnificent I used to call him.

PHILLIPS: With the support of his parents, John Walker Lindh converted to Islam and began attending this mosque in San Francisco.

ABDULLAH NANA, FRIEND: And actually one of the -- it is actually a unique story of how he came to Islam, because most people, they have some intermediary, they have a Muslim who they spoke to and they were convinced about Islam. But actually, you know, he studied totally on his own.

PHILLIPS: Abdullah Nana often prayed with John Walker Lindh. He says Walker Lindh's religious ambitions exceeded the most devoted member of the mosque.

NANA: And he had mentioned to me his goal was actually to memorize the Holy Koran.

PHILLIPS: It was Walker Lindh's yearning to learn Arabic and to study the Koran that compelled the 17-year-old to leave the United States and the comforts of home.

NANA: He had actually gone on the Internet, and he was basically looking for Islamic schools. Eventually, he'd come to his own -- on his own, he decided that he was going to go to Yemen.

JOSHUA MORTENSEN, CLASSMATE: When he arrived, he arrived in that sort of caricatured outfit that seems to be popular with some Muslim converts -- you know, the robe and the beard, the sandals. And he was -- he was very interested in a very doctrinaire sort of particular kind of Islam that these life-long Muslim students that I was studying with weren't exactly comfortable with, you know, dealing with from this -- from -- you know, who -- a person they saw as kind of a beginner to their faith.

PHILLIPS: Although Walker Lindh's parents were separating and money was tight, they supported their son's decision to go to Yemen. They paid for the teenager's trip to the country.

LINDH: He was very devoted to it, devoted to the intellectual study and the study of Arabic. I thought that was a noble thing, and I was proud of John for pursuing that alternative course.

PHILLIPS: The first sign that John Walker Lindh's Islamic interests were more than intellectual or spiritual came in October, 2000, following the terrorist attack of the USS Cole in Yemen. He sent an e-mail to his father.

LINDH: His response was that the U.S. military shouldn't be in Yemen. I felt that he was a little too strong in his opinion that way, but I know -- it remained me, frankly, of a lot of conversations I used to have with my own father during the Vietnam War, where I had an opinion and he had an opinion.

PHILLIPS: But the difference in opinion didn't stop Walker Lindh's father from supporting his son emotionally and financially. In late 1999, Walker Lindh left Yemen, came home to California briefly, and joined a more radical Islamic group. After one more visit to Yemen, John Walker Lindh traveled to Bonu (ph), a village in Pakistan's northwest, an area known to support Osama bin Laden. Walker Lindh attended this Islamic school, or madrasa, a stark, one- story building with no hot water and no electricity after 10:00 p.m.

The strict fundamentalist schools specialize in teaching the Koran. They also provide thousands of soldiers for the Taliban.

Walker Lindh's family continued to send money to him after he entered the madrasa, but eventually lost touch with their son.

LINDH: My last contact with John was by e-mail back in -- you know, in April and very -- first part of May. And we have no information and no contact whatsoever with John from that day until now.

JONES: And I think the schools there are very fundamentalist, and he was a very young impressionable -- impressionistic young man, and he just got swept up.

PHILLIPS: When PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues, John Walker Lindh struggles to fit in and almost loses his life along the way.

LINDH: When I think that my boy, 20-year-old boy, was in the midst of this carnage for that period of time, my heart breaks.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS (voice-over): American John Walker Lindh spent the first half of 2001 studying Islam at a Pakistani madrasa like this one. The schools taught religion, and often served as breeding grounds for the al Qaeda training camps of Osama bin Laden.

In May, Walker Lindh sent an e-mail to his parents back in northern California. He told them that he planned to head to a cooler climate. Summer was approaching, and the heat would surely be too much. And he asked for money, $1,200.

LINDH: He had told us he was going to go up into the mountains of Pakistan, and with my blessing, he did leave.

PHILLIPS: September 11, terrorist attacks on the United States focused new attention on Osama bin Laden and on Central Asia. Pakistan offered its support to the United States in America's attack on the Taliban, believed to be sheltering bin Laden in neighboring Afghanistan.

Anti-American sentiment ran high in Pakistan, and John Walker Lindh's family worried about their son, who they believed to be in the country.

JONES: They hadn't seen or heard from him in seven months, and they were desperate. They were afraid that he was hurt somewhere or maybe in the hospital.

PHILLIPS: But Walker Lindh wasn't in a hospital, or even Pakistan. The man who had taken the Muslim name, Suleiman, and then Abdul Hamid, was in Afghanistan, fighting for the Taliban.

JONES: I don't understand it myself, this young man being so involved in this religion. He certainly wasn't attracted by what we know about the Taliban. How he could sucked into this, we cannot understand.

PHILLIPS: On November 25, 49 days into the war on terror in Afghanistan, captured Taliban prisoners staged a riot at a prison camp just outside Mazar-e-Sharif. There in the basement of the Afghan prison, wounded, weary and barely alive, 20-year-old American, John Walker Lindh.

DONNA KELLEY, CNN ANCHOR: And there's a startling story that's emerging. U.S. officials tell CNN that a man we are going to show you who fought alongside Taliban forces is an American.

PHILLIPS: Exactly how Walker Lindh wound up with forces fighting his country remains sketchy, although he tried to explain.

WALKER LINDH: I came into contact with many people who were connected with the Taliban. I lived in the region in northwest Frontier Province. The people there in general have a great love for the Taliban.

ROBERT PELTON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Was your goal to be shahib, a martyr?

WALKER LINDH: It's the goal of every Muslim.

LINDH: He's really not much more than a boy that he went through this horrible experience in the prison, and who knows what leading up to that. As parents and as family, we're very troubled and very concerned for his welfare.

PHILLIPS: Debate over how to charge John Walker Lindh heated up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has supported the Taliban. They are supporting the terrorists...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the fact that he had a gun doesn't satisfy the requirement....

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: He's being given all his rights, which are far more than the rights of the Taliban or the al Qaeda, extended to anybody living there.

PHILLIPS: The case of John Walker Lindh launched a list of questions. Did he commit a crime? If so, which one? Should he be prosecuted in a military or federal court? If he provides the U.S. credible information, could that, in turn, be used against him in a court of law? And should he be charged with treason, which could carry the death penalty?

ASHCROFT: Today, I am announcing of the filing of criminal charges against John Walker Lindh.

PHILLIPS: Six weeks after being found with Taliban soldiers, Walker Lindh was charged with four criminal counts: conspiracy to kill Americans outside the U.S., two counts of providing material support to terrorist groups, and engaging in prohibited transactions with the Taliban.

According to the criminal complaint, Walker Lindh met with Osama bin Laden several times during his al Qaeda training.

ASHCROFT: On one of these occasions, Walker met personally with bin Laden, who quote, according to Walker, "thanked him for taking part in jihad."

PHILLIPS: The complaint also states that as early as June, Walker Lindh knew bin Laden had sent people to the United States to carry out suicide missions.

Walker Lindh was arrested and transferred into U.S. custody in January. In court, he took on a different appearance, gone were the long hair and beard he wore in Afghanistan. Walker Lindh pleaded not guilty to charges, including conspiracy to murder U.S. citizens. He faced a trial in August and the possibility of life in prison.

MCNULTY: In the case of the United States vs. John Walker Lindh, the defendant has agreed to plead guilty.

PHILLIPS: Then, a surprise turn of events. Just weeks before he was to appear in court to take on criminal charges, Walker Lindh changed his plea. In a secret deal approved by President Bush, Walker Lindh pleaded guilty to just two charges: aiding the Taliban and carrying explosives. All terrorism charges against Walker Lindh were dropped.

JAMES BROSNAHAN, WALKER LINDH ATTORNEY: At the point where it became clear that the government would be willing to dismiss all terrorist charges, and the charge that John conspired to kill Americans, it became something that we had to pay serious attention to, and we did.

PHILLIPS: But the prosecution claims the deal is still a harsh stance against terrorism.

MCNULTY: This is a tough sentence. This plea agreement is an important victory for the American people in the battle against terrorism.

HERMAN SCHWARTZ, PROF. OF LAW, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY: Well, of course, the prosecutors are going to put the best face on a tremendous victory for terror. This young man said nothing about terrorism. He simply said, I carried a rifle for the Taliban.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: But his involvement in an organization that is dedicated to hurting America deserves punishment, and he got it.

PHILLIPS: Instead of a possible life sentence, John Walker Lindh now faces 20 years.

SCHWARTZ: I think this was a very good deal for John Walker Lindh. He avoided life sentences, he avoided being tainted with terrorism, and he will be out, with luck, at the age of 37, and at the most, at the age of 40.

PHILLIPS: But for John Walker Lindh's family, it's a sentence that's hard to bear.

N. WALKER: He's been so strong, and we have to be strong for him, and I just love him very much.

C. WALKER: I have always been proud of him. I'm still proud of him.

LINDH: Never once did John ever say anything against the United States, never once, not one word. John loves America, and we love America. God bless America. Thank you.

CHARLES BAHN, FORENSIC PSYCHOLOIST: In a storybook world, in a movie world, the good guys wear the white hats, the bad guys wear the black hats. It's not so simple in the real world.

WALKER LINDH: I haven't eaten in about -- more than a week.

PHILLIPS: It's certainly not a simple situation for John Walker Lindh's family, which wrestles with the question: What happened?

LINDH: At no point, did I expect anything like what we now have. I don't like where he ended up. I don't like the fact that he was with the Taliban. I am not a Taliban person, and I want to have a good talking with my son to find out what was going on.

PHILLIPS: A shocked father maybe, but son, John Walker Lindh, indicated there were no surprises for him.

PELTON: Was this what you thought it would be? Was this the right cause or the right place?

WALKER LINDH: It's exactly what I thought it would be.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Coming up on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was March. It was pretty cold. Suddenly bin Laden appears out of the darkness. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Elusive and lethal, the story of Osama bin Laden when PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. Is Osama bin Laden alive or dead? Well, there are some new reports that suggest the terrorist mastermind is still alive. According to an Arab language magazine in London, bin Laden is in good health after being wounded in a December attack. But FBI terror chief Dale Watson says it's his personal belief that bin Laden is dead. Dead or alive, what turned this wealthy Saudi businessman into a radical terrorist bent on destroying the U.S.? Here is Mike Boettcher.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It came without warning.

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?

Within hours of the attack, one name tops the list of suspects. A name that's been on the FBI's most wanted list for years: Osama bin Laden.

The world heard from him less than a month later.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OSAMA BIN LADEN (through translator): There is America hit by God in one of its softest spots. Its greatest buildings were destroyed. Thank God for that. There is America, full of fear from its north to its south, from its west to its east. Thank God for that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOETTCHER: It would be the first of several chilling video appearances bin Laden made after the attack.

But one he never intended to release was especially damning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIN LADEN (through translator): We calculated in advance the number of casualties from the enemy who would be killed based on the position of the tower.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOETTCHER: It was stark evidence of bin Laden's role in the September 11 attacks, and his glee at the death of Americans. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIN LADEN (through translator): They were overjoyed when the first plane hit the building, so I said to them, "be patient."

BOETTCHER: In Western intelligence circles, bin Laden has been well known for years for this document, "A Call for Jihad," or holy war, against the thousands of U.S. soldiers now stationed in Saudi Arabia.

That call to jihad came after two bombings of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, the first in Riyadh in 1995, seven dead, the second in Dhahran in 1996, 19 dead, hundreds injured.

Bin Laden discussed that call to arms in his first-ever television interview with CNN in 1997.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 1997)

BIN LADEN (through translator): We declared a jihad, a holy war, against the United States government because it is unjust, criminal, and tyrannical.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOETTCHER: Bin Laden wants U.S. 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 has been indicted as the mastermind behind the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa that killed 224 people in 1998. He is a prime suspect in the bombing of the USS Cole in October of 2000. That blast killed 17 U.S. sailors.

And the U.S. State Department has linked him to the first attack on the World Trade Center in February of 1993. Six people were killed and thousands injured.

ABDEL-BARI ATWAN, EDITOR, "AL-QUDS AL-ARABI" NEWSPAPER: 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 pull, actually appealed to many young Muslims all over the world.

BOETTCHER: A videotape circulating around the Middle East and on the Internet surfaced last summer. It shows bin Laden training young militants, some who seem as young as 11, for his holy war.

Bin Laden makes an impassioned plea for recruits in the two-hour tape. The videotape also hinted that bin Laden was planning additional anti-American operations.

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORIST ANALYST: One thing that bin Laden does before a big attack happens is that he subtly indicates several months before, or a couple of months before, that something's in the works. BOETTCHER: The man code-named "The Contractor" has used his enormous wealth to advance those militant plans. He was born the son of a multimillionaire Saudi construction magnate. The family construction business is the largest in Saudi Arabia.

RICHARD BULLIET, MIDDLE EAST INSTITUTE, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: The people who now speak for his family has disowned him and I think are heartbroken at the discredit that it has brought, unjustifiably, upon the name of the family as a whole.

BOETTCHER: Osama bin Laden is the 17th of 52 children, some of whom have lived in the United States. His father died in a helicopter accident when he was 10. His first marriage was to a Syrian cousin at the age of 17.

BERGEN: His education took place at (UNINTELLIGIBLE) university in Saudi Arabia, where he studied public administration, economics. He'd also already participated a little bit in the family business. So from a young age, he was involved in the family business. This is not an unsophisticated guy, this is somebody who came -- comes from one of the most well-connected families in Saudi Arabia, one of the richest.

BOETTCHER: There is debate over how much of that wealth he inherited. Some reports put the figure as high as $300 million. Others dispute that.

He would later draw on the resources of his family business after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979, when his life would take a radical turn.

Ahead on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, a rare glimpse inside the camp and the mind of Osama bin Laden.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOETTCHER: Amidst these remote mountains of Afghanistan were the various hiding places of one of the world's most-wanted men, Osama bin Laden.

Bin Laden had been in Afghanistan on and off since the 1980s, when he joined the Afghan resistance in its war against the Soviet Union. At 23 years of age and deeply religious, Osama bin Laden left his comfortable life in Saudi Arabia to fight alongside thousands of volunteers from the Islamic world.

He used his family wealth, construction equipment and demolition expertise to help in the crusade. And he would later become a leader of the so-called Afghan Arabs.

KHALED AL-FAUWAZ, SAUDI DISSIDENT: Because of that, a lot of people wanted to participate in jihad, and they thought that Osama is an important figure. But he was not only willing to put his money, but he's actually down there himself and fought himself and get hurt.

BOETTCHER: The Afghan war changed bin Laden. He saw a lightly armed guerrilla force defeat a superpower.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIN LADEN (through translator): In this jihad, the biggest benefit was the myth of the superpower was destroyed, not only in my mind but also in the minds of all Muslims.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOETTCHER: The Afghan war also radicalized those who fought there.

GRAHAM FULLER, FORMER CIA SENIOR ANALYST: These Saudis who went and fought became convinced that you simply didn't have to accept regimes as they were, that, as a Muslim, you could take action against a government -- a ruling government.

BOETTCHER: For the U.S., there is a sad irony to bin Laden's current holy war. American tax dollars once helped support people aligned with bin Laden. During the 1980s, via the CIA, the United States poured $3 billion into the Afghan resistance that was fighting to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan.

AMB. PHILIP WILCOX, FORMER COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: It is true that some remnants of those Afghan fighters, including bin Laden, have used their military knowledge and their skills to branch out into international terrorism.

BOETTCHER: Indeed, many of the Afghan freedom fighters are among the thousands of committed followers bin Laden has today throughout the Middle East.

After the Afghan war, bin Laden became disillusioned with the Saudi regime, deeming it insufficiently Islamic. He moved to the Sudan. Five years later, under U.S. and Saudi pressure, bin Laden was expelled from the Sudan. Bin Laden took refuge in Afghanistan, perhaps the only country in the world that would accept him.

It was here in 1997 that then-CNN producer Peter Bergen caught up with him.

BERGEN: And we went to Afghanistan, to the town called -- tiny town of Jalalabad, which is in eastern Afghanistan, waited around for quite some time. Finally, bin Laden's media adviser came and talked to us. He said, "You can only bring your -- the clothes you're wearing. Don't bring any watches, don't bring anything that might secrete some sort of tracking device."

We took a van, a curtained van, along a road along a river. It was by now getting to be dusk. We were given kind of sunglasses which blind -- you know, basically -- they weren't blindfolds, but you couldn't see through these things. We finally got to this hut about 5,000, 6,000 feet up in the Afghan mountains. It was March, so it was pretty cold.

Suddenly bin Laden appears out of the darkness. BOETTCHER: In our 1997 interview, bin Laden expressed why he so hates America.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

Due to its subordination to the Jews, the arrogance of the United States regime has reached the point that they occupied Arabia, the holiest place of the Muslims. For this, and other acts of aggression and injustice, we have declared jihad against the U.S.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FULLER: When this guy delivers his statements attacking the U.S. presence or his call for jihad, he is justifying these actions in very explicit Koranic, Islamic terms, with a law -- it's like a careful legal brief that he's drawn up here.

BOETTCHER: And bin Laden and his followers have backed up his call for jihad time and again.

Somalia, 1992; 28,000 U.S. troops are dispatched on a humanitarian mission to a Muslim nation embroiled in famine and civil war. U.S. soldiers are caught in the crossfire. Eighteen are killed.

In his first admission to a U.S. news organization, bin Laden says Arabs who fought in Afghanistan, men who look to him as a leader, killed those U.S. troops.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIN LADEN (through translator): Resistance started against the American invasion because Muslims did not believe the U.S. allegations that they came to save the Somalis. 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILCOX: He's brazenly said that his people were responsible for that. So we take him at his word.

BOETTCHER: The U.S. government also points to bin Laden's circumstantial ties to the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993.

Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of that attack, afterward fled to Pakistan, where he lived in a guest house for Islamic radicals funded by bin Laden. Bin Laden denies this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIN LADEN (through translator): I don't know Ramzi Yousef. What the American government and Pakistani intelligence has been reporting isn't true at all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOETTCHER: The man considered the spiritual leader of Ramzi Yousef and the 1993 World Trade Center bombers, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, also has ties to bin Laden.

The State Department says that bin Laden financed a training camp in Afghanistan for two Egyptian terrorist groups that look to Sheik Rahman as their spiritual leader.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIN LADEN (through translator): Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman is a Muslim scholar well known all over the Muslim world. He represents the kind of injustice that is adopted by the U.S. A baseless case was fabricated against him even though he is a blind old man.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOETTCHER: In 1998, Rahman's sons joined forces with bin Laden, showing up at a rare press conference in Afghanistan. It was then that bin Laden dropped hints of another strike at U.S. interests overseas.

BERGEN: He talked about "good news" in coming weeks.

BOETTCHER: When PEOPLE IN THE NEWS continues, the terrifying realization of exactly what that good news was.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOETTCHER: On August 7, 1998, at about 10:30 a.m., a car bomb exploded outside the U.S. embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. Nine minutes later and hundreds of miles to the south, another explosion outside another American embassy, this one in the Tanzanian capital of Dar-es- Salaam. More than 200 people were killed in the two-pronged attack.

BERGEN: On the embassy bombings, you've got the best law enforcement case indicating bin Laden's involvement. You have a plea bargain of one the senior members of the organization, basically saying, he sent me to Kenya in 1993 to go and photograph the embassy there, and then when I showed him the photographs, he said, that's where we can put the truck bomb. Case closed.

BOETTCHER: Thirteen days after the bombing, U.S. cruise missiles rained on bin Laden targets in Afghanistan and Sudan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AUGUST 20, 1998)

BILL CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today I ordered our armed forces to strike at terrorist-related facilities in Afghanistan and Sudan.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BOETTCHER: But bin Laden emerged unharmed. He and his key aides had anticipated the U.S. would retaliate and vacated their main training camp in eastern Afghanistan. The unsuccessful attack elevated bin Laden to cult figure status among Muslim fundamentalists.

New Year's Eve, 2000. Amid fears concerning the Y2K bug, a different kind of catastrophe was waiting to happen -- terrorist plans to attack celebrations in Seattle, bomb LAX airport in Los Angeles, sink a U.S. warship refueling in the Middle East, and bomb tourist sites in Jordan. The attacks were foiled. They were linked to followers of bin Laden.

On October 12, 2000, an attack that didn't fail. Two suicide bombers pulled a small boat alongside the USS Cole as it was refueling in Yemen. The blast blew a hole the size of a house in the hull of the Navy destroyer and killed 17 U.S. sailors.

U.S. intelligence officials say bin Laden's fingerprints are unmistakable.

During the past several years, bin Laden was believed to be hiding out in the remote mountains of Afghanistan, a rugged terrain he knows very well. But he still managed to get his message out.

BERGEN: They've essentially fused two very different things. One is a sort of almost medieval reading of holy war, based on some medieval Muslim scholars, with the most up-to-date technologies available today. I mean, bin Laden and his folks use satellite phones, they use the Internet to get their message out.

BOETTCHER: The shadowy figure made a public appearance at in a videotape that emerged in Afghanistan at the beginning of last year. It shows bin Laden at the wedding of his son to the daughter of his military chief, Mohammed Atef. Atef was reportedly killed in the U.S. air raid near Kabul last November. There are questions about whether bin Laden survived the U.S. military operation in Afghanistan. As U.S. forces pounded al Qaeda positions, bin Laden still managed to appear in a series of defiant videotapes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIN LADEN (through translator): Those who live in America will never attain security and safety unless we feel security and safety in our land and in Palestine.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOETTCHER: But an absence of recent appearances raised doubts about whether he survived the attacks.

The editor of an Arabic language magazine based in London says bin Laden is in good health after being wounded in December. He says bin Laden's associates told him he was injured in his left shoulder by shrapnel during an attack on his base in the Tora Bora mountains.

In a videotaped statement released December 26, after the Tora Bora battle, in fact, bin Laden's left arm never moved. Al Qaeda not only claims bin Laden is alive, it also says he is planning more attacks against Americans. Just last month, an al Qaeda spokesman released an audiotape warning that America should be ready. "They should fasten the seatbelts. We are coming to them where they never expected."

In his interview with CNN back in 1997, bin Laden made this chilly warning about his future plans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And that is it for this edition of PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. I'm Paula Zahn. Thanks for joining us, and be sure to join me every weekday for "AMERICAN MORNING," right here on CNN. Again, thanks for being with us.

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