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CNN PEOPLE IN THE NEWS
Profile of Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden
Aired December 20, 2003 - 11:00 ET
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.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got him.
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ANNOUNCER: Captured, after months on the run, the former Iraqi dictator is found, dazed and disheveled, hiding in a hole.
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GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have a message for the Iraqi people -- you will not have to fear the rule of Saddam Hussein ever again.
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ANNOUNCER: He grew up in the face of poverty, and abuse. His rise to political power began at an early age.
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CON COUGHLIN, AUTHOR, "SADDAM, KING OF TERROR": He conducts his first murder when he was 19 years old.
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ANNOUNCER: From ruthless leader to toppled dictator, a look at the life of Saddam Hussein.
Then, he's the world's most wanted man, the mastermind behind the attacks of September 11th.
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OSAMA BIN LADEN, TERRORIST (through translator): We declared a jihad, a holy war, against the United States government.
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ANNOUNCER: The son of a Saudi multimillionaire who has used his money and power to form a terrorist network. Personal insights from someone who met him face-to-face.
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PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORIST ANALYST: He appeared to be somebody who is very subdued.
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ANNOUNCER: Osama bin Laden's journey to jihad. Their stories now on PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.
PAULA ZAHN, HOST: Hi, welcome to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. I'm Paula Zahn. The scene was almost surreal, a disoriented Saddam Hussein, the former dictator of Iraq captured by U.S. forces. The leader who once lived in lavish palaces now found cowering in a hole in the ground. In some ways, Saddam Hussein's story had come full circle.
He began his life in a mud hut, born into a poor family near Tikrit, but through drive, ambition and violence, he clawed his way to power, and ruled Iraq for nearly 25 years. Here's Jonathan Mann on the rise and fall of Saddam Hussein.
JONATHAN MANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the streets of Baghdad his image was everywhere. Iraqis couldn't escape the gaze of their president. He's ruled the Iraqi people for more than three decades. It was an extraordinary feat in a country that has been racked by assassinations and coups. But there was a secret to his survival.
AMATZIA BARAM, HISTORY DEPARTMENT, UNIVERSITY OF HAIFA: He is ruthless to the extreme. Number 2, he will reward you if you serve him absolutely loyally.
MANN: During his rise to power, from his childhood as a peasant villager through his reign of terror and spanning three wars, Saddam has had one dream.
BARAM: To be the leader of the Arab world.
MANN: His very name means "he who confronts" and he has made a career of surviving confrontation. He's faced off against U.S. presidents, from the first President Bush...
GEORGE H. W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: His ruthless, systemic rape of a peaceful neighbor...
MANN: ... to his son.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Saddam Hussein is a homicidal dictator who is addicted to weapons of mass destruction.
MANN: Even as U.S. forces stormed into Iraq, a weary-looking Saddam remained defiant.
"The criminal, Bush Jr., committed, he and his aides, his crime that he was threatening Iraq with and humanity as well."
Nine months later, Saddam's reign was over. Soldiers found him hiding in a small hole. He surrendered without a fight, dazed and disheveled, a far cry from the tyrannical leader Iraqis once knew.
Saddam Hussein was born on April 28, 1937, in a rural farming village near Tikrit, north of Baghdad.
BARAM: He was born to a very poor family. In fact, one notch -- only one notch above the very bottom of Iraqi social life -- social economic life.
MANN: Saddam's peasant father either died or left the family around the time Saddam was born.
BARAM: Then his mother remarried. He moved with his mother to a new home in a remote village, name of Uja, little mud hut, mud floor, no land of their own and his stepfather didn't like him at all. His stepfather, in fact, abused him in many ways.
COUGHLIN: Because of the polity of his background, Saddam basically had to fight his way through his childhood and I think this had a very big bearing on the character of Saddam, the adult.
MANN: In his book, "Saddam, King of Terror," Con Coughlin describes how Saddam went to live with a rich uncle at the of 10 and later moved with him to Baghdad. When he just was 17, Saddam got involved in politics.
COUGHLIN: His uncle, Khayr Allah, then introduced him to the Ba'ath Party, which is a very small party in Iraq. It had about 500 people and there was a great deal of political attestation in Iraq at the time. And they -- and the Ba'ath Party needed somebody with -- who was street-wise and had a violent disposition. And Saddam was their man.
He had conducted his first murder when he was 19 years old at the behest of his uncle. His uncle, Khayr Allah, fell out with a Communist Party official and he ordered Saddam to kill him. And Saddam did this very expertly. He waited for him to come home, and he shot him with a single shot to the back of the head.
MANN: But in October of 1959, an assassination attempt that failed. Twenty-two-year-old Saddam was wounded as he and nine other Ba'ath Party members tried to gun down then-Iraqi Prime Minister Abdul Kareem Kassem.
BARAM: They arranged two groups on opposite sides of the road. And when the dictator's Jeep is arriving, they are shooting the dictator's Jeep. That's OK, except they shoot at each other as well because they're on both sides of the road. And Saddam is apparently wounded by one of the bullets shot by one of his friends.
COUGHLIN: Saddam was likely wounded. In a film of Saddam's life that was made by the Iraqi Ministry of Information, this is portrayed as -- like a very heroic moment. Saddam was almost mortally wounded. He dug the bullets out of his leg with his own razor. The reality is -- and I spoke to the doctor who treated him -- is he had a light graze on his leg.
Immediately, after the assassination attempt, Saddam fell into exile in Cairo with the other surviving assassins where they were looked after by President Nasser, who was then in charge of Egypt and he stayed there for three or four years. He enrolled at the university and tried to take a law degree. He never completed it.
ANNOUNCER: The storied city of Baghdad, capital of Iraq, has been the scene once more of bloody revolt.
MANN: In 1963, the Ba'ath Party executed a successful coup and Saddam returned home. But the Ba'ath Party was quickly overthrown, and Saddam was jailed. After two years behind bars, the young rebel escaped to continue his political flaunting.
When PEOPLE IN THE NEWS returns, the Iraqi strongman's brutal rise to power.
MARK BOWDEN, WRITER: He essentially betrayed many of those people who had relied on him and in fact, many of them were arrested and executed.
ANNOUNCER: We now return to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.
MANN (voice-over): By late 1960s, Saddam Hussein was back in Iraq from exile and an active member of Iraq's dissident Ba'ath Party. During this time, he married his cousin, Sujida. They later had two sons and three daughters. In 1968, he helped stage a coup against the country's ruling party that installed his mentor, Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr as Iraq's leader.
COUGHLIN: The real importance of Saddam's role in that coup was in establishing the security apparatus that would keep the Ba'ath Party in power.
MANN: At second in command, Saddam began amassing his own support.
BOWDEN: A tyrant like Saddam, he doesn't appear out of nowhere. Saddam accumulated power over a period of 10 to 12 years. And I think that, you know, the way that that happens is, you evidence considerable charm, you evidence an ability to get things done, and even very idealistic and ambitious people begin to side with you.
MANN: For most of the 1970s, Saddam was the real power behind the throne. He improved the status of women and he modernized hospitals.
BARAM: He improved the infrastructure everywhere in Iraq, roads, electricity grids, drinkable water.
MANN: Education became a priority.
BOWDEN: Saddam helped to administer a nationwide literacy program that had really sort of draconian requirements. You were required to learn how to read and if you failed the test, you could be sent to jail for it. It had perhaps, not surprisingly, amazingly good results.
MANN: In 1979, General al-Bakr resigned, citing illness, but there were questions surrounding Saddam's takeover.
BOWDEN: When Saddam seized power for himself, he essentially betrayed many of those people who had relied on him.
MANN: It was a chilling public spectacle. With cameras rolling, he told a roomful of top officials that he discovered a conspiracy to overthrow the government. One man confessed to being part of the plot. After he was removed, Saddam brandishing a cigar, systemically named other alleged conspirators. Sixty-six were taken away, 22 were executed. Like one of his heroes, Soviet dictator, Joseph Stalin, Saddam began ruling Iraq with an iron fist.
BOWDEN: He has made a study of Stalin. He maintains a veritable, personal library of books about Joseph Stalin and has really kind of modeled his effort to create this dictatorship of his, on, you know, the moves that Stalin made.
MANN: In 1980, a little more than a year into his reign, he launched an invasion of Iran.
BARAM: He went into Iraq, attacked a neighbor three times his size and the war lasted for eight very long years.
MANN: A total of one million men died on both sides before it reached a stalemate. The shaky end was achieved with assistance from the United States.
BOWDEN: The United States provided him with assistance in that war because at the time, there was the hope that Saddam's rule in Iraq was going to become more liberal and more tolerant as time went by.
MANN: But Saddam Hussein's sinister side had shown itself. Some Iranian soldiers were the victims of mustard gas and nerve agents, according to the United Nations. And Saddam's military was not afraid to turn chemical weapons on its own citizens. In 1988, the year the war with Iran ended, thousands of Kurdish refugees were killed by chemical agents in Northern Iraq. In the rest of the country, people were suffering.
BARAM: And the economy was in shambles. That was really the end of the charm period and then you started having a lot of suppression and oppression and very weak economic rewards.
MANN: Iraq had financed its war against Iran in part with loans from neighbors, like Kuwait. When Kuwait demanded repayment, Saddam answered with an invasion. Once again, Saddam had attacked a neighboring country, but his occupation of Kuwait would not last long.
GEORGE H. W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, I am more determined than ever! This aggression will not stand!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can hear the bombs now. They are hitting the center of the city.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The skies over Baghdad have been illuminated. Now, there's a huge fire that we just heard. Whoa! Holy cow!
MANN: It took the United States and coalition forces only six weeks at the beginning of 1991 to drive Saddam's troops from Kuwait. But America and its allies stopped short of removing Saddam Hussein from power. As he had after the Iran/Iraq stalemate, the Iraqi leader claimed victory and celebrated when George Bush lost the 1992 election.
When we return, Saddam's paranoid and eccentric life.
BARAM: He's very afraid of microbes, bugs, anything. He is a hygiene freak.
ANNOUNCER: We now return to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.
MANN (voice-over): It was early 1991, and coalition forces pounded Iraq in what the United States called Operation Desert Storm. Six weeks later, the war ended, and on the urging of then President George Bush, tens of thousands of Shi'ite-Muslims in southern Iraq staged an uprising against Saddam Hussein's regime and the ruling Ba'ath Party. The revolt failed.
COUGHLIN: The Iraqis who supported those attempts to overthrow Saddam were punished very severely. They were murdered.
MANN: An estimated 290,000 went missing during Saddam Hussein's 24 -year reign.
The Persian Gulf War had left Iraq with a devastated infrastructure and a leader who had made the world his enemy. Saddam butted heads with weapons inspectors throughout the 90's and economic sanctions mandated by the United Nations to put pressure on the Iraqi regime, instead took a toll on the people.
KEN POLLACK, CNN ANALYST: After the Gulf War, individuals increasingly had to rely on Saddam's regime to get their basic food, medicine, other nourishment, and that gave Saddam a control that he had never had before.
COUGHLIN: Saddam sets up a very effective smuggling operation within months of the sanctions being implemented, and vast quantities of Iraqi oil was being smuggled onto the black market. Saddam's family was using the profits to buy arms, to sustain the lifestyle of the presidential family and containment was a total failure.
BOWDEN: There are many people who feel that Saddam has all but destroyed their country.
MANN: While most Iraqis suffered, Saddam shelved between his ornate presidential palaces, which numbered in the dozens. His constant relocation driven even then by a deep-seeded paranoia.
ABBAS AL JANABI, IRAQI DEFECTOR: They had a food tester. Before eating anything, the food tester would eat before him.
MANN: As in one of his favorite movies, "The Godfather," Saddam cultivated a tight circle of protection.
AL JANABI: The bodyguards of Saddam Hussein are his cousins and they came from the same tribe and specifically, from the same branch of Saddam's family.
BARAM: And with good reason. In 1995, at the height of U.N. weapons inspections, Saddam's son-in-law and his brother sought asylum in Jordan. Soon after their departure, inspectors discovered boxes and boxes of documents related to Iraq's weapons of mass destruction in one of their homes.
GEN. HUSSEIN KAMEL HASSAN, SADDAM'S SON-IN-LAW (through translator): We were ordered to hide everything from the beginning. And indeed, a lot of information was hidden and many files were destroyed in nuclear, chemical and biological programs.
MANN: When the controversy quieted six months later, Saddam invited them back to Baghdad with promises of a pardon. They were shot dead three days after their return.
BARAM: He will not hesitate to eliminate anybody who endangers him.
MANN: Brutality, it turns out, was a family affair. Saddam's eldest son, Uday, reportedly was dispensed to do the killing.
AL JANABI: No one in Iraq is worse than Uday, even his father. He is so needy and so greedy, he uses the cruelty to amuse himself.
MANN: His reputation was one of a menacing and out of control playboy.
LATIF YAHIA, AUTHOR, "I WAS SADDAM'S SON": Everyone knew what he did and how lived, how he stole, and how he do all -- how he would pick the girls and just his life was girls and sex and drink.
MANN: Even Uday's oversight of Iraq's Olympic team was based in brutality.
BOWDEN: If they failed to live up to what their projections are, he'll lock them up. He has a little prison inside of the Olympic building.
MANN: In contrast, younger brother, Qusay, seemed tame. But as head of Iraq's Intelligence Services, he was no less dangerous.
AL HANABI: He's very cruel on the opposition, anybody who opposes his regime, his father's regime. He will not hesitate a second to kill him.
MANN: It was understood that of the two sons, Qusay would succeed Saddam and carry on the reign of terror.
ANDREW COCKBURN, AUTHOR, "SADDAM HUSSEIN: AN AMERICAN OBSESSION": Well, the most dangerous thing they had been exposed to is total power, total, untrammeled power of life and death over anyone they feel like.
MANN: On March 19, the United States military tried to end the Iraqi regime in one fell swoop, with a so-called decapitation strike.
POLLACK: The U.S.-led coalition made a major effort to take out Saddam Hussein himself. They retriggered the entire war plan to make this happen.
MANN: The strike was not a success. The following day, Saddam appeared on Iraqi television, looking shaken and wearing eyeglasses, something the notoriously vain leader always avoided in public.
BOWDEN: To put on a pair of glasses while giving a speech is a sign of age and (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
MANN: U.S. and British forces had begun their march toward Baghdad. And less than three weeks later, Saddam's statue fell in Firdaus Square. The jubilation, however, was short-lived.
COUGHLIN: Putting down a few statues, defacing a few portraits is not going to hurt a psychopath like Saddam Hussein.
MANN: In fact, a videotape surfaced of one purported to be Saddam, out and about in Baghdad that very same day. It didn't help to quell Iraqi fears that the evil regime would return.
POLLACK: Because they had seen Saddam survive so many efforts to throw him out of power in the past, many believed that he had a very good chance of coming back.
MANN: Conventional wisdom held that Saddam fled to the deserts and towns north and west of Baghdad, where he was protected by loyalist members of his own tribe.
POLLACK: There were periods during his life when he lived as an outlaw, and as a result, developed networks of people, and places where he could hide, seek sanctuary.
MANN: But a $30 million reward was enough impetus for one confidant to disclose the whereabouts of Uday and Qusay Hussein. On July 22, after a six-hour fire fight in Mosul, U.S. forces had killed Saddam's sons. The Pentagon made a controversial decision to display the embalmed bodies in an effort to convince the Iraqi people that they were, indeed, dead.
GEORGE W. BUSH: When two of the most despicable henchmen of the Saddam Hussein regime met their fate, the Ba'athists claimed that, you know, at least these two will come back and haunt the citizen. It rings hollow.
MANN: Meanwhile, the U.S. military said it was closing in on their father, whose passion for survival drove him to a repeat a ritual he practiced throughout much of his career.
AL JANABI: In the time of a crisis, he will never sleep more than two or three hours, and he never stayed in a place more than two or three hours.
MANN: His voice continued to urge resistance from guerilla fighters and taunt U.S. leaders.
"The only solution is a jihad, to resist the occupation, and kick it out of Iraq."
COLIN POWELL, SECRETARY OF STATE: He's a piece of trash waiting to be collected.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Saddam Hussein was captured Saturday, December 13, at about 8:30 p.m. local in a cellar in the town of Adwar, which is about 15 kilometers south of Tikrit.
GEORGE W. BUSH: And this afternoon, I have a message for the Iraqi people, you will not have to fear the rule of Saddam Hussein ever again.
MANN: As they search for their missing relatives and struggle to survive each day, the people now live with the ghost of Saddam Hussein.
POLLACK: It's important to remember that Iraqis have lived for 34 years under one of the worst totalitarian systems that the world has ever seen, a totalitarian system of government which the U.N. human rights' efforts were for Iraq, compared to Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia.
MANN: A legacy that has proven hard to recover from, even after the tyrant is gone.
ZAHN: Saddam Hussein is being held in Iraq and is being questioned by U.S. authorities. President Bush says Saddam will stand trial and then when he does, the Iraqi people will decide his fate. ANNOUNCER: When PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, with Saddam Hussein's capture, the hunt continues for America's most wanted terrorist. What's behind Osama bin Laden's trail of terror? That's next.
ANNOUNCER: We now return to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.
ZAHN: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. He is the world's most wanted terrorist, the hunt for Osama bin Laden goes on more than two years since the attacks of September 11. What drove the son of a Saudi millionaire to a jihad against the United States and why has he been so hard to capture? Mike Boettcher takes a look.
MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When Osama bin Laden got word of the first attack on the World Trade Center, those in the room with him that day say he prayed and wept, shouted, "Allah Akhbar! God is great!" and then signaled his followers that more attacks were on the way.
BIN LADEN (through translator): They were overjoyed when the first plane hit the building, so I said to them, "Be patient".
BOETTCHER: Later, he would talk about that event in cold-blooded fashion, drawing on his own background in construction and demolition.
BIN LADEN (through translator): Due to my experience in the field, I was thinking that the fire from the gas in the plane would melt the iron structure of the building and collapse the area where the plane hit, and all the floors above it only. This is all that we hoped for.
BOETTCHER: The horror of 9/11 was to Osama bin Laden a triumph of planning and engineering. To him and al Qaeda, a great victory against an enemy, America, that they had been at war with for years.
Osama bin Laden had escalated that war, striking America within its own borders, something he had been working towards for years.
Osama bin Laden's journey towards jihad in global terrorism began in Saudi Arabia in 1957. He was the 17th of more than 50 children of a self-made billionaire. His father was from Yemen, but by the time Osama was born, he was head of what would be the largest construction firm in Saudi Arabia, a friend of the royal family.
Mohammed bin Laden would die in a plane crash when Osama was ten.
BERGEN: As a teenager, bin Laden was religiously quite devout, according to both family members and also people who knew him. He also became interested in the family business, started working in the family business, you know, in his late teens. And then eventually studied public administration at the university. BOETTCHER: It was in his late teens that Osama bin Laden married the first of his four wives, a Syrian-born cousin. Then, in 1979, Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden, like many young Muslim men of his generation, found his calling.
Joining the Mujahideen, the holy warriors, who were helping the Afghans, fight against the Communists, influenced in part by one of his professors, Sheikh Abdullah Azzam, who would become his mentor during the Afghan struggle.
Bin Laden first helped with money, using it to set up a series of guesthouses for the Mujahideen, coming to Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan from around the Arab world. He also obtained construction equipment from Saudi Arabia, and used his skills he had learned working in the family business.
BERGEN: He applied the lessons he learned from the demolition side of the business to building crude shelters in the mountains of Afghanistan.
BOETTCHER: But then bin Laden took up arms. By the late '80s he was a hero and a leader to the men known as the Afghan Arabs, who had made their way to Afghanistan to be part of the struggle.
Then, as the war was winding down, bin Laden and his mentor, Sheikh Abdullah Azzam founded a group called al Qaeda, the base.
ROHAN GUNARATNA, AUTHOR, "INSIDE AL QAEDA": According to "The Founding Talk of al Qaeda," published in March 1988 when al Qaeda was founded, it states that al Qaeda is the pioneering vanguard of the Islamic movement. It is the spirit of Islam.
BOETTCHER: And this so-called pioneering vanguard, which wanted to continue holy war around the world, began to view another country as the enemy, a country which, ironically, had spent billions funding the Afghan resistance to the Soviets through the CIA.
When PEOPLE IN THE NEWS returns, a personal encounter with the world's most wanted man.
BERGEN: He appeared to be somebody who was very subdued, didn't raise his voice above a whisper.
ANNOUNCER: We now return to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.
BOETTCHER (voice-over): August 1990, Saddam Hussein sends Iraqi forces into Kuwait. Within days, Iraqi troops are poised on Saudi Arabia's border. They are in striking distance of Islam's holiest sites in Mecca and Medina. By this time, Osama bin Laden has returned to Saudi Arabia and he makes a proposal to a member of the Saudi royal family. His men, the battle-hardened Mujahideen who had fought in Afghanistan will help protect Mecca and Medina from Saddam Hussein -- a man he despised as a bad Muslim.
BOETTCHER: But instead the Saudi government agreed to let American troops into the country, rejecting bin Laden's proposal.
DR. SAAD AL-FAGIH, SAUDI DISSIDENT: He was actually harassed after giving this advice and he was put in sort of house arrest, asked not to leave at all. So he thought since then that there is American- Saudi conspiracy to control the land of Arabia. And that made a surge, in his opinion, against the U.S.
BOETTCHER: Even after the end of the Gulf War, American troops stayed in Saudi Arabia and they were the ones, in effect, now guarding the Muslim holy sites, not Osama bin Laden, and to him that was unthinkable.
Bin Laden was forced to leave Saudi Arabia in 1991. He moved to Sudan, which had a fundamentalist Islamic government. It's not clear how much money bin Laden had at his disposal from his share of the family business. Estimates range from $1 million to more than $250 million. But, he had enough money to be an honored guest of the Sudanese government.
BERGEN: During that period, bin Laden was clearly the largest businessman in Sudan. He had literally thousands of people working for him on his farms. He had banks. He had leather tanneries. He had a very wide range of businesses including construction, which, of course, is the family business.
BOETTCHER: Bin Laden was also busy building up al Qaeda as a terrorist organization. He set up training camps and began to build up al Qaeda cells and alliances in the Middle East and East Africa.
During a 1997 interview, bin Laden would reveal how in 1993, al Qaeda helped Somali militias shoot down two U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopters, killing 18.
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.
BOETTCHER: Bin Laden would also be linked to attacks on those U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia that he so strongly opposed. The attacks in Riyadh in 1995 and Dhahran a year later would kill 24 Americans. At the time, bin Laden denied involvement but praised the attackers.
BIN LADEN (through translator): It's no secret that during the two explosions, I was not in Saudi Arabia, but I have great respect for the people who did this. They are heroes. What they did is a big honor that I missed participating in.
BOETTCHER: Bin Laden was also named, in 1995, as an unindicted co-conspirator in the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993.
Ramzi Yousef, the man convicted as the mastermind of that attack, had stayed in a bin Laden guesthouse after he fled America.
Again, in his 1997 interview with CNN, bin Laden would deny a role.
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.
BOETTCHER: By 1996, bin Laden was wearing out his welcome in Sudan. The U.S. was pressuring the Sudanese government to kick him out, and bin Laden returned to Afghanistan.
That's where the CNN interview took place. Peter Bergen was the producer. Bergen and the CNN crew spent more than an hour with bin Laden.
BERGEN: We didn't know really what to expect because this was his first television interview. But he -- he appeared to be somebody who was very subdued. He didn't raise his voice above a whisper. He's very tall, 6 foot 5. So my main impression of him was despite the fact that he was attacking the United States, very strongly in this interview, was that he delivered the whole tirade in a very low- key, subdued kind of way.
BOETTCHER: And, bin Laden made it clear that he was at war with America, calling for a jihad, a holy war. He said America was unjust and tyrannical.
At the time, in 1997, he claimed his jihad was limited to military targets.
BIN LADEN (through translator): We have focused declaration of jihad on striking at the U.S. soldiers inside Arabia, the country of the two holy places, Mecca and Medina. In our religion it is not permissible for any non-Muslims to stay in Arabia. Therefore, even though the American civilians are not targeted in our plan, they must leave. We do not guarantee their safety.
BOETTCHER: A year later, in 1998, bin Laden would leave no doubt that he was at war with America. He invited journalists to hear him issue a fatwah, a proclamation, calling on Muslims to kill Americans everywhere, and announce what was essentially a coalition of Islamic terrorist groups.
Bin Laden made it clear he wanted the U.S. out of Saudi Arabia and into Israel and an end to the U.N. boycott against Iraq.
BIN LADEN (through translator): By God's grace, thanks to Him we declared, as many scholars did, that it is mandatory that we struggle and do jihad to get the Americans out of the Arabian Peninsula. And jihad is mentioned here. It is, to me, carrying the weapon and to kill those Americans. BOETTCHER: Bin Laden was flanked by his military commander, Muhammad Atef, and the man who was the leader of Egypt's al Jihad group, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Al Qaeda and al Jihad had been working together already for years.
At that 1998 meeting with journalists, Osama bin Laden was asked how he and al Qaeda hoped to take on the United States. Bin Laden reminded journalists that his men had already helped to defeat one superpower, forcing it out of Afghanistan. Now they were ready to declare war on America, and make it leave his homeland by any means necessary.
BIN LADEN (through translator): If it is clear to you what our strength is, the Americans and Jews know what our strength is and they will withdraw from the Arabian Peninsula.
BOETTCHER: Bin Laden hinted that there would be more news in the near future.
Coming up, the terrifying realization of exactly what that news was.
ANNOUNCER: Welcome back to PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.
BOETTCHER (voice-over): Less than 11 weeks later, al Qaeda made good on its threat. Watching simultaneous suicide bomb attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The date was August 7, 1998, eight years to the day that the first U.S. troops were sent to Saudi Arabia.
A few weeks later, the U.S. would retaliate, launching Cruise missiles at what it said were al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan.
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States launched an attack this morning on one of the most active terrorist bases in the world. It is located in Afghanistan, and operated by groups affiliated with Osama bin Laden.
BOETTCHER: But the retaliation was a disaster. Neither bin Laden nor his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, were anywhere near the camps. But they turned up later to thumb their noses at the U.S. And across the Muslim world, Osama bin Laden became something of a cult hero. But to the American government, he was the most wanted man in the world, and bin Laden wasn't through.
A series of attacks against America around the time of the millennium was averted, but in October 2000, al Qaeda struck again. A boat packed with explosives rammed the USS Cole while it was arriving at a harbor in Yemen. Seventeen American sailors died.
Early the next year in January 2001, bin Laden appeared in a video showing the wedding of his son to the daughter of his military commander, Muhammad Atef.
There was more video a few months later. In this, bin Laden seemed to hint of an attack but he didn't say where. The plan, it turned out, had been in the offing for more than a year. Simultaneous attacks on New York and Washington. A cadre of young men, mostly from Saudi Arabia, recruited for the suicide mission.
BIN LADEN (through translator): Those young men, sent in deeds in New York and Washington, speeches that overshadow all other speeches made everywhere else in the world.
GUNARATNA: Osama bin Laden's main reason to strike the United States was because Osama wanted to create Islamic states in the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa. And the United States was protecting, was shielding, those countries. The United States is the head of the snake, was preventing those states from becoming Islamic.
BOETTCHER: But by this time, says Rohan Gunaratna, Osama bin Laden may have overreached himself. In the past, he says, bin Laden had been openly contemptuous of the U.S. and perhaps never believed it would mobilize and help route the Taliban government that was providing his safe haven in Afghanistan.
This statement was released to Al-Jazeera the same day American planes began bombing Afghanistan.
BIN LADEN (through translator): There is America, bit 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.
BOETTCHER: The Northern Alliance victory over the Taliban turned bin Laden into a man on the run. There were occasional video appearances though the dates were unclear. His last known whereabouts at the siege of Tora Bora in Eastern Afghanistan during late November and early December.
According to one account from a member of al Qaeda, U.S. bombs falling on Tora Bora missed bin Laden by a little more than 200 yards. And intelligence sources told CNN that bin Laden was injured at Tora Bora and later had an operation. Then he disappeared over the border into Pakistan.
There were rumors, sightings, intelligence reports. There were even letters said to be from him posted on the Internet warning of future attacks.
Then, right before the anniversary of 9/11, this tape, praising each of the hijackers by name.
A month later on the anniversary of the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan, another audiotape, calling on Americans to convert to Islam. Experts could not put a date on either tape. But finally in November of last year, proof that bin Laden was still alive. A tape praising a string of recent attacks, some of them claimed by al Qaeda.
BIN LADEN (through translator): The killing of the British and Australians and the body explosions -- the recent Moscow operation -- and some dispersed operations here and there -- are all reactions and treatment in kind dealt by the zealous sons of Islam in defense of their religion.
BOETTCHER: On February 11, 2003, a voice experts believed to be bin Laden's could be heard once again across international airwaves.
As the United States grew closer to launching an attack against Saddam Hussein, bin Laden's purported new audio recording expressed solidarity with the Iraqi people. The tape urged Muslims worldwide to defend themselves by hitting America with renewed violence.
BIN LADEN (through translator): People enjoyed it in Morocco and Nigeria, and Saudi Arabia and Yemen. It is no secret this crusade targets Muslims. Whether the Socialist Party of Saddam stay or go, those Muslims, especially in Iraq, need to prepare themselves for a jihad. With arming themselves, this is their Islamic duty. God says they must take their weapons and prepare themselves.
BOETTCHER: And in these most recent messages, another familiar theme, this warning that more attacks from al Qaeda should be expected.
BIN LADEN (through translator): Just as you kill, you will get killed, and just as you shell, you will get shelled. Await them what will dismay you.
BOETTCHER: Providing an eerie echo of a statement he made in 1997 to CNN, when he was asked then about his plans for the future.
BIN LADEN (through translator): You'll see them and hear about them in the media. God willing.
ZAHN: In a recent "USA Today" poll taken after the capture of Saddam Hussein, 68 percent of Americans were confident that Osama bin Laden would be found and brought to justice.
That's it for this edition of PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. I'm Paula Zahn. Thanks so much for joining us. I hope you'll be back with us next week.
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