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The Sunday Times - Review

I post this from The Sunday Times without further comment.  Read the whole article, remarks from me are unneccessary.

Total war: Inside the new Al-Qaeda            


Last week’s desecration of a Shi’ite shrine moved Iraq towards civil war. Abdel Bari Atwan, who has had unique access to Osama Bin Laden, explains why Al-Qaeda wants to divide Islam.


Osama Bin Laden, who had been sitting cross-legged on a carpet, placed his Kalashnikov rifle on the ground and got up. He came towards me with a warm smile that turned into barely repressed laughter as he took in the way I was dressed. I had been kitted out in baggy trousers, a long shirt and a turban for my clandestine journey to his hideout in southern Afghanistan. The turban in particular made me feel self-conscious, as I had never worn such a thing in my life.


I spent three days with Bin Laden in Tora Bora, the only western-based journalist to spend such a significant amount of time with him, before or since. I talked at length to him, slept next to him in his cave and shared his modest food.  Listening to him during that visit 10 years ago I realised he was no ordinary figure, but it didn’t occur to me for one moment that this polite, soft-spoken, smiling and apparently gentle person would become the world’s most dangerous man, terrorising western capitals, inflicting hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of damage on the United States, threatening its economic stability and embroiling it in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq……


I was puzzled by Bin Laden’s chosen path. What motivates this man, from a well-known and honourable family in possession of billions, to lead such a comfortless life in these inhospitable and dangerous mountains, awaiting attack, capture or death at any moment, hunted by so many regimes?

We spoke about his wealth, and while he avoided saying exactly how much he was worth he acknowledged he still managed an extensive investment portfolio through a complex network of secret contacts. But this wealth, he said, was for the umma (the global Islamic community).

“It is the duty of the umma as a whole to commit its wealth to the struggle,” he said. “The umma is connected like an electric current.” (Surprising imagery for a man who would wish to take us back 1,500 years.) I discovered that, in contrast with the primitive accommodation, the base was well equipped with computers and up-to-the-minute communications equipment. Bin Laden had access to the internet, which was not then ubiquitous as it is now, and said: “These days the world is becoming like a small village.” ……

More attacks were in the planning stages, he said, and he emphasised that these “operations” took a long time to prepare. He hinted at a strike at the Americans on their home territory, but I confess I did not register the enormity of what he implied when he came out with an unforgettable statement: “We hope to reach ignition point in the not-too-distant future.”

Bin Laden also explained his long-term anti-American strategy. He told me he knew he would never be able to defeat America on its own soil using conventional weapons. He had another plan, one that would take years to reach fruition.

“We want to bring the Americans to fight us on Muslim land,” he said as we walked through the woods in the high mountains at Tora Bora. “If we can fight them on our own territory we will beat them, because the battle will be on our terms in a land they neither know nor understand.”

We are witnessing part of that plan now, in the battlefields of Iraq, which has become a breeding ground for the most ruthless and militant Al-Qaeda fighters we have seen. In the process we are discovering the new face of Al-Qaeda, as a movement involved in bloody sectarian strife against fellow Muslims

Read it in its entirety here.