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Who is Osama bin Laden? - 2001-09-14


U.S. authorities say mounting evidence points to the involvement of Osama bin Laden in the attack on the United States. VOA's Ed Warner reports on the background of perhaps the world's most notorious terrorist and his relationship to the Taleban, who currently rule Afghanistan.

The terrorist attack on the United States is a tragedy for America, says Nasir Shansab, and for the whole world, and that includes Afghanistan.

In this situation, says the Afghan-American writer, the present rulers of Afghanistan must act promptly on the matter of Osama bin Laden, whom many hold responsible for the attack.

"If he has anything to do with it, it is very important for the Taleban to deliver him to the world community," says Mr. Shansab, " and he has to answer for his deeds. It is a very tragic thing for Afghanistan that Afghanistan seems to be in the middle of this tragedy and should not be. The Taleban should accept that they are responsible first and foremost for the welfare of the Afghan people, and they should not hold the Afghan people hostage for this one man."

U.S. authorities say evidence is mounting that Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organization are involved in the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. He denies that, as do the Taleban who harbor him. Yet he says he supports the attack, and he has made a videotape calling for a holy war against the United States and for the blood and destruction of Americans.

"The Taliban claim he is muzzled," says Alam Payind, director of Middle East Studies Center at Ohio State University. If so, it is not very tight. He gives interviews, receives visitors and has hardly moderated.

Born to wealth in Saudi Arabia in 1957, bin Laden fought with the Mujahedin against the Soviet invaders of Afghanistan. But he turned against the United States during the Gulf war and was outraged by the permanent stationing of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, site of the holy places of Islam.

Since then, he and his followers have been linked to various terrorist acts, including the earlier bombing of the New York World Trade Center and the destruction of the U.S. embassies in Africa.

But Mr. Payind cautions against focusing too much on one man in the latest and most horrific terrorist attack.

"My own personal view is that this operation could not be accomplished with only one small group from Afghanistan," he says. " Those cells could be in Algeria, in Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia. It is very sophisticated. It is really professionally done. I think this network was larger than only Osama bin Laden, but he is probably the most important suspect as of yet."

It will not be easy to unravel this network, says Mr. Payind. Counter-terrorism requires much time and patience, and attention to other issues as well. The Arab-Israeli conflict feeds terrorism, he says. Reduce that, and you reduce terrorism.

"It is more of an Arab-Israeli conflict than Islamic-Christian or Islamic-Jewish or the clash of civilizations that some would like us to believe. As long as the Arab-Israeli conflict is there, there will be terrorists on both sides," he says. " I would consider this [attack] as the fallout of the Middle East dilemmas that are unresolved."

Nasir Shansab agrees bin Laden thrives on that conflict. Sincerely or cynically, he has earned a reputation as a crusader against injustice.

"Osama bin Laden has built himself a reputation of somebody who is supporting the causes of the Arab world, whatever they may be," explains Mr. Shansab. " And there are rich Arabs who are unhappy with their own lot, maybe because of the Palestinian-Israeli situation and seem to be funding him quite sufficiently. He seems to have funds at his disposal, and if he has time enough and people who are ready to die for the cause, then he can pull it off, no doubt about it."

Thomas Green, who served with the U.S. State Department in Afghanistan and Pakistan, warns that terrorism will survive the capture of bin Laden. It is far bigger than one man.

Even if the outstanding Israeli-Palestinian issues are amicably resolved and no longer seem like a powder keg, now terrorism has its own tentacles and organizations and movements have been set in action that bear the Taliban stamp in other parts of the world that do not want peace.

Mr. Greene says international terrorism now has a life of its own that will need shrewd strategy and vast resources to combat.

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