News / Asia

Meeting the World's Most Wanted Man

An image from FBI's Most Wanted website shows the status of Osama bin Laden as 'deceased', May 2, 2011
An image from FBI's Most Wanted website shows the status of Osama bin Laden as 'deceased', May 2, 2011

Multimedia

Audio

In May 1998, Islamabad-based reporter Nafees Takar received a phone call from a man claiming to be linked to a Pakistani militant group.

The man asked to meet Takar, a meeting that set off a chain of events that led to an extraordinary press conference in the mountains of Afghanistan with Osama bin Laden just months before the deadly attacks on two U.S. embassies in East Africa.

Just three years after that, al-Qaida would stage the September 11th attacks in the United States, killing more than 3,000 people.

All Takar was told was he would be taken to cover a major event.

He agreed and joined a group of other journalists who boarded a plane in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, headed to the city of Peshawar. There, they took another flight to Bannu, a small city near the Afghan border.

Meeting the World's Most Wanted Man
Meeting the World's Most Wanted Man

The escorted group then boarded a coach to rugged North Waziristan. They were driven further past the capital, Miran Shah, and then, at nightfall, took a perilous, illegal walk across the border into Afghanistan.

Takar says he was never told exactly who he would be meeting, but that during his trip, he and his fellow journalists picked up clues.

Nafees Takar, who is now the head of VOA’s Deewa Radio which broadcasts to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border regions, says the group finally arrived in southern Khost, Afghanistan, where they waited two days to meet the al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

"He was calm, he was humble, he was shy. When he was talking to you, maybe he was shyer, maybe because of Islamic teaching, he was never looking into your eyes.  We didn't think at that time that he was very much enthusiatic or he was very emotional. I think those things were not visible on his face, at least."

Listen to the interview with Nafees Takar


He did not come across as the stereotypical hardline Islamic extremist?

"No, he didn't give this impression. He was looking like an ordinary man. And we didn't think he had such a radical mind behind his calm face."

Describe where you were exactly and what it was like.

"You know, when we went to Khost to his bases, we reached the compound late night. And when dawn came, we saw that we are in the middle of the mujahideen, the holy warriors. There were guys marching in the nearby towns, wearing military uniforms. And then the second day, we knew that there were training camps named after the companions of the Prophet of Islam. And most of the guys who were getting training, they were from Pakistan, from the southern districts of Punjab and some were from Pakistan-administered Kashmir."

Image of Nafees Takar's article published in The Nation


"There were three camps there and all of them belonged to Pakistanis. This is the place where we stayed at night and where we waited for at least two days. And then we were taken to another camp, maybe 15 miles away. And there we met Osama bin Laden. That camp was the training camps for Arabs. There were dummy men, there were military exercises, obstacle [courses]. It was surrounded by mountains and the buildings in both places, these were run-down buildings, made of stones and mud, they were very simple houses, rooms and halls, and it didn't give me the impression that these were modern complexes."

It sounds like you were in an al-Qaida training camp.

"At that time, they were not known as al-Qaida, but later after the 1998 East Africa and the 9/11 attacks, I realized that we were with al-Qaida."

At the time in May 1998, had he actually officially told the world that he was leading this organization called al-Qaida?

"He never mentioned that he is the leader of al-Qaida. Only in that press conference, he said that the name that he has given to his affiliates and his group was the 'Islamic International Front,' this is the term he used. I don't know that he himself ever called his organization al-Qaida."

Talk about the message that this seemingly calm, polite man delivered to the group of journalists.


"You know when the formal conversation finished, they took us out of the hall and we sat on the ground, they served us tea and some dry fruit. And at that time, Osama bin Laden was watching us. He was looking to each and every one of us. And Ayman al-Zawahiri [bin Laden's second-in-command] was given a chance to talk about their life, to talk about how they spend their days. But during that press conference, he said that Americans know who killed their troops in Somalia and that Americans know who killed their troops in Saudi Arabia. he was referring to the 1996 attack on U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia. At that time, he didn't say that he killed them, but in a way he was referring to himself that he was probably behind those two attacks."

"One other thing, when he [Osama bin Laden] was mentioning that he was going to start jihad against America and Israel and all the rulers of the Arab world, we thought that he is probably bragging. It was in 1998 and then, again, in 2001 after the 9/11 attacks, I got this impression that I had met the most dangerous man in the world."

Nafees Takar's material from that press conference was published in the Pakistani English newspaper The Nation and also shared with Italian and German news agencies.

You May Like

Brutality Eroding IS Financial Support

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper says IS's penchant for publicizing beheadings, other brutal forms of punishment hurts group’s bottom line More

Studies: Climate Change a Factor in Disasters in Syria, California

Studies point to possibility of clear and present dangers from a threat often considered to be far in the future More

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials and human rights organizations assert that Pakistani authorities are using deadly attack at school in Peshawar as pretext to push out Afghan refugees More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukrainei
X
March 03, 2015 3:11 AM
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Kerry Seeks Assurances of Russian Non-Interference in Ukraine

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, that his country could face further consequences to what he called its “already strained economy” if Moscow does not fully comply with a cease-fire in Ukraine. The two met, on Monday, on the sidelines of a U.N. Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, where Kerry outlined human rights violations in Russian-annexed Crimea and eastern Ukraine. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports from Geneva.
Video

Video Smartphones May Help in Diagnosing HIV

Diagnosing infections such as HIV requires expensive clinical tests, making the procedure too costly for many poor patients or those living in remote areas. But a new technology called lab-on-a-chip may make the tests more accessible to many. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Refugees Complain of Harassment in Pakistan

Afghan officials have expressed concern over reports of a crackdown on Afghan refugees in Pakistan following the Peshawar school attack in December. Reports of mass arrests and police harassment coupled with fear of an uncertain future are making life difficult for a population that fled its homeland to escape war. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports from Islamabad.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Prepare to Defend Mariupol

Despite the ongoing ceasefire in Ukraine, soldiers in the city of Mariupol fear that pro-Russian separatists may be getting ready to attack. The separatists must take or encircle the city if they wish to gain land access to Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year. But Ukrainian forces, many of them volunteers, say they are determined to defend it. Patrick Wells reports from Mariupol.
Video

Video Moscow Restaurants Suffer in Bad Economy, Look for Opportunity

As low oil prices and Western sanctions force Russia's economy into recession, thousands of Moscow restaurants are expected to close their doors. Restaurant owners face rents tied to foreign currency, while rising food prices mean Russians are spending less when they dine out. One entrepreneur in Moscow has started a dinner kit delivery service for those who want to cook at home to save money but not skimp on quality. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports.
Video

Video US, Cuba Report Progress in Latest Talks to Restore Ties

The United States and Cuba say they have made progress in the second round of talks on restoring diplomatic relations more than 50 years after breaking off ties. Delegations from both sides met in Washington on Friday to work on opening embassies in Havana and Washington and iron out key obstacles to historic change. VOA’s Mary Alice Salinas reports from the State Department.
Video

Video Presidential Hopefuls Battle for Conservative Hearts and Minds

One after another, presumptive Republican presidential contenders auditioned for conservative support this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference held outside Washington. The rhetoric was tough as a large field of potential candidates tried to woo conservative support with red-meat attacks on President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress. VOA Political Columnist Jim Malone takes a look.
Video

Video NYC's Restaurant Week: An Economic Boom in Fine Dining

New Yorkers take pride in setting world trends — in fashion, the arts and fine dining. The city’s famous biannual Restaurant Week plays a significant role in a booming tourism industry that sustains 359,000 jobs and generates $61 billion in yearly revenue. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
Video

Video Brookhaven at Cutting Edge of US Energy Research

Issues like the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking and instability in the Middle East are driving debate in the U.S. about making America energy independent. Recently, the American Energy Innovation Council urged Congress and the White House to make expanded energy research a priority. One beneficiary of increased energy spending would be the Brookhaven National Lab, where clean, renewable, efficient energy is the goal. VOA's Bernard Shusman reports.
Video

Video Southern US Cities Preserve Civil Rights Heritage to Boost Tourism

There has been a surge of interest in the American civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, thanks in part to the Hollywood motion picture "Selma." Five decades later, communities in the South are embracing the dark chapters of their past with hopes of luring tourism dollars. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More