In June 1996, a huge explosion rocked the city of Al-Khubar claiming the lives of 20 US forces and wounding hundreds of others. Soon afterward, the Al-Khubar bombing took place and Shaykh Usama issued his first statement, "Declaration of Jihad To Expel Atheists From the Arabian Peninsula." At that time, the Saudi ambassador in Islamabad tried to exercise pressure on Yunis Khalis and Haqqani to extradite Shaykh Usama. The ambassador made certain offers to gain their support. Yunis Khalis, however, replied: "We will protect a goat or any other animal if it comes to us to take shelter. How then when it comes to someone who sacrifices his soul and wealth in the cause of God and jihad in Afghanistan?"
Soon afterward, the Taliban launched an incursion in the area where Shaykh Usama was residing. Although Shaykh Usama learned about the Taliban from Yunis Khalis and Haqqani, who both joined the Taliban Army, he was not sure about his situation after the Taliban took control of the region. He did not wait long until Taliban leader Mullah Omar sent a delegation to meet with him and assure him that he was their predecessors' guest and their guest too. Mullah Omar pledged to protect Bin Ladin but he begged him to stop his media activity after his interviews with CNN and the British Channel Four television station.
Another incident occurred that prompted Shaykh Usama to move to Kandahar. He learned that an attempt to abduct him was aborted. Tribal mercenaries on the Pakistan-Afghan border were paid to carry out a lightning attack on his area to kidnap or kill him. Pakistan and other countries masterminded the operation. Shaykh Usama moved immediately to Kandahar where he thought it would be a safer place for him under the Taliban.
When Shaykh Usama was in Jalalabad, the Taliban entered Kabul almost without fighting. Consequently, the Taliban became the major power in Afghanistan despite little recognition of their government. Shaykh Usama, meanwhile, was planning to move to Kandahar and escape the abduction attempt that we mentioned before. The attempt facilitated the move of Shaykh Usama to Kandahar via Kabul. He took a car to Kabul and then flew to Kandahar by plane, where he met with Amir of Taliban Mullah Omar for the first time. The two men never met before although they had exchanged several letters. During that meeting, Mullah Omar discussed the grave challenges facing the Taliban after they entered Kabul particularly from [Abd-al-Rashid] Dustum's forces. He told Shaykh Usama that it would be preferable to tone down his media campaign. He told him that it was a mere request, and not an order or an obligation. Shaykh Usama replied that he had decided to soften or freeze his media activity for some time even before the mullah asked him to do so. Mullah Omar was pleased to hear that.
In the meantime, the Saudi Government recognized the Taliban Government in an attempt to embarrass Taliban to cooperate with it. The Saudi Government took one further step when it invited all the members of the Taliban Government, including Mullah Omar, to perform the pilgrimage or the umrah [minor pilgrimage]. It offered to receive them as official guests. In fact, one of the key officials in the Taliban Government -- Prime Minister Mohammad Rabbani -- visited the kingdom to perform the pilgrimage. However, the generosity of the Saudi Government did not change his position or the position of his government vis-a-vis Shaykh Usama. The Taliban turned down diplomatically requests of several delegations that the Saudi Government sent including diplomats, businessmen, relatives of Shaykh Usama, and intelligence officials.
Another development took place that bolstered Shaykh Usama's popularity with the Taliban. Shaykh Usama changed his previous neutral position regarding intra-factional disputes in Afghanistan. He decided to support the Taliban against Dustum and issued orders to his men to fight alongside the Taliban. When [Ahmed] Shah Massoud became a rival party in the war, Shaykh Usama asked scholars accompanying him to issue a fatwa saying that fighting Massoud was a lawful jihad. Shaykh Usama's decision played an important role in favor of Taliban since the latter were not all set for war. Their previous victories took place almost without fighting due to the fact that people supported them and field commanders conceded defeat to them. Meanwhile, the forces of Dustum and Massoud allied after they convinced their followers that the war was ethnic and not religious. Their solidarity increased when Dustum counted on Uzbeks and Massoud on Tajiks. Both Massoud and Dustum convinced their followers that the Taliban were Pashtuns who wanted to rule them. Furthermore, the Western world did not feel the threat of the Taliban until after the fall of Kabul and the Taliban's protection of Shaykh Usama. All these factors won Massoud and Dustum enormous support from Russia, the United States, Turkey, Iran, and other parties. The Taliban nearly collapsed when they confronted these organized and backed forces. Twice, at least, the brigades affiliated with Shaykh Usama defended Kabul and the Taliban never forgot Shaykh Usama's favor.
The other factor that raised Shaykh Usama's stakes with the Taliban was the help that his men offered to the Taliban in various fields including planning, administration, and development of the new state. Despite the modest experience of Shaykh Usama's men, the Taliban viewed them as a team of professionals.
The United States and its allies did not give up hope on capturing Shaykh Usama. When it became clear that the Taliban would not extradite him, the United States, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia began to think of a plan to abduct Shaykh Usama by means of an operation from the Pakistani territories by elite commandos. Training for the operation began toward the end of spring 1997. The top secret operation was scheduled for the beginning of summer. However, since Pakistan was a party, it was impossible to keep the secret in view of the fact that Pakistani military intelligence sympathized with Shaykh Usama to a great extent. Shaykh Usama and other Arab parties learned about the news and began to leak it to the press. The US plan was revealed and eventually cancelled. The United States did not admit the story at first but later did and decided to cancel the idea for fear of casualties among US forces.
Toward the end of 1997 and in the beginning of 1998, Shaykh Usama decided to revive his activity. First, he began with Taliban and Pakistani scholars. He succeeded in obtaining fatwas from about 40 Afghan and Pakistani scholars in support of his statement to expel infidel forces from the Arabian Peninsula.
The Global Islamic Front
The establishment of the global Islamic front coincided with the gathering of a number of leaders of Islamic groups -- particularly the Egyptian Islamic Group and the Egyptian Islamic Jihad -- in Afghanistan. A large number of delegations from Pakistan and Kashmir visited Shaykh Usama. Ayman al-Zawahiri, meanwhile, convinced him to expand the war with the United States everywhere. Thus, the war against the United States began to mean killing every American and every Israeli of fighting age everywhere and at anytime. Shaykh Usama was convinced when two justifications for the idea were provided, a legal and a political justification.
The legal justification was that the Americans were occupying the country of the Two Mosques and therefore every American was viewed as a supporter of the occupation of the Arabian Peninsula. Consequently, it was legitimate to kill the Americans everywhere and all the time since the Americans and the Israelis were fighting Muslims and shedding the blood of Muslim civilians everywhere and all the time. The political justification was that the United States lay in wait for Muslims and Islamic groups and, as a result, became the first enemy of Islam. Since the United States had no rival power, it was important that Muslims realize they were its enemy. The issue, therefore, became an Islamic priority everywhere in the Islamic world.
The belief was translated into action when a statement by the global Islamic front was issued in February 1998 that called for killing the Americans and Israelis everywhere and anytime. The statement was signed by Shaykh Usama Bin Ladin, Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri on behalf of the Egyptian Jihad Group, Rifa'i Taha on behalf of the Egyptian Islamic Group, a leader of a Kashmir faction, and a renowned Pakistani Islamic leader. The press published the statement, which was a major transition for Shaykh Usama on different levels:
First: He embarked on a global project rather than focusing on US forces in the Arabian Peninsula.
Second: He expanded the circle of bloodletting and abandoned the caution that he used to exercise regarding the legal Islamic position.
Third: For the first time, Shaykh Usama became a party in a semi-Islamic alliance of jihadist groups after he used to work with his group alone and to refuse open alliances. He agreed to the idea of cooperation and coordination with other alliances.
Mullah Omar was not happy with these activities. He viewed them as a violation of the moral commitment between him and Shaykh Usama. Mullah Omar sent a letter to Shaykh Usama to inquire about the situation. Shaykh Usama replied that the circumstances had changed and there was no need for the media hush-up. Shaykh Usama used the card of scholars to support his position since the Taliban never refuted the opinion of scholars despite their respect for mullah Omar.
Mullah Omar was angry but he contained his anger and tried to persuade Shaykh Usama to keep quiet. Shaykh Usama, however, aggravated the situation when he called a press conference in May 1998. He arranged secretly for the press conference in the Khost suburbs in an area near the border with Pakistan. A limited number of journalists were invited to attend the press conference. A few days prior to the conference, Shaykh Usama was interviewed by the American ABC network. During both the conference and the interview, Shaykh Usama hinted that acts against the Americans would take place soon but he did not identify where.
Mullah Omar raised objections once again and requested an explanation from Shaykh Usama, who had no means to convince him other than the scholars. Shaykh Usama said that he would agree to the legal opinion of scholars. However, Mullah Omar refused the idea, not in disdain of scholars but to prevent every deviant from taking advantage of them. Tension escalated between the two men. However, Mullah Omar could not prevent Shaykh Usama from his media activity and decided to tolerate the situation.
The Nairobi and Dar es Salaam Operations
When Shaykh Usama Bin Ladin threatened to launch a strike within weeks, the Americans were in a state of alert for fear of attacks. They took security measures in the Arab region, the Gulf, and -- to some extent -- the Horn of Africa. While the Americans were in full alert, the strike took place at an unexpected location -- at their embassies in Kenya and Tanzania where two vans laden with explosives were detonated on 18 July 1998.
Although official US spokesmen exercised caution in blaming certain parties, the media, politicians, and anonymous official sources made a flood of comments and analyzed the repercussions of the events. We examined their analysis and came up with the following remarks:
First: Islamic movements -- or what the West called Islamic fundamentalism -- were the prime suspects. All other parties including Iran, Iraq, and Libya, were simply ruled out. Many parties referred to Shaykh Usama Bin Ladin and the Egyptian Jihad Group, particularly Shaykh Usama's threats in the ABC interview, in which he said he would deal a strike within weeks, and a statement by the Al-Jihad Group that was published in an Arabic newspaper two days before the explosions. A connection was made between Shaykh Usama and the Egyptian Al-Jihad group via a statement by the "Global Islamic Front to Fight Jews and Crusaders" that the two sides signed.
Second: The bombings reopened the file of the Al-Khubar explosion. Those responsible for the latter were not announced by then. For the first time, the US press quoted US officials as saying that the United States believed that Shaykh Usama was responsible for both the Al-Khubar and Riyadh explosions. Earlier, US sources sounded skeptical about the Saudi story of the involvement of Shiites and Iran. They pointed out the likelihood of domestic opposition that was responsible for the Al-Khubar explosion.
Third: Comments by the press and academic circles linked the two incidents to the US presence in the region in general and in Saudi Arabia in particular. Moreover, they linked the two explosions to US policy vis-a-vis Israel and Iraq, US support for governments in the region, and the governments' cooperation with the United States to arrest wanted Islamic terrorists. The latter became particularly embarrassing for Arab regimes that cooperated with the anti-Islam US policy. The regimes felt that these jihadists were able to harm their American masters. In other words, the jihadists had far more logistic capabilities than these regimes and this was extremely embarrassing for them.
Although there was evidence that certain Islamic groups were responsible for the explosions, the well-known parties did not claim their responsibility. There was one official statement made by the so-called "Islamic Army for the Liberation of Holy Sites." The statement by the previously unknown group was directly linked to the suspected groups. The statement attacked US policy and called for the departure of US forces from the Arabian Peninsula. It called for the release of Shaykh Omar Abd-al-Rahman. The statement gave the identity of the party that issued it when it demanded the release of shaykhs detained in Saudi Arabian jails at that point in time, including Shaykhs Salman [al-Awdah] and Safar [al-Hawali]. The groups that carried out these acts must have known that the message could be conveyed without claiming responsibility openly. The intelligence agencies of the United States and Arab regimes realized who was behind the explosions. As for the masses, they did not need to know the party. The demands in the statement were enough for them. By declining to claim responsibility for the incidents in public, these groups got rid of any negative repercussions of the incident.
One more conclusion that should be mentioned was the fact that the Islamic parties suspected of masterminding the two incidents proved they had the logistic, technical, and human power to carry out such acts. They proved that they could employ the element of surprise when they coordinated to carry out the explosions and inflict substantial damage.
Shaykh Usama did not speak in public but he was quoted as denying responsibility for the explosions. Apparently, however, the United States made another conclusion in the first week after the explosion. It maintained that Shaykh Usama was fully responsible for both explosions whether he admitted it or not. Consequently, the United States launched their attacks on Sudan and Afghanistan. Scores of cruise missiles rained down on Sudan and Afghanistan that targeted two specific locations in both countries. Was it a smart US retaliation?
Without feeling it, the United States was carrying out parts of the program of jihadist groups. The US assault aggravated hostility against the United States in the Islamic world. This was exactly what jihadist groups wanted. These groups succeeded in provoking the United States to carry out its offensive to achieve their goal -- rallying Islamic public opinion against the United States and proving that these groups were the superpower's adversary. Subsequently, they justified a long-term conflict with the United States regardless of whether their policy was right or wrong.
The way the United States announced the strikes in the media and on official levels was just what these groups were dying to achieve. These groups in general and Shaykh Usama Bin Ladin in particular appeared as a real opponent to the United States and a power that forced Washington to act arbitrarily. Shaykh Usama was not only the man some US and Western channels argued should be taken into consideration. He also became a nightmare for the United States, as the US President and other officials admitted. Millions of people around the world witnessed how the US President, the defense secretary, and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff focused on Shaykh Usama Bin Ladin in their speeches and answers to the press to justify the strikes. Such a reaction gave momentum to individuals affiliated with the jihadist tenets, particularly Shaykh Usama's supporters. It boosted their spirits and made them feel as if they were a superpower against the United States. The hasty strikes appeared as proof that these groups had confused the United States.
As for Arab and Islamic public opinion, the story was fresh in memory. People lacked heroism and sacrifices. They were waiting for someone to retaliate for US terrorism against Muslims in Palestine, Iraq, the Arabian Peninsula, Africa, Turkey, and elsewhere. The scene of US officials admitting their confusion and fear of Shaykh Usama Bin Ladin quenched this thirst for revenge and bolstered the popularity of Shaykh Usama. Unlike Arab rulers who alleged that they were opposed to the United States, the shaykh was not accused of treason. The history of this new symbol was completely different from the history of those rulers. No one doubted his credibility when he announced that he would face the United States. These ramifications became significant after the strike. Public admiration and support for Shaykh Usama in many Arab countries was not a security embarrassment anymore. In Pakistan and the Islamic Far East, people not only admired him but they also viewed him as a commander and savior of the Islamic nation from the hegemony of the United States. Rallies were held in public there with people carrying his picture everywhere.
Another loser in this mess were the Arab governments that lived under US protection. These governments looked small between two superpowers -- the United States and Bin Ladin. They were so embarrassed. They could not support US strikes or else they would prove they were traitors and they could not condemn them or else they would indirectly recognize Shaykh Usama. Such feelings were obvious in the Saudi media when the television, radio, and local press in the kingdom reported the strikes briefly without any reference to Shaykh Usama.
[Description of Source: London Al-Quds al-Arabi in Arabic -- London-based independent Arab nationalist daily with an anti-US and anti-Saudi editorial line; generally pro-Palestinian, tends to be sympathetic to Bin Ladin]
Croatian Daily Interviews Jund al-Sham Commander on Jihad in Iraq, Al-Zarqawi
EUP20050601050006 Zagreb Vecernji List in Croatian 01 Jun 05 pp 14-15
[Report by Hassan Haidar Diab on "exclusive" interview with Jund al-Sham commander Usama Abu Janah at undisclosed location in Iraq; date not given: "We Must Destroy the Vatican"; for assistance with multimedia elements, contact FBIS at 1-800-205-8615 or firstname.lastname@example.org]
The gruesome images of murders, abductions, and decapitations arriving from Iraq have unfortunately become a routine matter.
The men whom we often see on our TV screens wearing intimidating black hoods with slits cut out for the eyes and weapons aimed at hostages are mostly war veterans from Afghanistan, B-H [Bosnia-Herzegovina], and Chechnya who resettled in Iraq after the end of the war or the fall of the Taliban regime. The best known of them, the notorious Ahmad Nazzal al-Khalaylah, also known as Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al-Qa'ida in Iraq, was one of Usama Bin Ladin's closest associates during the war in Afghanistan.
Army of Damascus
At the time, al-Zarqawi was the commander of the Al-Mujahidin Brigade, which liberated the city of Khost.
Currently waging war in Iraq under the command of Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi are members of the Egyptian Jihad, Al-Jama'at al-Islamiyah, the Algerian FIS [Islamic Salvation Movement] and GIA [Armed Islamic Group], and the organization Asbat al-Ansar, which is known today as Jund al-Sham (Army of Damascus).
All of those groups are responsible for much of the bloodshed in the world and have close ties with Al-Qa'ida, and knowledgeable sources claim that they are financed directly by Bin Ladin.
The commander in chief of the Jund al-Sham group, Usama Abu Janah [name as published], whose name is on the list of the most wanted terrorists in the world, is a former fighter in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Chechnya who is today waging war in Iraq with his group. In an exclusive interview with Vecernji List, he revealed to us the details of his ideology, the reasons why they are abducting and murdering foreigners, Iraqi soldiers and policemen, and even Iraqi civilians, and he also discussed the Vatican as Satan's refuge and Al-Qa'ida's role in the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and confirmed to us that al-Zarqawi was wounded during fighting with US troops in the province of Al-Anbar.
After many contacts, verifications, and negotiations, we managed to reach Usama, under the condition that we not reveal our meeting place and how we reached him.
The journey to the meeting was extremely arduous because Usama's mistrust of us meant that we had to change cars and drivers on the way to our destination, and we did not even know where we were going.
Usama, accompanied by many of his armed men, met us in a small house with darkened windows, and at the very beginning of the interview he let us know that he does not approve of the fact that we live in a European country and pay taxes to crusaders and nonbelievers.
Right next to him was an old man with a long white beard who showed approval of Usama's criticism of us. Usama introduced him as Abu Yusuf Sharqiya [name as published], his religious teacher and a former commander of the Jund al-Sham group.
Just one look at the 38-year-old Usama, with his long, reddish-brown beard, is enough to see that he is a young but extremely tough man.
This heated atmosphere during the meeting became even more tense when we asked about the abductions and brutal murders of foreigners in Iraq, to which Usama had this arrogant response:
"In Islam, Allah says that we must have compassion for prisoners, but also that we must treat our enemies the same way that they treat us. Islam's greatest enemies are the Americans, the Italians, the British, and all the other countries that are fighting against Islam and supporting the Jews. Your country (Croatia) could also become our target if it gets involved in the conflict in Iraq or fights against Islam. We regard the Vatican as Satan's main refuge, and it must be destroyed as soon as possible, because Islam cannot rule the world as long as the Vatican exists. Those countries would never have launched their war against us without the Vatican's blessing-- the war against Allah's religion. The Americans and their allies attacked Iraq and are murdering Iraqi children and women there. Just as they have killed children and women in Palestine, Bosnia, Kashmir, Chechnya, the Philippines, and Afghanistan. While they are using highly modern technology and airplanes to destroy us, we are using other available means, including the murder of hostages."
"Al-Zarqawi has said that we will not allow what happened to Bosnia, where 200,000 Muslims and a large number of mujahidin were killed, to befall us. In the end, the Americans came and took control of Bosnia." Usama mentions Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi very often and with obvious admiration, and so we asked him whether he is personally acquainted with him, what sort of relationship they have, and whether there is any truth to the rumors that he was wounded.
"Yes, al-Zarqawi was wounded in the province of Al-Anbar in fighting with the Americans and their mercenaries in the ranks of the Iraqi army. He is well on his way to recovery and continues to direct all of our actions against the enemy. We are in contact every day, because we coordinate our joint actions. Allah gave him life in order to fight against the enemies of Islam and enforce Islamic laws in Iraq.